The Making of a Successful Kickstarter Campaign for an Epic Sci-Fi Series Promo

Creating the Story & World of Sky City Haya

In a world ravaged by climate change with a third of the human population living as refugees, what would it be like to live on a floating island platform a few hundred meters above the sea? You might get “sky sick” when you first arrived due to the slight movements of the platform within the air. Perhaps you’d feel special to be one of the hand-picked few to live in this human marvel of engineering. You might sip wine made from grapes grown in Scandanavia, while your apartment rotates 360 degrees throughout the day and you watch the flying vehicles pass, guessing their make and model.

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The air is warm because you are over the Mediterranean Sea and climate change has made sure it’s quite toasty. You enjoy a roast beef sandwich made of raw fish guts farmed in fish farms below. Studies would show that the most common issue you would likely speak with your therapist about would be the yearning you would feel to live back on land among thick forests and spring meadows. Hence your interactive wall display might feature a live video feed of a jungle somewhere down on earth for you to digitally enjoy.

The hovering digital billboard would play advertisements for the upcoming “Skai Sity Inishativ” with English written phonetically making it easier to spell. Your commute might be via a “sky train” merely gliding to and from work as part of your daily routine. Modified seafood would be your diet since importing food would be expensive in such a hostile world. If you were poor such as the laboring Denationalized refugees of the city, insect-based food would be your daily cuisine. A cricket crunch bar anyone? Sure, the wealthy would have grand living roofs representing lush natural gardens, but that’s not you. A mechanized, artificial setting would be your neighborhood. If you worked in city waste management, you’d fly under the islands in the early morning Mediterranean air while the wind brushed against your face as you collected the excrement of the living population above. You might take the island platform you live upon for granted, oblivious to the technology and maintenance that goes into the massive upkeep. The very island that keeps you and your family up in the sky, safe from the world below. The one that gives you that sense of exclusivity for belonging to the cutting edge of human evolution and grandeur.

These are just a few of the curiosities I have had that motivate me to create the world of “Sky City Haya.” This project has taken me from the depths of my imagination to the practicalities of putting this world on-screen. Seven years ago I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to the wonderfully medieval and gothic city of Prague, Czech Republic. During this time I have worked as a video director, editor & animator, enjoying my fair share of travels and adventuring to many exotic and lesser-known destinations. The excitement which I feel when I meet new people, taste new cuisine and hear new languages is something I have endeavored to infuse into my world and into my characters.

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How It All Began

Back in 2002, I was studying at San Francisco State University. During a lecture in one of my classes, I started to day-dream, and during that day-dream I began to sketch on my yellow, lined notepad. Somehow I thought of drawing large pieces of land with grass and soil floating in the sky, very similar to what we say in the floating mountains in Avatar. I then began drawing one building on top of each island. Soon enough I had created a city of islands strewn across the sky.
In 2004 I wrote and directed a short film entitled, “Press 4 for Human,” which was a bout a kid who is visited by a muse that takes him into the depths of his imagination, which is filled with a floating city over the ocean, made of land islands in the sky and buildings onto of them, as well as flying cars moving about.
In 2006 I had already graduated a year before and was working as a freelance video director/editor/motion graphics artist. I was living with my cousin Anukene and two friends Colin and Kiazad in Berkeley. I sat in the living room with my friend Colin Hogan, who is a very talented musician, and we discussed the floating city idea. Over the course of a day filled with creative discussion, we gradually landed upon the concept of a detective story set within this city. We realized that a sure-fire way to teach people about such a place was in this type of genre, where each clue would kill two birds with one stone; it would both illuminate the viewer about how life in the city as well as deliver the next piece of the puzzle in solving the mystery.

In 2008 my friend Michael Franchetti invited me to live in Prague, Czech Republic in order to work with him and his colleague Jan Gregor in video production shooting promos, travel videos and more both in Prague, all over Europe and in the Middle East. I had also begun writing the backstories of several major characters such as Adrien Rousseau, which ran 15 to 20 pages. The world was beginning to take shape – my characters were gradually coming to life.

