This is a transcript of SYS 445 – Niche Filmmaking For the Mermaid Community With Christine Chen.
Welcome to Episode 445 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger with sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing writer-director Christine Chen about her new mermaid feature film – Erzulie. It’s a fascinating talk about how she and her team were able to reach out to the mermaid community, a community that I really had never heard of and didn’t know exist, and really get this community behind them. But it’s a great template for someone looking to create niche content. There’s a whole community of people who are really into mermaids, the mystery of mermaids, the fantasy element that goes along with mermaids, it’s sort of like cosplay. And Christina is going to sort of explain some of that to us in today’s interview, but she’s very smart, very transparent about how she was able to get this film produced. And she has thoughts too, on possibly reaching out to this mermaid community to create sequels for this film as well. So, it’s a fascinating interview, so stay tuned for that.
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Ashley: Welcome, Christine to the selling your screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Christine: Thanks. I’m glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where do you grow up? And how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Christine: Sure. My background actually was never film. I went to business school. And then, but I’ve always loved making things. I remember my first project being an elementary school using your you know, the old school VHS cameras the parents had, and I just always loved it. But from my cultural background, being an artist or being a filmmaker was never part of the vocabulary, unfortunately. It was always being a doctor or engineer or something like that. So, it was always a hobby. And it was only until undergraduate school when I went to Rice University that I took a class called, it was actually documentaries, inter documentary film, and that’s when I started to fall in love with filmmaking. And it wasn’t until taking a real job in the corporate world that made me realize I definitely did not want to do that. And that I wanted to do films. And that’s how I started do films.
Ashley: Yeah, gotcha. So, let’s talk about that. You know, I you talked about just, you know, maybe not getting the support from you know, your friends and family, they think you should be a lawyer or doctor and accountant or something like that. I mean, I think that cuts across all cultures, I think we all get a little bit of that sort of blowback people are skeptical, you know, good luck with that is sort of the attitude you get when starting, how did you deal with that? How do you win some of these people over like your parents, you know, especially when parents have maybe paid for your college education, and then you’re like, you know, well, no, I’m not going to go do this, you know, thing that I studied for years, I’m going to go do this totally, you know, irrational creative thing over here. How do you get through that? And what are some just advice and tips from going through that process?
Christine: The biggest thing is knowing that you can you rely on yourself and the people around you, they do support and understand what you’re doing first, and you keep navigating and moving towards your goal as if you have their full support at the people who don’t. And I find that with that momentum eventually, if they want to have any sort of involvement and be a part of your life, they will catch up eventually. And so, I’ve navigated my journey in the film industry as if I had the full support of my parents, and just kept making it and you know, going, working really hard and that’s really the best way to go about it. And I think ultimately, parents just want to see that you’re happy and that you have a plan and that, you’re going to succeed and if you can show that, that you are going towards that, and that this is what makes you happy. They eventually catch up. And that’s kind of how my parents were, they realized that this is something I was not going to change my mind about no matter how much they told try to. And they eventually gave it because of that.
Ashley: Yeah, that’s sound advice. Thank you for that. So, you were in college, you did this documentary class, you started to get interested in filmmaking. I noticed on IMDb, you have a whole wide array of credits, ad credits, editing credits, producing credits, I think I even stole a script supervisor credit. So, you’ve done various positions. How did all of that, number one, how do you get yourself in a position where you can kind of learn those different crew positions? And then ultimately, how do those prepare you to write and direct your own feature film?
