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It’s that time of year again— the Milwaukee Film Festival is almost here! Falling on September 24th - October 9th, this year’s film line-up is undoubtedly full of powerful, funny, tragic, thrilling & creative films.
We’re especially excited to see Neptune, Last House Productions’ new feature film. Filmed in beautiful Maine, a coming-of-ago story about Hannah, a girl challenged to reexamine her young ambitions after the sudden disappearance of a classmate.
Last House Productions is an award-winning independent film production company based in Portland, ME. It’s composed of writer/director Derek Kimball, producer Allen Baldwin and writer/producer Matthew Konkel.
Matthew Konkel is actually a resident of our very own Milwaukee. With the rest of the crew situated in Portland, Maine, he did most of his writing & producing for Neptune from afar via through the power of the internet. We’re kind of interested in the internet & its potential, so we interviewed him about his process and how he was able to work around the long distance…
So, Matthew, what’s your connection to Milwaukee, and what’s your role with Neptune?
I grew up in Racine county but went to high school in Milwaukee and lived here most of my adult life, minus a few wayward years of living in California during the early aughts and living in Maine for a couple of years. Maine is where I met my good friend and film partner Derek Kimball. Back in the antediluvian time of 1999 Derek and I were book slaves at the now defunct Borders Book Store when we started talking film. Ten years and two completed short film collaborations later we started working on a feature. We worked on Neptune in the same roles we worked on our shorts; after co-writing the script, both us would take a producer role. Eventually Derek would make directing duties his main priority while I and some other people (Erin Maddox, Trish Hundhausen – Milwaukee / Allen Baldwin – Maine) would take on producer roles.
What’s it like to be a Milwaukee-based producer for a film shot in Maine? How did you manage the long-distance? Were there any benefits or drawbacks to not working the same city?
There are certainly drawbacks to living multiple states away from most of the action and I don’t recommend it to anyone working in low-budget independent filmmaking. You often feel like you’re flying blind and you don’t always get to see the results of your labors. Phone, email, G-chat and skyping are all good ways to collaborate when you’re making a feature film but ultimately they’re a poor remedy for the lack of proximity. Through the process Derek was always good about sending us footage of rough-cut scenes to see. At least one benefit of having connections in two states is the process of fundraising. With many different friends and family across different states were able to ask for donations and crowd fund across a wide area. This proved to be very helpful in raising operating costs to get Neptune in the can.
You say you wrote the film “mostly through the miracle of the internet and email”, which brings to mind long email chains and a very messy editing process (which I’m sure isn’t the case). Did you establish any processes that helped you collaborate online, or adopt any tools to make the process easier?
We used Celtx, a free screenwriting program, to write the script. Writing the screenplay was a messy editing process and a lot of sometimes arduous work, but I was okay with that. I think a successful collaboration should often be a trial for all sides, that way it forces you to really examine the choices you make and ideas you have so when you finally decide on a final product you know you’ve made the script the best it can be. Some might disagree with me about this, but if all goes smooth and easy from start to finish, I could see myself start to wonder if we delved into the characters and story as far as we could. Our original story and script for Neptune was very, very different from the completed film.
Derek and I would talk on cells, email or G-chat almost every day during the whole 4-year process. It was a challenge working together this way because miscommunication would happen and things would get misconstrued in ways they otherwise wouldn’t if we were working face to face. From ’10 to ’14 I was able to make several treks to Maine to work in the same room as Derek and Allen, once to map out the script, once to meet the cast and do location scouting and get b-roll and another ten-day trip to work on the set wearing multiple hats.
I see you crowd-sourced some of your funding through indiegogo. Did the experience meet your expectations? What went well, and what would you have done differently (if anything)?
Yeah, we had an Indiegogo campaign, two separate fundraisers in Milwaukee and Portland, Maine and a couple of other independent direct email pleas for monies from family, friends and other individuals. We didn’t reach our goal on Indiegogo so (ha ha) no, the experience didn’t meet our expectations, but it gave us a good monetary base to work from and get started. Despite not meeting our goal, I think the Indiegogo campaign for Neptune was successful—at the very least for creating awareness about the film and getting people excited about seeing it. Considering our resources, and everyone involved in the film having to work their day jobs, I think we did pretty well with fundraising. The only thing I would have done differently in the process was make sure we raised all the funds needed before we started shooting.
What would you say was your most successful fundraising strategy, and why was it successful?
Monetarily, our Indiegogo campaign was the most successful strategy for raising funds. With numerous people posting the campaign on their personal pages and sending out emails to friends and family and encouraging others to share the link, it created a huge awareness allowing us to reach the widest range of people possible. Separate, in-person fundraisers, held in Milwaukee and Portland (Maine) were also successful for creating awareness and giving an actual face to our film and production company Last House Productions.
How did you use the internet to promote the film?
Without a budget for promotion, the internet was all we had to get word out about the film. Fortunately we had a successful filmmaking track record before we started promoting Neptune. Having two award-winning, and well-received short films in your back pocket is immeasurably beneficial when raising money to make a feature. We used Facebook, twitter and email to promote the film and during fundraising asked anyone and everyone for donations to complete it.
Did you devise a social media strategy to promote yourselves online? How did you delegate the social media duties?
As we are just a small company with everyone needing day jobs to survive, the strategy was pretty loosely defined. There were about eight different producers on Neptune in Maine and Wisconsin who were focusing for almost two years strictly on fundraising. Our strategy was a simple one: get the word out to anyone and everyone anyway we could. This meant an online presence as well in person promotion. The tricky thing about online promotion is that a few people can only post a campaign link or trailer link so much on Facebook and Twitter before the circle becomes saturated. So we really had to encourage others to share our links as much as possible to avoid over-posting.
You can catch Neptune on Saturday, Sept. 26th at the Times Cinema, Tuesday, Sept. 29th at the Avalon Theatre, and Wednesday, Sept. 30th at the Oriental Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online at mkefilm.org.