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Michael Hayes: Kickstarting Fire City

Posted August 21, 2013 by Stuart Wells in Articles
Stacy Haiduk, as the Interpreter, reveals herself in the short film "Fire City: King of Miseries" directed by Tom Woodruff, Jr.

Fire City is an exciting thriller set in the murky world between superstition and science. Michael Hayes joined us fresh from his crowdfunding success. Fire City managed to exceed expectations and netted the film-makers over $123,000, $23,000 over their target. We chatted to him about crowdfunding and Fire City.

IIZ: Thanks for your time. First, you have been funded. Congratulations! Now you have to make the movie and keep all the backers happy. You must be incredibly proud and relieved that the years of hardwork have paid off. How did you celebrate? And how did it feel?

Michael: It was very gratifying to fund, particularly at our goal, which was risky for a couple of unknowns with an unknown film idea. Our campaign ended at 5:12pm on a Sunday, so Brian and I spent the last few hours preparing our thank you video and final update and the final text for the project page, which freezes when the campaign ends, so we needed to clean it up. At 5:13pm, we took a breath, then threw some hamburgers on the grill and had a Sunday cookout with our families. It felt very relieving to be staring at something other than the computer. But at least half the talk was about what we needed to do next.

We don’t rest much here in Fire City. This is just the beginning.

IIZ: How did you find Kickstarter? A lot of the successful teams have said it is a full time job managing the pitch, social networks etc. Is that how you found it?

Brian Lubocki and Michael Hayes

Brian Lubocki and Michael Hayes

Michael: We found Kickstarter when we made our first bit of test footage and wanted to connect with other like-minded filmmakers. What better way than to support their projects? So we became backers of a few projects both on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, one of which got the director repped by UTA and Circle of Confusion and is now being set up. Yes, definitely a full-time job. But fortunately we had a lot of help from some very dedicated and skilled people, who are both friends and fans. This help was essential to our success. We would not have funded if it had not been for these folks.

IIZ: Why choose Kickstarter over Indiegogo and risk not getting funded?

Michael: Good question. We like both platforms, but felt we could not make a feature film the way we wanted to for any less than $100,000. So we didn’t want to be in a position of funding, say, half of that amount, not being able to make a film, and probably not being able to fulfill all rewards, and disappointing the people who had supported us. Many projects can be scaled to fit whatever level of funding is raised, even film projects, and IndieGoGo is a good choice for those.

But ours was all or nothing, and Kickstarter is the place to be for that.

IIZ: Did you learn anything during the process that would have made it easier?

Michael: Audience and awareness is the single biggest factor we found during the campaign. The more eyeballs we reached, the better we did. Had it to do over again, we would have spent a lot more time developing awareness and an audience before launching the campaign.

IIZ: You seemed to have pitched the campaign just right: imaginative, wisely spaced rewards. So many pitches use $10 increments lower down and then over $50 take wild leaps. How long did you consider the rewards and design the pitch?

Michael: Well, in our story world, the Fibonacci sequence carries certain significance. We’d been using the spiral as our Facebook profile for awhile. So we decided something unique would be to use that as the structure for the rewards. We were a little nervous that it would confuse people, but for the most part no one was thrown by it. We spent a couple weeks deciding what the rewards would be, then during the campaign came up with more.

IIZ: It is interesting that you didn’t rely on star power. Some high profile campaigns have failed even with Hollywood stars. Any thoughts about this?

Michael: This was partly a decision we made and one partly made for us. A Kickstarter campaign is speculative at best. And one that aims to make a feature film for $100,000 is more than a tough pitch to a Hollywood agent. I had spoken to enough of those by then to know it was a non-starter. But by not trying to negotiate a deal, and by not giving up half the world getting an actor to attach to an unfunded project launching a Kickstarter campaign, we knew we would be at an advantage if we managed to fund. The conversation when you are financed, even at this level, is a very different conversation than when you’ve got nothing. So we think we’re in as good a place as we could be in getting some great talented actors into these roles.

IIZ: Did it help having ADI onboard? Did you get advice from how they managed Harbinger?

Fire city Poster

Fire city Poster

Michael: Absolutely. The Harbinger campaign was expertly managed by Jennifer Tung, who, along with Alec and Tom’s persuasive charm and dedication to their crucial art form, made a bit of history with that campaign. We were fortunate to have Jen join our campaign when our turn came up, and we got the benefit of their recent experience, what worked, what didn’t, as well as a few crucial public shout-outs by Alec to the Harbies. Add Tom’s willingness to let us shoot anywhere and everywhere at the creature shop and showroom if it would make a good backdrop, and I’d say ADI was a crucial element to our success.

IIZ: What was your expectation of budget when you first developed the script?

Michael: We knew we were going to go to Kickstarter and knew what our goal would be, so the script was written with this in mind from the beginning.

IIZ: Tell us about Fire City?

Michael: Fire City is a world where demons live among humans, who can’t see them for what they are, not because of any willful cloaking that can be turned on and off, as in many of the current films and shows portraying demons, but because of a property called disperception, which makes humans simply unable to see demons in the same way humans cannot see ultraviolet or infrared light.

In our world, it’s science not the supernatural, at least not as we’re used to seeing it.

Fire City exists in the murky zone between science and the supernatural.

Our demons are both extraordinary and mundane. They work dead-end jobs and live for the weekend like the rest of us. They also fly, if winged, and wield devices of exotic origin and purpose, and are immortal unless killed or die of starvation. What sustains them is human suffering and other dark human emotions. They are literally evil incarnate, but might be your barber or fishing buddy. They’ve have struck a fragile balance with humans, figuring it’s better to feed for millennia than feast for a single say. The Interpreter of Signs is the story of what happens when this fragile balance is broken, and an unlikely demon has trouble choosing a side when the life of a young human girl is at stake.

IIZ: Do you agree that the strength of the story and your passion for this project was crucial in your success?

Michael: Yes, I think it was. It’s a vast complicated world and hard to articulate at times. But we’ve found that where our ability to summarize ends, our passion for the world and our belief in its stories shows through. And we think people respond to that.

IIZ: Is the film cast? Any announcements?

Michael: The film is cast in our heads. Hollywood will have different ideas. But we hope to have a meeting of the minds. No announcements yet.

IIZ: How long do you expect production to take?

12 days. Pray for us.

IIZ: Do you think crowdfunding is changing indie film-making?

Michael: Yes, and for the better. It gives filmmakers that crucial opportunity the mainstream industry will not give them, including the biggest jackpot of all: artistic freedom. But what’s essential for indie filmmakers to understand is that this is NOT crowdfunding’s mission, but only a byproduct. Crowdfunding’s mission is to connect creators who need funding for a project directly with the public. That’s all. It’s available to celebrities and unknowns alike. Whether it should be is not the point. It is. So don’t buy into the idea that there is no competition for funding. In the aggregate, funding increases overall and for broad categories when high profile projects launch, but if you come out with a charming romantic comedy set on Martha’s Vineyard and Woody Allen Kickstarts a charming romantic comedy set on Martha’s Vineyard, guess who’s drinking whose milkshake? This is my own pet theory, as I don’t think there have been enough high profile projects for that scenario to play out. But it’s coming. The audience for any project is finite, and the ability or willingness for this audience to donate is finite. Two similar projects pitching the public for funding at the same time will compete, no question about it. While the “category” of Film will realize greater pledges overall, and that’s a great thing, an unknown will suffer against a similar project by a celeb. Maybe this will only be true of film. It is the particular nature of our industry, unlike almost any other, that creators can also be incredibly famous, with millions upon millions of fans.

IIZ: Any advice for budding Kickstarters?

Michael: No matter what your project, develop as wide an awareness of it as you can prior to Kickstarter. Especially develop relationships with bloggers and writers and anyone who has the ear of lots of people. Make these people your fans, so that when you’re ready to launch, they can put your project in front of thousands of people. Only a fraction of them will check you out, and only a fraction of this fraction will actually donate. It’s a numbers game. Go for the numbers, but in an organic way. Find those key emissaries who will genuinely have some affinity for your project. For us, it was online horror press, and we got huge movement of the needle whenever an article or interview came out. If specifically you are crowdfunding a film, gather as much intel as you can on any celebs you think are working in your genre or subject matter. Chances are they are planning a Kickstarter campaign right this moment. Scour for this info and plan strategically.

IIZ: Again, thanks for your time. We wish you well with the production and can’t wait to see the result. For anyone looking for some advice on crowdfunding then email IIZ at


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About the Author

Stuart Wells