This is a question I despise. In other industries, you don’t ask how much money it takes to manufacture a car or a box of Cheerios. Why is it okay in the film business? If I went back to grad school I would probably do my thesis on this. I’m sure the cost of our production will leak out and become some sort of basis of the perceived success of our film. Screw that, I’m going to tell you because I’m proud that I kept my limited amount of investors in mind as I spent every dollar on production. It’s true that I’ve used the same screws four times over the course of the project. Am I cheap? Hell no. But when I have a fiduciary responsibility with other people’s money I am frugal as shit. I negotiate everything.
To understand how much it took to make Billboard, you have to realize that I’ve been working on this project for ten years, and that doesn’t account for the years prior writing the script. What Billboard has become was ideated on a late April evening in 2010 on a roll of craft paper with diagrams and scribbles. I wanted to tell a story in a different way, building audience from the outset, getting them involved within the creation. Telling different sides of the story on different platforms.
Looking back on the blueprint that this evening of madness created brings me a feeling of disbelief, that over the years I kept true to the original idea. People didn’t quite understand what I was doing and why I was doing it, but now that everything has been made, they see it with a clearer understanding. If they only knew how much explaining I had to do along the way. I wanted to have many moving parts that fed of each other, marketed one another and told different facets of the story. There’s only one element that was changed/altered/added.
We started by creating our virtual radio station WTYT960.com. Anybody who paid developers/programmers knows the cost of creating a site such as this. It has many moving parts (a.k.a. shit that can break when API’s change) that evolves over time. This site is still the epicenter of the project. It has always been a place for bands to upload music and build their profile by us aggregating their social media. Periodically we host contests for the bands to win stuff. This is our way of building audience for the project early on.
We then spent a couple of days “auditioning” people in Lancaster, PA to test if an element of the project would work before we took it online. We simply asked people to tell us why they feel they would be a good billboard sitting contestant, we made videos of the auditions. Well it worked, so we did it on-line which required another layer to the web site where they create a profile and upload their video to become a billboard sitting contestant.
I then spent two years working on an interactive play version of the web series that we mounted twice, a one night only test and a week run at Bucks County Playhouse with success. We developed an app where the audience can interact with the characters on stage affecting various elements of the story. This was the only diversion from the original idea for the project and is something I know will be successful in the future with the right amount of resources behind it. As part of the promotion for the play we constructed a 32 x 12 ft. billboard, that had a 4 ft. “skirt” under it, with a catwalk 8 ft. wide and 10 ft. high that we used for rehearsals then as a publicity stunt to raise money for the Miracle League. The structure was 32 ft. wide, 24 ft. high and 20 ft. deep. Two days after our stunt, hurricane force winds whipped through and collapsed the billboard. I was heart broken and relieved that no one was hurt. We used the lumber from this billboard for the set of the plays and to construct another one for the web series and movie shoot.
The reason for this diversion, I wanted to see if what I was working on would work and to generate cash flow, I was bleeding money, still am. I wanted to see if selling billboard space in the project was a real possibility, it was. I needed to earn money to make the web series and movie and the only way I could do this was to prove to people/businesses that my idea/project actually was something that people wanted to see, be a part of and that it would make money.
We built another billboard, a little smaller 28 ft. wide, 21 ft. high and 24 ft. deep which included a 10 ft. catwalk in the Rothrock Motor Sales parking lot in Allentown, PA. The lot is next to a major traffic artery in the Lehigh Valley route 22. I wanted it to be real. We kept this billboard up for nearly a year as we shot the web series and movie on it. We ended up donating the lumber to Habitat For Humanity.
I was able to sell some of the catwalk billboard space to shoot the web series in the fall of 2015 over the course of four weeks, implementing a four days on three days off shooting schedule. I needed to make money in between shoots to live. Everyone got paid on set except for a couple interns from local community colleges working with us for credit and me.
Let this sink a little. We’re shooting over the course of sixteen days completely outside. This meant we needed a ton of support gear, campers, port-a-potties, hand warmers. We had to make light, bounce light, block light, rigging it 20 feet into the air let alone getting the cameras at least 10 ft. into the air which required scaffolding. We shot with three cameras for “speed” which ended up slowing us down a lot. The only free things we got, except for product placement stuff, was the use of three Olympus cameras and a bevy of lens.
Post on the web series was on-going. We added and cut some things because of the movie. We edited it off and on for over two years. For music we’re paying the bands on WTYT960.com to be on the soundtrack. Since I started Billboard I have always maintained a studio where my crew edit and create.
The movie which was shot in August of 2016 over the course of four weeks on location all over the Lehigh Valley. A week of which was at the billboard needing the same things on location as we did for the web series shoot. For both the web series and movie we hired professional actors from NYC, Philly, LA and locally. Our gear and crew came mostly from Philly and NYC. All of these people had to be paid, travel to our shooting location, be housed and fed during production.
For pick-ups we had to fly in our lead from Germany for a couple of days as we reworked some things in post. This doesn’t account for the many other days we shot, mainly with a team of three. We created lean and mean. We edited the movie over the course of thirteen months, hired a composer for score, did a Dolby 5.1 mix for the audio track, color corrected in Da Vinci, etc. We’re doing things right, all of which requires a lot of cash.
I was only able to raise $80k for the project. Everything else came from the sales of the billboards in the project, failed Indiegogo campaigns and from me and my family. I’m not good at raising/asking for money even after having successful projects in the past. I’ve always created in the high-risk game of “all in”, risking everything I own to craft my project. I believe that to ask people to invest in you/your project you need to have your own skin in the game.
My core team and family have gone without and in debt to make this project happen. So please when you see them, ask them how much it cost to make Billboard, a project that has a “real” radio station with over 1000 bands on it, an interactive play with a mobile app, a web series, and a feature film.