Clock is ticking: ‘East Willy B’ co-creator Julia Grob on raising $50K in 50 days
East Willy B’s Julia Grob is going to get season two done no matter what it takes.
Kickstarter is to the indie filmmaker what dogs are to man: A best friend. Or so The Wrap maintains, citing an increase in filmmakers turning to the crowdfunding site (and others like Indiegogo) to fund their projects – and in turn, their dreams.
One such filmmaker is Julia Ahumada Grob, co-creator and executive producer of East Willy B, a comedic web series about gentrification in New York City’s Brooklyn borough. Starring mostly Latino actors, the series follows Willy Jr., played by Flaco Navaja, as he desperately tries to save his longstanding sports bar.
The idea of the series came to Grob and her co-creator (and high school friend) Yamin Segal while they were sitting in a coffee shop in Brooklyn one day. Grob, who is an actress of Chilean and Jewish heritage, told Univision News in a recent interview that she grew tired of going out for roles that were less a representation of Latinas and more of an archetype. The subject of gentrification emerged, which Grob feels is a “real Latino story.”
“The issue of gentrification is something we see our communities dealing with nationally – whether it’s in L.A, Chicago… traditionally, Latino communities are being displaced and are not being able to afford to stay in the same communities that they built,” the 20-something-year-old said. “We felt like that was an important story to tell.”
The series’ six-episode pilot season received critical acclaim last year and collected more than 100,000 views to date.
Now, Grob and Segal’s plans for the series are even greater; they would like to expand the series and make the episodes longer. But to do so, they need funding – which is why in mid-April they launched a 50-day campaign, to raise $50,000. The campaign ends this Friday, June 1. To date, Grob and her team are more than halfway through their goal.
The pressure is on.
Grob spoke to us over the phone recently about her emotional rollercoaster ride thus far during the campaign.
East Willy B had its pilot season last year. At what point did you feel that your series could benefit from a Kickstarter campaign?
The pilot season was created by “beg, borrow, steal” and with mad love. Everyone donated their time because they believed in the project. I always joke about this – one of our producers’ mom was literally making arroz con gandules for the set and we were shooting out of his family’s house in Bushwick. We were able to do a lot with that. After we released the series, we saw how much people loved it, but despite all this, we still couldn’t get someone to fund the series. The Kickstarter came about because we knew we wanted to create this bigger season; we were getting responses from fans that they wanted to see longer episodes. We have 259 backers who have helped us raise $23,989 and it keeps rising, which is amazing.
Kickstarter is increasing in popularity. Why do you think that is?
I think there’s just this really beautiful thing with Kickstarter where it serves these multiple purposes: one, the idea of a crowd. Before you’ve even made your film, you’re building an audience and a demand for it. Whereas in an old model, where you’re going through these private investors in this closed-door process, no one sees the film until it’s completed – and then it has to get distribution. With Kickstarter, it serves its dual purpose of building funds, and at the same time, audience building and press engagement. That benefits you in the long run.
How effective do you think this sort of campaigning is?
First of all, it’s the hardest thing I think I have ever done in my life [Laughs]. The amount of emotion that goes through you in the course of your campaign… you have every experience from highs of money coming in and you’re like, ‘Oh my God! This is real – this is going to be possible!’ and days when money comes slow, and you’re like, ‘Why did we try to raise so much money? We should have done a different crowd-funding program.’ With Kickstarter is that it’s all-or-nothing, whereas something like IndieGogo, you can get what you raise. We really, really believe in doing the all-or-nothing way because we felt like it would put the fire under us and I think it attracts a different type of backer who is fully committed to your success. In coming down to the wire, they know you’re not going to get the money unless you raise all of it, so I feel like it helps the crowd be more engaged than other platforms.
What are some of the challenges you have faced with this campaign so far?
Lack of sleep and a rollercoaster of emotion. I’ve been dreaming about this stuff. It’s like running a marathon. I’m lucky to have an amazing husband who is really behind me, but I’m just absent from life because this project and campaign are so big.
Should you raise the $50,000, what would the money be used for?
The money would be used to fund the next season. We’re going to be in production in July and, if everything goes as planned, money would be used to pay the creative people on our team, our actors, and our production crew. We will still be on a very bare bones, Robert Rodriguez-esque shoot because it takes a lot of money to shoot, period, but it’s going to be the basis for funding for us to go into production.
What will happen if you do not raise the money in time?
It’s something we’ve been thinking about… what our contingency plan is. More than anything, the power of Kickstarter is the doors that it opens. We’re really making waves with the campaign and we have been reached out to from some different production companies who are interested in the series. I think the ideal is a combination of the campaign, maybe other funding will come through in the process. But if we don’t raise the money and no one else comes through, we can’t go into production.
Nuyorican actor Flaco Navaja in a scene from East Willy B.
Will filmmaking ever go back to what it used to be, like getting traditional funding?
I think that will never die, but I do think that the Internet is so exciting for independent filmmakers and for independent television creators. The networks have a very narrow vision of what’s sellable and marketable on TV. Cable has expanded that but still, it’s about reaching a mass audience so stories get diluted in order to appeal to a broad spectrum, versus allowing stories to be told that reach a more niche spectrum. I think what’s so exciting about the Internet and the independent TV movement is that you’re able to tell stories that would never be told by a network.
Does this new era make you sad or excited?
I’m totally excited. I talk to other people in the industry who have worked in the studio system and it can be a dog-and-pony show. You’re dealing with so many executives who are going to weigh in on your creative vision and so the digital space allows you to be the owner of your vision – and your audience to take a role in it. That’s the power – the creator and the audience being directly linked, as opposed to executives deciding what they think people will want to see based on research that they did on a small focus group.
What other shows out there right now do you look up to?
Awkward Black Girl – they came out and have just taken the industry by storm in such a small amount of time. The Guild was one of the first digital series that came out for niche audiences – that spoke to online gamers. Our hope is that East Willy B could be that entry point for other series – for a new generation of urban, multicultural Latinos in ways that we are not seeing represented in television.
What scoop can you give us about the new season?
Oh my God! We could not be more excited about the new season. There’s going to be some really exciting guest stars. You get to know the characters on a different level – and fall in love with them. There’s going to be a lot of music, starting with our lead actor Flaco Navaja, who’s an amazing singer. It’s going to be almost magical realism on the streets of Bushwick – so expect to see the unexpected.
(Check out the below video of actor Rick Gonzalez endorsing East Willy B’s Kickstarter campaign)
(Photos courtesy of Julia Grob)