Could International Tragedy Lead to New Style of Filmmaking and Finance?

March 26th, 2007 by Barry Caplan | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Mike Cassidy of the San Jose Mercury News has written two articles recently about a local tragedy and the effects of the lives of the people involved and inadvertently touched on some important DigimediaFinance principles.

In a nutshell, a local man was murdered by his girlfriend in Pennsylvania. She was arrested and then released on bail in Canada, where she then committed suicide after killing their young son. The parents and friends naturally were devastated several times over, and have pointed out issues with the Canadian justice system as part of their grief.

Articles: Front Page Story, blog entry, Follow-up about filmmaker friend

Part of the “filmmaker friend” story struck me as a very important illustration of the DigimediaFinance principles, despite the underlying and ongoing tragedy of the entire situation.

Now Kuenne is out to make one last movie with his old friend. His goal is to meet the June deadline to apply for entry into the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a race and money is an object.

Kuenne decided against investors. They might want creative control. Instead, he is raising donations through a non-profit at www.dearzachary.com. Kuenne, who plans to spend about $20,000 of his own, is far short of his ideal budget, but he says he’ll do what he can with what he gets.

The movie, he says, will be ready in time to submit to the Toronto festival. And if it’s selected?

Oh yes. David and Kate Bagby have every intention of being there opening night.

So what we have here is the perfect situation for a vanity film. The film is clearly a tribute, a memorial, a mourning, and deservedly so. Kuenne is an experienced filmmaker so his readiness to write off investors so quickly strikes me as bizarre, given his stated reasons and willingness to finish by a certain date in a trade off for quality.

This situation in film making is SCREAMING for innovative finance thinking. And I am going to give you innnovation right now 🙂

Here are the motivations of the main people:

1 – Kuenne, Bagby family: Express grief in the form of a film tribute, to be completed by a certain date in order to premier at a Canadian film festival. Presumably the PR associated with a Canadian premier will generate pressure surrounding the justice issues.

2 – Kuenne – advance his reputation and career as a filmmaker

So now Kuenne writes off investors who “might want creative control” and instead seeks essentially anonymous donations in tiny amounts form people who are touched by the story. I think the real reason is that there is no business plan for this film, and the investors are being shunned not because they might care about the creative control, but because they might care about their money, and more importantly the film as an enterprise in itself. Instead of seeking investors to whom he is accountable, he is raising money to which no accountability is attached at all.

I think this is very short sighted, because this story actually meshes nicely with a current innovative investment environment that could in fact wildly benefit his cause of memorializing his friend.

As we all well know, film is changing, and so is the way people consume it. This film could be made as planned, and then presented not just as a film, but as snippets online. Were I advising him, I would suggest making the film, and then, concurrent with its release (it is unlikely there is going to be any broad distribution for this film), the raw footage could be released under some version of a Creative Commons license.

A project inviting other people to use the footage in ways to further memorialize Bagby, or make a case regarding the justice issues, or for whatever purpose they desire, could have been announced at the film festival.

If this direction had been pursued, I know there are any number of companies, large and small, making Web 2.0 technology, that may be interested in funding the project, either directly with cast, or with people and in-kind services to help work on the project.

Then there is a win-win alignment of interests, and Bagby will be sure to be remembered much longer then even this film will be likely to garner attention by itself.

Can this project be rescued and converted in time? I don’t know – time is tight, and if nothing else there are probably legal issues surrounding the releases folks have already signed to participate in the film.

But it could work for other films in the development stages. I would be interested to hear from filmmakers, attorneys, angel investors, and Web 2.0 companies in the video and syndication spaces and I can work on facilitating such a project among interested parties soon. You can reach me at or via IM skype at barry_caplan.

2 Responses to “Could International Tragedy Lead to New Style of Filmmaking and Finance?”

  1. Kurt Kuenne Says:

    I’m glad Mike Cassidy’s article about my film got you excited enough to write an article about your reaction, but I wanted to clear up an assumption you made about my motivations above:

    My goal in completing this film is NOT in any way shape or form to advance my career and reputation as a filmmaker, and I frankly find the suggestion exploitative and nauseating, as I loved Andrew very much. My goal is to help the Bagbys, who are like second parents to me, in their struggle to raise awareness and change laws up north so that such a tragedy will not be repeated, and that Andrew and Zachary will not have died in vain. It’s my responsibility as a decent human being to make the most compelling film I can as a call to action. It is not a vanity project, and I frankly think it’s going to be a hell of a movie.

