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VOL. 128 | NO. 24 | Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Filmmakers Tap Public for Documentary Funding

By Andy Meek

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Two independent Memphis filmmakers are days away from their deadline to crowd-fund a portion of the $50,000 budget for “The Keepers,” their documentary that takes viewers behind the scenes at the Memphis Zoo.

The filmmakers, Joann Self Selvidge and Sara Kaye Larson, set out to make a film about the zoo experience from the point of view of someone not heard from often: the zookeepers.

There’s plenty of filmed material about animals – in fact, movies and TV shows about animals of all kinds – but it’s not often, the filmmakers say, that people get a glimpse of the lives of the zookeepers who care for animals in captivity.

Even in the two-minute trailer for “The Keepers,” a keeper at the Memphis Zoo can be seen telling the filmmakers, “We were all super surprised that they let you do this.”

Others warn the camera that the animals aren’t used to strangers.

But what early footage that’s already been released about the film shows is keepers explaining why they do what they do, and the bonds they share with the animals they care for. The film also encompasses the premise that zoos are comprised of a contradiction – keeping wild animals in captivity – and it focuses on a handful of zookeepers who can address public perceptions about zoos.

The filmmakers’ goal was to raise $15,000 for “The Keepers” via an Indiegogo campaign. If they successfully raise that by their Feb. 7 deadline, they anticipate completing the film and having it ready to premiere sometime after June.

They chose to use Indiegogo to fund part of their budget so that donors who can’t necessarily afford to write a large check can still make a small contribution and feel like they’ve then got a stake in the final product.

The Indiegogo website, with more information about the project, is http://www.indiegogo.com/thekeepersmovie.

Donations will cover production expenses like videography, editing, art direction, music, corrections and finishing. Most of the rest of the film’s $50,000 budget will come from grants and from donors who can chip in $1,000 or more.

“The crowd-funding is such an exciting aspect of this,” Selvidge said. “That’s where people can make a donation and really feel invested in the project, even if they can’t make a big donation.

“We approached the Memphis Zoo to see if they’d give us access and permission to do this. We said we want to be able to come in and make a documentary and work closely with your keepers to show what it’s like for people who take care of animals that live in captivity in zoos. And we’ve already gotten a ton of great feedback. We’ve got a ton of great supporters.”

Selvidge has been a grant-writing consultant since 2001, securing almost $9 million for her nonprofit clients. She also is a founder of the documentary film group True Story Pictures. And she has a passion for storytelling, via her films like “The WLOK Story,” “Voices of Jericho” and “The Arts Interviews.”

Larson is a writer, filmmaker and educator. She’s made an autobiographical documentary about being a young adult cancer survivor, “Going Nodal: The Hodge Experience.” And she’s a blogger, creator of multiple Web projects and an educator who’s taught writing, video production, and analog and digital storytelling classes at community centers and colleges around the country.

If the pair surpasses their fundraising goal for “The Keepers,” they’re putting the extra money toward promotional costs – like marketing and film festivals – and into distribution. And for every $1,000 they exceed their goal, they’re celebrating by walking a lap through the zoo, verbally praising every donor.

They’ll film themselves doing so, which supporters will be able to watch online.

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