EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SHARON WRIGHT
WRITER/DIRECTOR OF CHANGE FOR A DOLLAR
Short films need an audience. It’s a pretty obvious statement to make but it means a lot if your project fails to attract attention at first. Most independent filmmakers set their sights on the major festivals of the world. You work hard, save room in your budget and send your film everywhere along with high hopes it will be accepted. This can get expensive so others focus on smaller festivals to get their work in front of an audience. Sometimes, this works out and your film shows up on a theater screen. But it can be tough when the acceptance letters don’t arrive as planned.
Regardless, a filmmaker must also decide what to do with their film once the festival circuit is over. Whether your film is accepted or not there are still countless opportunities out there for your hard work to be seen. Today is a golden age for short films with sites like YouTube & Vimeo paving the way. Combined with the skillful use of social media platforms, you can generate a massive audience.
Writer/Director Sharon Wright’s film Change For A Dollar is an incredible example of what can happen once you put your film online. Since uploading the short a few months back, the film has generated more than 1.5 million views (and rising) and a mention from a world famous movie critic. Not to mention thousands of comments and feedback.
I had the opportunity to find out more about what inspired the film and what it was like to find an audience that eludes so many. Read on for proof that anything is possible if your believe in your film.
What inspired Change For A Dollar?
It’s funny really, I never really thought about writing or directing. I was on the board of the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and would look for different opportunities once in a while for our filmmakers and ran across this one minute film competition sponsored by Pepsi. One of the categories was “How far can you go with a dollar”. I found it kind of intriguing. I mean, what could you do with a penny? A nickle? A quarter? What little thing could you do with them that could have an impact on something else…
I started to kick it around and as I was on a very long drive one night across the state it hit me. I started to put it all together and was driving as fast as I could so I could check into my hotel and write it all down. I knew the title and most of the scenes but at the time, I didn’t realize just how significant all these actions were.
Writing a story meant to inspire others is a difficult task and you’ve succeeded. What challenges did you face when crafting the screenplay?
Thank you! I didn’t start off writing it thinking I was going to inspire others really. I was just so focused on getting from point A to B, lol. I knew I wanted the sign to have a question mark, to make people think a little but it wasn’t till the end when the boy returns the penny that it came full circle and then I knew it was something special.
What was life like on set? What challenges did you encounter while filming Change For A Dollar?
Being my first time directing, I was REALLY nervous, I seriously don’t think I slept for about two days leading up to it. We started at about 5:30am at the grocery store and thankfully we were well prepared and had a fantastic team of pros that had worked together before so we started out like a fairly well oiled machine. Everyone worked really well together. Late that night though our toughest shot was coming up and laying the incredibly long dolly tracks was a challenge. It had been raining and so everything was just sinking in mud. We have this very long complicated shot, it’s late, we were cold and tired and we are all in the mud, lol. But we managed to get through it and every single person there was a trooper!
Can you talk about your strategy when the film first entered the festival circuit?
Because it is a positive film, I knew our best bet going into it would be to find theme based fests, christian festivals, The Feel Good Film Festival, etc. Course I didn’t just submit to those, I wanted other festivals to recognize us as well.
The film did very well at smaller festivals but wasn’t accepted into the larger festivals. As most short filmmakers aspire to gain acceptance into the major festivals, what was it like to miss out on that experience?
It was a little disappointing, not gonna lie about that. Festivals are so expensive to submit to and you always hope that someone will see it and fall in love with it. But it didn’t happen. I spoke with a director of a large fest, that I won’t name, and he remembered seeing my film and said that the reason it didn’t get in was that it dragged a bit and I should consider editing it. Well, it’s 10 minutes (a good fit timewise already) but there was no way I was going to change the film. Right, wrong or indifferent, it was the way I wanted it to be and honestly, there was no way to cut it without taking away the story. It just didn’t resonate with many of the festival people for whatever reason. We had some luck with some other great fests like Action On Film, Kansas City Film Festival, Gig Harbor, Barebones, and many others.
Today, the end of a festival circuit doesn’t mean the end of a project. With so many avenues out there for indie filmmakers to promote their work, talk about your approach to promoting Change For A Dollar online?
