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Fund This Film: ‘Hotline’ Reminds Us of When We Got in Trouble for Calling the New Kids and Ninja…

By  · Published on April 20th, 2013

Fund This Film: ‘Hotline’ Reminds Us of When We Got in Trouble for Calling the New Kids and Ninja Turtles

Remember your first 900 number? Anyone who grew up in the 80s and early 90s called at least one hotline, probably without a parent’s permission. If you got in trouble for padding the phone bill with each additional minute of listening to pre-recorded messages from the New Kids on the Block, Santa Claus, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Coreys or whoever else your TV told you to dial up, then Hotline is something to spark your nostalgia. And if you ever actually paid to talk to a real person to get your fortune, love advice, sexual pleasure or simply some conversation in lonely times, Hotline should be of interest to you now. Just pledge your support for this film. $1 for the first incentive, $5,000 for each additional executive producer credit. Operators are standing by…

Okay, not live operators. Really, it’s the robots or whatever handles transactions on Kickstarter, which is where you’ll find the crowdfunding campaign for this nearly finished documentary on premium-rate phone numbers. It’s a fascinating subject, and the film looks to capture both the familiar and the unknown sides of the industry by following stories of people on either end of the line. Yes, these services still exist, and in addition to finding a number of experts in the field and about the phenomenon, the doc is being made by a filmmaker (Student Academy Award nominee Tony Shaff) who once was employed as a psychic for none other than Miss Cleo’s famous hotline.

And speaking of Miss Cleo (real name: Yourée Cleomili Harris) there’s no need to call her now, because for one thing her number has been disconnected for ten years and for another you can check out part of an emotional new interview with her for this film after the jump.

Harris is also part of the campaign’s incentives, as two people will get a live reading from the former TV icon as part of their package for pledging. One of these calls has already been claimed, by the way, and there’s only five more days left of the campaign, which also is only about two-thirds successful so far. Other incentives include copies of the film, books written by some of the subjects we meet in the film and other phone call goodies.

Joining Shaff on the making of the film, which is 80% shot already, are producers Lauren Ashley Belfer (who has worked with Shaff on MTV reality series) and Bryce Renninger, of Indiewire (and an acquaintance of ours). Seeing as Renninger is also a PhD candidate in media studies, here’s hoping this film intelligently tackles a full understanding of what caused these hotlines to be so hot in the first place and how the Internet likely killed the craze with its easier, freer connections to real people (as far as we know, most of the time). Just imagine how unsuccessful so many 900 numbers would be in the age of Twitter, where we not only get to follow real messages from celebrities and fictional characters but also have the potential to get direct responses from them if we’re lucky.

Going by the expected delivery time of incentives, Hotline should be out in about a year, at least in digital form for contributors. Watch the campaign trailer below to get excited and also watch a neat montage of old hotline TV ads on the Kickstarter page.

Do you want to see this film? Enough to help fund it?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.