By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 6, 2015 at 9:03PM
In February 2014, writer-director Mary Agnes Donoghue ("Beaches") and producers Michelle Manning and Gail Levin launched a campaign on Indiegogo to raise post-production finishing funds for indie romantic comedy "Jenny's Wedding," starring Katherine Heigl, Grace Gummer and Alexis Bledel. The movie will debut at Outfest on July 10 and will open via IFC Films On Demand and in theaters on July 31.
"Jennifer's Wedding," which wrapped production in Cleveland, Ohio in November 2013, is about what happens when Jenny (Heigl), the daughter of a close-knit family, finally decides to marry. Her old-fashioned parents (Tom Wilkinson and Linda Emond) want her to settle down, but react badly when she announces that she is going to marry a woman.
While the producers successfully financed the film via Merced Media Partners and PalmStar Media Capital (executive producers are PalmStar’s Kevin Frakes, Merced’s Raj Brinder Singh, Stuart Brown, Lauren Selig and international sales co. The Solution Entertainment Group’s Lisa Wilson and Myles Nestel), they needed extra funds to finish the film properly.
Ex-Paramount production chief Manning developed the Donoghue script over six years at her MM Productions, with Gail Levin jumping on board four years in to help to push the boulder up the hill. "This kind of movie used to be made at Paramount all the time," said Manning in a phone interview. "They were solid doubles, often they became triples and home runs, a movie you'd make for $12-15 million, in and out, like 'First Wives Club,' that was about something, with a great story. That's hard to do now. Look around. They don't get made by studios, they've become independent movies."
From the time Manning became involved with the film, she was first going to make it for $11, then $8, $5, $3 or $2.5 million. "That's how the economics have changed," she said. "The movie looks beautiful, we got a great DP and production designer. You put money in these indies and then for post there's bare bones left to finish the film and have it be professionally done and releasable."
Manning wanted great music and a proper finish with nice main titles that weren't white against black: "So the guys at CAA and Gersh said to do a crowd-funding campaign. "Everyone's heard of Zach Braff and Kickstarter but I didn't know how you did it," she said. "In this case, it wasn't like we needed to do it to get the movie made. We own the movie, so our advisers said to go to Indiegogo, which did a campaign for the Roger Ebert doc ["Life Itself"]. OK, now I can wrap my head around it, they had made the movie, and wanted to finish it up better. It never occurred to me that you could do that."
So Manning got a call during production to introduce her to Marc Hofstatter, who handles film Indiegogo's film campaigns. The filmmakers put together a video (see below), which Indiegogo walked them through, step by step. "In these types of movies fueled by fans of good stories, they can participate and feel like they helped to get the movie made," says Manning. "On some of the campaigns you can buy yourself a credit. As a producer I'm against that, we're not offering that. We're offering tickets to the premiere and Q and As and a dinner. Our biggest perk is the wedding dress Katie wore in the wedding. A very expensive dress."
The producers raised $96,000 in two months to pay for music, titles, color and sound. They were offering donors the usual exclusive perks: behind-the-scenes footage, signed screenplays, advanced screenings with cast and filmmakers, and retweets from Heigl. Through an arrangement with From The Heart Productions, all donations to the campaign were tax-deductible, with a portion of the proceeds going to PFLAG Cleveland (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Next came distributor screenings; IFC Films picked up the movie.
Manning finds low-budget independent production "invigorating," she said, "because it's your movie. I'd be lying to say it's not a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears. Snow beater is not on my resume. It was great, like being back in film school again, it does show you when you're doing this, that you don't NEED it all. I would love to have more money, but you can make something wonderful without the bloated budgets. If it does happen to catch lightning in a bootle, you're owning it, so that's a good thing, with much more freedom. You do see how spoiled you are."