This is the story of how two guys from the Midwest managed to raise over $200,000 for an independent, faith-based horror found-footage thriller movie shot deep in the woods of Savanna, Illinois at a 120-year-old hunting cabin. It's also the story of how Cinedigm, one of the most prolific distributors in Hollywood, bought and produced our film. Oh, and it features Duane "Dog" Chapman — a.k.a. "Dog the Bounty Hunter" — in his first feature role...playing himself.
You can't write this stuff.
I'm here to tell you that when you put your mind, body, and soul into something, anything is possible. Because if two guys living two thousand miles away from Hollywood can raise almost a quarter of a million dollars to make their movie, so can you. Here's how we raised over $200,000 for a feature film and every single stage of the process we took to go from script to screen and beyond.
Meet the Team: Justin Jackola and Ken Miyamoto
Justin Jackola: Director
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Justin Jackola realized his passion for filmmaking while creating films in place of poster boards in grade school. His storytelling abilities eventually led him to study film at Robert De Niro's Tribeca Flashpoint Academy. From there, he was invited to create content at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, where he worked on clients such as McDonald's, Coke, and Maytag/Whirlpool. Justin left Burnett to begin his journey in Film, TV, Documentary, and Commercial production.
As an entrepreneur, Justin launched JJack Productions in January 2012, leading projects that have culminated in his success today. He currently resides as a Director and Content Creator at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, Stage 18.
Ken Miyamoto: Writer
I was born and raised in the Midwest, living most of my childhood in the Mississippi River town of La Crosse, WI. I first moved to California to pursue a career in film in 1999 — only to later move back to Wisconsin with my wife Amy to raise our children close to family. Ironically enough, I had to move 2,000 miles away from Hollywood to see my first screenwriting deal. I've worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
I have many studio meetings under my belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. My first paid screenwriting gig was through a development deal with Lionsgate, followed by two writing assignments with Larry Levinson Productions, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner.
How to Raise Money for a Film: 16 Steps from Script to Screen
1. Hire a screenwriter (March 2017)
Justin and I met at a Writers Conference at the University of Wisconsin. We were both panelists for a film-related discussion. We also had two suites in the venue where we would take practice pitches from screenwriters and authors — giving them tips and feedback afterward. Our suites were across the hall from each other.
"I had three different people telling me I should meet Ken," Justin told ScreenCraft in a recent Q&A session about Hunter's Creed. "None of those people knew each other. And that was outside of the event. Before the event even happened... sure enough, within like four minutes [after meeting each other], it was like we were long lost brothers."
Watch full Q&A here:
We hosted a virtual AMA session on THE POWER OF BLENDING GENRE with the filmmaking team behind upcoming HUNTER’S CREED, starring Dog the Bounty Hunter, screenwriter (and past ScreenCraft Action & Adventure winner ⚡️) Ken Miyamoto and Director Justin Jackola.
Posted by ScreenCraft on Friday, September 25, 2020
After becoming quick collaborators on an action-comedy script called Assassin's Journey, Justin came to me with a unique project. He wanted to make a faith-based horror film. Needless to say, you don't hear those genres in the same sentence that often. I was intrigued by the challenge of it. However, I couldn't commit to writing a script for free. We negotiated a contract with an upfront payment and payment-on-delivery — along with profit-share points on the backend.
Read ScreenCraft's How to Negotiate a Screenwriting Contract Without Representation!
The contract was signed in March 2017, leading to an amazing collaboration between director and screenwriter that would last through July 2017. In five months, after four contracted drafts, the script was ready.
2. Virtual pitch to investors (August 2017)
From here on out, it's Justin's story. My job as the screenwriter was done. Now it was Justin's job to take that script and try to find some investors. He was adamant that he was either going to direct this feature with investors, or he was going to shoot it with his own money. Regardless, this film was going to get made. Which, between us, is why I really signed on. I saw his drive.
Justin met with a group of Chicago investors — Chicago Media Angels (CMA) — for a virtual pitch. He got to that level thanks to a brilliant pitch deck that he developed.
Read ScreenCraft's How to Create the Ultimate Screenplay Pitch Deck to download and read the actual Hunter's Creed pitch deck!
If the virtual pitch went well, he would be allowed to pitch to the whole group in person. Needless to say, it went well.
3. Room full of 30 investors (September 2017)
In a room full of thirty investors from the CMA group, Justin delivered an effective pitch. Eight of the thirty agreed to invest in the film (that's a lot), but we hadn't quite raised the full budget yet.
4. Cocktail party pitch (November 2017)
One CMA investor that couldn't make it to the September pitch was very interested in the project. Justin was given the opportunity to pitch to them at their private residence — at a cocktail party with other investors. After the pitch, Justin expected to wait several days, weeks, or months for an answer. That night, he discovered that the investor had loved the pitch and decided to fully finance Hunter's Creed.
5. Hollywood company signs on to sell the film (December 2017)
When investors fund a film, the filmmakers still need to sell the movie to distributors to make the investment money back. Justin connected with Hollywood company Throughline Films, who specialize in packaging film deals for distribution.
