Case Study: David Iverson and Michael Schwarz: My Father, My Brother and Me
“We were pursuing production and distribution in a parallel way. Our motto was, ‘Distribute first and finish later.’” —David Iverson
With their documentary MY FATHER, MY BROTHER AND ME (formerly STILL LIFE), David Iverson and Michael Schwarz set out to tell a “detective story” about research that seeks to understand the workings of Parkinson’s disease—as well as a personal story of his own confrontation with the disease.
As part of his process, and for the first time, Iverson decided to create a series of Internet videos that would lead up to the film’s broadcast on PBS’ Frontline series.
Opening Up Production to Participation
In raising money to make MY FATHER, MY BROTHER AND ME, Iverson and Producer Michael Schwarz hoped to land a grant specifically to pay for the creation of original Web content that would serve as a prelude or build-up to the finished film.
“We were pursuing production and distribution in a parallel way,” Iverson says. “Our motto was, ‘Distribute first and finish later.’”
While they did manage to raise $500,000 to make the film ($250,000 from the MacArthur Foundation and $125,000 each from ITVS and PBS), none of it was specifically earmarked for their Web initiative. “We hoped to raise about $70,000 for the Internet video pieces,” Schwarz says, “but we wound up spending less than $10,000 on them, in actuality.”
That money funded a series of a dozen videos—half of which had been posted to the film’s Frontline site by September 2008. Some were personal moments, with Iverson talking directly to the camera about the role of his Catholic faith, for instance. Others were field reports about new research, like the impact that exercise may have on Parkinson’s.
“As we were going out in the field and shooting in the summer of 2007, our idea was to gather some content for these short Web pieces,” Iverson says. “I’d whip out a script like I was doing a three- or four-minute news piece for television, and we’d edit them in a day.” Almost none of the material from the Web videos, he says, will wind up in the finished film.
Working with a broadcast date in late May 2008, they decided to begin posting the videos to the Frontline site in early February, along with blog entries written by Iverson. But in March, the film’s broadcast date got pushed to the fall of 2008. That made it hard to continue the momentum of posting to the blog and continually adding video, Iverson says. “Once you’re in the thick of writing and editing the actual film, it’s really hard to continue to make this a priority,” he says. Their plan is to restart the online activity closer to the airdate, when PBS will also begin directing more site visitors to the MY FATHER, MY BROTHER AND ME page.
Finding New Audiences
Iverson realized that many potential viewers for MY FATHER, MY BROTHER AND ME were people coping with Parkinson’s and their families; people who may not habitually visit the PBS.org site. So he and Schwarz decided to hire the San Francisco communications consultancy Active Voice to help them connect with organizations like the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Foundations like that one and patient groups dedicated to Parkinson’s have the audience already, so our idea was to get our material to them,” Iverson says. “They were mostly linking to our site, but our feeling was, ‘If you want the material, you can have it.’” The funding to pay Active Voice came out of the film’s production budget, he says.
Schwarz says that the Web videos “seemed to have some appeal with potential [outreach] partners, particularly partners with a focus on the Web.” But prior to the broadcast, the filmmakers only had a vague sense of their impact on prospective audiences.
But the task of making the videos, Iverson says, “was a great way to start thinking as a filmmaker.”