Wow – it really was kind of an accident. I thought that I had the film here and wasn’t doing anything else with it really so why not put it online. I thought maybe I’d get 3 or 4 hundred views (more than most who saw it at festivals btw, lol) It went crazy! I really think I lucked out on the timing with the holidays and people just ran with it!
With one of our other projects FOR WORSE, a web-series I did with Gary C Warren, we wanted to test out going direct to the public. We created the concept and shot it ourselves for the most part and threw it on YouTube. We posted links to it to any site that liked funny or relationship content. We got some good views and started to develop a good audience but wrapped the season up after 8 episodes with a cliff hanger and haven’t really had time to go any further with it.
I would say that you really need to consider who your audience is and do your research on what sites/blogs/etc. are available online to market it. You don’t want to upload it everywhere, you want to link it to as many sites as possible so that you aren’t diluting your views. With CFaD I have it embedded with 2 other major sites but all the views go through Youtube so I have a larger base and can see all the analytics. Because it is copyrighted, I do not allow anybody else to upload it to their pages, if it can’t be linked, it doesn’t get posted. Or if it does, I get it removed.
I maintain all control as much as possible and with the info I collect, I can speak directly to the people that are watching it, build a relationship with them and ultimately build my database to use for promoting my next film or for fundraising. It is invaluable information I am collecting!
Change For A Dollar found a massive audience online with over 1.5 million views on YouTube and rising. What was it like to watch the number of views skyrocket?
AMAZING! That’s really the only word for it! I would check the numbers all day long and just be so shocked! I kept saying maybe we’d hit 20,000 by Christmas, then it was maybe we will reach 500,000 but I was certain we would never reach a million, lol. Boy, was I ever wrong! I never dreamed it!
The feedback on the film has been tremendous with thousands of comments online. What is it like to know your film has inspired people around the world?
There is nothing more satisfying as an artist than to know that something you created has inspired or moved someone. I get comments and emails every day about how they were inspired to empty their change jars and go by food for the homeless or to give to the Salvation Army for the first time. There is a paper in Canada doing a story about how a hockey coach used the film to inspire his team to do charity work for the holidays….the list goes on and on. Honestly, I don’t think I can ever do anything in this world that will mean more to me than what this film has accomplished. To be able to say that I helped change someones life, in some small way, is the greatest accomplishment ever. This film will be my legacy, lol….and I’m okay with that!
The film was recently mentioned by Roger Ebert. What was it like knowing he saw and praised your work?
This is a Quote from the Ebert Club Newsletter of 12-14-11:
My friend Bill Nack, the great sportswriter, emailed me this video with only four words: “This one touched me.” It touched me, too. Sharon Wright. Remember that name.”
OMG! It was one of the highlights of my life! Someone sent me a message and it listed the quote and I thought it had to be a joke, or it was a different Ebert, lol. I wasn’t going to believe it till I saw it with my own eyes. But there is was! I mean it doesn’t get much better than the movie man himself posting a link to your movie and saying things like that. Any filmmaker in the world would give their right arm for that. I was just shocked, and honored!
This was your first film. What lessons did you take away from your experience with Change For A Dollar?
I learned that I don’t need to be a control freak, I can let others do things, I also learned that you never have enough money and that it is a brilliant test to friendships, lol. But really I learned that even if a film doesn’t get attention on the festival circuit – there is still an audience, and sometimes, it is a LOT bigger than you realize!
What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers out there?
Four simple things: Don’t quit, be smart enough to know that you don’t know everything, surround yourself with people who know more than you, and never sacrifice your vision!
What’s next for Change For A Dollar?
We are submitting it for a region Emmy this spring and have a few distributors and charities looking at it, but I really don’t know, nothing would surprise me with it any more!
What’s next for you?
I’m in pre-production for my next film and I’m feeling the pressure now as I know everyone is watching and waiting to see what follows CFaD. It’s a scary place to be, I gotta admit! I’m doing another feel good film. This one is about a dog looking for a home and a little girl looking for a best friend and their journey to each other. It’s a really beautiful story and I can’t wait to shoot it. We will be filming in Kansas City and some in LA. Of course they always say “Don’t work with kids or animals” – yup, I’m doing both!
Special thanks to Sharon Wright for the interview.