Christine: Yeah, so I love everything about filmmaking. And when you are on a set, you, you know, when you first start, you just are hungry to learn about each of the different positions. And I think knowing as much as you can about the process makes one a better producer and a director. I started just jumping on people sets. Around grad school, I started offering to produce people’s films, even though I’d never done it before. And because I knew that that was a position that nobody else wanted to everybody wanted to direct. And in so like, oh, I can produce, I have a business background. And I just started producing and out of necessity, learn by doing, you know, oh, I didn’t have this person as a physician. So, I ended up doing that I didn’t have this started. And I credit a lot of my training to this, the documentary style is you shoot you edit yourself, right? For the most part, you’re a one-woman crew. And because of that, I’ve been able to finish a lot of my projects, because I control the editing, I control the posts and all that stuff. And so through literally just learn by doing, I built a network, you know, you get a one project, you do the best you can, hopefully there’s 50 people on set, all those 50 people are going to jump on other sets or do their own projects. They remember the person that helped them or whatever. And they’ll ask if from there, it just kept escalating, growing. And I teach sometimes, here and there, and the biggest thing I tell people is that, to be a good director and to be the producer, you really need to have a respect of understanding of how each position works to make a story come to life. And that’s about experiencing it, in my opinion. So that’s how I got into it.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, very sound advice again. So, let’s dig into your latest feature film Erzulie, which you co-wrote and also directed, and also edited and produced. So definitely leaning into all of that. So maybe start out you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Christine: Sure, originally is about four friends. They reunite at a camp called Tom Leveaux as a trauma bonding kind of camp. They all come from various mental health issues and dealing with that. And one of the leaders, Wendy, she is actually there for alternative reasons. She’s there to summon legendary goddess Erzulie. And things go awry. And then shenanigans happen. So that’s kind of the setup for it.
Ashley: And so where did this idea come from? I mean, it’s a Creature Feature. So that’s sort of a genre, you know, a sub-genre of horror. They were what was sort of the inspiration for this. Why go with a Creature Feature horror film?
Christine: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s just starts with the basis of growing up. I’ve always loved mermaids. Little Mermaid was a thing when I was a little kid. And I was wondering why there aren’t any mermaid films that are not magical glittery and Princess mermaid. So, one of the dark mermaid that was closer to what traditional folklore is with was a mermaid. And it started off with the very basis of the, I did a short actually pitch like a short script first before I came up with a full-on concept and the short was just for girls that are at a camp. It originally was in a motel. And they run into this this killer mermaid and I wanted something that was, you know, with four films, there’s a lot of themes of like vengeance and but I find that there’s a lot of vengeance films for men, but not really for women. And I thought it would be cool to have a vengeance film but like for women, to right the wrongs of what women have to deal with on a day-to-day basis and to kind of incorporate some of the themes. I like to make films with meaning. And so, you probably know with Erzulie there is themes on top toxic, toxic masculinity and things like that. So, yeah, that’s how it was all born.
Ashley: Yeah. And I’m curious, especially with a business background that you have, how much of this, because those are all great creative reasons to do a project. But how much of sort of your business background played into this? I mean, I talked to distributors and creature features, especially low budget independent films, there’s not a lot of them out there. And so that’s something that I do hear from independent distributors or whatever they they’re looking for this type of film, how much of that played into this idea? I mean, certainly, you have other ideas, you have other scripts you produce to this one, how much did sort of the practical business side of things play into this?
Christine: Practical business side played a huge part. And I think this is the part that a lot of filmmakers don’t think about with before they write it film. Luckily, I’m very business oriented and I knew that we were coming out of a pandemic, and that people would want something fun to watch that they could experience with other people once the pandemic stipulations were starting to lift. And so, I wanted that 90s film where you are out on the lawn and you’re watching a film with your friends, drinking and having a good time. So, a fun outdoor type of film. It’s so creatures immediately popped I think of Jaws. In Austin, there’s a Jaws on the water that Alamo Drafthouse used to put on where you sit in tubes and watch Jaws and I just love, love that. And so, and I knew that the mermaid community is also a very niche, loyal, growing community. And it’s not just a national phenomenon is it’s a huge international phenomenon. There is mermaid communities in China, in Japan all over the world. And I have plans to hopefully make this a sequel as well. And so, developing from that aspect and really diving into the mermaid community was something I considered when I was writing for sure.
Ashley: So, what do you mean there’s people in China that are in the mermaid community? What is the mermaid community?
