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The Indie Film “ANOMALY” Just Took The Internet By Storm – Learn How The Filmmakers Pulled It Off With My Interview With Producer Jens Jacob

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.

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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.

On a side note we tried to be as creative as possible in how to pitch the campaign, as reposting on your social media networks can get old really fast and can be a turn off for most people… One thing I remember distinctly was that one of our Directors (Salomon) had a pretty big following on Instagram, and I said to myself we are not fully tapping that market. Around that time Instagram video was just first starting out (prior to being able to upload a pre-recorded video), and we were one of the first trailers to ever do a KS trailer on Instagram. I was able to do it from a hack through an iPhone. So I’d say know your network and how you can make the most out of not pissing them off while trying to express your passion & goal.
 
NK: Anomaly is a fairly lengthy short film, which works beautifully for the context of the story. Was the intention always to have it run that long?

JJ: Actually not at all funny you should ask! When the idea of Anomaly was birthed by Salomon he initially wrote a treatment for a 3-5 minute short, then more and more people started getting involved and it became a snowball effect. Once he approached Dan who Co-Directed and then Georgie Kelsey our Screen Writer, it wasn’t long before we had a 36 page script! And even when the Kickstarter campaign went up it was only 27 pages, so we actually went up 9 pages from that point but had to try to keep the same budget! Even when we were in the edit process we were terrified if it would work at this length, as we were not quite sure if it was a short film by film festival standards (in terms of runtime), yet it was too short to be a feature… what a pickle! But in the end we feel really good about where we ended!
 

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.

A lot of also what makes Anomaly so grand is the VFX! We had such an amazing co-director Dan DiFelice that has been a seasoned comper for the last few years, and once we started getting really big companies (2 of which I still can’t believe even today that we got to collaborate with us – “The Mill” & “Framestore”), we knew we were in good hands.
 

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.

Anomaly Map

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.

Equipment-wise, we used 2 RED Epic Cameras that we were fortunate enough to have lent to us by Redefine Rentals. We also wanted to go with the Epic as our DP Khalid has worked with that camera so much it just made sense to use the tool he was most comfortable with. We really wanted to set a distinct tone for Anomaly as it was a period piece and Dan, Salomon & Khalid being such visual creatives wanted to go with Anamorphic’s. In the end we shot on lomo primes.
 

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?

JJ: Our Writer & Director Salomon has an extensive background in music from sound design to scoring, so I knew from the beginning that his talents in those areas would play a huge part in the film… But even still, I didn’t know how far that was really going to go. When our composer Ryan Taubert jumped on board I knew it was going to be a game changer, and the synergy between Ryan & Salomon was on another level. Then when we got contacted by Dallas Taylor from Defacto Sound about sound design – I can’t even express where the film went. I remember after the sound design came in, us saying this is not the same film… And I never even knew that it could completely change the film in the way that it did with Anomaly… It was some of the best collaboration from a sonic end I’ve ever seen.
 

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?

JJ: To be honest post production became an extremely difficult process as we had a zero budget for post as the Directors were initially going to edit it themselves. What I love about Dan & Sal is they are absolute perfectionists! They see details that you or I never see, but that speak to the project as a whole… And finessing those details took a lot of time… We reached out to one of our buddies Andy Catarisano and he completely reworked the edit from the ground up to allow for Dan & Salomon to do what they are amazing at!

VFX I can’t even begin to talk about, as it was one of the craziest parts of the process… Thanks to Dan’s hard work & dedication he was able to pull off the supervising of over 20 artists who were working from all parts of the world from their homes, as well as 2 VFX houses – one of which is located in London. Mind you we weren’t paying for any of this so people had to do this on their free time/nights & weekends which added to the challenge…
 

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?

JJ: I think we live in such an awesome time, and there has never been a better time to be a filmmaker in my opinion! With the resources available online and the sense of community that has developed around filmmaking, so much is possible. Not to mention gear has decreased so much in price that you can now hold a 4k camera is in the palm of your hand.

The internet has opened up a whole new community in many ways… Traditionally, we see filmmaking in 2 categories – Studio & Independent. But I beg to say that there is now a 3rd category of fully self created projects, widely seen in the “Vimeo” market. Currently indie film is thought of as one big market, but if you think about what an actual independent film is, it usually comes in a package of a private investor and maintains an average budget of a million more or less… But that’s not who our peers are. Our community is accumulated by self driven, passionate filmmakers. The online market has now become the new “foot in the door”. It’s hard for me to say if this is going to be a sustainable model as we are just currently going through it ourselves. But our generation is redefining what this model looks like from a distribution standpoint, making it easier than ever to jump in… And I love that it fuels competition to enhance innovation, inspires creativity and in the end molds better films. All that being said, online distribution is the wave of the future in my opinion, and traditional “TV Studios” will be a thing of the past. As far as theatrical distribution goes, that’s hard to say as the movie-going experience can’t be replicated online.
 

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?

JJ: To be honest in the beginning we wanted nothing less to go to Sundance or Cannes, but then we really had to sit down and talk about what we really wanted… Not only for ourselves but for the product as a whole, and when it came down to it we wanted as many people to see the film as possible! And while many film festivals can open the door to allow for such a widespread audience that their channels offer, that isn’t always the case. We were discouraged when talking with other filmmakers that had gone through the process and would tell us “its all about who you know”. We also found it extremely painful to wait for the selection process and just sit on our baby for a year to get to a festival, and then sit on it for another year before the world could really see it. Film festivals in my opinion really need to change their model in the up & coming years as with this Internet revolution, its hard for me to believe people are going to stay on board with this process and timeline. But our most important goal was for it to reach every person it possibly could!
 

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?

JJ: I always go into any project with the end goal in mind. That said, we did try to keep everything as organic as possible and didn’t want to force anything… Having some sort of structure always pushes you in the right direction, and a lot of that comes from having lots of mini goals, and trying to meet them to propel you towards your dream… We were fortunate to have people that truly believed in the project stand with us, such as The Music Bed who supported us every step of the way from the Kickstarter campaign all the way through to the release. We honestly couldn’t even begin to estimate or know how well received from the community it would have gotten, and we are so humbled.
 

NK: What’s next for ANOMALY? 

JJ: We Hope ANOMALY will have a life of its own now. My biggest reward is reading the comments online and hearing what people got out of it, as well as sitting with family and friends to watch it… We are hoping it will reach as much people as possible that could even use the message behind it.
 

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?

JJ: I say this as a filmmaker, but specifically as a Producer (as most aspiring filmmakers starting out will need to wear a producer hat whether they like it or not):

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.

For more info on ANOMALY be sure to visit www.theanomalyfilm.com, and be sure to check out some behind the scenes stills below.

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About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

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