Master Collaborations: The Power of Creative Partnerships – Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen (Joe’s Violin)
by Madeline Johnson
At the School of Visual Arts’ SocDoc Theater, audiences didn’t just hear how an Oscar-nominated short film was born of a successful collaboration, they witnessed it in action.
In the inaugural conversation of NYWIFT’s new series Master Collaborations: The Power of Creative Partnerships on May 23, 2018, director Kahane Cooperman and producer Raphaela Neihausen opened up about how they worked together to create Joe’s Violin – and its road to being nominated for the Academy Awards.
Upon first hearing a snippet of Joe’s story on a radio promo for NYC’s instrument drive, Cooperman began developing Joe’s Violin – a short film about Holocaust survivor 91-year-old Joe Feingold who donated the violin he bought in 1947 at a displaced persons camp, how it landed up in the hands of Brianna Perez in the Bronx, and the relationship that grew between the two.
Here are seven takeaways about building a successful collaboration (plus a few crowdfunding gems):
1) Acts of kindness go a long way. The director/producer partnership began when Neihausen visited Cooperman at her home where Cooperman sat on the couch, recovering from a broken ankle. “All I did was bring her lunch – hummus and pita,” Neihausen laughed. “She told me ‘there’s this story I’m thinking of shooting.’ She never asked me to produce this film. I looked at her and offered to produce it.”
2) Connect with individuals who dig the same things you do. Neihausen confessed, “I was overextended professionally as well… I wasn’t looking to make another film. But as she was telling me about it, it hit every box of things I care about.”
3) Plan the big dream from the beginning… down to every detail. Emphasizing how Neihausen pushed them to think big, Cooperman said, “we came up with something as a total hypothetical, which we were able to implement down the line. We sold it to POV and PBS.”
4) Know your place. Neihausen stressed the importance of having upfront conversations about what each person is bringing to the table. “Do this with your whole team… down to the credit they expect at the end,” she said.
5) Build relationships with integrity. Particularly for documentary, Cooperman noted the importance of establishing professional relationships with absolute full trust and upfront integrity. “We didn’t get life rights. We had such a strong relationship with Brianna, Joseph, and Kokoe [the music director at Brianna’s school]. There was nothing they didn’t pass by us first.”
6) For crowdfunding, well…they had a lot to say. Not wanting to go down the lengthy path of grant writing, Cooperman and Neihausen funded Joe’s Violin exclusively through crowdfunding. Cooperman explained, “We wanted to get going. Our main subject was 91 years old.”
Their crowdfunding advice?
- Be professionals – both Cooperman and Neihausen have worked professionally in the industry for a number of years and this was the first time they had ever asked anyone for money.
- Incorporate different sections of the industry – laughing, Cooperman said “have a producer that runs film festivals.”
- Open your (virtual) rolodex – “We really made lists – everyone we knew… including relatives,” Cooperman said. “You have to look at all of the themes in our film and think about who is connected to those things.”
- Don’t overthink incentives, just offer what you can offer.
- Targeted Facebook ads – Cooperman noted they are a “really cheap way and reach tons of people.”
- Follow up – Cooperman explained, “you have to commit back to [your supporters]. Share news back to them. We send out little updates here and there.”
7) Tag team to keep the momentum going. When pushing for an Oscar nomination, their journey took on a more competitive edge. Neihausen mentioned how especially at that time, it was good to work in a partnership to shield each other through the tension and the ebbs and flows. She also noted how throughout the process they tag teamed – sending lists after each call specifying their next steps. “Even if I’m busy, I know all of the tasks that have to happen, even if I don’t oversee them.”
Throughout the panel, Cooperman and Neihausen’s interactions exemplified the depth and nature of their partnership. They took turns listening, sharing wisdom, and highlighting each other’s strengths and contributions.
For example, Neihausen prompted Cooperman to share the most poignant quote of Joe’s recent memoir. When Cooperman refused, saying she always chokes up, Neihausen took the lead:
“I gave [the violin] away not because it didn’t mean anything, but because it meant everything.”
The pay off? when they heard Joe’s Violin was nominated for the Oscar, they were sitting on the same couch where it all began.
The panel was produced by NYWIFT Board member Terry Greenberg.
(top photo by Suzanne Fiore Photography)