Like many young filmmakers, Levi Agee is working with a small budget to make his short film "Rapture Us," which he wrote and will direct and star in. Agee's project was recently accepted by the nonprofit crowdfunding site USA Projects, which works exclusively with artists and provides matching funds for successful campaigns. Watch Agee's pitch and a teaser for the film at arktimes.com/raptureus. The campaign ends Nov. 1, and as of Tuesday, it's about $950 shy of its goal.
Give us the short synopsis of "Rapture Us."
"Rapture Us" is about a young, devoted Christian named Toby. He lives with his mom, who's very sick, he takes care of her. And one day he wakes up after some strange circumstances and finds out she's gone. Certain other things lead him to believe that the rapture has happened, which is a Christian end-times phenomenon that supposedly ushers in the apocalypse. He's befuddled as to why he wasn't part of all these Christians being taken up to heaven, and he's very confused about why he was left behind. He encounters someone who was raised from dead who has an idea of how he can get into heaven and tells him that he has to break all the Ten Commandments to get God's attention. They set out to run around in the 24 hours after this happened and break lots of God's laws and test each other's limits of faith and friendship and predictability.
What is the minimum budget you'll need to make the film and how much have you raised so far?
Our minimum budget originally was $5,000. We started with an Indiegogo campaign to reach that goal, and we made about three grand off that and another $500 from a fundraiser at White Water Tavern, so we still have some money to raise.
We found a producer who's going to help us with some of the budget, but we're still not close to our goal. To have the crew size and special effects and the locations we need, and makeup, like we say in our video for USA Projects, we need about $7,500 to make a good video. So I'd say we're a little bit more than halfway there. We reached out to USA Projects via the Arkansas Arts Council. I was desperate after that, like I've got to figure out some way to make money, and I don't know of anything short of plasma donation and I don't think my wife would be cool with that.
So I just emailed anybody I could, I was like, "What grants are there? How can you be an artist in Arkansas and get helped out to do stuff?" It was very confusing on how to raise money on something like this. Cheri Leffew from the Arkansas Arts Council pointed me to this website and was like, "Hey, this is a nonprofit, it's kind of like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but they're not trying to make money. This website is just for people like you, struggling artists who don't have ways to make money."
So now we've got about [16 days] left to raise the rest of our budget, and I'm hoping that it gets the attention of people outside of our circle of friends and filmmakers, because everyone I know is poor. Our goal is to attract the attention of some wealthy philanthropists or spoiled rich kids that won't have an agenda against the world and they just want to blow some money on something. You would buy a thousand-dollar painting to put in your house. Why not spend a thousand dollars on a living piece of art? Sponsoring a filmmaker's vision should be the same as if you want to buy a really nice painting.
They wouldn't even have to be that wealthy. You're only looking for a few thousand dollars total, right?
Yeah, that's what's so scary. We're doing a short film that we hope we can turn into a feature at some point. And there have been films made around here for $10,000, $25,000, $50,000, for short films. If we were making a feature it would be 10 times that much. People are making indie features now for one or two million. I can understand the frustration of finding funders for those types of films. I totally get why it takes so long to secure funding for these weird ideas. Not everyone wants to gamble their money because they're not always going to make it back, and usually they don't. It's got to be a passion thing. For our crew, I'd love to be able to pay them and get best people possible to work on this film because it's going to take a lot of technical work to get it done.
How did you connect with Quinn Gasaway, who played Boy Hogwallop ("I'm gonna R-U-N-N-O-F-T!") in the Coen brothers film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and stars as Toby?
I met him probably about five or six years ago, I used to work in a Blockbuster in North Little Rock, and I think that's where he went to school. I had a mutual friend, we were doing the 48-Hour Film Project a long time ago, it was the first film I did outside of film school, and someone said, "I know the guy who was in 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' and I was a huge Coen brothers fan, so I freaked out, like "I've got to meet this guy.' " And since I met him at the store or whatever, I've just been freakishly stalking him to get him to work, and we worked together on that film. And he knew all his lines. He had this different energy about him.
He's a real actor.
Yeah, exactly. It was a different level of thing from most of the people I'd been working with as far as acting goes. Normally, in the film program at UCA, the filmmakers would be the actors. We hardly ever used real, hardcore actors in our projects, just because of time or whatever. Working with Quinn was a revelation, so I wrote this role for him. He's been in Chicago for a while working on the acting thing, and he sent me a message six or seven months ago saying he was in town and wanted to do something and I said, "I've got this part for you, if you're going to be in Arkansas, I'd love to do this with you." He read the script and liked it and we've been working on it together ever since.
What's the schedule? If you reach $7,500 by the end of the month, when do you start filming and when do you finish?
Our goal was to film the last weekend of October, because our story is set in the fall. There's actually a Halloween scene in the film, so we were hoping to shoot on Halloween. Right now we're still looking for crew and a couple of locations. If we can get everything to that point, we'd love to shoot at the end of October, or at the latest, it would be mid to late November that we shoot. Then we edit, score, do the music, color correct and sound design in January-February, and then have something ready by spring.
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