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Maryland filmmakers raise money for charity

Michael Dougherty and crew film their proof of concept short film in Frederick County, left, and Washington D.C., right. The film went online Aug. 16.
Michael Dougherty and crew film their proof of concept short film in Frederick County, left, and Washington D.C., right. The film went online Aug. 16. (Submitted Photos , Carroll County Times)

Dougherty got approval of the project from 20th Century Fox, the producing studio of "Firefly," and creator Joss Whedon. As the project involved characters and a setting legally belonging to other parties, Dougherty wasn't allowed to profit from the film. Instead, he decided to pitch the film as a high-profile fundraiser for charities belonging to and sponsored by members of the "Firefly" cast. Using the crowd-funding site, IndieGoGo, Dougherty and crew raised the money to produce the film, with the idea that any money raised by the film's distribution - DVDs and screenings - would be given to the chosen charities.
"Nobody thought it would be successful. I was told by people in Hollywood that it would fail, that nobody would pay money for a fan film," Dougherty said. "Not only did it raise money for charity, it completely paid for itself as well."
After paying for distributing the film, they were able to donate $113,000 to their charities. Dougherty said they shipped copies to every continent, including a copy of the film sent to a science station in Antarctica.
Unlike "Browncoats: Redemption," "Z*Con" is not based on an existing idea, and Dougherty is legally free to profit from it; however, he has chosen to continue the charitable model of his production studio and donate this film's profits to a new set of charities.
"Honestly, it was one of those things, where I started this project as an idealist. I'm sitting on the fence between idealist and capitalist. I enjoy money, but I enjoy more the fact that the money being raised has a direct and visible impact on another charity," Dougherty said. "I guess I hold a little more philanthropic nature that I originally thought."
Dougherty said they try to match the charities with the subject matter of the film. As "Z*Con" is a zombie movie and features a large amount of fake blood, they decided to donate money to the American Red Cross. He said they're continuing their ties to Kids Need To Read, a charity supported with their last film - the organization was co-founded by "Firefly" actor Nathan Fillion - due to its ties with the geek and comic convention community. Finally, they held a poll to decide which local Maryland charity should be supported. The Baltimore Bully Crew, a pit bull rescue devoted to pit bull advocacy and education, was chosen.
In order to show potential financiers an example of the film they intend to make, Dougherty shot a proof of concept film in May, featuring the cast and crew of the full-length film. Interiors were shot in a Frederick County warehouse and exteriors were shot in front of the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development over the span of several days.
Dougherty plans to begin the 26-day shoot in June 2014, once his 16-year-old lead actors are out of school for the summer. Following the shoot, the crew will begin post-production work including editing, color timing and visual effects.
The film has a cast and crew of about 40. Dougherty said he tries to surround himself with experienced filmmakers as a way to learn from them. Crew members working on "Z*Con" have credits on "Modern Family," "I Am Legend," and "The Incredible Hulk."
Jeff Wilhelm is a stunt coordinator living in Reisterstown and working on the film. He said his job is to organize and plan the action scenes of the film as well as handling practical effects, like blowing up model buildings.
Wilhelm said he got his start working with director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) on the film "Crimewave" in 1985. He worked full-time in the film industry for many years before settling in Maryland with his family.
"This is unique, because everyone has such passion for film making," Wilhelm said. "I've never worked on a film set where there is a whole team who isn't out to promote themselves, but to make a project to raise money for other people."
Dougherty said being surrounded by people with so much experience has taught him that being a director is something he wants to continue to do. He currently works as a social media marketing manager in Annapolis, but hopes to transition into becoming a full-time filmmaker.
"I'm one of those people who figured out what I wanted to do in my life late in my 30s, not early on in my teens," Dougherty said. "Now that I know it, I'm here to stay."

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