My friend produced live events for Women In Film, and she turned me on to a WIF volunteer, Ken Tipton, who had what was then a novel idea for financing his independent film. Websites like GoFundMe are common today, but Tipton was one of the first to tap into the internet’s fundraising potential. Tipton never made it big in Hollywood, but another of his cyber publicity schemes would later earn him notoriety, although not in a good way.
Guerrilla Filmmaking Online 9/25/97
by H.B. Koplowitz
Ken Tipton wants to make it in Hollywood. With persistence, and creative marketing on the World Wide Web, the 44-year-old entrepreneur turned actor, writer, producer and director, just might.
Taking guerrilla filmmaking onto the Internet, Tipton may be the first to use a personal Web page to finance an independent film, Perfect Mate, which debuts at the International Feature Film Market Sept. 21 in New York City. He also used his Web site to recruit the 17,000 members of the Ken and Paul Tipton Fan Club, which wants the Drew Carey TV show to cast the stout Tipton as Mimi’s boyfriend in upcoming episodes.
“Everyone wants to feel like they are a part of Hollywood,” says Tipton, who lives in Toluca Lake. Through his Web page, he wants to help what he calls “movie geeks,” — including himself and his son — to live out their dreams.
Tipton grew up near St. Louis, where he was active in community theater and comedy clubs. He also was a small businessman, starting one of the first video stores in 1980, and in 1991 a paint-ball war game business.
In 1993 he decided to give “the acting thing” one more try. With the proceeds from selling the paint-ball business, and the blessing of his ex-wife, who continues to manage their video stores in St. Louis, he moved to L.A. with Paul, their 12-year-old son, who also wants to act.
He didn’t feel like he was getting anywhere until November 1995, when he attended a screening of Jodie Foster’s Home for the Holidays sponsored by the Independent Feature Project. As Foster talked about having to be “monumentally creative” to raise capital to make movies, Tipton thought back to his childhood in Missouri, staging plays using comic books as scripts. To pay for the productions, they would sell lemonade or toys. It occurred to him to use the same strategy to finance movies, only selling to the world, via the Internet.
Together with writer Carrie Armstrong and director Karl Armstrong, he founded Makers Of Visual Independent Entertainment (M.O.V.I.E.). “The M.O.V.I.E. Web site” <www.moviefund.com> went online in December 1995 selling mouse pads, hats, key chains and T-shirts with the M.O.V.I.E. logo. Profits were to help pay for Perfect Mate, a 20-minute short by the Armstrongs, in which Tipton had a starring role.
“My goal is to open up new areas of funding for Independent Film Makers,” Tipton wrote in a mission statement. “As the organization grows, hopefully we will develop into a place where talented and underfunded individuals can get a start. . .By buying a hat, or a mouse pad, or even a key chain, you help fulfill the dream that lies in every movie lover.”
No one knew the Web site existed for several months, until a Web reviewer described it as “strange, interesting and unique.” Suddenly, thousands of people a day started visiting M.O.V.I.E., and some — Tipton won’t say how many — bought merchandise.
Even more important than the sales, however, were the contacts. After seeing the Web page, a steadycam operator donated his services. Someone else offered to do animated credits, while others contributed free film. The Web page even helped persuade Disney to donate the use of an AVID digital film editor in exchange for a first look at the completed movie.
Perfect Mate grew from a short into a feature-length romantic comedy about a young woman who holds her party guests hostage while searching for her perfect mate. Tipton said the Web page helped finance much of the film, estimated to have cost $350,000, including the cost of donated goods and services. It will be debuted to foreign film distributors this weekend in New York.
The Web site is also used to recruit members of The Ken & Paul Tipton’s Fan Club, which is operated by a clerk at his St. Louis video store. One incentive to join is that fan club members are eligible to win a speaking part in an upcoming M.O.V.I.E. project.
The online fan club has grown to 17,000 members, which is to say, 17,000 e-mail addresses of supporters. Tipton realized what a powerful tool that was when he asked his fan club to e-mail the Sundance Film Festival with requests to show Perfect Mate. So many did that Sundance’s computer e-mail crashed.
Now Tipton is urging his fans to let the Drew Carey Show know that he would make the perfect mate for the bodacious Mimi character’s boyfriend.
“In this business you have to make your own breaks,” Tipton said. “The only thing worse than failure is never knowing what could have been if only you had tried.”