Christine: It’s a lifestyle. So, there’s actually, we already went to what we’re kind of touring the film right now. We’ve been following mermaid conventions. Right now, in the US. We just came from the California mermaid convention in Sacramento, but people go, they dress up in tails. They have mermaid costuming, it’s almost a cosplay. But they swim, they you know, they have pageants and stuff, but it’s a way of life. And so, we went to the California mermaid convention. The next week, we’re going to be at the Apple mermaid Summit. So, we’ve been following these very specific mermaid events. And right now, just the US but I know they’re all over the world. And I know this because when I was researching to pitch this to investors, that was something that I brought in was like the international viability of it because you know, it’s the mermaid pageant is, I can’t there’s like, there’s a big mermaid pageant in Egypt. And it’s another way in China, China had the world Guinness Book World Records, the largest mermaid. Yes, show ever like it’s growing international phenomenon.
Ashley: Do you have any ideas? And I ask this because I’ve talked about this on the podcast before where and it doesn’t sound like in this particular instance, you were in this mermaid community before you came up with this idea. But do you have any idea of the actual number like how many people sort of identify as being part of this community? And I asked it as sort of a baseline, because I’ve heard of this sort of really niching down with films before. And obviously a community can’t be too niche. I mean, there’s got to be more than, you know, 100 people that are into it. Do you have any idea of what the number is of how many people are into this?
Christine: I wish I knew exactly how many. I’m sure somewhere I mean, if you just Google mermaid community, you can find like Israel, some 1000 people and just in Israel and then like the largest mermaid community was like, you know, 1000 people join that and this these are like specific places all around Seattle mermaid community, like, you just you just grow it like so many things pop up and it’s kind of nuts and I think it’s growing because the technology behind making mermaid tails, more consumer based, has improved significantly throughout the years. So now, a long time ago when splash was out, only a few people could own, I guess a silicone tail. And it was extremely expensive. Now, there’s new lines of cloth and fabric tails and stuff that, you know, your teenager little kid can combine and wear safely. And so, there’s like this increase in growth for this love for mermaids. It’s pretty nuts. I was not part of the community, but my co-writer Camille Gladney, and my makeup artist Roxy McDaniel. They both are very avid followers of the community. So, they already knew about it. And we’re very knowledgeable about this community.
Ashley: Yeah. And one of the things that occurs to me, and this is maybe a long-winded question, but years ago, there was a movie about Lacrosse, there is an indie film about lacrosse. And obviously Lacrosse is a Native American sport originally. And so, this film was about a native in current times, a Native American team playing lacrosse. And I always remember and this was the guys pitch, the producers pitch was well, there’s millions of lacrosse players that will be into this. I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, lacrosse was by far the most important sport in our high school. And I can tell you, none of the kids that played lacrosse in my high school, were interested in Native American culture or anything like that. So, I always felt like the community, you know, this guy missed making a film that actually land with his community. How do you nobody, especially since you’re not in that community, how did you know that? And you mentioned that in your case, yours is sort of an evil mermaid, which goes sort of against grain? How do you know your film is going to land with this community? Did you start to talk to people? Did you send them the script? What was sort of groundwork did you lay so that the community might totally reject something like this?
Christine: You know, it was definitely a risk. And so, when we first went to our first event, the California mermaid convention, it was a good test, basically, because it could have gone the polar opposite. We went in, we I had been following through the social accounts and stuff, different mermaids, mermaid influencers, and everything, and just following blogs, and forums and groups and stuff and kind of seeing where things are missing in terms of content from mermaid. And it seemed like there’s a plethora of things for like 10-year-olds and sparkle, mermaid princes and stuff. But there’s this whole other world of, you know, there’s a controversy, even within the mermaid community of representation for mermaids, you know, so there aren’t that many people of color mermaids. In fact, we are the first black mermaid film besides the Little Mermaid, because a little mermaid is not coming out till 2023. That was a whole controversy, if you remember that being released out. So there, we knew that there was a need for this, because it wasn’t being done at all. And through that, when we tested it at the California mermaid convention, we realized we were right. People were very excited about the film. Not only was it POC, there’s also LGBTQIA representation within that. And we kept hearing over and over how this was missing from the content, because I think, from my standpoint Hollywood tries to appeal to everyone in those subject matters are taboo or not mainstream, and but within this particular community, those are the topics that they most relate to. There’s so much gender fluid as non-binary folks in the mermaid community. There’s so much LGBTQ, there’s so much POC, this is the content that they are missing. So, just following those communities, listening, watching reading the blogs, that’s fully confirmed.
