Kickstartable: Orchard House – Home of Little Women: Documentary

Book lovers, you will love this week’s Kickstartable. Did you know that that the house where Little Women was set was a real home? And that it still exists? And that you can visit? I was able to ask Jan Turnquist, the executive director of Orchard House some questions about this week’s project: Orchard House – Home of Little Women: Documentary.

1) How did the idea of this documentary come to be? Who is the driving force behind it? Initially, I was the driving force behind the idea of making this film. I still am a driving force, but I have been joined by other extremely important people. Here is the back story: During my long history at Orchard House (I began guiding there as a young woman in my 20s in 1977 and have been the Executive Director since 1999), I’ve heard many stories that have truly touched my heart. I’ve seen hundreds of individuals (mostly females, but all ages from little girls to much older women) visit Orchard House with tears in their eyes, making me realize that for many people, a visit to Orchard House is a pilgrimage. Over the years, I’ve heard amazing stories of what it means to visit the home where Little Women was written and set. For many, the House is a touchstone for a seminal event in their lives: reading Little Women.

I’ve tried many ways to convey this aspect of Orchard House because I think it is unique and uplifting. I also think that the earlier residents (before the Alcotts) were bold, brave people, as were the Alcotts. I came to the conclusion that film would be the best medium to express these unique characteristics of the House because on film viewers can see the looks on faces, hear the excitement in voices and to some degree experience what I call the “magic” of Orchard House. For years I’ve recorded voices and filmed video clips on my iPhone as a sort of “test balloon.” The results have encouraged me even more to pursue this vision, but also made it clear to me that real professionals needed to be involved.

In 2012, when Orchard House was celebrating its Centennial as a House museum (having been officially opened as a museum in 1912), I was actively searching for help in making a meaningful film. This is when I met Justin King, a relatively new Concord resident and professional filmmaker. Although Justin was not actively making films when we met, he was very excited about the project, recognized the “star power” that is unique to Orchard House, and thought of Kickstarter as a way to raise the funds needed to make such a film. Justin volunteered his time to help me vet filmmakers and do a multitude of other things needed to really get the project off the ground.

Justin and I, along with Lisa Wolfinger of Lone Wolf productions, whom we hired to shoot the trailer and who is quite passionate about Alcott, have teamed up now as the driving force behind making this documentary.

2) Along the way, I’m sure a lot of Orchard House’s rich history has been researched in-depth. What are a couple of interesting facts that have come to light? John Hoar, the man who built the home in the mid 1600s, was incredibly compassionate and brave, risking his own life to save Christianized Native Americans during a dreadful war between several tribes and colonists. A century later, a Minuteman raced from the home to fight at the North Bridge in Concord at the start of the American Revolution.

3) During the house’s long history, there have been times where it has come close to ruin. Is the future of Orchard House safe now? Indeed the home has nearly been lost several times. In 2000, I applied for a Save America’s Treasures grant to put a foundation under the house, most of which sat on bare earth, and to take care of massive structural threats. By 2002, we completed $1.5 million worth of preservation work. Over $1 million of these funds were from private, individual donations; $400,000 was from the SAT grant. This work removed the immediate threat of collapse, but more work will need to be done in coming years to continue preservation of the House.

4) About how many visitors pass through Orchard House in a given year (or any time period)? We get between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors who pass through the house each year. The number varies from year to year. Many thousands more visit the grounds before or after hours and look inside by going from window to window! We also see many large buses park in front of the house for 15 or 20 minutes as a someone on the bus points to things and gives information about the Alcotts.

5) What has been the biggest challenge to getting the documentary together? Initially, the biggest challenge was finding professionals who would truly care about the project with the same passion that I have. Once I found Justin King, he and I found others and that challenge has been met. The next biggest challenge is financing the film without taking away from the hundreds of thousands in funds I must raise every year just to keep the House operational.

6) What has been the most pleasant surprise? The most pleasant surprise has been discovering that so many others from all walks of life are as excited about the idea of this documentary as I am. That truly “heartens me up,” as Louisa May Alcott would say!

Orchard House – Home of Little Women: Documentary is open for funding through Wednesday, October 22, 2014.

Disclaimer: Please do not take this review or my personal endorsement of this project as investment advice. I am a lady blogger on the Internet, not an investment adviser, nor am I an angel investor myself.

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