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Tom Durham didn't start out naïve or inexperienced. As the head of a media department responsible for creating commercial advertisements and other videos, he had legitimate production skills. He was also ready and willing to devote all his waking time and money to a side project. But into his fifth year of making his first feature-length movie, 95ers, Tom realized he might be in over his head. This sci-fi epic required a full crew, not to mention elaborate sets, miniatures, and intense visual effects and compositing work. Just when it seemed like he might never be able to release a complete version of the movie, he turned to Kickstarter. There he found an unexpected outpouring of financial support and an entirely new audience for his film. Listen to Tom tell his story and see exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from 95ers in this installment of The Creative Spark.
Visit 95ers.com and tomdurham.com to learn more about 95ers and Tom's latest projects.
Tom Durham: Indie film is a world of possibilities. And the stuff that we can do today, is amazing at the budgets that we can do it at. There are still some barriers. There's the amount of time you have. There's the amount of money you have. But for the most part you can do almost anything now. Female 1: They conquered the future. That wasn't enough. Tom Durham: I'm Tom Durham, and what I really want to do is tell cool stories. Female 1: Now they've come Tom Durham: Most recently, I've completed a science fiction feature called 95ers.
We actually started production this film about six years ago. And 95ers is a wide ranging, crazily epic sci-fi flick. Ever since I was a kid, sci-fi and fantasy always struck me. I just loved this foreign worlds, this idea of anything could happen. It's this combination of something that's really fun to look at, something that's entertaining, characters you enjoy, but also it makes you think.
When I watch a movie, I love it and I enjoy it and I immediately think, I want to create that. Having a knack for post production helped me just acquire film making skills. And so eventually I found myself in a really, you know, decent corporate job. I was kind of head of this media productions department and and I was, I was becoming a better and better producer and director for you know, commercial type stuff. Both for my wife and I, because she's, she's an actress, she's also had these, these artistic ambitions all the time, we got to this point where okay, I'm getting older and I haven't made a movie yet.
So my brother, James, and I had already developed this whole 95ers story. At that time, we didn't know we were doing. But now, I thought I knew enough to actually make a film. I had no idea what I was getting into. Female 2: I said, who are you? Tom Durham: Given the budget that I had, and the experience that I had, I chose a ludicrous film to make, it was ridiculous to make in every way. We have, this huge time machine cave which ends up being a miniature in the film. We have scenes where it's just one or two actors, but doing some sci-fi thing which requires compositing.
It was way, way beyond what I had any business attempting in the first place. Male 1: She's gone. Male 2: So we take it to either way, as of right now you are a Tom Durham: Our first shoots actually had a somewhat decent indie crew, we had camera operator and DP, we had a couple of audio guys, we had an actual dedicated gaffer with some assistants, all this kind of stuff. That was our first couple weeks of shooting. As the years went by, and as we kept running out of money, and reworking the script so it would actually work better, our shoots got crazier, and crazier, and crazier.
Until many of the shoots was either me and one guy, or myself. Holding a light with one hand and a camera with another hand, and, and teaching the makeup artist, when we could afford her, how to pull focus. So things went up and down but mostly down into more insane indie-ness. I just finished our first day of shooting in the time machine. It took a lot longer than we anticipated. We had some wardrobe and prop issues and and I had to stop Walmart to pick up some hard drives.
I gotta do some storyboarding and stuff tonight. Call time is in seven hours. This setup is of course in my living room here and, it's amazing. There was a huge process of fighting for stuff that I wanted to be in the film. I wanted to have things the way the story wanted them to be. The story called for more visual effects than I had ever imagined it would call for. I had a mountain of compositing visual effects to do.
And that requires thousands of hours. I would just work through the night, and then I would usually collapse on the floor as something was rendering. So many times I said honey can we just throw this footage off a cliff and move on But through that process, my visual effects skills went way up. I had to learn a lot more stuff to be able to do stuff on my own. For example, these three timeline shots where we're going through time, and all this kind of stuff. I first built those with a very hard way. There's million of key frames, and millions of layers in After Effects.