Ashley: Yeah. So, when you went to this first convention, or any of these conventions, what did you actually have at that point? Did you have a finished film? Or did you have a poster and a costume and a script? What did you actually bring to these conventions? I’m curious.
Christine: We had everything. We had the finished film. We had the poster, we had swag. We had our tail. We had our mermaid there, and we had a pole. I’m a travelling circus right now, basically. It’s all fits in my Honda CRV, but we have everything we have the props from the film, or we just we post up or we talk about the, you know, hopefully, somebody watch them they come as questions or they come asking questions already simply because of the fact that they’re like; Wow, there’s a black mermaid film like, holy shit, you know, so and then we just we it’s very grassroots. And what we’re finding is that, especially with niche communities, they need that initial face-to-face, one-on-one connection to kind of adopt you into their community. You don’t just because I was following these groups way before, and nobody was really interacting with me much or following me back the moment I came. I went to one of these conventions, I started to get people, you know, following people interacting with my posts, people jumping on it was night and day. And so, I think with the lacrosse that might be what the issue is, is that he assumed making this like he would be it’d be an automatic in and without some sort of personal buy in of sort. You’re still just an outsider making a film about a group, you know, with us, they saw the community saw us there, they saw us participating in the tail, like we had our tails, my lead actress, Lila, Anastasia Scott, would wear the tail and everybody would go wild and want to take a photo with her, you know, I have a tail, you know, like I was there participating in all events and everything.
Ashley: Yeah. Because I can see these could these niche communities would be very skeptical of carpetbaggers is backing in. And so, you really have to, in an earnest way, appreciate and become part of this community.
Christine: Correct. And that’s what we did. And we knew it worked because we did a screening in Los Angeles at the Lemley Glendale. And we had one day where the it was for the mermaid community, and they came out dressed up to come see the film, and we had just come from the Mermaid convention, but they knew us because they saw us waking up every day with them going to the swims, talking to them, you know, participating dressing up, and from that, I think they were just happy that we were just as excited to be a part of their community as well. You know, I think if we hadn’t done that, I don’t know whether we would have that buy-in or not, I think because they recognize us and feel connected to us that it makes them more willing to open their minds to watch this film. And then they see this film, and they’re like, wow, you know, I think and we went as far as, our stunt mermaid in the film, for example, is actually heavily involved in the mermaid community as well. So, really highly, I was there. So, there was already some built in pieces from the community that we incorporated. We didn’t just want to make it’s like misappropriating something, right? We didn’t want to just make a mermaid there it was zero knowledge of mermaids. You know, we wanted to make sure like; Hey, she’s swimming the proper way. She looks the proper way. Because like, the last thing we want to do is alienate the audience that we made this film for.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. And I mean, this is fascinating, what you’ve done here. And again, I’ve talked about something similar on that sort of the other side where you raise money, you get involved in a niche, and then you run a kick-starter in that niche. Did you guys and we’ll get to that in a minute. But did you guys use this? And are you thinking about using this? Because certainly now you have a lot of credibility. So, you could do a sequel, and you could potentially run a kick-starter to this community and they might be very apt to engage and support it.
