By Brandon Colvin -- Just over two years ago, I cold emailed my first film, Frames, to Kentucker Audley. I hoped he might like it enough to host it on NoBudge. I was in a rut, and this was my last attempt at rescuing the film from total obscurity. Our festival run had been minor, though rewarding. We had no reviews to speak of, no press. Basically, nobody knew the film existed. Combined with the cumulative effect of dozens of festival rejections, this fact was very discouraging. Imposter syndrome had set in. Was I just deluding myself? Had I totally failed to get across what I intended? Were people just completely uninterested in my work? It was a tough place to be, but one that is common amongst independent filmmakers.
I’ll never forget where I was when I read Kentucker’s response email: the 3rd floor lobby of the university building where I work, on my way to the restroom. I stopped in my tracks. He loved it. I immediately called my best friend, editor, and fellow producer, Tony Oswald. Excitement and pride surged through me as I thought of my film commingling online with those of Joe Swanberg, Alex Ross Perry, Frank V. Ross, Todd Rohal, and David Lowery (among others) – filmmakers I greatly admired whose work had been featured on NoBudge.
The legitimation process continued when I read Craig Keller’s piece about Frames for the site. It was literally the first time anyone had written about my film in a way that got it. Craig understood the film for what it was, not what he thought it should be. He gave me enough credit to assume that my unconventional choices were deliberate, not failures to grasp “correct” form or technique. It sounds silly, but it nearly brought tears to my eyes. I felt like a traveller in a foreign country who finally stumbles upon someone who speaks his language. There was real communication and exchange. The film had felt so lost. I had felt so lost, but, we found a home with NoBudge.
We were able to leverage our presence on NoBudge to secure a few reviews, all of which seemed to understand the film in ways that most people hadn’t before. Perhaps Kentucker’s backing gave us a certain extra credibility in the reviewers’ eyes. Maybe Craig’s piece provided the crucial contextual material that helped others tap into what the film was doing. Surely, it was some combination of the two. NoBudge not only gave us a presence online, but it helped set the tone for how people would watch and talk about Frames.
People were watching the film – and liking it! This fact hit me hard a few weeks after we debuted on the site, while I was attending the True/False Film Festival. I ran into my friend Mike King (programmer, Wisconsin Film Festival) at the fest, and he told me that he had just run into Dustin Guy Defa (Bad Fever, Person to Person), who asked if Mike had seen this really great film called Frames that was made in Wisconsin. Mike told him I was right around the corner. So, I met Dustin, whose films are among the very best American has produced in the last ten years. I’m not sure why it shocked me so much that Dustin had seen the film (through NoBudge, of course). But, it did. Dustin was and still is one of my favorite filmmakers. He was like a celebrity to me, and he was a fan of my film.
In terms of the film, it was such a drastic shift from where I had been emotionally and psychological only weeks before. I started to realize that not only were people seeing the film, but that the right people were seeing the film. We were finally reaching an audience – mostly comprised of filmmakers, actors, a few critics, and a handful of programmers – that appreciated our work.
Watch FRAMES < here > / trailer below...
Our release on NoBudge happened at a particularly opportune time, as Tony and I were gearing up for Sabbatical. We had just started pre-production and had crowdfunding ideas brewing when Frames was released. Stepping into the NoBudge world – populated by the aforementioned audience of filmmakers, actors, and critics – totally blew the doors open for us. Suddenly, we didn’t have to cast locally. We could reach out to actors whose work we loved! Our first ask was Kentucker, who agreed. Then came our lead, Robert Longstreet, who also said “yes,” and who elevated the potential quality of Sabbatical exponentially. Through Robert we secured Rhoda Griffis and Thomas Jay Ryan, and through Rhoda we got Rebecca Koon. It was a sort of domino effect casting process, facilitated by actors interested in and excited by the script.
In many ways, then, Sabbatical, the film presented here, is a product of NoBudge as a network, a taste culture, a support structure, and a gateway. It’s not the first and it certainly won’t be the last feature film to be nurtured by the site. Indeed, several NoBudge “alumni” filmmakers either have already or are currently developing features that have roots in their NoBudge experiences. Two of these guys, Robbie Barnett and Zach Fleming, have become two of my very best friends. I talk to them multiple times a week. We help each other in any way that we can. Those dudes came to my wedding. NoBudge brought us together. That friendship and camaraderie, which extends beyond Robbie and Zach to include Kentucker, Craig, and a boatload of other filmmakers, is perhaps the most valuable thing NoBudge has given me. It’s very easy to feel alienated as an independent-minded, low-budget filmmaker. The work is emotionally draining, labor intensive, and stressful. Nearly every step of the process involves a new wave of discouragement and disillusionment. We all need help and support from our peers. In my case, NoBudge has been a conduit for that help and support.