It’s true; I hate waiting for shit to happen. I’ve sort of made a name for myself for being the guy that doesn’t wait for things to happen and creating my own career. I was fortunate enough to have some success with a unique (at the time) web series/feature film called The Bannen Way, which I co-created and starred in for Sony’s Crackle.com. I developed the project with Jesse Warren, writing every day for six months and producing two five-minute episodes. Three years later we had produced and launched the show on Crackle and it was distributed worldwide via VOD, Amazon, iTunes and DVD. So far… so good right?
THE BANNEN WAY: (Center) Mark Gantt as Neal Bannen
But the journey has only just begun really. That project took up three years of my life, we worked tirelessly, 24/7 and put our hearts and souls into it. When we were finished, the age-old question kept popping up from everyone, “What’s next?” – What’s next??? We just finished this insane project, under budget, on time and with pretty good success. Wasn’t that enough? I was really thinking that, I was taking it so personal that people wanted to know what I was doing next. I was burnt out and excited at the same time.
What happened – What happened is I slipped back into the old thinking. The idea that someday, someone with some clout in Tinsel Town would ‘discover me.’ I really thought that with the success of Bannen I’d have no problem getting that lead role in a TV series or great role in an indie feature that goes to Sundance or Tribeca. I completely forgot why I was creating the show in the first place – I HATE WAITING.
Luckily my friend and producer on Bannen, Bailey Williams was there to wake me up. We went back to the grind, developing our own ideas, optioning others, putting together pitch documents and began the pitching process. We were so close on several projects but, for one reason or another just didn’t happen. During that time, amazing collaborations came my way. I hooked up with web series creators like Wilson Cleveland (LEAP YEAR, THE TEMP LIFE), Yuri Baranovsky (BREAK A LEG, LEAP YEAR) and Taryn O’Neill (AFTER JUDGEMENT, BLACK BOX TV). I also hooked up with indie feature team of Steve Peros (FOOTPRINTS, THE UNDYING) and Sybil Temtchine (AUDREY, THE CAVERN) on a comedy series called ANNIE TAKES OFF and Scott Richter on another called WHOA! – we’re in post on sizzle reels for both of these projects.
I currently have eight projects “at Various Stages of Development,” as Dov S-S Simens would say, yes I’ve taken his two day course and he’s a character. I’ve got projects in all phases from idea stage, script, pre-production and three in post-production. I’m currently pitching a TV series, THE PROGRAM, created by Matt Lutz. We shot a ten minute pilot presentation and now we’re producing it with Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner (GRIMM, HOT IN CLEVELAND) and showrunner David Simkins (WAREHOUSE 13, GRIMM) It’s been a huge learning experience and I love all the guys on this project.
So here I am, hustling to get one of these projects made, when yet another opportunity to collaborate has come my way. On March 25th, my girlfriend, actress Brianne Davis (JARHEAD, PROM NIGHT), got a call from a friend of ours, actress/producer Jennifer Blanc-Biehn (DARK ANGEL, THE VICTIM). Jennifer was excited to tell her that she had an amazing opportunity; a chance to direct her first feature, a sci-fi/horror film, THE NIGHT VISITOR. She had a little money, a great story, six-day window to shoot and wanted Brianne to play the lead. Jen also said, “There’s a part for Mark too, hey maybe he’d want to produce it?” Oh and she wanted to start shooting April 4th, which was in thirteen days.
Now most people, most sane people, would find a million reasons not to do this project, the sheer idea of shooting a feature in six days, with less than two weeks to prep and not one role cast or one crew person hired, is cause for pause. But the thing about Jen is, she’s a force of nature. She has an amazing heart and a passion to take a film from production to distribution like nobody I’ve ever met.
Within two weeks of that initial call, we were shooting. We assembled an incredibly talented crew who were willing to work for very little upfront and deferred payment on the back-end. Brianne jumped on as a Co-Executive Producer with Jen and they superbly cast the most awesome actors; Gary Cairns (BLACK BUTTERFLIES, JUSTIFIED, HERO WANTED), Vedette Lim (TRUE BLOOD, NO STRINGS ATTACHED, HALO 4), and Tara Buck (TRUE BLOOD, JUSTIFIED, TOMORROW YOU’RE GONE). The script, was written by The Marcus Brothers (HIDDEN IN THE WOODS – Remake, THE FARM), with the story by Executive Producer, Lony Ruhmann.
We completed shooting a day early and we’re so proud of this project. One of the challenges was going to be post-production costs. We had the money to get the film in the can, but knew we’d have to raise the rest. We’ve turned towards Kickstarter to do so. I love to support other projects and have probably backed more than twenty campaigns. The main factor always seems to come down to a couple of things for me, does the project excite me, are the capable of executing it and are they passionate and thorough with their campaign. There have been several projects that I was only an actor in that have tried the crowdsourcing route, some have faired better than others.. Last year I launched my own campaign to raise money to produce a sizzle reel for the comedy, ANNIE TAKES OFF. We were so fortunate to have reached our goal, even exceeding it by almost $3500.
On set of THE NIGHT VISITOR: Gary Cairns, Kit Bower, Brianne Davis, Brand Bristwhistle, Mark Gantt & Steve Romano
I definitely don’t feel that I’ve figure out the Kickstarter game. This time around on The Night Visitor, we’re going for $12,500, which isn’t anything to sneeze about. There’s definitely some trepidation on my part. I’ve never liked waiting but what I’ve hated more… ASKING FOR HELP. I know from experience though, that people, who ask for help, get it. We’ve worked hard to create a campaign that is compelling and full of cool perks and rewards as well as a game plan to get eyeballs and ultimately backers to help us reach our goal.
I personally think it’s a great tool for filmmakers and actually excited for projects like VERONICA MARS and recently Zack Braff’s WISH I WAS HERE campaign. Eventually, when the FCC allows ‘backers’ to become actual ‘investors’ in the films, I think we’ll be in a very interesting time.
If you’d like to check it out the campaign: Beware The Night Visitor.