Christine: Yes, I think for the sequel, for sure. That will definitely be our people. We already have so many people they like please involve us for the sequel, we want to be in it. I’ve been following a lot of craftsmanship folks. What you’ll find with Mermaid community is that they all are very creative, and they make their own costumes and stuff. So, I’ve been following like their work and being like, oh, how can I incorporate this into the sequel and everything? So, I’m already thinking about that. So, for sure, for sure, for the sequel, we will want to involve the community as much as possible. For the initial making of this particular film. We did have kick-starter, but we weren’t bought in yet with the community. So, the kick-starter that we had was more for existing southern Texas, Louisiana filmmaker community and my background being from business school. going through. And I think for business, folks, it was like interesting that there’s a filmmaker amongst them they wanted to support so, so we did do kick-starter, but we have not tapped into the community and I think that will be for a sequel too.
Ashley: Yeah. And I think one of the things that I think people miss is they often feel that niching down too far, you know, eliminates their audience, but it actually does in a lot of cases, you almost can never niche down too far, despite what our intuition might tell you. And this is a community I literally never even heard of. But I can definitely see that people would be very involved. And if you were to serve, because Hollywood’s not making movies from them, no one’s going to make movies for these folks, because it is so niche, Hollywood can’t spend $100 million on a movie for this small niche. But small, independent filmmakers can find those niches and can actually find support among them.
Christine: I agree, you nailed, you hit something on the head. So many distributors will tell you make something that’s more mainstream, make something that appeals to everybody and stuff, which is interesting, because that’s completely counterintuitive with what I learned in business school, which is, when you’re starting a business, you don’t want to try to please everyone, because you’re going to please nobody at all. That’s like, the biggest thing that we learned in business school. And so, I took that, and we’re all like, let’s go with niche. You know, it makes sense. There are studies on that, that the reason why niche marketing works, because these are loyal, buying customers. And that’s kind of like your first early adopters. They’re the people who are going to adopt the film, regardless of whether they know that there’s a star in there, or it’s won Sundance or something for the masses care about, right, they already immediately bought in because that’s their passion, right? So, if you can get that group to buy in from early stage, that’s already your early adopters, then from there, they’re going to help you market the film by buzzing into their communities and you know, they’re all going to be very vocal and involved within their communities. And then from there, the masses will start to catch on. So, that’s in theory.
Ashley: Yeah, in theory, but we see real examples of that. I mean, Facebook didn’t start out open to everyone, it started out as a very specific app for Harvard students. And then it goes, it’s easy to open up the niche. And it’s much harder to go the opposite and actually niche down when you’re already get there. So anyways, I think this fastening, I really think filmmakers should really listen to it, because it’s a great template for potentially, you know, making a small film that could pull a profit. So, let’s talk about the writing process real quick. You’re collaborating with them Camille Gladney and just walk through this process, I’ve had a number of writing partners, I know there’s a lot of people listening to this that have writing partners. How did you guys work? Were you guys in the same room? Did you use Zoom? Do you guys do an outline together? And then divide up scenes? Do you guys write the scenes together? Maybe just describe sort of your process how you guys wrote this together?
Christine: Sure. It was definitely a learning curve for both of us. I have not partnered up before really for writing. So, we were both kind of learning each other’s styles as we went. The first process was I had, like I said, I’ve written the seven-or-nine-page short film, I sent it to her, pitched it to her and she was like, mermaids, I’m in. And then we got together in person and did the pitch outline. Basically, this was a two-week process, we would go in, we would sit and just talk through like, what are the beats basically, it would be, I guess, your traditional like, say the cat beats, you know, okay, the opening image and then like your page five at this point these things, then we would go and keep breaking it. And until we were happy with the outline, then she wanted to take the first stab at writing it. So, I let her have her process. And then I made the mistake of because it’s we use Celtics, because you can see on both ends. And I know like for some filmmakers, it’s like, it’s not final draft. But it worked for us. And I went in and started to live edit while she was writing, which I learned very quickly was a big no-no for her. So, like so these things that I learned because the page count kept changing and we’re like messing with her mind. So, then I learned Okay, she takes her first step I made sure Hey, is it good for me now to go in. I’m going to start working on it for this time, but this time, and I start taking we go kind of back and forth like that. And then we set splits. I think what helped was we both set and adhere to very specific time. We said, by date we want this to be done, by this date of this week of this day and have a rough draft by this date. And that was the biggest thing was that we were both committed to matching that timeline. And so, by the way, it only took us a month to write. Obviously, that was the full-on rough. And while we were raising money pitching and stuff, we were still tweaking and perfecting the script. And I think the reason why this was actually possible, the timeline as to the completion of the script to the completion of the film as possible is because my background as assistant director, so most filmmakers, they have a completed script. And they say, the higher the ad, and the ad goes and breaks it down. And that’s it. Right? I had the luxury of, I could continue to tweek the script as much as I wanted, because I controlled the schedule. So, I knew, Okay, if I added this, this will change the schedule, and I could, I wasn’t paying myself. So, my time was very fluid. Versus I’ve worked for many sets where if you hire me, if you try to change the script, I want to like rip your head off type thing, like because that’s so much more time that you’re not paying me. Yeah. So, I think the luxury was that, because I was controlling the schedule and the breakdowns and everything. I could be that fluid with the script in line with the producing scanning process.
