I Get Hit in the Head
We might call this day—one week after Ash Wednesday—Indywood’s first birthday. To commemorate this day, let me (this is Will speaking) tell you the story of how Indywood came to be . . .
On Fat Tuesday 2013, I was punched off my bicycle and sustained a major concussion. I awoke on Ash Wednesday with neurosurgeons looming in my shaky vision telling me my brain was bleeding. “The hemorrhage is about the size of a quarter,” said the boisterous doctor. “You can’t drink any water, because we might have to do brain surgery.”
It was rough. But I’m so glad it happened.
If I hadn’t been assaulted, Indywood probably wouldn’t exist. Why? Because it brought Hayley to New Olreans—my dear sister and (now) business partner. Though I have a lot of far flung ideas about how to innovate independent filmmaking with modern technology, I couldn’t have put those ideas into action without Hayley’s energy and business sense.
Hayley: Businessperson in Need of a Widget
Hayley studied neuroscience in college. She was one of those kids who graduated right at the worst point of the recession when jobs were scarce. At the time of my assault, she was working as a lab tech at an animal testing facility. As she dissected the earlobes of beagle puppies (really, beagle puppies! The horror, the horror…), she occupied herself with podcasts concerning a new-found passion—entrepreneurship.
Hayley knew she didn’t want to work in a lab for the rest of her life. In her post-graduation malaise (as she describes it), she realized here life’s goal—to own her own business.
But any business needs a widget. Hayley was in search of a widget.
I had a widget but not a modicum of business sense.
Back to Ash Wednesday, 2013:
With her background in neuroscience, Hayley understood the graveness of my situation better than I or my parents did. Mom and Dad were a bit stunned by the incident, but Hayley quickly rallied the troops. I spent one awful, lonely day in the ICU, and then Hayley and Mom arrived at my side.
Louisiana Film Tax Credits Make a Lightbulb Go Off
The night before Hayley had to return to beagle dissection, I knew that there was a lecture scheduled at Tulane University. The topic: Why the Louisiana film tax credits should be cut. Despite my concussion, I knew I had to attend. As an aspiring New Orleans filmmaker, my future was at stake.
I was worried Hayley would be bored by the lecture. How wrong I was.
The talk ignited a rousing conversation between us. It provided a meeting point of our two passions: filmmaking and business.
That conversation ended with us deciding that Hayley would move to New Orleans, and together we would start a business.
But I’ve made a leap in the story. I mentioned earlier that I had a widget.
To explain we must flashback another year . . .
I spent the spring of 2012 in Prague, studying film production. One night I was at the pub with two film buddies, Jonathan Cruz and Zach Coker. We were talking about the obstacles any aspiring filmmaker must overcome.
The two big questions a filmmaker must answer are, “How am I going to fund my film?” and “After it’s made, how is it going to pay for itself.”
On our third round of pivo, we began batting around answers to those questions—answers based on 21st century technology.
What if we build one central website where filmmakers can pitch their story ideas, and the public can invest in the best pitches? After a film is made, the filmmaker can digitally distribute the film back to the public via online distribution. People can pay to watch the film online and theaters can license the film, download it and then screen it.
. . . What if? . . .
Such a website would do everything the studios did back in the dawning days of film a century ago. But it would all be online, crowdsourced and truly independent.
We exited the pub slapping each other on the back. We had grand plans to make our vision a reality when we returned to the states.
Once I was back in New Orleans, the idea was still large in my mind.
I have a cousin out in Silicon Valley who’s a co-founder of a successful tech start-up. I called him up and asked what the first steps would be to build the online, crowdsourced film studio we envisioned.
“It’s an interesting idea,” he said. “Just keep in mind, starting a business will be an 60 hour a week job for the next three years of your life.” He suggested some good books to read.
I bought the books on Amazon. I read the first couple chapters. I quickly lost interest. I wanted to be a filmmaker, not a businessman.
Any "what if" needs a business plan.
Enter Hayley, The Entrepreneurial Spirit
A successful business needs to solve a problem.
In February 2013, Hayley and I attended the Tulane lecture on the Film Tax Credits. The speaker had painted a bleak picture.
Though tax credits have elevated Louisiana to having the third largest film economy in the U.S., the fact is that most of the taxpayers’ money is being funneled into the pockets of Hollywood studios. The stated purpose of the tax credits is to create a “self-supporting film industry in Louisiana.” As of now, most films being shot in Louisiana are coming from the top two film economies—Los Angeles and New York City. They come here, shoot, and then leave.
If the tax credits are going to live up to their purpose, we need homegrown, Louisiana films.
After the lecture, I reminded Hayley of the idea my friends and I had in Prague. (Of course I had bloviated to her about it over many a family dinner. Here was the basic idea: The website that Jonathan, Zach and I had thought of in Prague could provide an innovative way for Louisiana to generate a local, self-sustaining film economy.)
By this time in our conversation, Hayley and I had made our way back to my apartment on Sycamore Street. As I pitched the idea to Hayley, I saw a glow in her eye like I’ve never seen before. She leaned against my roommate’s car, and I saw all of the benevolent beagle spirits shed their tormented end and find purpose in her exuberant will to create a meaningful business.
She nodded her head quietly. “You know,” she said, “I’ve been looking for a widget.”
Hayley Sampson, my courageous sister, moved to New Orleans on June 11, 2013. It’s the bravest thing someone close to me has ever done.
She left behind a $40K job to take a chance on her brother’s wild idea.
Though the summer was bright and sweltering, we spent our first months blundering in the dark of youthful inexperience.
We spent days scribbling on a white board in the Tulane library.
We slapped together a website—No one was paying attention.
We tried to crowdfund our idea—We fell far short of our goal.
We pitched to investors—They told us our idea was too risky.
We tried to screen films in an art co-op in hopes of generating an audience—The artists kicked us out for being heartless capitalists.
But all that failure paid off. We’ve learned that in order to build something sustainable, you have to work from the ground up.
If you come to our little movie theater at 630 Elysian Fields, we’ll show you some darn good movies. Though the ceiling panels are an eye soar, the seats are voluptuous. We’re working from the ground up.
With our theater, we’re learning what films people will pay to see. We’re building a place where New Orleanians can revel in local, cinematic culture. It’s a small start, but we have grand plans. The vision my friends and I had in Prague is still the driving force, but we’re building it with a self-sustaining, bottom-up business approach.
I had an idea. I was punched on Mardi Gras, and on Ash Wednesday my brain was bleeding. My sister came to my aid. Sometimes you have to be knocked in the head to get the get the ideas going!
They never caught my assailant. But that’s okay. I thank him, wherever he is.
More so, I thank Hayley.
The icing on the cake: Zach Coker, who I shared pivos with in Prague (the most talented young filmmaker I know, I might add) plans to move to New Orleans in June.
First Hayley. Then Zach. Just imagine who'll be moving down here June, 2015.