What happens when you set out to make a fan film to share your passion for a canceled television show and it morphs into a business model to support charity? You establish Big Damn Films.
There is a lot to say for passion, determination and an intense work ethic when applied to a project. Mike Dougherty, one of the founders of Big Damn Films, is a prime example. Big Damn Films is a production company out to prove quality independent films can be made and give back to charity.
Their first foray into the film space was the fan film Browncoats: Redemption. Taken by an intense passion for the Joss Whedon created television series, Firefly, the project quickly developed into a non-profit business. Browncoats: Redemption raised over $117,000 in one year, when many expected the project would never even get off the ground. While the business spawned out of a necessity to do business with companies like Universal and Fox, it has provided an outlet to continue the good works of creating entertainment and supporting worthy causes.
Firefly may have been a driving force behind the initial flood of support for Big Damn Films. Then people began to recognize the company, Dougherty in particular with his immense level of personal involvement, was treating the property with respect. Now, people have become enraptured with the idea that Big Damn Films is doing something worthwhile for the right reasons – encouraging inspiration to spur creative innovation and supporting others. Community is a key component in the success of Big Damn Films. A fact Dougherty is keenly aware of, stating
“I’m doing this because the community allows it to happen and it’s that community that keeps me moving forward.”
When the time came to consider producing another film, the company veered off the beaten path to choose an original film, Z*Con. The film follows teen podcasters on-site at a convention when they realize they are in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. The fact that Big Damn Films approached a couple of virologists to get scientific and medical background behind viral outbreaks speaks to the care and detail with which they approach their projects.
Proceeds from Z*Con will support 3 charities with 80% of the proceeds being equally distributed between Kids Need to Read, Red Cross, and a charity selected by the community, Baltimore Bully Crew. The remaining 20% of the proceeds will go to Big Damn Films to cover operating and production costs.
Producing a film seems an overwhelming process and one has to wonder, where do you start? Some story-writers begin with character sheets or plot outlines. Once the initial concept has been identified, Dougherty starts by getting down specific scenes and shots that are iconic images for the story he wants to tell. As the story unfolds with these scenes, deeper thematic lines become evident and expand the story. Open to discussion and constructive feedback, he periodically seeks opinions from experienced people, as well as prospective audience members.
At all times the audience is prevalent in his mind and he has an admirable level of respect for them. In fact, despite the success of Browncoats: Redemption and a certain level of notoriety, he remains quite humble, commenting,
“I still don’t have a concept of exactly how big this entire thing was, to this day I still don’t. I recognize we’ve shipped to every continent on the globe; that I have people all around the world that know who I am and know what we did and were a part of it, but I’m still the guy that has the apartment in the same neighborhood where I grew up.”
Dougherty is also committed to giving back by supporting others, and not just through the charities who receive donations from film sales. He also makes it a point to support the community that has helped him to succeed, by inspiring friends to pursue their aspirations and connecting them with other community members that may provide assistance, as well as speaking at events like Gnomedex.
Speaking about how he decided to pursue Big Damn Films, he says,
“It’s like life walked up to you and said ‘here’s an opportunity’ and you can either take it and change the course of the next four years of your life; or, you can continue to be that dork working at Starbucks on Fridays while you’re teleworking from your day job and I kind of went ‘I like the idea of change.’”
He admits the statement makes it sound simple; however, he acknowledges that without the support of friends, family and those who rally behind the projects, they would be much more difficult to complete.
You can support the latest film, Z*Con, by pledging to the Kickstarter campaign or purchasing a t-shirt. Be sure to follow them in the social space. For the creative spirits, feel free to apply your imagination and create web banners, postcards, YouTube videos and more to SPREAD THE INFECTION!
Support the Kickstarter Campaign and find yourself in good company. Best-selling author, Neil Gaiman offered his support through his personal Twitter account, highlighting one of the benefits when you donate through the Kickstarter campaign: