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Friday
Jul182014

From Street Hustling to Cannes – How One L.A. Actress Got $2,400 to Pitch Her Natural Hair Documentary (Part 2)  

When IndieGoGo no longer seemed promising for actress Nydia Simone’s crowdfunding campaign, she turned random people on the streets of Los Angeles into benefactors of her Cannes Film Festival trip. The experience quickly came with some hard but important lessons as she met with strangers in several areas including Long Beach, Old Pasadena, UCLA, Baldwin Hills and Crenshaw Plaza.

Getting donations from people who generally don’t carry cash on them when they’re surfing was among Simone’s many obstacles. Still, that Hermosa Beach experience was nothing compared to getting kicked out of The Grove by the concierge and later visiting Beverly Hills – a place she believes is so pretentious, you can feel the judgment oozing out of people. When a man who donated to the Cannes trip asked if Simone was homeless, she started wondering if her signage deterred potential supporters.

In the end, she is certain that all successful moments during this entire stint pounding the pavement was made possible by letting go of her pride and talking to God. I met with Nydia Simone before she flew off to France and we discussed how this New York native went from living out of a carry-on bag to getting over $2,400 in two weeks for her Natural Hair Documentary.

Madlab Post: How many hours a day did you spend holding signs and collecting donations for your Cannes trip?

Nydia Simone: An average of 3-5 hours a day. In the beginning, it was three hours and then I was thinking “If I’m gonna get this money, I need to average like four or five hours a day!” and that’s just standing outside. That doesn’t count me going there – and I take public transportation. So, it takes time to get there and it takes time to get back. I remember one time it took me over two hours to get to a place and I was a little upset because all I got was $35 at this beach but I did get a really cool idea after that. The thing is, you live and you learn.

In between getting money for Cannes and auditioning for film and television roles, actress Nydia Simone also worked with production crews.In total, it takes up your whole day because you leave in the morning or mid-morning, you get to your spot and by the time that’s done, you go home.

You collect all these business cards and you’re emailing people “thank you for this” and people that want you to work with them or send them your headshot or information, blah, blah, blah!

Half of these people are bullshit. So, you have to figure out which ones are real but you never know. I’m going to be interning with a distribution company that I met on the street.

I don’t know what will come of that but I’m going to absorb notes and work as hard as I can so that they go “That girl right there is going to be somebody and do something amazing! We better watch her!”

Why did you choose those particular locations where you went to collect donations for your trip?

The most important thing was traffic. High traffic wins over…whatever. Sometimes I would get advice but I stopped listening to people because they were giving horrible advice. People told me to go to Hermosa [beach] – that was a horrible, horrible place! It was probably pretty good for what they were doing, but for what I was doing, I needed to be somewhere else. So, I’ve researched high traffic areas in L.A. when I ran out of ideas.

I learned that places where there is community, the people in that community are more likely to donate than those in tourist spots. When I went to Hollywood and Vineland – I could only stay for an hour that day because I have so much to do – but I got one dollar in an hour. Maybe I could’ve gotten $20 in the next five minutes -- you never know, but that’s not a good place for me to be.

Is there a stake in the community? North Hollywood was really good because a lot of people live and worked in L.A. and they believed in dreams. Crenshaw was great because black people are more likely to donate. Period. It’s a community, they want people in the community to do well; the older people in that community want young people to do it!  It is common for people to collect donations this way. People don’t do it as much in California but I feel like what I did wasn’t so outlandish. Maybe it was, but I was so desperate that I was like “I don’t care,” (laughs).

Of all the places you went to collect donations, which spot brought the least amount of donations and what areas contributed larger donations?

The most amount I received was at Crenshaw Plaza -- $201 in one day. The least amount of money was West Hollywood and that was like $30. However, a lot of factors go into it because what time of the month are you going? Everybody has money at the beginning of the month. At the end of the month, their funds are a little low. It was the end of the month when I went to West Hollywood. Maybe I didn’t go to a good spot.

Maybe I didn’t have as much traffic as I was expecting. You can’t be on private property; you have to be on public property. The most I got was $35 or $37, so that was probably the worst place just because people didn’t have cash on them; If you’re in a bathing suit, then you’re probably not carrying any cash. I know I still have a lot to learn about crowdfunding, but, I make more money collecting cash on the street than on IndieGoGo.

What factors attributed to your IndieGoGo campaign falling short of its goal online?

My video was basically just me and my computer. Definitely your video is very important – if it’s nicely edited, if you have it done professionally, you’re probably going to get more money. I edited my video on iMovie and threw it up on there; you can see the black couch in the background.

When we’re face-to-face, I can sell you on my film, what I’m passionate about and what I want to do. It’s either you’re going to donate or you’re not. If you’re not, let’s move on to the next person. It’s very straightforward. Online, people have to take out their credit card, look at the numbers, and type them in. Soon it’s like “I don’t think I want to do this anymore. Oh, the pizza is here! I forgot,” so it’s a lot easier to get money now, on the street.   

What role does making movies, particularly documentaries, play in furthering your goals as a Television actress on Nickelodeon or Disney channels?

This came because I learned that as a black actress, in Hollywood, we just don’t get hired. People are like “Oh no, I hired a black girl last week” and a lot of people will agree that yes, black people do get hired – but not that much in Hollywood.

If I’m going to be working here, I’m going to have to create my own work. Otherwise, I’ll just be sitting around twirling my fingers.

I’ve wanted to do this documentary for 2-3 years and planned on waiting until I was seasoned and know more about show business but if I wait, I’ll just be waiting. This has already provided opportunities for me. I’m working on a new television network called the G-Block for teens and tweens. As soon as I figure out when we’re going to be shooting, then I’ll be able to start my production schedule. I’ve noticed that when you’re on a moving train, everything just comes. But when you’re waiting, nothing comes.

Stay tuned as my conversation with actress/producer Nydia Simone continues, where we cover…

  • How Facebook played a role in her decision to seek out movie investors in France.
  • Why she changed her business major to acting while studying at The City College of New York (CCNY).
  • How she survives in L.A. while making time to attend church with one of Hollywood’s elite couples.

If you missed my chat with Nydia Simone about her Natural Hair Documentary, read Part 1: HERE.

 

What are some of the most pretentious cities/towns YOU'VE ever visited?

Who is YOUR favorite natural hairstyle wearing actress?


*Photos courtesy of Nydia Simone

Friday
Jul112014

Making Movies vs Writing for Television - A Cameron Avant Show Interview #Podcast 

(l-r): Actors Mark Johnson and Mike Gaudioso during a production meeting at PhillyCAM for the movie 'Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever."Do men make the best doctors?

Prompted by my casting choices for the narrative drama film "Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever," this question highligted many of the generalizations we often make about our fellow man (or woman); and is among the many topics discussed during my recent guest appearance on The Cameron Avant Podcast

Before moving from Philadelphia to Texas for six months, show host Cameron Avant invited me to deliver the scoop on inappropriate casting call responses and what it was like to improvise dialogue with actors while filming in Philly. In between reminiscing about meeting a cast member from the CBS Primetime Cop Drama "Blue Bloods" and sharing our disappointment with self-absorbed parents who are failing the educational system, we also addressed the possibility that my days of making movies are numbered. 
Want to know how gender stereotypes influenced the way I selected my cast members? Curious about whether or not I'm giving up movies to work in Television sitcoms? Grab some popcorn and hit the "play" button to find out!

 

Friday
Jul042014

Authenticity: The Story Behind My Military Homecoming Movie 

To me, authenticity means refraining from trying to be something you’re not. It’s about understanding the parameters that you have to work with when taking action toward realizing your goals and/or interests.

(-r): Actor Mark Johnson, Director Nicole Ayers and Actor Rodney Benson goes over a scene in the screenplay for the short film "Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever."In many ways, making the short film drama “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” was a continuous exercise in being true to who I was, what I had and how it was going to find an audience.

Writing the Movie

Knowing my production budget was going to be small, I wrote a screenplay revolving around a story that could have just as easily been shot on a home video camera – if necessary – given what was accessible to me. Although this movie was shot in HD, the story lends itself to a type of on-the-fly recording style that provides some flexibility during production.

The Synopsis:

A U.S. Army Officer enlists the help of his friends to make an audition tape for a Reality TV contest, until a wedding proposal dilemma shakes up their reunion. 

It was simple enough to not require any special effects, elaborate sequences or other fancy schmancy components that would be difficult to pull off with the budget, material resources and level of expertise available to me.

Making the Movie

During pre-production in the fall 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast, causing me to cancel meetings with actors and then improvise the casting process by using online messaging services and iPhone videos for auditions. When production began, the reality nature of this movie allowed us to use any mistakes that occurred to our advantage, if needed. The screenplay was designed for cast and crew to continue shooting without worrying too much about multiple setups and camera angles.

I’m not the best cinematographer in the world. I don’t have the resources to hire the best Director of Photography (DP) in the world. So, I focused my time, money, energy and resources on areas that would help carry the story:

  • Casting
  • Sound
  • Editing

Writing a cameraman into the script came in handy since the actor I chose for this role also happens to moonlight as a photographer. 

(-r): Actor/Cameraman Torian Holt shooting a scene featuring actress Lyssa Roberts and actor Mark Johnson for the movie "Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever."So, I let him shoot most of the scenes – in character!

Hiring a tech savvy guy to pretend to be someone behind the camera is one thing. Designating him as the actual on-set camera operator, however, later proved to not only be a way around my lack of DP resources but also the best way to stay true to the story.

The crash course in production sound I had by watching YouTube videos about product reviews, tutorials and unboxing of audio equipment became helpful along with useful tips offered by a sound guy who was unable to work on the project.