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In 2009 I started writing “The Plant Dealer” which is the pilot episode of the series. However I began writing it in prose instead in a screenplay format so that I could freely explore exposition and internal character thoughts which I thought would help me fill in the world. During the same year, the company then called Turnhere, Inc. now Smart Shoot’s founder started a new company called Vook. Michael Franchetti and I were enlisted to travel to London to shoot videos which would accompany an iPad version of Sherlock Holmes short stories. Later that year we were flown to New York to shoot videos based on a thriller book entitled “Embassy.” We also wanted to present the idea of shooting sci-fi videos that would accompany my Sky City Haya story, however at the time the story had not been as fully developed as it is now and unfortunately they passed.

In 2010 Michael Franchetti returns to the bay area and I visited during the holidays and in early 2011 we decided to create our own interactive video ebook for Sky City Haya. We wanted to mix videos and reading within the application. We chose a goal of $40,000 but unfortunately we underestimated how much preparation was needed to raise the money and create an online following. We ultimately raised 12,000 and failed to successfully complete our campaign.

From there on I began to work on the project solo once again as I continued to write and re-write “The Plant Dealer.” I also began writing the 2nd episode entitled, “The Garbage Woman.” I fleshed out the overall story structure for an entire first season miniseries. In 2012 I met Tim Spreng on a friend’s feature film shoot. Tim was the Director of Photography. Later in 2013 I met with him and convinced him to work with me on my science fiction story, which he was excited about.

In 2014 I wanted to start casting and Tim referred me to Lindsay Taylor who I had met previously She was heading a group of actors and filmmakers called PFTC. We met and discussed my project over Czech beer, as is typical in Prague. Our conversation was initially going to be about casting a group of actors for my concept promo film, however she was impressed by the amount of work, conceptual art & story development that she guided me very well through the process of the best 2 day casting session of my life!

I was raised in an Assyrian Family in California, speaking the ancient language of Aramaic. The word “Haya” comes from the Aramaic word for life. Among us was also a community of Iranians and Americans. I studied Spanish and traveled to Mexico and Spain. The multicultural setting with which I have been raised as well as the adventurous lifestyle that I have chosen has found its way into this future world, floating in the sky where you can meet people from just about any walk of life. This world is rich with activity, ambition and hope. Yet it is also deeply flawed. It serves as both the best and worst example of human progress and decadence.

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The Diverse Cast & Crew

During my time in Prague, I have met a collection of colorful characters, many who have become my colleagues and dear friends. From these people, I formed my excellent and talented team. My video production mentor and friend Thom Wineland since I was 17 also traveled to Prague to help me produce this epic concept film shoot. My friend & colleague Jan Gregor with whom I worked over these last 7 years in Prague has helped me to facilitate the locations that this production desperately needed in order to surpass the medieval surrounding with which we were blessed with here. We shot in such unusual locations as a garbage incinerator plant, the lookout room of a TV tower, the indoor garden of a business park, a cargo container yard and a moving train.

The cast of characters we found to play the roles in the story were equally diverse and highly talented. Somehow life had imitated art in an unexpected but satisfying fashion. The energy with which the team collaborated was supremely rewarding and humbled me greatly. Suddenly a lifetime of dreaming had inched its way into reality. I finally knew it was possible to create this beast of a project.

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There were a few things I learned while working with such a diverse crew. The balancing act it took to satisfy everyone’s expectations was a difficult one indeed. I had to be flexible to a variety of differing personalities, cultural habits, language barriers, speeds of working and so one. Catering to one person’s demand might disappoint another’s. So I quickly realized that being receptive but firm in my decisions was the best way to go. There were a few heated arguments on set and one crew member even walked off but later returned and we discussed the issue. Another thing I learned was that the diversity of the crew also helped to bring everyone together. Something about the multiculturalism of the set made everyone excited. We felt as though we were better representing humanity with our small sliver of folks. Everyone felt included and special to be part of such an international project. Many would spend their downtime chatting with each other asking questions about their experience in other sets or about their country of origin. There were many languages on set which included: English, Czech, Russian, Spanish, French, German & Polish. We also had decent gender diversity as the casting director/coordinator, costume designer, pre-production manager and stylists were all women. If I had to work this way again, I would in a heart beat. There’s nothing like a few dozen people with differing perspectives to serve as a rich landscape of creative ideas from which to choose.

