Balls of Steel: I Am I … and Then Some

I’m convinced multi-hyphenates will take over the universe. They’re like aliens working in overdrive. Whatever they’re drinking, I want some.

Meet Jocelyn Towne, screenwriter, actor, and director of the new indie feature film I Am I.

Photo by Katrina Marcinowski

A few months back, I introduced Script readers to Allegra Huston, daughter of the legendary John Huston. Like Allegra, Jocelyn was born into a family of talented multi-hyphenates, but still had to carve her own path.

Jocelyn’s impressive gene pool consists of her father, Roger Towne, screenwriter of The Natural and The Recruit, and her uncle, Robert Towne, who wrote such films as Chinatown and Mission Impossible. The talent continued into the following generation with her brother, Nick Towne, as a writer and aspiring director, as well as her cousin, accomplished actor Katherine Towne. Perhaps growing up with great talent is part of what attracted her to her husband, actor Simon Helberg (Howard on CBS’s hit, The Big Bang Theory).

You’d think with all these connections, Jocelyn could waltz into any studio and get funding. The reality is, this is a fickle business. Despite a screenwriting-rich bloodline, she took an unexpected side road. Little did Jocelyn know, she was about to become a Kickstarter goddess.

I Am I is Jocelyn’s first feature script, taking six years to write and polish. Of course, being an actor, a role for herself was part of her goal. She tried to raise the funds the traditional way, but since she was a first-time director, investors resisted. That’s when her producers, Jennifer Dubin and Cora Olson, mentioned crowdfunding.

Being inquisitive and thorough, Jocelyn didn’t jump on the Kickstarter site and take off, she researched the process, watching almost every campaign posted, and attended a seminar on crowdfunding before launching her campaign.

Knowledge is power.

Once confident in the possibilities, she dived in with one of the very best campaigns I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many. The video was phenomenal, and had I found it prior to the campaign’s successful end, I would have opened my wallet as well.

She had me at hello.

Photo by Chiara Towne

The Kickstarter goal for I Am I was $100,000 – 10 times the average campaign. That alone took guts, but she surrounded herself with the talent she needed to get the job done. That was evident in the campaign video.

To put a project you’re so intimately connected to up for public viewing and support would be horrifying for some artists, but Jocelyn soon got over her fears.

At first I was nervous to put myself out there in such a big way. But the huge rally of support I got from people has lifted my spirits a lot.

When I asked if people were surprised that, with all of her industry connections, it took crowdfunding to get the money she needed, she humbly responded, “No one ever questioned why I was doing it. Every artist is an individual and we all have to travel our own road to get to where we need to go. We have to do what we feel is the right thing to do.”

She not only did the right thing, she also did it the right way.

Being the writer, lead actress, and director, Jocelyn had her hands full, but she was smart and surrounded herself with amazing talent, both behind and in front of the camera.

To be sure, she was directing her own acting with objectivity, she researched her part with an acting coach and videotaped herself to get a sense of what she was doing.

It was challenging while we were shooting. I had to trust people on the ground who were watching. As lead actor, (my husband) Simon was on set almost every day. Before each shot, I’d tell him what I was looking for in the scene. He was my eyes.”

That’s a power couple.

Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne; Photo by Chiara Towne

Jocelyn was open to feedback from her crew as well. “I wanted to hear people’s ideas. I wasn’t going to pretend to know I had the best solution to each question. When you’re working with a crew that small on such a low budget, every single person is so vital.

I asked what she learned about her writing during the process of looking at the script from a director’s eyes.

My original screenplay was purposely light on exposition, not explaining the past of a lot of characters. The reader notes I got during the writing process wanted more exposition, but I didn’t want to tell it that way. What was shocking was that the exposition I did put in the script wasn’t even needed when we shot it.  Surprisingly, there’s been even more trimming in editing.”

This experience has changed her writing goals.

Trying to tell the story visually without dialogue is fascinating, and putting discovery into visual moments, powerful. We need very little dialogue because the audience is smarter than you think. When they see one visual, they will remember. You might need to write that extra dialogue into the script when you’re trying to sell it because it helps the reader, but there’s a good chance you’re not going to need it when you’re filming it.