But as I got better it was like okay, let me write an expression for this. I'm going to put controller, here do this. I'm going to put just a couple of little key frames. I'm going to build this and unlock the power of these tools. By the end honestly what would have taken me a couple of weeks to do, I could do in a couple days. And it looks better. And it's like, oh my goodness, I have not overwhelmed because I know I can do it. I just had to slog through it. Male 1: This is going to take some time. Tom Durham: And the attitude of just, I'm going to take these things inch by inch, step by step and I'm just knock them out.
And bit by bit, I was like, wait a minute, I just finished that whole sequence of green screens. I jsut finished that. You know fantastic. I don't have money to go celebrate but I will just go to bed tonight at midnight instead of four, you know. So slowly but surely, you're able to knock them out. Most indie films are not successful. But it's not because they don't get distribution or they don't make money or whatever. Most indie films are not successful because they don't get finished. Male 3: Tut-tut, Biggs. Tom Durham: I was getting better at what I do both in production and post.
The movie was shaping up. It was looking more and more like a movie, but, to make it the movie that it needed to be, we needed another complete round of shooting. And it's not stuff that I can just do. We need to hire the people to do that. We needed to really go into production for another round. And we were out of money, for the millionth time, completely broke. And it was, it was kind of a depressing time. Because we'd spent all this time and energy on it. And, and we were now at the ultimate brick wall. And so I was actually going to release the film.
Unfinished, and just okay, this all we can do, here it is, this is what's supposed to happen in the film, here you go. But the fact was is that we were broke, and we had kids, and we were living hand-to-mouth and, it was craziness. Female 3: a method to the madness. Tom Durham: Can there be a method to madness? I don't know. So one night, still, you know, clinging to hope, I was discussing the time machine with the guy who was going to build it, it was a miniature effects guy Clark Shafer. But the money was not going to be there to do what I needed to do.
So he said, have you ever heard of Kickstarter? Ally: What kind of story would keep us going for this long? A really cool one. With dramatic and inspiring themes. Tom Durham: I'm a dad with a full-time job and a two-hour commute. And Ally is a part-time actress and a full time mother of four. We only need $12,000 more to finish up the post production. Ally: So your donation is guaranteed to make a difference. Tom Durham: Please become a part of 95ers: Echoes and donate! Thank you very much for watching.
I remember I was at work. My phone started dinging. These emails are, are coming in, coming in from Kickstarter. And I look over. Okay, wow, someone donated 20 bucks. The, That's awesome! Whoa, somebody donated 10 bucks, 50 bucks, 500 bucks. And these people all over the world, who I have no idea who these people are, are tapping into the story. What Kickstarter did is it gave us that impetus, that feeling of we have to finish this. All those years of hard work, literally in the palm of my hand.
I learned the hard way how to make a film. How to fund it. How to write it. How to do visual effects for it. How to distribute it. But, we finished it. It's out there, and people like it. And I personally feel like it was a movie worth making. You go on this classic Sherlock Holmes, murder mystery. Mixed with a very cool sci-fi time travel story. Ally: Well, there is some antiquity in the other idea as well. Tom Durham: Yeah. Right now I am in deep deliberation with myself, my wife, all my creative buddies, as to what project I should do next.
It's going to result in, I think a better film and a lot stress for me and everybody else involved. Now that I've been through the whole 95ers thing, I'm just blown away by the generosity of other artists and supporters. And I can much more intelligently and fearlessly analyze what the resources are to tackle this particular project. As I look at a script, I can see how much that scene will cost. These are the resources you need. If you don't have those, you gotta do it this way. You gotta do it this indie way. Whatever happens to be, those are ways to make that world come to life.
I still need help, I still need collaboration, I still need funding, I still need all kinds of other stuff that, that you do have to have. It's not easy. But for me, I have learned it, it is possible and you can totally do it.
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