Filmmaker interview with Vic Campbell

Smithy

Writer/Director/Producer - Don Parham

Assistant Director - Warwick Vincent

Associate Producer - Vic Campbell

Vic Campbell is a freelance screen producer, writer and radio broadcaster based in Victoria, Australia. He hosts a weekly music program on a community radio station and has authored two biographies featuring Australian musicians. Vic is the associate producer for the new feature documentary, Smithy.

The Rev Dr. John 'Bullfrog' Smith has been called 'John Wesley on a motorbike' but Smithy, as he is affectionately known, is more than this. He has worn many hats – youth minister, evangelist, apostle, writer, theologian, teacher, media personality, social justice warrior, blues music lover, husband, father, grandfather... and biker. 

Over two years in the making, Smithy is a feature-length biographical film. It covers John’s entire life from childhood to his recent battles with cancer but has a special focus on John’s middle years from about the age of 20 to 40. This includes the seminal moment of his ‘conversion’ from conservative to radical and the period when he met his wife, Glena, had three children, founded God’s Squad, became a media darling, established his ministry to schools and universities, and set up his radical church in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, Truth and Liberation Concern.

Truth and Liberation Concern community picnic in the 70s

 I began by asking Vic how this project came about?

After working successfully with filmmaker Don Parham on a 30-minute doco for television, I suggested that “someone should tell John Smith’s story before he dies”.

Did you imagine a feature-length film right from the beginning and did you have an idea about how that could be funded?

Although most of Don Parham’s previous docos for (the Australian media networks) the ABC and SBS were a ‘television hour’ in length, he definitely wanted the Smithy film to be ‘feature length’ from the outset. To maximize our creative freedom with the project we decided to crowd-fund and self-distribute the film. We thought that any broadcaster interest that might come down the track would pay for re-versioning the film for television.

Did you test the market before you began?

Not really. We knew that John had almost 5,000 ‘friends/followers’ on Facebook and that he had a global profile that was especially strong in Australia, UK and parts of Europe.

You ran two Pozible campaigns - one successful and one unsuccessful, can you tell us why you think there was a mixed response?

At one point, we considered going for broke with a $100,000 target in our first Pozible campaign but, because we were going to run an ‘all or nothing’ campaign, we decided it was safer to just aim for ‘Stage 1’ funding and set the target at half that amount. I think, in hindsight, this possibly created some confusion in our supporter group’s eyes which contributed to the 2nd Pozible campaign failing.

How important was it for you to bring your crowdfunding audience along with you through production, post-production and finally into the release stage of the project? 

Very important as without our supporters the whole project would suffer. We attempted to keep donors informed through regular updates via Pozible and social media.

There are key communities that John has been involved with over the years; did you reach out to each of those communities individually?

Yes. Initially, we emailed our individual networks (i.e. personal contacts of the production team---there were 4 people on the team for the first stages of the project). Then we emailed church networks and ‘arts’ bodies such as the UK’s Greenbelt Festival where John had had some involvement.

John Smith at a Parliament House rally 1973

What techniques did you use to stay in touch with your audience? Did you maintain an email list? How often did you email your audience?

In the initial stages of seeking funds, we emailed our audience twice giving them an opportunity to support the project. We compiled an email list from our team member contacts and from John’s own supporters (although this was a very small list). Once the project was underway, we built a website dedicated to the film, created a Facebook page for Smithy the film and set up a blog to which we posted quotes from John’s published books.

As you've moved closer to the launch date what have you done to make sure people know about Smithy?

Updated emails to donors via our Pozible site and daily posts (late in the day or early evening) on our Facebook page accompanied with a photo/still taken from the film. We also sent our personalized email Launch invitations to ‘key people’ from all our networks.

You've received some endorsements from celebrities like Bono and Tim Costello, how have you sourced those endorsements? 

John knows Bono as a friend. We asked John to record a short video endorsement with Bono on a visit to Dublin. We emailed Tim Costello and others, sending them video links to view the whole film as well as a comprehensive Press Kit about the film.

John Smith and his family with U2 in the 90s

How important was it to have John Smith endorse the film even in the development phase?

Smithy is a biographical doco, very much built around a major interview Parham did with John by locking him up in a studio for two long days. The film couldn’t have been made without John’s co-operation and endorsement.

You've laid out your funding strategy very transparently in your Pozible campaigns. It looks like you haven't found the support that you were seeking from film funding bodies. How have you made up the shortfall in funding and do you still hope to find a mainstream distributor for the film?

We’re not looking for a mainstream distributor at this stage. It is very much a niche audience for this film and I’d say we know best how to reach it. The main consequence of the shortfall in funding was it forced us to reduce the scope of the project. Fortunately, we were still able to deliver a feature-length doco, as planned, but we couldn’t cover John’s whole life in depth. As it turned out, the Smith story has a very natural climax, and break point, at about age 40. Although the film does cover his whole life (Smith is now in his 70’s), its main focus is on the first 40 years. Depending on how DVD sales go, we may look at doing a Smithy 2 film.

Did you have a well-defined marketing strategy from the outset or has it evolved as you've moved from one stage of the project to another?

Our marketing strategy has evolved through different stages of the project. The positive reactions to our initial ‘push’ were very important in confirming to us that the project could proceed. The second campaign, although we didn’t reach our target goal, encouraged us a little further. With the finished product, we will now explore other avenues of promotion.

Have you used social media at all? Do you feel that has been successful?

We have used Facebook extensively and we feel that this has certainly helped in creating an awareness of the crowdfunding efforts as well as keeping supporters and the public, in general, informed about the project’s progress.

Have you used traditional PR methods and has that been successful?

Traditional PR methods such as sending out Media Releases to radio personnel and journalists have had some success resulting in phone interviews and printed newspaper and magazine articles prior to the film’s release. The 23-second video from Bono resulted in a sizeable piece in Melbourne’s Herald-Sun (about one-third of a page).

Have you set specific goals in terms of audience size or reach?

Not really. We attempted to reach as many of our own networks as possible combined with those people who were aware of John’s activities.


SMITHY will be officially launched at St Martins Community Church in Collingwood on Saturday 19 November from 7pm. The film will be available on DVD at the Launch and immediately after via www.parham-media.com

For information on getting your own film out there, take a look at the Follow Magazine Free Guide Launching Your Creative Work.