Earlier this week, the highly anticipated short film “ANOMALY” (directed by Salomon Lighthelm & Dan DiFelice) was released online for free, and it pretty much took over the internet. Within minutes of it’s release, the film started racking up thousands upon thousands of views on Vimeo before eventually getting staff picked and shared on countless sites and blogs – all the while receiving extremely high praise from viewers and filmmakers alike. In the midst of all of the chaos, I was able to get a hold of producer Jens Jacob, whose company Sypher Films produced the film. He answered a number of questions for us (posted below) that detail how he and the rest of the team were able to make this film such a success.
Before I get into my interview with Jens, I want to give you a bit more background on the film itself to help put things in context.
ANOMALY is a beautifully crafted 37 minute short film that I truly believe represents where indie film is headed. The film’s directors were able to successfully raise (and exceed) their $60K kickstarter goal, produce a film that looks like it was shot with many times that budget, and ultimately release it online for the world to see. While many filmmakers believe in this model for creating and releasing a film, few have actually been able to pull it off at the level that the ANOMALY team did. The success of the film naturally was a result of the talent and dedication of the entire team, who worked long and hard to bring this project to life.
Here is a brief synopsis on the film:
Anomaly centers on the interconnected stories of several lives that coincide with a long awaited astronomical event. Astronaut Oliver Grier struggles to navigate a different impending arrival, the miraculous conception of a child he did not father with a girl he has fallen deeply in love with, Haley Lawson. Meanwhile, Dr Gabriel Montrose learns the origin of an approaching comet through the story of his reclusive predecessor Noel Fitz. With the help of Montrose, the aging astrophysicist finally conquers his demons and comes to terms with the death of his wife. As Haley makes sense of her unplanned pregnancy, she must decide whether to trust fate or succumb to the will of a man. All four characters learn an ultimate lesson about life, love and faith against a story of astronomical significance.
And the film itself!
The production value, attention to detail, nuanced performances, and overall quality of this film just speaks for itself. As a filmmaker, watching what was done with ANOMALY really puts into perspective just how fortunate we all are to be living at a time in cinematic history when content like this is achievable on a very independent level. And as someone that has a few friends and colleagues that were very involved in the creation of this film, I am extremely happy to see just how successful it has become.
Below is my interview with Jens Jacob, who truly went above and beyond to help make this film what it is today:
NK: I’d love to start out by hearing about your impressive development and fundraising process, in which you were able to pull together over $60K on Kickstarter. That’s no easy task to say the least – how did you guys pull it off?
JJ: You know what’s funny, in my head I was kicking myself for why we didn’t try to raise more. At the time we were just so afraid that no one would want to bother investing and weren’t even sure we could partially fund the film through Kickstarter… I was actually watching Shark Tank recently and a gentleman on there was boasting about how he raised $30k and the sharks were impressed… I thought to myself – wow we really did something quite remarkable! It was the first time that any of us really did a Kickstarter so we had no idea what we were doing, but we did what we knew how to do which is create and share… Our Kickstarter video created by Dan & Salomon our directors is widely what I credit the success of the Kickstarter campaign to. But for anyone trying to do it, the only thing I can really say is put the time into it. It really is a full flex marketing campaign and you need to be prepared for it. What many people have to realize about Kickstarter is that it’s not a magical site that you post your project to and random people will come find you. Kickstarter is a tool to help you reach your network which is often made up of friends, colleagues, family & admirers. What is amazing about platforms like Kickstarter is that it helps capitalize on your social media following… We were hoping the entire process that our campaign would be seen by Kickstarter themselves and they would feature us, but that never happened… The ones who made this a success and supported us was our network of friends & family who believed in us… Even when we probably fully didn’t believe in ourselves.
NK: The film has some amazing production value. Can you shed light on where the budget was spent and what resources, favors or other help you had along the way that let you keep more money on the screen?
JJ: A lot of how Anomaly was created was really just setting expectations of it being a passion project and being as resourceful as possible! I treat every production like if it were a start up company, and with a startup – time is money. We had to do as much as we could in the least amount of days as possible! With my extensive background in music videos this was pretty much an everyday thing for me… Just knowing where you can cut corners is helpful, and the biggest thing I would say in producing something at this scale is not being afraid to ask… At the end of the day all they can really say is no. You never know who is willing to help you out, and you will miss out on so many opportunities for something greater by limiting yourself to what the standard is supposed to be. So in the end most of our money went into locations, travel/logistics, and I can’t tell you how much a difference it made to put a lot of our budget into locations & production design. The reason we even had so much for travel was to go to the best possible locations we could.
NK: In a nutshell, describe the production for us. How big was the crew? How many shoot days? What kind of gear did you shoot on, and why?
JJ: In early pre-production we knew that we wanted to shoot in 3 different states, purely because what those areas offered for production value was fantastic. Aesthetically they were also the best possible options for story. We also had to add a 4th state last minute because of a set we needed that not accessible in those 3. Creating the schedule was based around grouping those scenes by area then actors… Anyone can tell you what we had on our hands was a logistical nightmare, as far as what we had to accomplish in the amount of time we had for what we had to cover. We had to cover 4 states in 12 days with 9 shoot days (3 days travel/prep) for principal photography.
It was a one way schedule just hitting one city to the next, and we really didn’t have an off day as we shot even on travel days. It was so packed that if we missed even one beat the rest of the production would fall like dominos. Thankfully the team pulled through and we got everything we needed and more!
We also did something that was pretty off the wall in that we actually hired local crew in each state, and only took a few of our keys with us to keep costs down. This was extremely difficult for some of our guys (such as our DP Khalid Mohtasb), as a lot of what Khalid depends on is having a solid crew he can trust and that has been built over time with relationships. So not only were we as some of the keys working on this for the first time ever, but we worked with multiple new crew members over the duration of principal photography. It was definitely a challenge, but having such amazing dedicated people like Khalid – who just wanted to share his wealth of knowledge with us, made all the difference. I believe at our highest when we were in NYC we had about 25 people on set, and on average we had 8 of us wearing multiple hats.
NK: The incredible music and sound design obviously played a huge role in the mood and texture of this film. What did the post-audio phase of the production look like?
NK: How did the rest of the post-production process come together? Was the editorial/VFX workflow fairly straightforward, or was it largely shaped around the specific needs and resources of this film?
NK: In many ways I believe ANOMALY represents where a large segment of indie filmmaking is headed in the future. It was crowdfunded, produced, released online, and extremely well received by the very audience that supported the film from the beginning. Do you think this model for producing/releasing films will continue to be sustainable for filmmakers over the next couple of years?
NK: I was really fascinated by the fact that you (and the rest of the Anomaly team) weren’t solely focused on a festival run as your one and only goal for this film, as so many filmmakers today still are. Can you tell me more about why you placed more of an emphasis on the online release?
NK: It’s incredible that you’ve been able to tap into all sorts of different niches online to spread the word on your film – from having the Vimeo community rally around you, to releasing the soundtrack on The Music Bed. Was the online strategy something that happened organically, or was it planned out specifically during the development stage?
NK: What’s next for ANOMALY?
NK: I’m sure that any aspiring filmmakers reading this would love some words of wisdom. Having gone through the ringer and successfully released this project – what advice could you give to filmmakers that are considering a similar approach to their next film?
Make opportunities for yourself. Don’t wait for someone to come knocking on your door just because you have skill or a resume… I’ve seen talented people fail and talentless people succeed all because of hardwork. As cliche as that may sound, it’s very much the truth. I never have been motivated by money and that should never dictate your decisions starting out… Do what you can with what you have, and push yourself harder than anyone else can. Surround yourself with people better than you, and aspire to make yourself better… Collaboration is key one man can only do so much, and filmmaking is in my opinion is the most prominent form of art in collaboration. Ill leave you with a quote my first mentor told me on my very first film set “First time is a mistake… Second Time is stupidity” all of which has helped me in my journey of filmmaking and life.