King is a Fink Tilts the World of Indie Filmmaking – Part 1

Published On February 11, 2011 | By admin | Filmmaker, Independent Film, Q&A, Screenwriting

Filmmakers Notebook is delighted to bring you Part 1 of a Q&A with the dynamic writing powerhouse made up of Julie Keck and Jessica King, who are affectionately known as @kingisafink in some circles including Twitter.  They’ve branched out from making shorts to teaming up with Phil Holbrook aka @philontilt, to make the feature TILT, which is set to debut this spring.  These ladies are ready to rule just like a king should as you will soon see once you start reading this interview.

What’s it like working this closely and co-writing with someone you are involved with on a personal as well as a professional basis?  Any tips you’d like to share for making that type of relationship work?

Jessica and Julie in LA

Ooo, a tough question right off the bat!  Well, for us working together is actually pretty easy. We’ve been making shorts and writing together for almost as long as we’ve been a couple, so coming up with the concepts and fleshing them out is just how we play.  One of the reasons we work so well together is that we each have different strengths: Jessica is great at coming up with intriguing stories, themes, and structures; Julie’s good at creating characters and crafting dialogue. Between the two of us, we get the job done. 

As far as tips for making this sort of arrangement work, we recommend a couple of things. First, schedule meetings with each other. It’s easy to talk about things over dinner or when you’re falling asleep, but setting up meetings (preferably outside of the home) is a great way to assess your goals, see if you’re meeting them, and decide what your next steps are.  Second, make sure you also set time aside to do other things together that aren’t related to your writing/filmmaking.  It’s just like parents who have to force them selves to hire a babysitter and go out for a date night – you need time just to be a couple and remember why you chose to be around each other in the first place.

You worked on a number of shorts before tackling a feature. How did you know the time was right to make that leap, and how did you hook up with Phil and Jeremy for the project?

This decision to make TILT was the result of great timing and an exciting opportunity for collaboration. We’d written a few features but didn’t feel ready to embark on a feature film production by ourselves just yet. Then we met Phil Holbrook on Twitter. We enjoyed tweeting back and forth with him and eventually submitted some shorts to his EgoFest short film festival.  After Phil saw our short, demented family drama SNOW BUNNY, he contacted us about writing a screenplay based on a nightmare he had.

Phil felt like he was ready to do a feature, and he knew from the get-go that he wanted to direct. He’d already done a few shorts with cinematographer Jeremy Doyle, so bringing us on to write (and eventually produce) rounded out the team.

When we filmed TILT up in Brainerd last September, we got a chance to see how seamlessly Phil and Jeremy worked together. It’s almost as though they’ve developed a secret language to communicate shots and angles and so forth. We think we cracked it, though…on the last night of the shoot.

Where did the idea for TILT originate?

The seed came from Phil. He’d had a nightmare that scared the crud out of him, and he couldn’t shake it. When he brought his idea to us, we latched onto the basic feeling of it, then blew it up.

We actually weren’t sure if Phil’s idea was up our alley…until he took a couple of days to respond to the treatment we wrote. In the span of a few days we went from being intrigued by the possibility of a Phil/Kfink collaboration to being dead set on making it happen. Luckily, Phil liked the treatment he saw, and we started writing the screenplay.

What has been the most rewarding part of this project to date, and what has been the most frustrating?

There have been so many high moments throughout our TILT experience so far, but I’d have to say there are 3 that stand out:

  • One amazing moment was when we hit our $15k fundraising goal last summer. We put a lot of work into that campaign, and we were so excited to not only hit our goal but to share the accomplishment with the 220+ backers who helped us get there. What a great feeling!
  • Another “oh my gosh” moment was being on the TILT set and seeing the actors bringing our characters to life for the first time.
  • Finally, after a loooong, sleepless 9-day shoot, it was excellent to wrap principal photography. A lot of people shared their precious time and talent, and we can’t wait to see what it all adds up to on the big screen…

As far as frustrating parts of this project go, we’ll be honest: collaboration can be difficult.  Prior to TILT, we’d made shorts mostly by ourselves; all of the creative choices were ours. It was difficult but fun. We knew at the end of the day that the success of the project was on our shoulders, and we liked it like that. 

Now that we’re part of a team, we don’t have control over every detail. As producers we expect to have input, but we have to have a lot of trust in Phil and Jeremy, just like they did with us while we were in the writing phase. It’s like the Tom Petty song says: “The waiting is the hardest part.” We’re as ready to see TILT as everyone else. Luckily we have plenty to do in the meantime…

Now that you’ve used Kickstarter for fundraising on this film, would you do it this way again and if so is there anything you would change?

Julie and Jessica on the set of TILT

Yes, we would do it again.  In terms of changes, we are happy with the way our campaign went, but wish we’d had the wherewithal to find a way to capture the lively interactions amongst the various TILTtheTown residents (i.e. TILT backers) on Twitter.  Because the tools we were using were free and fairly fast paced, there was no locus for the interactions. People who weren’t on Twitter (our parents, for example) couldn’t participate as deeply. People who were neither on Twitter nor Facebook missed out on a lot of playing. And people who didn’t check their email often…they were pretty out of the loop.  Fortunately we were able to reach people with varying social media interests in different ways. In the future, we’d like to bring the playfulness of our backer/fan interactions via Twitter to another central location that allows the social media-savvy to mingle with the social media-shy. How do we intend to do that? Still working it out…

You’ve used a number of unique campaign ideas including the TILTtheTown bios, the TILTtheTown storybook, and movie scene reenactments to raise interest and support for TILT.  A lot of this involved donors from your crowdfunding campaign.  Are there any particular lessons you’ve learned from this?

We learned many lessons, but the most important one was that the best way to build a community around a film project is to show our backers explicitly that they’re included and appreciated. And the best way we know how to do that is through playing.

We wanted to do more than just let people pre-order DVDs or give them warm fuzzies for contributing money, so we offered perks that made us put OUR mouths where THEIR money was. By writing the bios and doing made-to-order scene reenactments (we did scenes from “Star Trek” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”; Phil did “Office Space” and “Groundhog Day”), we got a chance to show our backers that we had the creativity and the drive to complete the project they were contributing to, and that we’d have fun doing it.

It’s also important to note that all of those ‘fun’ perks cost us nothing more than time and energy. Yes, it took several months to write the 200+ backer bios for TILTtheTown and several weekends to shoot and edit the scenes reenactments, but then we got to use them to boost backer confidence and show them what we were really made of.

 In Part 2 of our Q&A we’ll find out more about Julie and Jessica’s thoughts on marketing and distribution for TILT, so stay tuned for that post.  Meanwhile, be sure to check out their website at www.kingisafink.com and follow them on Twitter @kingisafink.

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