Film students combat project funding shortage with Kickstarted program

By Shelby Pendowski | 2/5/14 6:48pm


The promotional picture for student film “Tattered Canvas,” a film about a homeless art professor who deals with feelings of guilt about his deceased family after finding a Jackson Pollock painting.

A student film faces a multitude of difficulties. Lack of funding, for instance, can tarnish the film’s overall quality. So when Grand Valley State University students Shae Spencer and Jeffrey Butler conceived the idea for “Tattered Canvas,” which serves to fulfill Butler’s senior thesis and Spencer’s honors senior project, they knew what they were in for.

Through a contact at Command Partners, a company that helps to promote a variety of services, the seniors have discovered an opportunity to kickstart their film. A Kickstarter film is one that is in need of donations and outside funding in order to be produced. Once the idea of “Tattered Canvas” pieced together, Butler began to contact various Kickstarter programs and promoters — a method he said is not uncommon for student filmmakers.

“Kickstarter is something a lot of film students do to get funding for (their film projects),” Butler said. “I emailed them (Command Partners) and asked them what we could do (or) if they could help us in any way. (An employee of the company) called me and was really interested in our project…they said they could help us out if we sent out our Kickstarter to potential investors.”

About $180 of a desired $3,500 has already been donated to the duo’s project. The donations will help with the purchasing of needed equipment, feeding the crew and, perhaps most importantly, paying the actors, Spencer said.

The film is about a homeless art professor who writhes in guilt over his deceased family after finding a Jackson Pollock painting. The painting not only reminds the professor of his loss, but it also symbolizes his life.

With feedback from peers and various GVSU professors, the film continually improves, Butler said. It began as an abnormally long short-film at 45 pages, but after several rewrites and feedback, the final script is 17 to 18 pages long.

Filming is set to begin the end of February or the beginning of March. Local Grand Rapids venues such as J. Gardella’s Tavern and The Bull’s Head Tavern will be featured in the film, and the pair hopes to secure the Grand Rapids Art Museum as another setting.

The Kickstarter promotion overall has been a learning experience for Butler and Spencer.

“The biggest thing is, you’re always working at it; you’re always emailing people, trying to find people to donate,” Butler said. “You get a lot of no’s, but there is always that one yes from someone who really wants to help out a student.”

The light at the end of the tunnel is still far down the tracks for the film. The pair will continue to promote their film with a teaser trailer, contact donors and, following its GVSU premiere, submit it to local and national film festivals.

“I know what I have done wrong already and I know what I can do better next time, so it has been a really big eye opener for me about getting funding for films,” Butler said. “There is this negative connotation, especially in the film and video program, about how to get this unrealistic goal of funding your film, your first feature film…no one is going to hand you the money on a silver platter. You have to go out and work for it.”

“Tattered Canvas” is set to release later this year. Butler and Spencer are looking for not only donors but other GVSU students who would like to be involved in the production of the film either behind the scenes or as an actor.

“We need all the help we can get,” Spencer said. “So whatever people can do to support or donate would be awesome and we greatly appreciate what we have gotten so far.”

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You can also view the teaser trailer here:

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