You see them everyday on street corners and off-ramps. People holding cardboard signs asking for spare change. Most of the time we look away, staring intently at the red light waiting for it to change. Other times we say ‘sorry’ and keep walking. Whether you give them money or not, have you ever stopped to ask their story?

Cardboard is a documentary about the world of panhandling in Seattle. It tells the stories of those on the streets as well as topics such as legal regulations, scam artists, and even religious aspects of panhandling. We often wonder about the story behind the sign. This is that story.

Why this film was made…

In 2011, I was walking through downtown Seattle and I noticed a few people panhandling with cardboard signs. I can’t remember exactly what their signs had written on them but it gave me an idea. I thought there must be a story behind those signs.

I then looked to Kickstarter.com to raise some funding for a documentary short about panhandlers here in Seattle which was originally titled “The Sign of Hope Project.” It quickly became clear that in order to properly tell this story, I’d be making a feature-length film. There was only one problem… The budget. The entire film was shot and produced for less than $3000. The irony is that all funding, music, stock footage, interviews, and rights were acquired by donation so in a way, I’ve been panhandling all along.

Many thought I was trying to make a “sob story” or glorify panhandling and others thought I was out to take advantage of those on the streets. My goal was neither but instead to document what I could about that world. After a year of filming, what I’ve found has changed the way I see panhandlers as well as those who’ve been a part of this production.


The Sign of Hope Project came from a curiosity about the signs held by panhandlers around the city and would eventually go on to become “Cardboard” the documentary. You can only imagine the stories behind each of those signs as you walk or drive by those asking for spare change. The idea to make a documentary about their stories quickly evolved into a mixed media project with the goal of raising money to help fight homelessness.

Matt immediately looked to Justin Edwards and Nathaniel Perales, two photographer friends from Los Angeles. A collaboration of the three determined that while filming the documentary, Nathaniel & Justin would take portrait photographs digitally and on film of the interview subjects in order to host a photo gallery show in Seattle where they would invite different homeless organizations to accept donations at the event. Each print had an accompanying video interview viewers could watch by visiting the attached link on their smartphone during the show.

You can still experience the Sign of Hope Gallery show with the Video Tour below.


Buy the book from Justin & Nathaniel at Blurb.com.

Buy the book from Justin & Nathaniel at Blurb.com.

This project was made possible by The Seattle Space Academy in memory of Beverly Anne Clarke (Galacci)

Executive Producers Dean & Deandra Rollings - Laurie McFarlin / Producers Avi Peterson - Heather McFarlin - Nadia Longmire Special Thanks / Bright Signs - Imelda Dulcich PR - Nataša Jovanovic - Bryan Hall - Joseph Engelgau - Dick and Carrie Stein - Jack, Gia, and John Norian - Adelia Paguio - Kurt & Irene Burgmueller - Rick Koelz - GeekAtSea - Madi Goff - Heather T. Spence