Ed Note: We are happy to announce our new content partnership with Kickstarter Conversations and James Yee.
OW: Thanks for having me!
OW: The aim of our film is to show all sides of Vegas, so yes we will be exploring the glam of the Strip, the normal residents (especially those who devote their lives to alleviating homeless), and last but not least those who are living on the margins of society. One of the themes of our film is to highlight the widening gap between the rich and the poor in America, and we are using the microcosm that is Las Vegas as our focus on how this gap affects this city’s inhabitants.
JY: What made you decide to make this film?
Months ago I came across an online article in a UK daily. It detailed the lives of a few people living in the hundreds of miles of drainage system beneath Las Vegas. The corresponding photographs in the article were shocking — images of people “creating homes” in these tunnels, complete with beds, showers, closets, and cabinets. I had no idea this was going on. Growing up in New York City, I was aware of the growing population of people living in the subway tunnels during the 90s, but I didn’t think that phenomenon existed elsewhere. And what a place to exist! I knew I had to dig deeper into this side of Vegas that had been “swept under the rug.” I assembled a crew and brought on my producer Lauren Solie who said to me, “We’ve got to get out there and talk to these people.” Once we spent time out there, the scope of our film expanded beyond the tunnels more than we ever would have thought.
For so many Las Vegas is only those few miles around the airport and The Strip and nothing else. How much of a shock was it to peel back the glamorous veneer of the Sin City to see the the real problems underneath?
Although we had somewhat of an idea of what we were getting into before we went out there, it was nonetheless shocking. We met with the director of development at The Shade Tree, an organization that helps women, children, and their pets get off the street and out of their abusive relationships. The Shade Tree shelter is in a part of Vegas that is riddled with people who are down on their luck and suffering from homelessness. It’s not too far away from the Strip, yet it is in stark contrast to the glamour that the Strip has to offer. I guarantee you none of the tourists see that side of Vegas. Matthew O’Brien, author of the book Beneath the Neon, is an expert on the tunnels and the people living in them. He took us down one tunnel right underneath the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign where dozens of tourists were taking photos. In the tunnel we talked for a while with John, a homeless man who lives in the tunnel under the sign. It’s strange once you realize that most of the people that come to Vegas are completely unaware of this sub(terranean)culture. But then, most of them probably don’t want to know.
Do you think Vegas is all that different from any other city or is it that dichotomy is just so shocking?
In terms of numbers, Vegas is not that shocking because it does not have the highest rate of homelessness in the country. It has the fourth highest rate, which is still shocking, but it is not number one. Unemployment rates in the city are also unusually high. But I don’t think it’s any of these things that make Vegas unique. It is the dichotomy between aboveground and below (below being not just the people in the tunnels but all those who are living on the margins of society). Vegas is known for its gambling, extravagant shows, washed up celebrities, and high rollers. It is a party city. That’s what most people think of when they think of Vegas. Few people look beyond the culture of wealth and excess. In general, I think those that have been marginalized are hidden from sight, so as not to taint Vegas’ image and industry. In that sense, I think Vegas is different from any other city because of its wide gap between the rich and the poor.
What style of documentary are you going for? Will this be a general interview story featuring folks from across the city? Will we be following individuals around as they live their lives? What is the “central skeleton” you plan to hang the story upon?
Though we will be exploring wealth and poverty in Las Vegas, and (hopefully) shedding light on those who have been marginalized, we do not intend to become an exposé piece. We will be interviewing several people who occupy different roles in the Las Vegas community. We will be interviewing government officials, directors of shelters, and those suffering from homelessness. Our aim is to present both sides of Vegas with as little bias as possible and leave it to the viewers to take away from it what they will.
You mention a two month time-frame to shoot the film, how tight is that going to be?
It will be tight, but I think it’s more than possible. We have already spent a weekend in Vegas shooting footage specifically for our Kickstarter. While we were there, we created relationships with people who have happily offered their services for future interviews. So, the people are there and they are willing to work with us. It all comes down to being organized. If we can go out there every week with a strict schedule of who we’re interviewing at what time and what our goal for the week is, I think we will be able to get everything we need in the allotted time.
What are you planning to do with the film once it’s completed? Show it at competition? Distribution?
Our main goal is to submit “Lost Vegas” to festivals. That’s not only where you receive the notoriety, which is important to us as filmmakers, but it’s where you receive the exposure, which is important to us as activists. We want as many people as possible to see this film because the more people reached, the more of a difference we have made. My producer and I have talked about eventually selling it to Netflix as well, which of course opens the film up to an even greater audience. If we can bring mass awareness to homelessness, then we have done our job.
How did you discover Kickstarter?
I discovered Kickstarter about a year ago when I read an online article about how in 2012 Kickstarter had raised more funds for the arts than the National Endowment of the Arts. I was shocked at the success people were able to achieve using it. Also, this year’s Oscar winning documentary filmmakers raised most of their funding through Kickstarter. I figured, if they can do it, so can we.
A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer. How are you engaging your backers? What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on? Interviews? Videos? Stories from the project?
We just finished a press release, which we will be sending out to several magazines within the next week. The key for us is to get this out to the public. We are reaching out to various homeless organizations and anyone that is connected to the type of activism we are trying to promote with our project. All it takes is that one person who has strong voice in the community to see what we’re doing and like it. And, of course, I am online promoting it every day to all my friends and their friends. But that only goes so far. It really depends on how well we are able to get it out there in the public eye.
What kind of media attention have you received with your project? How are you spreading the word? Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Youtube? Advertising? Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?
We have created a Facebook page, a Twitter, and are working on developing our website. I am on both Facebook and Twitter every day reaching out to people. We have received quite a bit of interest from some television networks, so we will see where that goes. Our next step is to get our story in newspapers, magazines, and even on the radio.
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
It’s a full time job. You have to be ready to commit yourself to promoting it every day. Getting it out there and getting strangers interested and investing in it is the key to success. Everyone only has so many friends.
Thank you for spending your time with us! Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
Thank you for having me! Take a look at our project. We’re really trying to make a difference, however small, through the use of our art. And if we raise an excess of funds, any money we do not spend on camera equipment, travel expenses, etc, we will be donating to the various charities that work with us on the project. So you know you will really be making a difference! Thanks!
Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!