From crowdfunding to finding investors to setting up streaming platform, Tello; with Christin Baker

Giles Alderson welcomes producer/writer/director Christin Baker to the show. They discussed investors, crowdfunding, making LGTBQ+ films, directing feature films, sales agents and more.

Christin moved to LA in her early twenties and immediately followed the studio route of filmmaking. ‘I worked very briefly for Regency Productions in their story department, so I learned all about script coverage and how scripts are considered. And then I went to work for the Writer’s Guild of America in the TV Credits Department.

I’m not a lawyer, but I learned a lot about legal rights. And then I got burned out and went into nonprofit work for 13 years, but still doing filmmaking on the side, still wanting to tell stories.’

From Short Form to Features

In order to grow her business, she realised that she needed to do a feature to attract the attention of the Hollywood press. She’d been nominated for three Emmys but knew that she wasn’t ‘going to be recognised as a filmmaker the way you do when you do a feature.’

So how did she take the first steps? ‘I needed to figure out equity financing and how to set the company up. My focus in 2018 was to figure this out. I had two people mentor me, I asked a ton of questions and figured out how to set up the LLC (Limited Liability Company).

She’d done a lot of crowdfunding over the years, and already had investors from her previous projects, so reached out to them again to ask whether they’d be willing to support her feature. And then she topped it up with more crowdfunding.

‘And I kept telling myself, this is a learning process. You’ve never done this before because it’s that part of filmmaking that is not creative. It’s the part that I try and avoid, but it’s necessary.’

Setting Up Tello

Tello is one of the oldest streaming platforms that are still around. ‘When I started Tello, it was at the same time that Hulu was putting up a paywall and Netflix was releasing House of Cards.’ And over the years, Christin has watched many new streaming platforms come and go.

Back in those days ‘it wasn’t as easy, it is so much easier now to start a streaming service.’

When they started the only payment platform that they could find was ‘a very clunky PayPal and they had all these rules that you couldn’t increase the subscription amount more than 20%…’

So they weren’t able to go from charging $3.99 to $4.99 for membership; and when they found a better CRM and a better way to collect recurring payments using another PCI-compliant platform, PayPal wouldn’t release their subscribers.

‘A very good friend, basically my work husband, could build and design websites. And we tried to make it as user-friendly as possible. We figured out recurring payments – that was a game changer. And then all the apps started.’

Finding The Right Route

After making her feature ‘she knew that going the distributor route was not the way to go. I wanted to figure out the correct route to get the best ROI for my investors because as a filmmaker, in my mind (and some people might disagree), when I pitch my movie I want to make a great movie for my community – telling stories about my community, and I want my investors to get their money back in that order.

Those are the two most important things. I never go into a movie or a project without going, will this get money back for my investors? What’s the ROI on this? I’ve had three years now and three different distribution models to figure out. And I’m still tinkering with it, to be honest with you.’

Getting Investors Paid

‘I had set up a company so that 25% of the ownership were subscribers, investors.

Depending on the amount that you invested, of that 25%, was how you were paid out. So the investors got 120% of their investment. After the investors got paid back, 50% went to our creative people. Then the third went to producers – the producers were all part of the back end. I waived my director fee. All the producers waived their producer fees, so we got some deferred payments when it came out. That’s how we set up the company.’

Christin As A Director

Christin believes that every time she directs a new movie, she becomes a better director. 

‘I’m able to really understand how to work with the actors, how to get across what I’m asking for – I tend to bring the same actors back. And I have a shorthand with my DP, David Y. Chung.

I love working with actors. I love those acting moments. And David is just such an artist that he really knows the way the shot should be set up, making sure everyone looks the way they should.

I really trust him implicitly, so much so that on this past shoot I was at video village and he was on camera. And he turned to me and yelled “Can I give Marvin a note?” And I yelled back: ‘Yes, I have the same note.” And we hadn’t talked about the note.

Her Process with her DP

‘We don’t storyboard. We shotlist extensively. My DP and I are usually on a call for about nine hours. We go through every single bit of the script. I’ve scouted the location because he’s in LA and I’m in Nashville. I’ve taken extensive videos or photos, and we do quite a bit of rewriting as we’re going through the shot list.

We do an extensive shot list that does sometimes change, if we see something in the shoot – we had a wide, it looked so good and the performance was so good, we just scrapped the rest of it.’

Last Words of Advice

‘I would encourage people to do Patreon and make content and put it up because it interfaces YouTube or Vimeo. I don’t know exactly how it works, but you can give people access to things early. I know someone who does a series and she ended up putting the longer episodes behind a Patreon Page so people who subscribe to Patreon, at a certain level, get to see her projects. 

 And If you wanna start a streaming platform, go for it. Tell all your stories. Have the passion. You do have to learn the business side and learn how to ask people for money. And then go from there.’

For more from Christin, listen here.

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