Maybe you have an outline for your next big project, the premise for a new company, or just the beginning of a great idea. Don’t let those things slip away. If they excite you, they’re worth pursuing.
In this series, we talk to creatives around the world who have made their passion projects a reality. They’ll share every part of the process — the successes and, more importantly, the mistakes. Learn from them and then go out and make your passion project a reality, too.
This week, we catch up with Brent Foster, creator of the video series, While I’m Here: The Legacy Project. After missing out on a chance to tell the story of a man he knew while growing up in Ontario, Brent (@brentfoster) set out to tell the stories of incredible people around the world who are still creating the legacy they’ll leave behind. You can check out our feature on Brent’s project to see the Legacy Project videos.
When you had the idea for The Legacy Project, how did you know that it was a good one?
If you believe really strongly and you’re really passionate about what you’re working on, then it’s a good idea. That’s what it comes down to — it has to be something that you want to do so badly that you’re willing to give up your own time, your own money, and put everything you have into it. You just know in your gut, and in your heart, that it’s the right project to pursue at that point in your life.
How did you go about planning the logistics of getting this project up and going?
I did it a little off the cuff — I thought of the name and ran that by friends and colleagues. I registered a domain, had a preliminary logo made up, and I knew the structure and style of the stories I wanted to tell. Then I started to reach out to other friends who are cinematographers and filmmakers to see if they were interested in working with me and volunteering their time with the project as well.
What was your original plan for The Legacy Project in terms of time and money?
Initially I thought I would spend a year filming these. Over the course of that year, each film would take about three days to film and maybe a week to edit. My overall idea was to budget a few thousand dollars to each film — for a cheap airline, getting our gear there, and a crappy hotel. But that changed drastically as the production value increased and as I grew as a filmmaker. We’ve put more money into each film as they’ve progressed because it’s been necessary to be able to up the quality as we’ve grown as filmmakers.
How much planning is too much, and how did you find a good balance between too much pre-production and not enough?
For this style of shoot, especially the last few we’ve done, there is only so much planning you can do. We learn as much as we can about the person we’re profiling, we find as many pictures as we can, and we try to figure out what it looks like where they live and what they do on a daily basis to get a good sense of who they are and what their story is. But ultimately we have to get on the ground to really hone in the details and make final decisions.
I try to plan a shot list to an extent, but things change when we get there. There’s so much unpredictability in some of these stories. With Nalongo, we worked with a fixer who met with her and asked tons of pre-interview questions, so we were under the impression she delivered three to five babies per day. When we got there we discovered that she actually delivers three to five babies per month. I had planned the entire story around this idea that every time a baby was born we would do this camera movement and take her to a different place, and that didn’t work. We had one delivery in the time we were there.
It’s important to plan, but it’s very important to be open to what’s going to unfold in front of you.
Was there a time in those first few weeks that you doubted this would work?
I felt really positive about the decision in the first couple of weeks. But as things progressed, the project has become harder and harder. It’s more of a struggle than I thought it would be to find characters that fit this project perfectly. That’s not because there’s aren’t a ton of amazing stories out there, but rather that so many things have to line up for these stories to be the right fit. They’re really challenging to find.
What kinds of things do you wish you had known in the beginning about developing a passion project and setting up the groundwork for it to be successful?
I don’t know how well this would have worked, but I wish we could have had sponsors or support from day one. But it’s really hard to get supporters until you do the first story. Otherwise you’re just telling them what you’re going to do rather than showing them a product.
I also think that if we had structured it so we did a behind the scenes video with each, or we had paired up with a media company to release them, that would have been helpful. But I didn’t know to do that stuff because it was just an idea that became a reality really quickly. I was so fresh as a freelance filmmaker that I wasn’t aware of some of my options.
What was making that first video like? How did you feel about the project at that point?
Everyone I work with says there’s this thing called, “Day One Brent.” That’s after the first day of filming when I always feel like the film is going to be a failure. It happens on every shoot and, by day two, everything has turned around, and the rest of the week is really smooth.
In filming the first story, honestly I felt that we had something really special right away — especially with Thomas’ story. He’s the kind of person you can just connect to so easily, and I felt like viewers were going to connect to him too. He’s so authentic and genuine — you can feel it in the room when you’re with him. So I actually felt great about it. It felt really right.
How did you make sure that your initial idea about legacies — and the feeling you wanted to convey — actually came through in the videos?
It’s at the central focus when I’m casting characters for this. It’s, “What is their legacy? How is their legacy different?” I’m thinking about it constantly — how each person is a piece of this puzzle that is ultimately going to be this broader picture of what it means to leave a legacy behind.
What were some of the things you didn’t expect to have to deal with regarding this project?
Budget is always something you have to deal with and decide how to handle. I think I might have been naïve in thinking that we would release these stories and giant blogs and media outlets would pick them up instantly and they would be seen all over the place. If I were to do this again from the start, I would spend a lot more time researching. Not that I’d want to compromise what we’re doing, but I’d want to have made the right connections in advance of the project to help get the videos out there.
For me, one of the biggest struggles has been releasing these videos and getting them the views they deserve. It’s not an easy task. It takes so much time and effort after you’ve already invested so much into it. But it’s an important part of the process — we need people to see these stories in order to share their messages in the way we’re hoping to.
How have you tackled getting this project out there for the world to see?
Not well. I feel like I’ve tried every avenue, and some have worked and some haven’t. Each story has had its own successes and failures in the way we’ve put them out there.
The Highwayman was picked up by local news outlets and sites, and it got more views through the GoFundMe. For Leo’s blues story, I reached out to a lot of music blogs and websites to ask them to feature it on their sites. I submitted the stories to as many film festivals as I thought were a good fit, too. Ed’s story had some success being picked up by fly-fishing blogs and outdoor magazines. Project Healing Waters shared it on their social feeds. The Last Mambabatok was picked up by a lot of tattoo blogs and magazines, and was eventually picked up by National Geographic Travel, so that got a huge amount of views. It was also Staff Picked by Vimeo. The Highwayman was also Staff Picked a year later, so it generated a ton of traffic a year after it launched. Our most recent one has 1500 views, and it’s the one we invested the most into.
What would you say are the benefits to pursuing a passion project?
If you love filmmaking, or photography, or whatever it is you’re choosing to do, you get to feed your soul creatively. In our case, you get to help people and make relationships with colleagues and friends. And it’s important to note that you get to create work that clients have no control over. You can create stories the way you think is the best way to tell them — and what a great tool to be able to market yourself with after the fact.
What is it like for you to see the videos now?
I never like my work after about a day after it’s done. It’s neat in this case because I can look at the first project we did — filmed on DSLRs and filming on SD to get slow-motion — and see my growth as a storyteller and filmmaker. It’s cool to see that progression.
But I always just want to do better the next time. It’s natural to see the flaws. It’s okay to be a bit hard on yourself that way.
Would you do a project like this again?
I’ll always do passion projects. I can’t see ever not doing them. The style will probably change as I continue to grow — I could see doing even bigger passion projects that are one story at a time. I’ve always done passion projects and I always will. They’re incredibly valuable.
What advice do you have for people who think they have an idea, or are trying to get their passion project off the ground?
Make a game plan. Figure out how you’re going to allot the time, finance it, what you need — and then just get off your butt and do it. I get messages from people constantly who say they want to do their own passion project. It’s easy to talk about — it’s a lot harder to execute. Take your time and have a plan in place, but eventually you just have to start it and be committed to following it through to the end.