Features
Rodney Bursiel

Ask, and keep asking

Lifestyle/Technology | The life of a start-up movie producer doesn't follow an easy script

Issue: "The waiting game," March 22, 2008

What does a Christian chasing an unlikely dream do all day?

Trying to develop a commercially viable movie is like being an oil wildcatter, hoping and praying to have a gusher rather than a dry hole. David Gonzales, a 35-year-old former fundraiser for Young Life, is now out to raise big bucks to make and bring to big screens The Beautiful Letdown, which depicts a man trying to figure out how to respond to the homeless guy on the corner.

Gonzales bonded with the script's main character: "I feel that's me." But feelings don't bring in $2.5 million from investors who might lose their entire investment if the well spits out sand rather than movie gold. So how does he proceed?

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First, he found a businessman to give his production company office space in downtown Austin, Texas, while he and a partner raise money and get the script ready for production. The centerpiece of the office is a wall of dreams on which hang large sheets of white paper covered with lists of names. They are "dream" contacts, people involved with media, movies, and charity. "The project is relational," Gonzales explains: "We figure out who we know and how we can get to all these different people. We map out every person and who knows whom to try to bring that dream to reality."

Next, he makes every day a meet-someone day, usually via a friend's introduction. Like Sam-I-am who wants green eggs and ham eaten in a box, with a fox, in a house or with a mouse, Gonzales meets potential investors or helpers anywhere he can: in an office, at a home, in coffee shops, or on the phone. He offers business plans and answers questions: "When people see the passion we have, it excites them."

Third, he plans for the move from development to pre-production-but before stepping up to that he needs enough money on hand (about 75 percent of the budget) to carry him through the next four months. The project would then ramp up from four paid employees to about 70: "You have to have enough money to get through production and maybe editing."

One challenge is that Gonzales is playing "a big chicken and egg game": It's easier to inspire investors to back a film when it has commitments from good actors, and it's easier to get good actors when the money is lined up. But it's like that with many organizations-even a college, say. Donors want to know about the great professors on tap, but many great professors want first to be paid. Someone has to step out in faith.

"I'm OK with the nebulousness of it," Gonzales says, recognizing that most people would not be: "I'm an entrepreneur at heart. . . . It takes a certain level of optimistic, can-do attitude to push it through." He also has a supportive wife, Christie, who is willing to have him forgo the security of a regular job for the risks of moviemaking.

It's also important to show investors that their money will be spent on product, not perks. Gonzales was an executive producer of Chalk, a mocumentary about a year in the life of a group of young teachers. He learned how to run a lean movie set: When someone wanted to spend $8,000 to cater the 18-day shoot, he responded, "We don't have that kind of money. I can't spend it on food." So he managed to get restaurants to provide free breakfasts and lunches: "They liked being asked."

The lifestyle of fundraisers is single-minded: Ask, and keep asking. But Gonzales says it's a good time for Christians to be making movies: "Spiritually based films can sell, especially if they don't pander." His goal is "to be filmmakers first. We want to tell great stories, sometimes spiritual stories. We don't want to be labeled as Christian filmmakers."

The Gonzales lifestyle comes down to one question: "Everyone in the world will tell you that only one in a thousand films will make it to the theaters. How do we become the one?"

Privacy problems

Before you install that video camera near your baby's bed or the nanny cam in the kitchen, you should think about potential viewers. A Minnesota television station aired a chilling video showing that measures taken to protect children may actually put them in harm's way.

Reporter Jacqueline McLean drove around the Twin Cities in a car equipped with an inexpensive camera on its tail and a wireless monitor on its dash: That's the kind of system typically installed to keep drivers from inadvertently backing into a child or bike. As she drove, her tiny monitor picked up wireless signals from home security systems and video baby monitors.

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