Victoria Westcott, filmmaker

How do you raise $13,000 in 24 hours with no strings attached — no bankers, no credit cards … no illegal activity? Ask Victoria Westcott.

She, along with her sister and filmmaking partner Jennifer Westcott, used a program called Kickstarter to secure $20,000 over a 60-day period — most of it coming in the final day — for Locked in a Garage Band, the duo’s debut feature film shot in Victoria and Vancouver this summer.

Kickstarter is an online funding platform for music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing, and other creative endeavours. It accepts only pledged donations — supporters have no financial stake in the projects they elect to back, so most offer only small amounts. The majority (31) of the Westcotts’ backers ponied up $25-$30, while 29 offered $50-$75.

Here’s the catch: it’s all or nothing. If you don’t reach your goal in the time allotted, no money changes hands. It’s useful not only for startups, inventors, dreamers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else with an idea but no money to implement it, but also for established companies that want to take a flier on a new widget.

The other catch, and secret ingredient, says Westcott, is enthusiasm.

“You’ve got to have a cheerleader on your team — someone who will not stop cheering, who will not stop being positive. You’ve just got to have that personality type.”

That role fits Victoria Westcott like a glove. Originally from Ottawa, the sunny 34-year-old has forged a globetrotting, multifaceted career that includes stints in recruitment, volunteerism, and teaching. Now settled in Victoria’s Gonzales neighbourhood, she’s the undisputed captain of the Garage Band cheer squad, while Jennifer, 37, toils behind the scenes — the A/V club leader, if you will. With a dozen feature-film scripts to her name, as well as top honours in the 2009 Praxis Screenwriting Competition, the elder Westcott sister lends industry experience, connections, and credibility to the project. She’s written pilots for cable network Spike TV and managed to snag the duo an invitation to Elton John’s ultra-exclusive Academy Awards party earlier this year.

{advertisement} Meanwhile, younger sis twists arms any way she can, taking to Twitter, Facebook, and local media
with reckless abandon, appealing for support for Garage Band as well as other Kickstarter projects
she and Jennifer support. Sometimes her missives are just meant to promote a positive, nurturing, can-do outlook on life and work, such as this tweet from March 16: “Today’s Twitter challenge — I am going to give three people I don’t personally know BIG compliments. Genuine big compliments. Who’s with me?”

You’ve gone from teaching inner-city youth in the U.K. to starting your own recruiting business to rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s elite — with an interlude volunteering for Greenpeace in places like Bangladesh and Costa Rica — in just a few years. What’s
the secret?

I’m used to knocking on people’s doors asking for money. I was shameless. But both my sister and I, and the cast and crew we’ve hired, are really positive thinkers. I’ll totally admit that I listen to a ton of motivational speakers, and that I have a life coach, and I focus on dreaming big but not being attached to the end results. Also, nobody likes a cynical person. There are so many cynical artists out there, and cynical people in general. You just don’t need to be a part of it.

As a fundraiser, how do you draw the line between enthusiasm and greed?

I’ve met a lot of great people and am following up with them. But I’m not a total schmoozeball. Don’t be the shmuck at the party who’s just all business all the time … 
be genuinely interested in what other people are doing.

People might look at this as a flash-in-the-pan Internet sensation, but did your local connections in Victoria help get the ball rolling?

For 60 days, I was hitting the pavement, literally going to every networking event in Victoria, because we wanted local businesses to get product placements in the movie. I would give these talks where I’d say, “I have nothing but condiments in my fridge, that’s all, but I’m going to Elton John’s Oscars party, and that is crazy, it’s crazy cool, and if you can grasp that dream and how amazing it is, please help.”

Your approach is reminiscent of the rejoinder in the film Say Anything, where one character says, “Nobody thinks it will work, do they?” To which the other replies, “You just described every great success story.”

Everybody loves a good rags-to-riches story. You’re supposed to start out flat-broke, right? It’s what you do for your dreams. You have to. You have to put everything on hold.

You’ve attracted some talent to this project, both on and off screen, including one of the young actors from Twilight.

We’ve hired good people. A lot of people think, “Oh, first-time filmmakers, they’re gonna screw up.” But I’m a recruiter; I know about hiring people. You hire the right people, and you fire the people who aren’t working out. We’ve already fired three people. I’m cutthroat.

During the last day of your Kickstarter campaign, you were banned from Twitter for tweeting too much.

It’s true. Apparently you’re allowed to tweet up to 352 times per hour. I thought there’s no way in hell I’m going to tweet five to six times per minute. I’m a fast typer, but that’s a lot of thinking [laughs]. Don’t tweet more than 352 times per hour.

Your sister has several scripts finished and ready to shoot, and you wanted the first one to be Masters of the Ballooniverse, a mockumentary about balloon twisters. That sounds really funny. Why did you pick Garage Band instead?

It was a matter of funding. That’s a lot of balloons. From the business perspective, I wanted to spend as little as possible but make as much as possible on our first film. We didn’t want to do the Avatar-type thing [laughs].

Is it safe to assume we’ll see more movies by the Westcott sisters?

This is a career move for us, definitely. You kind of reach a point where you ask yourself, “What’s my life about? What is it that I love?” I realized that as much as I love teaching and business, I really love sitting around on a Friday night with my sister and watching movies.