Ashley: And what did your development process look like? Obviously had a writing partner, so you’re getting feedback from her. But did you send it out to some actors? Do you have some trusted writer friends, trusted producer friends? What did that actually look like, just as I said to development bouncing back and forth?
Christine: Definitely had a few, I guess you’d call table reads. It was height of the pandemic. So, it’s the zoom, which is nice. So, we had people that we had kind of tag thought would be good for certain roles, read some of this stuff. And to kind of get us an idea of flow. A lot of people who are part of it were other writer friends that we have and trusted as well. So yes, we definitely had, we also sent it to trust writer, they know friends to look at it give us feedback as well. So yeah, it was an ongoing feedback, process, feedback process type thing.
Ashley: So now at what point in this process? It sounds like very early on. But at what point in this process did you know that you were going to direct it and produce it? Was there ever any attempt to write the script and send it to, you know, a bigger production company? This was always something you guys wanted to do yourself?
Christine: Yeah. So, the way I’ve been able to have privilege direct is, is writing, basically, especially a woman of color in this industry, people don’t just give you scripts direct. So, you kind of have to make your create your own opportunities. And for me, I write so that I can direct, I can direct other people’s scripts, no problem, but I would not write to give that to somebody else that direct like that, for me is the most painful process and the cherry on top. And what I earn from it is the right to direct. So, from the beginning on, it was always okay, this is the story I want to direct. So, I’m going to write it so that I am produced it so that I can have the opportunity to direct
Ashley: Gotcha. So, then what was your plan? You guys got a draft that you guys liked? How did you go about raising money? It sounds like a kick-starter was a part of it. Did you go out to just friends and family before that, but maybe talk through just the actual raising of the money a little bit? Give us some insight on that.
Christine: Yeah, raising the money is the hardest.
Ashley: It is always the hardest part. Surprise, surprise.
