Telling stories


People complain too much. Not just during an election campaign, I mean. All the time. They complain that the media is biased against them. That nobody pays attention to [insert pet cause]. That the odds are stacked against [insert group].

I get it. I mean, I used to complain about the exact same stuff myself. I made a living complaining about it. I was good at it. And then one day I had enough of complaining.

I decided to start telling stories. I wrote a novel in 2014-15 (it still needs editing before I can show it to anyone; I would love to have it out early next year). And then I did something really crazy. I talked my husband into telling stories, too.

That was in late 2014. He'd just finished producing his first documentary, The Great War Remembered, for Sun News Network. This project had started in very late 2013. Not sure who thought about it first, but by January there I was helping John organize his madcap trip through France and Belgium, which took place in April. John and a small team worked throughout the summer to edit the documentary. It was first shown in the fall of 2014.

It's very tiring, this movie-making business. Especially when you're working with tight schedules and tighter budgets. But John got the bug, and not just a little. He started thinking about what he could do next, and soon hit upon the idea of telling the story of Magna Carta in time for the document's 800th anniversary this year.

He started talking to the bosses at Sun News about it. They were receptive but - for reasons that became clear in pretty short order - could not really commit to financing the thing. So John and I spent a few months in late 2014 mulling over various financing ideas.

My main idea was to use Kickstarter to raise funds to make the movie. That way, I told him, you'd be independent. You wouldn't need to get your script approved by anyone, you wouldn't be at the mercy of other people's editing constraints. You would make your very own movie, exactly the way you think it ought to be done.

He wasn't immediately sold on the idea, but he agreed I should give it a shot, trying to raise $75,000, while he went about pursuing more traditional forms of financing - with a view to reaching about $150,000 in financing, which would be pretty comfortable for the project we had in mind. That was in January 2015. We produced a video pitch, a website, some other promotional material, and I plunged into networking and promoting our campaign. John went on a bunch of TV and radio shows promoting our movie project. Sun News had agreed to broadcast the documentary, which gave John a great deal of help when looking for financial backers.

Then Sun News suddenly collapsed in February and we were left with no broadcasters and a crowdfunding campaign that was half-way to its goal.

Time for Plan B.

We decided to make the film with whatever we got in crowdfunding. In the end we cleared about $80,000 (they do keep a cut, in case you didn't know) from our Kickstarter campaign, which we collected in late March. We flew to England in mid-April for another madcap trip (where every single person on the trip got a stomach bug, yay), eight days of driving around the country shooting the bulk of our documentary. Less than a month later we got on the road to film the US portion of our project (by now "madcap trip" is a firmly established Robson tradition). We spent the summer editing and voila, two weeks ago we released a preview version to our Kickstarter backers and this past Monday we released our full documentary to the world, via YouTube.

If you know anything about film production you will know that six months isn't a long time, and $80,000 not a lot of money to make a 2-hour documentary, especially when you have to fly overseas. England is an expensive place to travel, even when you stay in budget hotels and enjoy side-of-the-highway gastronomy... On top of travelling expenses you have to pay your camera guy, pay site fees that can sometimes be *very* expensive, pay for liability insurance (necessary when filming at historic sites, and not cheap). Ideally you also try to pay yourself a bit. We also had gear to buy, software, training, bandwidth, promotional material, the occasional beer, dark chocolate (necessary, that) and so on.

How many days of vacation did you take this year? Me, I haven't taken a single day off yet. I'm not complaining; I love doing this work and I'm itching to launch another project (maybe right after I finish editing my novel). But it *is* a lot of work.

You know what it isn't, though? It's not complaining. When I got tired of bitching that nobody in the established media ever talked about liberty, personal responsibility, history, and all those great things I care deeply about, I decided it was time for me to create my own stories and make them available to everyone. That's why we deliberately avoided trying to get a big distributor, or spend months hassling with broadcasters trying to get them interested in showing our documentary on television once or twice. I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to air my work on any network, don't get me wrong, but instead of spending months pursuing that I decided to focus on the storytelling.

Our work is free for anyone to watch. We also sell high-quality digital copies at very affordable prices. We give big discounts to teachers. We want our stories widely shared. Because stories matter. Because liberty matters. Because history matters. I'd like to make enough money to do this full-time, and maybe one day I will. But making money is not consideration #1. Crafting stories is.

I take seriously what Ann McElhinney says in the video at the top of this post. In fact, she says things I've believed in for decades. I have long lamented the fact that pro-liberty folks don't engage in the culture. That they seem to prefer living outside the culture, complaining about not feeling welcome in it.

I say don't wait for an invitation. It's your culture, too, dang it. Take your place in it - use your elbows to get in if you must - and tell your stories.

You'll be amazed how much of an audience there is for them.

Where's my magic wand?

Being an artist and a mother - hey, that's me!