Q: How did the Caine's Arcade video catch fire? Did you have a distribution strategy in place or was it all organic?A: It was a mix. While making the film, I put together a flashmob invitation to surprise Caine with customers. The flashmob invitation went mini-viral, hitting reddit’s front page and HiddenLA’s facebook page. This brought Caine a global community of supporters that were waiting for the film to be finished. Once the film was finished, I submitted a follow up link to reddit and also sent the link to BoingBoing. BoingBoing re-posted the film right away, and it hit the front page of reddit shortly after. Then it just took off.
Q: What was the reaction of Caine & his family once the video became so popular and viewers donated hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to a college fund?
A: None of us were expecting that level of response. I had been hoping to raise $25,000 for Caine’s Scholarship Fund over the course of maybe a year... the first day we raised over $100k. Caine’s dad was in tears, overwhelmed by phone calls from parents and media around the world; he had never experienced that level of kindness from strangers, who put together a college fund for his son overnight. George was the proudest dad in the world. Meanwhile, Caine couldn’t really process how much money had been donated- he just knew it was a lot. But he was super excited to have so many customers visiting his arcade. The first weekend after the film went viral, over a thousand people showed up to play. There was a 4 hour line stretching around the block. 5 months later, people still come every day from around the world. It’s amazing.
Q: Tell us about the Imagination Foundation. Was it always something you had hoped to launch or did it originate solely from the video?
A: The formation of the foundation was inspired by the global response to the video. After the film went viral, I didn’t sleep the first 2 days. The response was overwhelming, and I was trying to take it all in and absorb as much of the feedback as I could. I got emails from thousands of people, including videos from kids around the world sharing their creativity. I began to think about ways that this project could transition from helping Caine to helping other kids as well. On the third day, I wrote the mission statement for the Imagination Foundation on a napkin: to find, foster, and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in more kids like Caine. While the Imagination Foundation wasn’t something I’d planned before the film, I have worked in the non-profit space for the past 12 years, and have always been interested in the intersection of media and social change. So when this happened, I knew there was an lightning-in-a-bottle opportunity to try and make something that could have an impact for more kids. Two days after I wrote the mission statement, I connected with the Goldhirsh Foundation, who recognized the opportunity to make an impact and put up a $250,000 Matching Challenge Grant (matching public donations to Caine's Scholarship Fund dollar-for-dollar) to help us start the Imagination Foundation. To date, we have raised $215k of the goal.
Q: How do you intend to use video going forward to tell the story of the Global Cardboard Challenge?
A: I met Caine by chance when I went to buy a door handle. But there are so many more kids like Caine out there. We started the Imagination Foundation to build a discovery platform to help find amazing stories of creative kids like Caine, and to then share those stories with the world. With the Global Cardboard Challenge, we are inviting filmmakers and storytellers around the world to document local Cardboard Challenge events on video, and to then share those videos with us so we can celebrate the creativity of kids everywhere. Send us your videos by October 13th and we will have some cool prizes and opportunities to share the videos with our community. As we build our community further, we plan to continue using video to share inspiring stories of creative kids around the world while inspiring creative actions in line with our mission.
Q: Do you have any advice for fellow filmmakers who are looking to drive awareness for causes they care about?
A: I think it is really important to be authentic and personal, and to find the details that communicate the heart of your story. It’s also important to have a clear call to action, and to keep it simple and engaging. The success of videos like Kony 2012 (30min) and Caine’s Arcade (11 minutes) show that videos don’t need to be super short to keep people’s attention. If your story is strong, your audience will stay with you, and you can take the time you need to tell your story. That said, don’t make it a second longer than it needs to be.