Christine: It’s terrible. Luckily, I have a business background. And so, I incorporated that into making the pitch. So, I developed the pitch. I’ve done pitches for business school before for fake products and stuff. So, this was really not that different. Made a pitch, and then, you know, what was interesting was, before this film, I was actually supposed to make a different film. And so, I had one or two investors that were already bought into that script. So, I tried to parlay them into this film, and it worked at first but then because of life. They had to we were like greenlit but then not they pulled out because of life separate from the script issues. And that’s when I pulled out my, in high school had a sales background. And I really, really went and lean into that sales back then and what they teach you about sales is you shouldn’t profile your people Like, instantly, like you, you can’t make assumptions by what somebody else is going by, by what your assumptions are about that person, oh, they fit this demographic in this certain, I don’t know, money scales, stuff like that, therefore, they definitely won’t this, you shouldn’t treat it that way, you should treat it as a numbers game. And that’s when I thought of it that way, that’s when my pitching improved, that’s when I started to have successful pitching. I would schedule eight pitches a day, this was the entire month of February or March, I set a deadline when we had to have the money by which was April 1, if we didn’t, would have to push our shoot dates. And every single day, I would pitch at least a few people. So, wake up pitch, pitch, pitch, pitch, pitch. And then the next thing is pitch, pitch, pitch. And then how I got those pitches was simply asking people not to invest first, but more; hey, I been embarking on this project, I need a lot of help, because I’ve never done this before. Would you be willing to hear a pitch and help myself improve? Basically, you can end this pitch by just telling me what I can do to make it better? Or if you have any questions about it. Or if you can just recommend me other people who might find this interesting to listen to that’s totally okay, as well. So then, when I approached it, not thinking that the end goal was only to get money from somewhere, I think it made people more comfortable and more willing to lend me their time to listen to a pitch because there was like, no pressure, right? I talked about this before in other settings, that it’s like dating. You can’t go in thinking, like, that’s the one put all your eggs in the basket and like you because we do you act desperate and you chase them away, essentially, you have to just be like, everybody could be the one. And you seem cool. This is me. And then if you don’t like it, like move on, it’s fine. And I think when you don’t put so much pressure, people are more open. And that’s what happened was when you know I finished the pitch and then I wouldn’t even think about oh, like, what are you going to invest in? How much money are you going to give me right now? I was like; Cool. If you have any questions, if you don’t like, feel free, here’s my email. What I would appreciate is if you had two or three friends who might recommend that my find this interesting listen to, how can I improve this? And that was it. I never asked, how much money are in a given type thing. It was until April 1, we raised all of our money on that day. Because everybody came back and started to say, actually, you remember that pitch I was actually interested in like, we were just waiting to get our funds in line and stuff like that. I think that’s how you treat it is you can’t just look at your rich friends and be like; Oh, they’re going to invest because they are rich, like that’s not fair.
Ashley: Well, I’m curious. And that’s an excellent angle to pitch something because I totally agree, it really takes the pressure off. It doesn’t feel like a high-pressure sales pitch by sort of approaching like that. But what was your pitch in terms of ROI? Obviously, you don’t have tons of films feature films under your belt that have made, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars. So how do you approach that I’ve had a number of people on the podcast, I’ve done this myself, where my pitch is often more about being a part of something cool than an actual ROI. But what did your pitch entail in terms of that? Like, what were you promising them if they actually did invest money?
Christine: Yeah, I had to pitch pitches, basically. If somebody told me that they only cared about the money part, I would tailor it more choice money, somebody was more interested in the creative part, I would tailor it to a creative part. But for the money part specifically. I strategically had shot it in Louisiana. And I knew that Louisiana is great for tax incentives. And I knew about a year and a half ago that I would make some Louisiana because of these types of searches. And as a local, I would be able to increase my amount of tax incentives by about 20%. So, I actually moved to Louisiana a year to establish residency to plan for making some sort of film Louisiana. So that was a big pitch I could use as a local Louisiana screenwriter. I can get up to 40% Tax back when everything that was spent, and this is how it goes, Louisiana was also currently running a incentive for investors. If an investor invested in a company or Louisiana company, they themselves had a separate venture capitalist tax incentives that they could also have. So had that. And then I base off of the constitutional comps. I know, earlier on, people try to do like a 70-30, split 70 to the producers, 30 to the investors, but because I knew I was a first-time director, first time, first investor film, first a lot of things, we just say 50-50. And that opened up a lot of doors. Another thing that helped us to was, we had originally set the cap in terms of the minimum investment as fairly high. It was minimum was like 50,000, we ended up having to lower it to 25,000. Because once I started pitching us, I started to read, like, oh, the range that people seem to be more comfortable about started around 25 or even 10, that range. So, I was very flexible, and kept changing and paring down improving pitch economically from that standpoint.
Ashley: Gotcha. I’m curious. I’m just about as you were saying that, at what point and you shot a number of things in Los Angeles as well. So um, so number one, or number two, I would sort of be curious to get your take on the differences between that. But at what point as from a producer standpoint, is that breaking point, I find it found for myself being in LA, there’s a lot of things like you have just more good actors, you have access to talent and crew. And if you go to Louisiana, sometimes that becomes a little more scarce, you end up flying people in and that’s obviously going to detract from the potential benefits you’re going to get from being in Louisiana. So there seems like there’s some points. What At what point do you say it’s worth going to Louisiana? Because did you fly people in? Did you already have enough sort of establishment there that you knew a cinematographer and your grips you had all that infrastructure in place?