6. Hunter's Creed principal photography begins (March 2018)
It's almost exactly one year after Justin and I kicked off this project. After months of auditions and casting, principal production began in the town of Savanna, Illinois. For just over two weeks, the town of Savanna served as the base of operations for Hunter's Creed. The four lead actors — Welsey Truman Daniel, Mickey O'Sullivan, John Victor Allen, and James Errico — lived in a rented house together. The professional crew and interns stayed in a local hotel.
Miles away was a 120-year-old cabin that served as the key location for the film — as well as the endless woods around it.
I had the opportunity to visit the shoot for three days, staying in the same hotel as the crew and production team. I've been on my fair share of Hollywood productions, thanks to my Sony Studios days. And I must say, despite being a small indie film production, Hunter's Creed was like a mini-Hollywood set. Justin's connections with Chicago's film production industry was evident. From interns to production assistants, grips and light technicians, stunt coordinators, and catering, this was as close as I've seen to a Hollywood production on this indie level.
7. Post-production begins (April - August 2018)
The editing process is always a long and arduous undertaking. The pre-Dog Chapman cut lasted from April through August. Justin and his editing team were tasked with taking seemingly endless footage and piecing together both a story narrative and visual aesthetic of the film.
8. Additional photography (June 2018)
Additional scenes are shot in and around Chicago. These aren't reshoots. They're pickup scenes that needed to be inserted into the main narrative of the film — all of which involved lead actor Wesley Truman Daniel, and his cinematic bride Ann Solleville. These scenes would become pivotal to the emotional impact of the film's opening act.
9. Selling process begins (September - December 2018)
We shop the film to potential distributors through Throughline Films. Film festival submissions were not part of the sales plan, so it was all about getting the film in front of every distributor possible. Most of the distributors loved the movie, but all wanted or needed a celebrity attached to increase sales. Despite receiving two official offers with smaller distributors, we passed.
10. Writing additional scenes for a celebrity (December - April 2019)
My writing contract was over, and there was no money directed towards additional screenwriting services. To help with sales and distribution deals, Justin took over writing duties to develop new scenes for potential celebrities. Many different variations of scenes were created, depending on the type of celebrities in mind. Cinedigm is in quiet talks to consider picking up the film.
11. The search for "The One" (April - October 2019)
Justin and his producing team created a hit list of celebrities to attach to the project, and begin reaching out to agents and coordinating the budget for the new scenes.
12. "Dog the Bounty Hunter" signs onto the film (October 2019)
Cinedigm's Yolanda Macias, EVP, Content Acquisitions, Digital Sales and Studio Relations, Director of Acquisitions Josh Thomashow, and John W. Bosher and Chris Charles of Throughline Films negotiate the deal on behalf of the filmmakers.
"Casting Duane' Dog' Chapman was the perfect addition to the project as he channels his own life experiences to the big screen," Macias told Deadline. "We look forward to bringing this unique take on the faith genre to viewers this fall."
"It's a film about seeking truth and finding yourself, and if you know anything about Dog's personal story, you know he embodies exactly that," added Justin.
A year ago, Dog Chapman sadly lost his wife, Beth, to cancer.
13. "Dog" Chapman Scenes Filmed in Colorado — December 2019
Wesley Truman Daniel, Ann Solleville, and a core group of crew members — with Justin directing — fly to Colorado to meet and shoot with Dog at his Colorado home.
14. Covid-19 post-production (December 2019 - June 2020)
Justin and his editing team went into post-production again to add Dog's new scenes to the original cut. With the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the United States and the rest of the world, this second post-production greatly stretched out the timeline for completing the film.
15. Negotiate and sign a deal with Cinedigm (May - July 2020)
After negotiations, Cinedigm is officially attached to handle the domestic rights to the film. The contract is finalized on July 27, 2020, and the deal is announced on the Hollywood trade site Deadline. After a long journey from script to screen, Hunter's Creed was finally sold for distribution.
16. Marketing and release (July - October 6th, 2020)
The marketing for the film has been stellar, with three trailers debuting, including the most recent #3 trailer that Justin and I refer to as "the thriller trailer."
Dog has been doing some great press rounds, including a feature story on Entertainment Tonight that featured scenes from Hunter's Creed. On average, 4.4 million viewers watch each episode. Hunter's Creed comes out on DVD October 6th, 2020, in over 3500 Walmarts across the country, as well as on every major streaming VOD platform.
How to raise money for a film: 16 steps from script to screen
If we can do it, so can you. Never give up. Never lose hope. The screenwriting and filmmaking journey is often a long and arduous process — full of rejection and heartbreak. But if you stay the course, develop your craft, create an engaging concept, write a compelling script, and put in the effort to sell the script or shoot it yourself, you can make those screenwriting and filmmaking dreams come true.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, and the feature thriller Hunter's Creed starring Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman, Wesley Truman Daniel, Mickey O'Sullivan, John Victor Allen, and James Errico. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies