“Here’s an indication of how burdensome student loans have become: About one-third of millennials say they would have been better off working, instead of going to college and paying tuition.”
Halah Touryalai, Forbes
Calvin Johannsen of The Visual House is one of those creative hybrids who’s a producer/director/shooter/editor as well as being quite proficient in motion graphics. And to top it off he’s got a super sense of business—and he’s still a few years shy of being 30 years old. (You didn’t meet many people like that 10 years ago, but ‘welcome to the jungle’ in 2014.)
He’s also part of a team of people behind the documentary Broke, Busted, & Disgusted about the growing problem of college student loans. They are in the process of raising funding via an Indiegogo campaign. Here’s a 10 question Q&A I did with Calvin where you’ll not only learn about his project, but he’ll give you some crowdfunding advice for your next project.
Scott W. Smith: Where did this idea of BB & D come from?
Calvin Johannsen: The idea was concepted by Adam Carroll over a couple years ago. Adam was traveling the country, speaking to college students about financial literacy. While out delivering his message, he discovered a couple common problems amongst college students. Problem #1: they had no idea how much their student loan payments would be after graduating. Problem #2: the debt load students were carrying in order to obtain an undergraduate degree.
Adam approached me with his vision of a documentary, and from our initial conversations, we begun putting plans in place.
SWS: What do you think the chief problem is with college loans these days?
CJ: I think it’s a tossup, a two-fold problem. The ease of accessibility to loans (with skyrocketing interest rates) and the unconscious decision for high-school graduates borrowing tens-of-thousands of dollars without a plan, to get a higher-education, with the dream of obtaining the good life.
What they don’t realize, is they’re often signing up to run up a mountain with a boulder on their back after graduation. They’ll spend the next 10-15 years paying back their astronomical debts. By doing so, they end up serving their debt, instead of their life’s mission.
SWS: Can you give one or two examples from your research or interviews about the increasing burden of loans on graduates?
CJ: I’ll give you something better… Here’s an entire list of articles circulating about this exact issue. So we’re not the only ones who know it’s important to talk about it: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AsUP10YELY2QdEVWeU5mX2otX2xpbExNRzQ4VWN2UXc&usp=sharing
SWS: What’s your end goal with BB & D?
CJ: To create the must-see film for every soon-to-be, or current college students, that educates them about their current predicament, and create an awakening amongst them. We want all students to be making conscious decisions, instead of blindly signing on the dotted line. Having more educated and informed young professionals being in a lot less debt, is in the best interest of our nation (and economy).
We’re trying to avoid a mortgage crisis 2.0.
SWS: Tell me about your own college experience.
CJ: I went to college simply because it was the next step after high-school (unless I wanted to be stuck on the farm). I had no real plan, or goal. I didn’t even know what I wanted to be, or what I wanted to do. Honestly, I had no idea what it was costing me to partake in the experience. Year after year, with the guidance of my parents, I kept borrowing money.
It wasn’t until late in my Junior year did the fog began to clear, and I begun conceptualizing what I would like to do someday. Which was to serve the world with my ability to tell stories, and work for myself by doing so.
SWS: So you’re not anti-college? After all if you hadn’t gone to college and learned about production you probably wouldn’t be making this documentary.
CJ: I speak on behalf of our whole team when I say we are very pro-education, but not at the expense of your dreams. College, higher education as a whole, is very vital into developing into a professional. That’s why public universities and colleges were established in this country. However, I think education is beginning to take a backseat, while the whole system (government, lenders, institutions, etc) focus on profits instead.
Every student is a profit opportunity. At the surface, the government is raking in about $50 billion a year off interest — and we wonder why student loan debt has accumulating to be over 1.2 trillion dollars ($800 billion dollar increase in the last decade).
SWS: Why did you decide to go the crowdfunding direction to raise money?
CJ: Crowdfunding is built around being social. It’s a great avenue to share your vision and message with people. We want to build awareness around our mission, and see who else rallies behind it. It’s been a vehicle to instantly build relationships, and get feedback instantaneously about our project. A great way to get the conversation started. It’s been crucial in landing some very important conversations to move our documentary forward.
SWS: You’ve put together a nice campaign with videos. How much time have you and others spent on this already?
CJ: An ungodly amount. Thankfully we have the pleasure to execute ideas quickly. We spent a couple months gearing up for the campaign, writing, shooting, re-writing, re-shooting the campaign video, and building the page. We’ve built an incredible team around the project. Everyday at least three more ideas are generated, while only maybe one can be executed. It’s all been very fast, challenging, and exhilarating. But at the end of the day, doing this type of work, doesn’t feel like work. We leave feeling more energized than when we begin in the mornings. When you’re serving a higher purpose, work no longer becomes work.
SWS: You’ve raised over $15,000 so far what have you learned about this process? What can you pass on to others who are attempting to raise money for their projects.
CJ: So far we’ve raised $15,849 — a bit behind our goal…but keeping our fingers crossed we’ve got some big fish and initiatives we’re attempting to reel in. My advice would be to build up commitment and awareness a month before the campaign launches, that way upon launching, you have instant momentum. We had success with chaos the first two weeks, but in order for us to reach our goal, we had to focus in tightly, gather a support team, align our vision, and work in unison. My overall advance would be to build a team that works in unison — each member working efficiently and effectively utilizing their core strengths. Delegate duties, and don’t be stepping on toes.
One other tip is to develop what I call a 100-list. That’s 100 people you can pick up the phone, tell them about your project, and request contribution (family and friends). Crowdfunding still relies on very personal relationships…so leverage them. We’ve had each team member create their own list.
SWS: What’s the distribution plan once you complete the film?
CJ: We plan to follow in the path (and successes) of documentaries like “Indie Game”, “Sound City”, “I’m Fine, Thanks” and “#standwithme”, and begin with self distribution. We’ll build an audience, and form partnerships to get our film in front of as many people as possible. But, we’ll also aim for some festivals, with hopes of gaining recognition, and landing a traditional distribution deal.
Our primary question we’re currently asking is, “How do we get every high school kid to see this film?”. We may not have the exact answer right now, but at least we’re asking the right questions, which will hopefully lead us to the right answer(s).
And here’s a video where Calvin video interviewed realtor Mark Charter who gave $5,000 to the Broke, Busted and Disgusted documentary.
Scott W. Smith
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