Christine: So, I have been filming a lot in Louisiana actually, filmed in Louisiana, more so than any place in the world. Because there was a program for the Louisiana film prize, I started participating in starting 2014, which is you make a short film in Shreveport, Louisiana. And you get the chance of prob of winning at $50,000. And so, I’ve competed in that since 2014. And because of that, I established infrastructure in Louisiana specifically. And I knew the crew, I knew who was working I knew, and I wasn’t too far from that I spent 10 years of my life in Austin, Texas, actually. And so, a lot of my crew was already southern base. So, because of that, a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Austin, this report is really are like it’s not bad. And I so I crossover between the two a lot. And in the end, it was like a half and half split. 50% was Louisiana, and 50% was like a lot of the top of the line or key positions came from Austin and all my actors were split as well. I tried very hard to use as much local actors as possible. And then some of the leads Elizabeth, Courtney, they were from LA at that point. And I made lots of films. And so, I had pulled from a lot of the shorts and talent from there. So, a lot of them are from Austin, Texas. So that’s how crew was that worked out. But I think it was because I had the infrastructure that made it made sense. And I had an amazing every time I film Louisiana, it’s incredible, because it’s like the wild-west and there’s not much red tape. It’s pretty great. I remember when you’re doing a short film and the city handed me the keys to an abandoned prison for free for a short film. This doesn’t happen in places like Los Angeles.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. That’s a fantastic story. So, as we wrap up the interview, I just like to ask the guests if there’s anything they’ve seen recently that they thought was really great that they could recommend to screenwriters, HBO, Netflix, Hulu, anything you’ve been watching that you thought was really worth recommending?
Christine: Yeah, so I started watch I’m not done with it, but it’s the first few episodes I saw seen Our Flag Means Death. Our Flag Means Death is a series that you can find on Netflix, but Tyco I can’t say his last … he’s in there. And it’s just this dark humor. I love dark humor, so I think that one has been quite fun to watch. Yeah, if people haven’t seen Everything Everywhere All At Once, you should also watch those.
Ashley: Yeah. Perfect. Yeah, that was actually I got that recommendation last week. So, people are definitely talking about that. When and how can people see Erzulie? You know what the release schedule is going to be like when it’s going to be?
Christine: Yes. So, June 14, which is actually very soon, next Tuesday believe it is available on video on demand. So most streaming platforms right now we’re doing pre orders for iTunes now for TV. In fact, Friday to Sunday only there’s going to be a flash sale. So, which means it sort of turned 12.99, 6.99 for rental. And yeah, so your Google Play, Vudu all that stuff. June 14. We are actually doing a nationwide call for the hashtag Erzulie watch party and through 14, so hopefully, people will go and participate.
Ashley: What’s the best way for people to just keep up with what you’re doing? Follow along with your career, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, anything comfortable sharing a roundup for the show notes.
Christine: Yeah, so my personal is CChenMTS, because it’s short for flame. Meta flame is my production company. So, if you search Meta flame films on IG, and also people find it, originally itself has its own handle Erzulie film on Instagram, everything. I think the only thing that I’m not super active on I’m trying is Twitter. I’m learning about it. And then I’m definitely learning about Tik-Tok. Tik Tok is a whole world that I just don’t.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, I’m definitely in the learning phase with Tik Tok as well, my kids are on it. So, I got to try and keep up with them. So well, Christine, thank you for coming up coming on this interview today. fascinating interview, lots of great information. And I look forward to talking to you again, hopefully you do your sequel and I’d love to have you back on we can talk about how that one went as well. So good luck with this one. And good luck with all the other ones.
Christine: Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
Ashley: Perfect. Thank you. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
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