Dear friends,

It would be an understatement to say that the past three days have been a wild rollercoaster ride. Today especially.

This past Friday, filmmaking site indieWIRE launched a poll to elect the project of the week – or in their words, “The Project You Most Want To See.” We were in competition, along with three other documentaries.

When I voted – before sending out any messages to friends and social media followers – I was blown away to see that “The Illusionists” was already ahead of the pack, with 43% of votes.

I then sent out a newsletter, an update to 200 Kickstarter backers, and posted messages on Twitter and Facebook, asking supporters to vote for “The Illusionists.” I had been looking forward to this competition because winning could have brought more exposure to the film and had the potential of propelling the project to the homepage of Kickstarter.com – something that had eluded us so far. More exposure = more donations.

Our numbers climbed fast thanks to our 5,200 Twitter and 850 Facebook followers. I also shared the message on our sister site “No Country for Young Women” (3,300 Twitter, 1,100 Facebook followers) and on my personal social media profiles.

We reached 85% of votes by Friday evening. I couldn’t believe my eyes. On Saturday we maintained a healthy 77% all day long. A steady stream of supportive messages came in from dozens and dozens of Twitter and Facebook contacts, declaring they had just voted and saying they shared the message with their friends. I was ecstatic and filled with gratitude.

Fast-forward to Sunday afternoon: in the span of 5 hours, our numbers plummeted by 50%. One of the other contenders climbed up in the polls at breakneck speed. I checked Twitter and only found one tweet urging to vote for them. But there were dozens of messages about our film, with links to indieWIRE. I was puzzled. My boyfriend told me: “I think the other team is cheating.” Pollyanna that I am, I dismissed him.

The poll was set to end this morning at 10:00 AM. On Sunday night, I didn’t have the heart to refresh the indieWIRE page to see the status of the votes. I decided instead to “put down my sword and pick up a bazooka” – namely, to contact the most influential friends I have, asking to spread the word about the campaign, urging their followers to vote for The Illusionists. Friend A, who has 450,000 followers on Twitter, sent out two messages about the indieWIRE poll. Friend B, who has 58,000 followers, did the same, writing glowing words about the film and also posting a Facebook update. I also contacted body image activists with large followings in Australia and Europe. But the numbers didn’t change – they kept on falling.

That’s when I decided to play Sherlock Holmes. I checked out the Facebook page of my competitors. And I found several messages in which they explicitly instructed their 3,000 fans to cheat: they asked them to erase their browser’s history and cookies, and to vote multiple times.

One fan wrote: “I voted 10 times… watched the numbers go up… it was awesome!!”

Another: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.”

I was heartbroken and elated at the same time. Heartbroken because I had spent three days campaigning around the clock, only to have my chances destroyed by people cheating the system. And elated because there was unquestionable proof of their dishonesty.

I wrote to indieWIRE and to the other filmmakers in competition for the top spot. My disappointment wasn’t about losing: I simply wanted a fair battle and I felt these people and their fans were doing a disservice to others who played by the rules.

The outpouring of support that came – via Facebook and Twitter – was extraordinary. I was almost moved to tears!

IndieWIRE got on the case.

The filmmaker behind the cheating project stated publicly on indieWIRE that he had nothing to do with that Facebook Fan Page. The incriminating messages got deleted by their Facebook page but I had saved a screenshot, which I shared with my followers. And then the film’s co-producer did a “mea culpa,” saying he was the one who asked their 3,000 followers to vote multiple times. You can follow the development of the story at this link.

Lessons learned:

#1 – The John Donne quote, “No man is an island”? Oh so true. I have realized in the past four days how incredibly fortunate I am to have such amazing supporters, who go to great lengths to spread the word about “The Illusionists,” and help any way they can. And staying classy all the way. (Something that cannot be said about the people supporting the cheating project – for evidence, see the comments on indieWIRE) I cannot begin to thank you enough for your warmth, generosity, and encouragement. I feel blessed and humbled, and I look forward to making a kick-ass film that you can all enjoy.

#2 – Have no fear. I’m making “The Illusionists” to fight back against injustices perpetrated by a plethora of industries. I found it terribly ironic that the project would find itself in the middle of a contest marred by unfair treatment. And so I found my voice. In my private life, I try to avoid conflict waaaay too often, in a Pollyanna, let’s settle things/don’t get angry sort of way. All that ended today. And I’m truly grateful for it. Yes, it was stressful, but I felt vindicated for once – not just for myself, but also for the other contenders. I’m sick and tired to see bullies, liars and cheaters getting ahead.

#3 – Receiving is great, but giving is so much more satisfactory. Three weeks of Kickstarter campaigning – constantly sending out requests to donate money/spread the word about my film – has been exhausting. Not for the time spent doing this, but because I constantly feel like I’m bothering people like an aggressive panhandler. I was incredibly moved by the support of individuals and associations this past weekend and I would like to give back. Tomorrow I’m going to start a series of posts on amazing body image / media literacy / parenting bloggers, to put the spotlight on their important work. It’s my way of giving back and it’s the very least I could do. I’m also in the process of launching a special page on the site devoted to our most vocal supporters – people who have been extremely supportive via email, Twitter, and Facebook acting as amazing ambassadors of the project.

You’re truly wonderful and I consider myself lucky to have people like you who “have my back.”

big hug,

Elena