Sophie Robinson is a London-based producer/director with a host of science TV credits such as Horizon, Meet the Ancestors and Your Life in Their Hands. She’s just embarked on her first feature-length documentary My Beautiful Broken Brain here she shares what she’s learnt from launching her first crowdfunding campaign.
Tell us about your documentary – how did it come about?
Well it was a bit of a strange one – which is what makes it so extraordinary. I met Lotje four months before she had her brain haemorrhage in a meeting at the agency she used to work at. They had called me in to talk about a project they were doing which was to be ‘documentary style’ and so we talked a little about the kinds of films I have made, which have often been science or medical based. Lotje was one of three in the meeting. Then four months later, out of the blue, I got a phone call from one of the team asking me if I remembered Lotje from that meeting. He then told me that she was in hospital having just suffered a life threatening brain haemorrhage and was lucky to be alive. Despite the fact that her language was confused and she had no idea what was happening to her – she knew that she wanted to start documenting each changing day, in fear of losing her memory and mind. She had drawn a horizon on a piece of paper (I have made a few Horizons for BBC2) and her friends deduced that she wanted to get in touch with me. I met her the day she came out of hospital – we started filming on that very day not knowing where it would lead. And here we are, two years later, with the most incredible of stories to tell.
How far are you into the production process?
For the last two years we have been filming – Lotje has been filming her unfolding story most days on her iPhone, I have filmed and a great DoP and friend Gabi Norland has given up a lot of her time to film too. We are now ready to go into the edit and get this film finished. We have award winning editor Jim Scott waiting in the wings to start cutting it in January and we intend to make it as a feature documentary.
You are running a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter – why did you decide to go down that route?
There are a few reasons. The first is of course for us to hold on to editorial control of the story we want to tell. This is so much more than a ‘recovery doc’ and full of subtleties and storylines that we feel would be lost in a TV documentary and so we decided to go down an independent route.
Having filmed for two years it means that we also have multiple threads and storylines to explore in the film, making it more appropriate for a feature length doc.
And Lotje now sees and hears the world differently to before and so we also want to explore the world through Lotje’s brain – visually and aurally – using GFX and sound design, lifting the film to a much more cinematic experience.
How did you go about putting together the campaign?
With a lot of time, patience and planning! I stared a job back in September at a company called Sunshine and have been incredible lucky that some of the team here offered to help me with it in their spare time. So, along with Lotje, we prepared first – this took a couple of months. We went to every Kickstarter talk out there, we watched endless Kickstarter campaigns and we spoke to as many people about it as possible. The main thing was to come up with a clear strategy before going live. So having a week by week plan of who we would approach, setting up a Facebook page, a Twitter (#Mybeautifulbrokenbrain) account and a website and then planning the rewards. We sought advice from Kickstarter experts, we prepared press releases, we spoke to associations who we thought might help us publicise it. And of course we cut our trailer and pitch video – both of which took time. I’d say we’ve been talking about doing it for more than a year and it took 2-3 moths of intensive preparation to get it going before we hit the launch button!
Crowd-funding videos typically feature the director – as does yours. How did you feel about that?
I don’t particularly like being on camera but I completely get why the director needs to talk. I think the only way you can sell anything or get anyone to believe in your project is to speak honestly and from the heart – and who better to do that than the director! What made our pitch film even more special in my eyes, was to bring in the other people who have been integral to this film – this has always been a team effort – not a film by one person about someone else. I am very much making the film with Lotje, not about her and we have pulled in a strong team of people around us to help tell the best possible story.
What was the hardest part about writing the pitch?
To be honest – when you have total belief in something you are making it’s not really that hard to write about it and get that message across. I guess we had to make sure that we made it accessible to a wide audience – but Lotje’s story of looking at how to redefine her life half way through it is familiar to most of us!
Any surprises about the process?
I think because we’d been to so many talks by Kickstarter experts we were prepared for the amount of work it takes to get it off the ground.
The biggest surprise was the incredible response we have had. Until now it’s been a story we believe in but have kept close and quiet. The exposure to the world which a campaign like this brings is at the same time frightening and exhilarating when the response is so positive!
What are your top three tips for anyone else who is thinking about launching a crowdfunding campaign?
How would you sum up your experience so far?
It’s been incredible – the feedback and support from people all around the world has given us the confidence to know that something we have believed in for so long really is achievable and wanted.
It has also been exhausting! And the cause of a few sleepless night – and being in a constant state of exhilaration / anxiety for the entire time the launch is live. We are so close to the finish line – but without reaching it, we get nothing and that, at this point in time is a little bit terrifying!!