    Regarding my disinterest in investors on this project, Mike got it half right in his column. I didn’t want to involve a Hollywood production company in a co-production arrangement for reasons of creative control (and I was approached, but felt that was not an appropriate arrangement for this particular project). But my reason for not wanting investors on this film is that I find the concept of anyone financially profiting off of Andrew or Zachary’s deaths sickening; any proceeds generated from the film will go to scholarships established in Andrew’s memory set up at his hospital and medical school. Their murders are not an investment opportunity.

    Hence, I have been financing the film myself and with generous contributions from hundreds of wonderful, compassionate people from around the globe. I am not trading off quality in doing so. I am absolutely thrilled with how the film is wrapping up at present and consider it to be my best work.

    David Bagby’s book “Dance with the Devil” has already made the Globe & Mail Bestseller list in Canada and sold out its first printing during its first 4 weeks of publication; there is a lot of interest in this subject up north and I think you may be quite surprised at just how many people end up seeing and being affected by this film.

    All the best,

    Kurt Kuenne

  2. Barry Caplan Says:

    Readers –

    I certainly don’t relish the pain and heartbreak the Bagbys or Andrew’s friends have gone through. It is a tragedy, not doubt.

    Following his post, I engaged in some additional research on the issues Kurt Kuenne raised about the Bagby case. I did an extensive search on the history of the case, reading everything that is available via google as of 4/40/2007, and viewing 10+ minute the trailer that is up on youtube. Despite my asking, Kuenne was not able to idnetify what the legal issues are surrounding the case that needs to be changed in his or the Bagby’s opinions.

    There doesn’t seem to be any in depth discussion on-line on the matters of extradition treaties relating to the case, nor on the bail issue. Mistakes made in the social service system have already been investigated and repaired, so that doesn’t seem to be it.

    I notice that mine is the only blog covering the case, even after the release of David Bagby’s book. So I am not sure how much interest there really is, although I do note that this page is getting an unexpected number of visits via search engines.

    Kurt Kuenne seems to object most strongly to the idea that this film is going to “advance his career” as a goal. In fact, I recognized that the main goal is to honor and create a tribute to his friend. The voice-over on the 10+ minute trailer on youtube all but says as much, and we are led to believe that the first person narrative is Kuenne himself.

    I don’t object to that as a goal, nor do I find anything wrong with it, so I am not sure why Kuenne seems to have a sore point about it.

    The broader point of my post is that the use of money to make the film makes it an economic endeavor, and if there is a goal to the film, it is fair to ask if the use of money is the best way to achieve the goal.

    I alluded to some principles regarding financing films in the modern age, that are different from the standard historical Hollywood approaches. Far be it from me to suggest this film (or any) should be a Hollywood co-production. I explicitly offered a much more modern and out of the box approach. I am sure many of us can create even more effective and out of the box approaches. Send in your suggestions in the comment boxes if you wish!

    What I do suggest is that a film making team have a business person or advisor from the earliest stages in order to find the best approach towards identifying the projects goals and building a business model to make that possible. There is no reason why every filmmaker should be expected to have these business and marketing insights (although there is an occasional rare counter example of course).

    No other industry expects the creative innovator to handle all the details of maximizing returns or effects on goals, so why should the filmmaker be forced to handle things that are not his/her core competency, especially in an industry where things are changing as rapidly as they are in digital entertainment?

    I look forward to seeing Kurt Kuenne’s film. I think the case has some intriguing dramatic twists, and his tribute angle as a filmmaker involved in the story as a first person narrator is possibly intriguing.

    I do wonder if there will be a peak of activity and interest around the film’s release, only to fade away as time goes on, or if there will be steady interest and action in the issues the case raises?

    Time will tell.

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