Creating The Visual Effects

On set we had a Czech visual effects supervisor who had studied in the academy of art college named Daniel Severa. He helped us to set up the shoot properly against greenscreen and bluescreen so that we could later replace the background with the epic vistas of Sky City Haya.
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Since we were a sorely underfunded operation as I was paying for everything out of my own pocket, we had to make due with a lot of shooting out windows without greenscreen or bluescreen. In these cases the vfx artists had to do what we call “rotoscoping.” This means they had to go into the shot and frame by frame cut out the window so that we could later replace it with the views of the city. Lukáš Jirkovský, otherwise known as Masta, was the lead vfx artist based here in Prague. He personally rotoscoped the windows in the shot where we see Rousseau walking towards us as two vehicles pass by out the window. He also designed 90% of the visual effects shots using video copilot in After Effects. I can’t praise his work enough. He really came through and saved the day!  The island design was created by my friend and talented designer, Clementine Amiraux, as we creatively collaborated throughout he years to refine it. The 3D modeling of the islands based off of the design was done by Robert Vanderstelt, a vfx artist based out of Illinois. Peters Qubic based here in Prague was the editor for the teaser and we collaborated very nicely balancing various ideas to reach the storyline and rhythm you see in the Kickstarter teaser.

I have to say that getting the visual effects completed has been the single most difficult aspect of the endeavor. There were several major bumps in the road from arguments with my vfx  to hiring a guy based out of LA who scammed me for $1000 and delivered nothing. The most valuable lesson I learned is that visual effects artists are often times taken for granted. Alternatively production people are much more likely to be flexible because they want to be part of creating a unique story and there’s a smaller time commitment. Visual effects teams will needs to work for months to make things look great. So it’s best to approach them with respect for their time, clearly communicate the expectations and make sure everybody is on the same page. All in all, I must say, the outcome has been great!

My Kickstarter Campaign

This isn’t my first Kickstarter campaign. I ran one back in 2011 for this very same project. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful. But I learned a valuable lesson – the same exact lesson I have learned from directing video shoots – preparation is everything!! I can’t stress this enough. You have to build a network, alert people to your upcoming campaign and keep them following you and interested. I started a couple of months out by making tongue in cheek videos for my fb page, which you can find here at the landing page.
Additionally I wrote to many people to alert them of the fact that my campaign was coming up and to ask them to share the fb page and videos with their friends. I also got round and rounds of feedback on my Kickstarter videos which I refined about a dozen times. Ron Dawson was one of the few very kind individuals who gave his two cents, which helped me greatly improve my presentation! The key was not showing too much of myself of my producer in the video in favor of the behind the scenes footage which is what people really want to see. I needed to keep some momentum and energy in the video so it held the viewers’ attention and make a strong sell near the end so people were very clear on what type of support I was looking for.
When we launched the campaign, I can honestly say that I have never spent so much time on Facebook, Twitter & email in my life. I was literally married to my computer morning, day and night. I wrote personal emails and Facebook messages to hundreds of people. It was a full-time job – one with lot’s of overtime🙂 Facebook posts and twitter posts would get “liked” or “favorited” or “retweeted” but they would not lead to any pledges. There were many family and friends who reached out to me about the project and offered help with getting the word out and we just had to push and push and push. People appreciated being contacted directly. They know you value their individual opinion and took the time to reach out. Oh and when you’re asking for money, it’s best not to be too shy, but it’s also best not to ask too directly. People need to make their own decision. You are there to make their decision an informed decision, but it’s theirs nonetheless. As long as I made it clear that we needing “support” “pledged” “contributions” & “sharing” the project with others, people got the point. In the end it felt like pulling teeth but with a strong campaign video, we were able to win many people over. In the middle of my under-slept stupor, I felt joy at reaching the goal in only 5 days, even though those 5 days felt like 2 weeks🙂
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Now that we have reached our initial goal, we want to reach our stretch goals of +$50,00 for recording a full orchestra for the soundtrack which we will exclusively share with our contributors of the $500 pledge or more, +$15,000 for completing the visual effects for the extended scenes we have shot, which we will also share with pledgers of $500 level or more. Lastly +$30,000 for hiring conceptual artists & a writing team to further develop the story.
If you’d like to make a pledge or just take a peek at the project, can view the live Kickstarter campaign here.
I look forward to inviting all of you to become part of the world of Sky City Haya and together we will boldly step up into the future, up in the sky, somewhere in our imaginations!🙂
Sincerely,
Adad Warda
July 28, 2015

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