Monday, July 19, 2010

Net worth: Filmmaker and Hamden native Dennis Peters wants artists to know that the Internet is a great funding tool

By Donna Doherty, Register Arts Editor

Dennis Peters is about to release his first full-length feature film, and he wants to thank you and everyone else who made it possible.

The Hamden native, who splits his time between Santa Monica and New Haven, is one of a growing number of artists using the Internet to fund creative ventures. It’s a source of funding that’s been around for about two years now, but he’s been so happy with his experience that, “I wanted to share it with other artists, because I know a lot of New Haven artists, and I’m not sure everyone knows about it,” he said in the North Branford-based Inner Space Sound Labs of his friend and collaborator Scott Amore.

“New Haven is an arts town. There are so many people I know here that could use this type of crowd funding for their projects. Raising a small amount of money is difficult,” Peters says.

A steady, cooling rain drummed on the roof of the studio, where the two were working on some promotional videos for Dixon Drums of Bloomfield, one of the clients of Peters’ Heavybag Media marketing company in Santa Monica.

When “I’m Not Adam” is released in January, with premieres planned in Los Angeles and New Haven, Peters will have funded $6,000 of the projected $20,000 budget with money from people who found his proposal online on, liked what they saw, and coughed up some cash for the venture.

The Manhattan-based was founded last year by eMusic director Yancey Strickler and Perry Chen, who recently held their own Kickstarter Film Festival, the invitees selected from the more than 1,500 who’ve created projects using their site.

“I found out about it on Twitter,” says Peters, 53, who is a Hamden High School graduate and has a film degree from the University of Bridgeport. “Four months ago, I saw someone promote their Kickstarter campaign on Twitter. I clicked on and liked what I saw.”

What he saw was a group of creative endeavors looking for angels. “It could be a film, a book, a comic book, a live event. Kickstarter says yea or nay to it. Then you’re on your own. You can record a video explaining what your project is and what you’re doing,” he says.

Each project has a target money goal and shows a time frame in which that money must be raised. Kickstarter helps the clients decide on that time frame, which can span anywhere from 30-90 days.

Investors are encouraged with rewards that vary with the level of the pledge: things like tickets to an opening night, manufactured goods, plaques at sites, first editions.

Right now on Kickstarter, though it’s heavy on funding requests for short films and documentaries, you’ll see community ventures such as “Center Without Walls,” a cultural venture that “will bring arts programming to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city,” a community Ping-Pong table, a cupcake business, a request to help students learn math easier (“Make Math Cool” video) and even a request to provide a haven for geeks, called “Uberdork Cafe: A Dork with a Dream.”

The site has a couple of rules which make it different from some other sites such as One of those is that if a project doesn’t reach its goal money on Kickstarter, it doesn’t get any of what was raised, so there’s great incentive for the requesters to keep on top of the campaign, and push. Peters estimates he spent “about 6-8 hours a day,” doing just that, with Twitter his favorite networking tool of choice.

“About 50 percent reach their goal, I’m told. But they also say if you reach 25 percent of your funding goal, 90 percent will go on to reach the goal,” Peters says, which he did July 9.

It’s like a whole virtual fund-raising world that also, says Peters, has tremendous additional marketing benefits.

“... Funding is only one reason, and may not be the most important,” says Peters. “What you’re doing is building an audience for your project before you do it. If you get 100 people to invest even $10, those 100 people are invested in part of your project. When you’re done, you have 100 people talking about your project, they’re talking to their friends, putting it on their Facebook page or on Twitter or blogging.

“You’re building a big network, something which can be of greater value than money,” he says. “I have people invested in my film that will get the word out, people who are excited to see the film and who can say ‘I have money in that film.’”

That word-of-mouth buzz is no small deal, considering that, a Reuters article in June noted that, according to Baseline Intelligence, for the past seven years, for “every dollar spent on producing a major film, the studios have been spending 51 cents-58 cents to release and market it in the United States and Canada ...,” which means that “the average 2009 release had to gross $186 million to recoup production and domestic-releasing costs ...”.

That refers to major films, not small, indie projects such as Peters’, but by not having to invest so heavily in marketing (which can be an additional one-third) and by self-distributing, he was able to put the majority of his money into casting, thereby ensuring quality actors for his psychological thriller.

“I’m Not Adam,” which Peters wrote and directed, is the story of an ordinary guy who is mistaken for a celebrity that someone is out to kill. He is pursued through the streets and back alleys of downtown L.A., encountering a number of strangers who may or may not be connected to him. To survive, he decides he has to find his doppelganger.

Peters, who cast all L.A. actors, also has had the benefit of the generosity of friends, like Amore, a well-known New Haven area musician and producer who is donating his time as post-production music supervisor, and will be writing and recording the soundtrack here in the woodsy studio behind the log cabin he shares with his girlfriend; and Robert Sacchetti, a location scout, sound man and actor.

“I could not have made this film without a few key people who agreed to work on the film for no pay,” Peters readily admits.

He and Wallingford native Amore met at the New Haven Film Fest years ago, and were also neighbors in an apartment building as well as in a commercial building on Hamilton Street, where Peters had founded One Black Shoe, a TV commercial production company.

Heavybag Media, which Peters co-founded with his wife, Jackie (whom he married in Edgerton Park with arts maven Cheever Tyler serving as justice of the peace), is an online marketing company which caters primarily to entertainment and technology clients. His best-known are Sun Microsystems, Dixon Drums and Gibraltar Hardware. He films commercials for various clients and still maintains a small office for Heavybag in New Haven. Heavybag also marketed several Warner Bros. recording artists and the 2009 Miramax film “Extract,” starring Jason Bateman.

“I’m Not Adam” will travel to festivals to be determined, and Peters wants to make it available on Netflix, iTunes and DVD.
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