Emily Best decided if she wanted the movie industry to change, she was going to have to roll up her sleeves and create the change herself.
It all started while working on a play with a group of women in entertainment; Best and the women became collaborators and a veritable force when they combined their talents. Their first feature film, Like the Water, was born out of the desire to address what they felt was lacking in film today: stories that feature relatable women. In Best’s own words, these women are “messy, difficult, take up space but also allow one another to grow and change.” A concept which sounds, amazingly, a lot like real life.
Best’s experience in fundraising for the film led to her creation of Seed&Spark, a crowd funding and digital distribution platform that supports indie films and gives audiences an inside peek at the filmmaking process. Seed&Spark even gives filmmakers an opportunity to crowdfund their projects using the WishList — a registry for film production where supporters can buy or loan specific items.
On top of all the other resources they provide filmmakers, Seed&Spark has a 77% success rate — 35% higher than Kickstarter. Basically, Best has created a place where as a creator you can make the connections to fund your film, and if you’re an audience member you can be a part of the process, as well as watch, follow and discover new independent films and their makers.
Emily Best is a shining example of being part of the solution, and making the art of film more accessible to fans and filmmakers alike.
What gave you the courage to create Seed&Spark? How did you know it was the right time?
I guess after I produced Like the Water I realized that what I wanted to do was make movies. But I did NOT want to make them in the future I could envision based on everything I was learning about middle men, lack of access to audience… So I started the company to help build the future in which I wanted to make moving pictures.
What has been Seed&Spark’s biggest success to date?
The Crowdfunding to Build Independence classes that we’re touring with for the #Stayindietour. We wanted a way to teach the tools of crowdfunding so that CROWD was clearly the more important part of the compound word. We believe that crowdfunding is an incredibly powerful tool to build a lasting and flourishing relationship with your audience that lays the groundwork for distribution you control and a career that sustains you. So we built a course around that from everything we’ve learned from the successes and failures of the campaigns we’ve seen and from our own campaigns (and from building a film business!) Since we launched the classes in March of 2014, our campaign success rate has gone up to 85%, and next year we’ll learn what it means for returns from distribution, which is so exciting. What excites me most is that I meet a lot of mid-career filmmakers who didn’t know to gather audiences for themselves with their first three films who say they feel empowered again.
What do you hope to achieve?
We say that our big vision is to have been part of the movement to create a thriving, sustainable creative middle class. We want filmmakers to recognize themselves as entrepreneurs (or maybe, small business owners?) and to be able to make money making what they love. It’s not about getting rich, it’s about making a living that can sustain you and maybe a family if that’s what you want.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle women in film face today?
Where to begin? Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t think it is: I don’t think our problem is that we don’t support each other. I started in this business because of sustaining female friendships and I’ve been able to stay in because of the support of, investment from, and advice/wisdom/collaboration and friendship of other women. And I see this happening everywhere.
The biggest obstacle is numbers. We’re pushed so far to the margins we have to fight to be heard, the percentages are dismal. But those numbers don’t represent the number of women out there making meaningful content, building meaningful businesses and business models.
In many ways, I think the conversation about breaking in to Hollywood is the wrong one. Their models and economics have not been built for us to succeed – they’re like a roadblock between us and our audiences. So let’s build our own and take the 51% of ticket buyers with us!
How do you think women can be more supportive of one another?
By not perpetuating the myth that we’re not supportive of one another. Don’t even tell that story. For the largest part, it just isn’t true.
I host a “women in moving pictures” salon in my apartment once a month. It started because my friend Rose wanted to meet some female cinematographers. I started sending all these e-introductions and then realized everyone was in LA, so I invited them all to my house. I sent 13 invites and 26 women RSVP’d. After month 8, we’re at about 90 women on the list – women want and need one another’s support and are clamoring for it. All you have to do, apparently, is ask!
What women inspire you?
Ohhhhh there are soooo many. Mynette Louie, Julie Parker Benello, Destri Martino (the director list), Thuc Ngyugen (The Bitch Pack), Julie Lebedev and all the other women out there creating the infrastructure to succeed, raising the noise level and bringing real resources to bear on women in film. (I am leaving out about 100 other deserving voices.)
Ava Duvernay and Cora and Jen from Present Pictures who have SHOWN us how to take the reigns for our own films. Jen McGowan, Jill Soloway – women putting women (and men!) on screen that expand the space for empathy in the world.
Caitlin FitzGerald, Susan Main, and the whole team behind my first feature who have gone on to do exceptional work in film, education, festivals and more.
What books or media have had an impact on your life?
Ages 4-6, I watched West Side Story and Wizard of Oz until the VHS tapes wore out. Those stories loom large in my mind. My mom worked in cable, we had all the channels, I was raised on a steady diet of 1980’s MTV and HBO. And the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (the books – never saw the films!). The first indie film I saw in an arthouse was Gabbeh in 1997 and it changed everything. I sat in the theater afterwards unable to process what just happened to me.
Watching live as the Challenger exploded, watching the twin towers fall, standing in Rockerfeller Center watching Obama’s victory speech projected high above our heads – that’s media that has had an impact as well.
This is making me realize how much my imagination is made up of images that have been planted there by writers and filmmakers…
What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
Wow. Like that, huh? I can whip a decent meal together out of whatever’s in the cupboard and fridge. It’s a fundamental caretaking skill for myself and others. I think it’s why I haven’t collapsed from exhaustion. Yet.