Monday, February 7, 2011

KICKSTART THIS PARTY


Why Crowdfunding doesn't work as well as it could, and what you - yes, YOU - should GoGo and do about it.
 


Finding money to make an indie movie is like trying to squeeze juice from a rock.  It's hard.  Crazy hard.  Investors have always been scarce, and now, in this toxic economic climate, they very nearly don't exist at all.  Desperate would-be filmmakers often end up hat-in-hand on the doorsteps of family and friends, which, after a time, usually generates more ill-will than income.

But then comes what has been seen by some as the "Great Financial Hope" for indies: Crowdfunding.  The idea is simple enough: a filmmaker's "fans" donate to an as-yet-to-be-made film's budget in exchange for rewards, which usually include a DVD of the finished flick along with other merchandise like t-shirts, buttons and posters. 

In essence, Crowdfunding takes a page from the age-old idea of "pre-selling" a movie, but instead of a situation involving regional distributors in foreign territories purchasing rights in advance of principle photography, the filmmaker is pre-selling directly to the audience.  Such pre-sales are then used, in whole or in part, to fund production.  It's a wonderfully simple idea.

It’s easy to see the vast potential in Crowdfunding, but here's the problem:  how many indie filmmakers, most of whom are unknown and many first-timers, have any sort of sizable fanbase to pre-sell to?  I've actually heard several indie marketing "experts" instructing filmmakers to add 500 fans per week to their social networking pages in order to successfully Crowdfund.   Really?  Just like that?  Get people you don't know to become your diehard fans not only before they see your movie, but before you've even MADE it?  And then get them to part with their money, too?  Perhaps these pundits might also suggest filmmakers shit gold while they're at it.  It's probably easier.

Without a large body of admirers to pre-buy your film, the Crowdfunding process often attracts very few backers from outside the filmmaker's personal social circle.  True, some folks may come across your Kickstarter or IndieGoGo page (the two biggest Crowdfunding sites) and be moved to contribute to them, or the subject matter of your movie may get the attention of a special interest group.  But these tend to be isolated and largely insubstantial incidences, and Crowdfunding frequently degenerates into - once again - begging your family and friends for money.  Sure, many Crowdfunding campaigns can work if the filmmaker is persistent enough to really push it on everyone they know, but that hardly demonstrates the process as the financial savior the indie world so desperately needs.

So how do we make Crowdfunding really work?  Well, in order to answer that question, we need to ask ourselves another one:  How can we expect anyone to give to our Crowdfunding campaign if we've never given to someone else's?

Indie filmmakers are a notoriously selfish bunch: we're takers.  And if we want to see more money circulating to make movies, we need to become backers.  Frequent backers.  I'm not talking about digging deep or emptying our bank accounts, but merely suggesting we each consider making small donations on a regular basis.  Like, say, $20 per month.  I'm fairly confident all of us, even the most destitute, could easily spare that amount.  We certainly have no trouble finding money to pay for the latest DSLR attachment. 

Of the filmmakers I know, only a small percentage have ever backed a Crowdfunding effort themselves, and mere fraction of that do so regularly.  If Crowdfunding is ever going to have any real effect on indie film, this needs to change.  We need to cultivate an environment of contribution.

Now, some have stated that the indie film community itself is too small to make an impact on Crowdfunding, and real growth can only happen by getting the general public to donate.  While it's absolutely true there are more non-movie people than movie people, and therefore a larger collective non-movie-person wallet, getting any one "civilian" to contribute to a campaign usually has more to do with whether they know the filmmaker or if they're connected to the project personally.  The idea that substantial numbers of general population will ever back indie film as a whole is just grossly unrealistic.

So, before we dismiss the indie film community itself, let's crunch some numbers:

My documentary about film festivals, OFFICIAL REJECTION, has a Facebook page with a little over a thousand fans, nearly all of whom are independent filmmakers themselves.  If these 1000 filmmakers each regularly contributed a minimum of $20 per month to Crowdfunded efforts, that would see an extra $20,000 - nearly a quarter of a million dollars per year - being poured into movie production.

Now let's go broader.  When I met Christian Gaines from WithoutaBox at the Riverrun International Film Festival in the spring of 2009, he proudly told me that his website had approximately 300,000 subscribers, all of whom were filmmakers, with another five-to-ten thousand signing up every week.  So let's very conservatively assume that WithoutaBox now has about 350,000 filmmakers in its database.  If every one of those put $20 towards Crowdfunding, we'd have SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS per month - that's EIGHTY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR - newly galvanized to finance independent productions.  Such an influx of additional capital would mean every project on Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and every other Crowdfunding site would be instantly and fully funded.  It would completely change the game.

Take a glance in the mirror.  WE are the revolution we've been waiting for.

What I propose is this:  once a month - perhaps the day you set aside to do your bills - go online and commit a minimum of $20 to the Crowdfunding campaign of your choosing.  Think of it as paying your subscription to the new world order of indie film - your dues for membership.  If you have a friend running a campaign, then great: donate to that one.  But if you don't, simply browse Kickstarter or IndieGoGo until you find something you'd like to see made - then commit to it.  If you see two you fancy, consider splitting your money. 