Production lasted from mid-November to early December, complete with weather delays (we were shooting outdoors), scheduling conflicts and unexpected re-shoots after a days’ worth of footage was rendered unusable. Yet, we managed to get everything “in-the-can” as they say, and with the help of a producer, I quickly started interviewing potential editors for the movie. Then, one of my producers – a U.S. military veteran – lost his home in a fire on New Year’s Day 2013. This terrible disaster changed the course of our post-production schedule and was the first event in what quickly became a devastating year for one of the most vital people involved in making the movie.

So, I scrambled to find an editor and post-production funds in an attempt to move this project forward; eventually going through multiple rough cuts before completing a final cut of the movie in the summer, thanks to technical assistance from a director friend, supplemented by the expertise of my longtime editor buddy at ESPN.

The World Premiere

(l-r): Wardrobe stylist Elisa Wiah, Director Nicole Ayers, Assistant Director Aleywa Taylor and Cameraman Torian Holt attend the World Premiere screening of "Abyss" The Greatest Proposal Ever" in New York. Photo by DweleOye.When NewFilmmakers NY selected “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” to screen at the Anthology Archives Theater in January as part of their 2014 Winter Series, the time had come to develop promotional materials for this project.

My initial and overcomplicated approach to coming up with movie poster ideas included analyzing the key art of mainstream feature films, which was an unsuccessful task.

So, I went back to the basics of what this movie is about, and using a production still, designed an 11x17 poster resembling a large Polaroid photo. Building the main design concept around this one picture worked out well because it lends itself to a “less is more” vibe while still delivering on the story’s message, with regards to viewer interest.

“It’s simple, well stated, and genuinely makes me curious about the movie. I love the tagline at the top. Made me break out into a great big smile!” – Herman Turnip

When printing standard postcard sized flyers became costly, I added different tag lines to still photographs from the movie and used them to promote the World Premiere screening in New York. This practice continued to be useful long after the premiere; I no longer needed to make large print runs of 500-1,000 copies of the same flyer since a variety of digital photos could be printed out in small batches at (or near) many retail stores like Walgreens and CVS.

My ticket for the evening's film screenings.What Next? Uniting an Audience Around the Movie

Inspired by street papers and homelessness awareness advocate Noah Rattler’s 1,800 mile walk and his annual Sleepout Saturday events in Houston, TX, I pursued potential partnerships with a few non-profit organizations that help homeless people, including veterans, find housing and employment.

Several conversations later, little to no progress came out of my efforts with the organizations I approached. As such, the hope for an adult literacy initiative I wanted to launch using the movie, quickly fizzled. I became anxious about what the next steps for my movie would be, while considering whether to do an online streaming/VOD release or continue trying to play at film festivals.

In the spring, I realized that the answer of where to go from here was right in front of me for months on end. Remembering all the positive remarks that my producer made, on several occasions, about how the Red Cross came to his aid after the blaze that caused a major setback for him – and for the movie -- I partnered with them to continue helping people in similar situations.

Filmmaker Nicole Ayers fundraising for the Red Cross with "Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever." Photo by Cameron Avant.Now, as I tour area restaurants where sneak preview edition DVDs of “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” are made available for sale, I’ve trimmed my sales and product materials down to include only the essential items necessary to get the job done – move product.

I designed the DVD packaging to be lightweight because it was cost-effective and this non-traditional presentation would help guide audience expectations to be in alignment with what they’re getting – a short film, minus featurettes, audio commentaries and related extras that typically comes with feature length fare; and for a good cause.

Each “stop” on my tour calls for a lot of walking, hauling of supplies, campaigning and handling of packages; so I tapped into my early days of participating in art exhibitions at galleries and artist competitions, for inspiration. Seeking mobility, I created a single DIY style poster with bold text that conveyed all of the information necessary, while also doubling as my product display. 

At the suggestion and request of people who have either already supported my Red Cross Fundraiser or want an alternative to traveling to one of my tour stops, the sneak preview edition DVD of “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” is also available to order online, exclusively from yours truly.

By looking inward at what directly had an impact on me and/or those that I work with, the purpose of this movie became clearer and thus, gaining an audience comes naturally as a byproduct of the main endeavor.

From the time I began writing the script to now, all of the headway up to this point was made possible by working within the structures that were already in line with my capabilities and goals.

Each step of the way, I found my footing when I thought about the project and how to best utilize its own distinct attributes when making decisions.

I invite those of you who enjoy buddy flicks or relationship dramas to watch “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” and take it, or leave it, for what it is. Either way, I find satisfaction in knowing that it is possible to reach goals while giving back and helping to save lives at the same time – by promoting nothing more, and nothing less, than exactly what I have to offer. That is as real as it gets.

Comic book illustrator Travis Nichols recently asked “What does authenticity mean to you?” This post serves as my response to that question.

If you enjoyed reading about these (mis)adventures in movie making, I would appreciate it if you order a DVD of my short film “ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVER.” 

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