Luke Pilgrim and Brad Kennedy on launching their sci-fi anthology series Encounters
Luke Pilgrim and Brad Kennedy are the two brains behind Sozo Bear Films and the upcoming sci-fi anthology series, Encounters, which they are currently crowdfunding for over on Seed & Spark. The first episode of Encounters is now available to watch online and we were so taken by it, that we reached out to the filmmakers to discuss the project, their background, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
How did you guys first meet and get involved in the film industry? What's the background of Sozo Bear Films?
We met while we were in film school at the University of North Georgia in 2012, but we didn’t truly begin collaborating together until 2014, well into the last couple of years of our college careers. We really got our start professionally from our senior capstone project which was a short film called The Apology Service. We landed our first client off of the short film and from there we began our own production company, Sozo Bear Films.
You've had great success at festivals with your short films. Was the end-goal always to move towards larger projects?
In a way the end goal was to move onto bigger projects, but at the same time we recognize that there is a certain type of skill that goes into telling shorter stories and we recognize that we’re pretty good with the format. We figured for our next step to move forward, it would be more manageable to create the several short films under one unifying theme than try to tackle a feature length film.
What was the biggest lessons you learned on these early shorts?
The biggest lesson we’ve learned from our short films is to always design the short within your limitations. That doesn’t mean that you have to restrict your creativity, but more so, if you only have so much budget you can work with, you get creative with what you have and create the best movie you possibly can within those parameters.
Where did you first get the idea for Encounters and why an anthology series as opposed to another short or even a feature film?
The project actually began when we were making a commercial for our company, Sozo Bear Films, which we wanted to release on World UFO Day. In fact, the abduction scene in episode 1 of Encounters is actually the footage from that commercial. After completing that little promo, everyone from our cast and crew to our composer were asking us, “Why isn’t this a short film?” And so the two of us sat down and figured out what was salvageable from the commercial, so that we wouldn't have to completely start from scratch. We kept the abduction scene, with a few minor visual tweaks and more ominous music, and wrote a new beginning and ending for the film. And then we thought, well we really liked this horror/sci-fi vibe and the idea of ending on a darker note and exploring a unifying theme so we decided to expand. For us, a feature is not as manageable currently and we really feel like we can reach more people with shorter content.
But what we knew we could achieve was multiple short films that we package together to end up with something about as long as a feature but filmed and consumed in smaller portions.
After watching the first episode, the quality is amazing and I love the tone of it. There's some clear Twilight Zone / X-Files / Spielberg influences. What kind of movies and TV did you guys grow up on and how has that influenced you as filmmakers?
Spielberg was such an integral part of my childhood. We both grew up watching his films and that “larger than life, movie magic” sensation that he always cultivates is something that we are constantly striving for. And The Twilight Zone and X-Files are definitely influences for this series but we are also big Coen Brothers fans and we really like directors like Zemeckis, Kubrick, and Scorsese. We’re big fans of The Duffer Brothers as well and Stranger Things is another awesome show that influences our work because they have so perfectly paid homage to Spielberg and other sci-fi and horror films that we love.
What's the plan for Encounters once it's all done?
This year we are working the first episode of Encounters at festivals while we are finishing raising the budget and filming the next episodes. Our goal is to release the next episode at our Night At The Movies event next year and then release an episode every three months after that.
Why the decision to crowdfund? Why Seed & Spark? How has that process been for you so far?
We crowdfunded for our first film through Kickstarter and we raised $5,000. We had a great experience with it but we felt like after that we didn’t want to constantly have our hand out. So over the past few years we have funded two films, Sunnyside Drive and The Amazing Anti-Fart Formula, as well as the pilot for Encounters, on our own. When we decided to expand into an anthology, there was just no way we could afford to film all of the episodes independently. We were going to have to find some help. So we asked Terrell Sandefur, who helped found the Macon Film Fest, to come on board as our producer. So we are raising $10,000 through Seed & Spark but that’s only a portion of the budget which will allow us to film the next two episodes. And the remainder of the budget will be raised outside of Seed & Spark through private donors.
How are you guys able to get such quality on such a limited budget?
I think a big part of how we are able to make films without breaking the bank is because we always have a very clear vision before we get to set. Brad and I usually are the ones writing the film so we understand it extremely well from the beginning and we break down the scenes and storyboard them in detail so that we don’t waste any time on set. Since the beginning, we’ve been really hands on with everything. I’m usually operating the camera. Brad’s making sure we are on schedule or working with the actors. Brad and I both edit and I do the color correction/sound design. So we’ve both always worn so many hats that we’ve been able to make work that looked really good without spending very much money.
You kicked off your campaign with an in-person screening, which is brilliant. What was the strategy behind that and how did you go about raising money in the room?
Well it was important to us that everyone was excited and having a good time. This was our second year hosting Sozo Bear Presents: A Night At The Movies and it was an awesome evening. We had a lot of great films from all over the country and Q&A with the filmmakers.
Then we premiered Encounters at the end, had our own Q&A, and then made the announcement about the series and our crowdfunding campaign. We raised close to $4,000 that first night.
We wanted to promote the campaign at the moment when our fans would be most engaged with the pilot episode and we figured it would be a no-brainer to begin the campaign right after the premiere of Episode 1. We were very conscious that we needed to present it as a way for people to join us on this sci-fi / horror journey and not in a way that abuses the relationship with our festival attendees. We tried our best to take note from Steve Jobs and Apple keynote presentations on how to present our campaign in a way that people would leave the theater excited to be a part of what will come next with Encounters. And we believe that the results of the evening reflect that people are excited to join us on this journey.
As co-writer/directors how do you divide up responsibilities and have a united front throughout the process?
We’ve just learned over time who has which strong suits and we let each other lead in those areas. We always consult with each other on important decisions and most importantly we always treat each other with respect. There’s no ego kind of stuff when you are co-directors. Because you both have equal say. It’s really natural for us and we depend on each other a lot when we are trying to make quick decisions on set. It’s great to be able to talk something through really quick, pros vs cons, and then give the crew or cast their direction.
What's the biggest piece of advice you would give to filmmakers wanting to kick off their own filmmaking careers?
Make movies. Literally, that’s it. There will always be a ton of reasons why you aren’t making movies. Like you don’t have the right budget or the right camera or the time. You may be working another job right now but have to find the time after work or on the weekends to create. You just have to take that first step and make a piece of work. Because getting started can be scary and paralyzing. And your first projects might suck but that’s okay. You’ll learn so much from sucking that you’ll never learn if you let excuses stop you from making movies.
What's next for you guys?
We’re going to be filming Encounters for a while. But we also have a lot of commercials and music videos and docu-promo films that we are producing every week. We are working with someone on a feature film as well. And of course we’ll be out there on the festival circuit in support of Encounters: Episode 1 this year! If you’d like to see any of our work you can visit www.sozobearfilms.com. And be sure to like and follow us on Facebook, Insta and Twitter to keep up with our filmmaking adventures!
Where can we find info on Encounters and what's the best way for us to get the word out?
You can pledge and read all about the series at seedandspark.com/fund/encounters. And the best way to help is to just share like crazy on social media. If you don’t mind sharing our posts as they go out on Facebook or you can even make your own posts and just put the link to our Seed and Spark campaign and tell people what we are trying to achieve. Every pledge and every share is so important to us and we are so thankful that people are excited about this series and really want to see it come to life!
By the time this goes to print, Encounters may be all the way there, but please visit seedandspark.com/fund/encounters and give what you can. Even the smallest amount goes a long way. And even if you can’t afford to give anything, clicking “Follow” is worth just as much.