Most screenwriters don’t set out to go the indie route, but every once in a while one writer jumps the fence into the unrestrained world. Jocelyn offers this advice for those brave souls:

Be strategic on the scope of the story you’re writing. I know we all want to follow our passions, but find the passion in your heart to write something that doesn’t require a $20-million budget. Get to know actors. Join the theatre community and workshop your script, then do it again with different actors. Hearing several actors reading the same part is fascinating. Then when you go to make it, you’ll have a pool of great talent who you love and who care about your work. It’s about building a community, not only with actors but also with other writers. The key is to have a great group of artists surrounding you.”

By the time this piece hits your computer screens, I Am I will have been viewed by its first focus group in Los Angeles. I can imagine the joy on Jocelyn’s face as Simon clutches her hand. This dynamic duo will take over the big screen; of that, I am confident.

I Am I. Jocelyn Towne is all that and more.

Look for I Am I to hit film festivals in the coming months.

9 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: I Am I … and Then Some

  1. Simone Linke

    The best “lesson” from this is that there still are really motivated (established) artists out there. Looking at some of the crap in theaters these days, you often can’t help but wonder who the writers/actors/etc. slept with to get it made. So, it’s great to read a piece like this about someone with so many connections who still went her own way. I’m sure it’ll pay off!

  2. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman

    Alex, I understand your comments and assumptions regarding her kickstarter campaign, but the reality is most filmmakers who use crowdfunding aren’t looking for $100,000. They are raising much smaller budgets.

    But more importantly, the point of this piece isn’t a promo for kickstarter or a pat on Jocelyn’s back for raising that much money. The point is if you want your film made, you have to try alternative means to get that done. She didn’t sit on her ass and whine that the studios didn’t want her film. She did something about it. Anyone can do that, no matter who their parents or connections are. I did it myself by raising money for a short film a friend wrote and directed. I don’t know anyone special or famous and still raised the $9000 we needed.

    It’s about going after what you want and not taking “no” for an answer.

  3. Claire Elizabeth Terry

    Thank you, Jeanne, for sharing this totally inspirational story! I’ve also recently started a crowdfunding campaign (over at Indiegogo: http://bit.ly/nqjWxl ) for my first feature script, ‘I draw roses’ – about six female friends from all over the world whose lives are transformed when a rose is secretly drawn for them – with the perks including having one of the characters named after you or a signed copy of ‘The Art of Living’ by Mikhail Gorbachev! It’s such a blast and if I can have even one tenth of Jocelyn’s success, I will be one happy screenwriter!

    (AND, hopefully, crowdfunding will become a new model for the future to help writers get our scripts up-and-running and into those cinemas … )

  4. Alex

    There has been a lot of press about this Kickstarter campaign and how inspirational it should be for other filmmakers. However, the overall circumstances can be misleading to people who do not have friendships with even vaguely familiar actors, such as the ones in Jocelyn’s video.

    She may have not gotten traditional funding from her family’s connections, but to pretend that they didn’t play a role is simply unfair. Film campaigns with unknowns don’t get the kind of attention that hers did. And let’s face it – Tom in Kansas – is a lot more likely to open his wallet to a film with known names (like Tony Chliek above) so he can brag to his friends about some kind of producer credit.

    Yes, her video was well done. But let’s face it – the faces in it certainly added to the charm.

    Raising anything near $100,000 is a false hope for the majority of unknown filmmakers on Kickstarter…and while I hate to sound so cynical, I get tired of seeing so much hype cranked out – leading to unbearable disillusionment among filmmakers who are trying to break into the system.

  5. Tony Chliek

    I saw the video and I was hooked. I donated and am now was the Associate Producer of my first film. Them I found another film that needed funding of less than 1/10th the budget of “I AM I” on Kickstarter, “Girl Clown – The Film” http://tinyurl.com/3fwr4ue. So I donated enough to be an Associate producer of my second film and actually be in the film as a featured extra/walk on. I can’t wait to see the finished product of both films.

  6. Pingback: New Filmmaker raises over 100K on Kickstarter.

  7. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman

    Thank you, Rebecca. I find stories like Jocelyn’s very inspiring as well. People always say “it’s who you know,” but Jocelyn proves it’s really how hard you work and how badly you want it that matters. I’m honored to have shared her story with you.

  8. Rebecca

    Her journey is very inspirational! Thank you for posting this story. I have some of the same fears and its nice to know that there are others out there that feel like you do! I’m definitely going to look out for Jocelyn and support her when I can.
    GOOD LUCK Jocelyn!

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