This is what I've been doing.  In the last few months I've become a backer on Dan Mirvish's BETWEEN US, Paul DeNigris' PARALLAX, Victoria & Jen Wescott's LOCKED IN A GARAGE BAND and Crystal Scott’s GIRL CLOWN.  Dan and Paul I know personally, but I’ve never met Victoria, Jen or Crystal.  I merely stumbled across their projects and decided to contribute to them.  Their pitches got money out of a stranger.  That's kinda what it's all about.

But don't just become a backer yourself.  This has to be a collective effort.  Spread the message.  Forward this blog to whomever you can.  Repost it.  Or better yet, put it into your own words, in any format you feel will reach people.  Let's get it out there.  We're all in this together.

Now, you may be reading this and wondering if maybe I'm only suggesting such an approach because I've got my own Crowdfunding effort going.  Well, let me assure you, I don't.  Yet.  But someday I will.

And let's be honest - one day you will, too.

Viva la Revolución.

9 comments:

  1. I agree with this post --- I had my film up and spread the wealth donating a few bucks to a bunch of projects and it didn't get me any money but was cool to do. Be nice if we all did spread what we had like that to help each other out! INDIE FILMMAKING FOREVER!!!

    P.S. - Will there be an Official Rejection 2? Just think there's so much more to be covered about festivals --- how to pick them and genre & running time factors -- how many slots are really open for each.. Is it truly easier to get into a smaller, local fest vs a medium or a big boy (who are these people screening/judging/reviewing... many smaller fests are pure garbage), etc -- I know you touched on some of that... and even talking about F the festivals --- go right to putting your short and/or feature online to get it out there.... Thanks Paul!

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  2. Thanks for the props!!

    Sadly, no -- there are currently no plans for an OFFICIAL REJECTION 2. It took 3 years to make the first one! But you're absolutely correct: there's so much that didn't get covered. I could have made a nine hour documentary and never repeated the same info.

    That said, if you have any questions about the process, feel free to shoot them to me at paul@officialrejectiondocumentary.com and I'll answer them as best I can.

    -Paul Osborne

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  3. Paul,

    Thanks for this great post! We just started our campaign on Kickstarter to help us bring our completed film, "Under the Boardwalk: The MONOPOLY Story," to more cities theatrically.

    "Official Rejection" was a great look at the behind-the-scenes of the festival world and was a good eye-opener to watch right before "Under the Boardwalk" started hitting the festival circuit last fall.

    I met Victoria Westcott at the Austin Film Fest last October. Glad to see you're backing her film too!

    I hope you'll consider backing my project on Kickstarter as well: http://kck.st/ebcqSm

    Kevin Tostado
    Producer/Director of "Under the Boardwalk: The MONOPOLY Story"

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  4. Hey Paul! Thanks for the shout-out & for backing our film, Locked in a Garage Band. I agree with your points here, but have to add that we never thought we'd get the results we've had so far. It's a crazy story - and while we're only 1/8th of the way to reaching our $20 000 kickstarter goal, I was invited to attend Sir Elton John's Oscars party as a result of the campaign. The angel investor who managed to get me a ticket did so because she saw my sister & me working our butts off with kickstarter, getting media attention, etc - and invited me to the party.

    So - yes, it's a strange contrast. From having a couple of eggs & condiments in my fridge, bouncing cheques & freaking out about how the hell we're going to shoot a movie in under 8 weeks and what will we do if we don't get the $20 000 from kickstarter - to finding a gown to hang with Elton. Surely, the support is out there?

    I think the thing with crowdfunding is that you really put your dreams out there, and people will either get it or they won't. We do need to back each other, but we also shouldn't go broke doing so.

    I met Kevin at AFF and went to see his Monopoly doc because he was such a great guy to talk with, and was obviously so passionate about his movie. I generally am not a big fan of docs and play scrabble instead of monopoly, but you know what? His doc rocked my socks. I'll back it for sure. Once I have more than 2 eggs in my fridge (Don't worry Tostie - it's coming!).

    I also backed Girl Clown Film, and I've never met Crystal - but give me a woman lead in a comedy with a whole lotta heart and I'm sold. It was her project that sold me, plus she seems pretty kick-ass.

    I also backed Lucas McNelly's epic kickstarter campaign, "Year Without Rent" which was such a fantastic success story. He's since backed us, which was super cool of him- but totally not expected.

    This filmmaking community is pretty awesome when we embrace it and share the love!

    Thanks again. You rock! Paul
    Victoria Westcott

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  5. Hey Kevin,

    My wife and producer, Leslie, just backed ya!
    P

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  6. Hi Paul, This is pretty accurate assessment. PMD Adam Daniel Mezei told me I was rare among indie filmmakers in that I specifically budget $250 per year to be spent supporting crowdfunded campaigns. When it runs out, I'm done. One sad point about this process is that once the filmmakers get done barraging your streams begging for money and actually get it, a good number just disappear, giving none of the rewards promised and taking forever or in some cases never finishing the work described. This hurts the credibility of the Crowdfunding methodology. So Filmmakers, if you want crowdfunding to have value, PLEASE make REALLY GOOD projects, fulfill your promises and remember to be professionally courteous & grateful. I am not crowdfunding anything now. I probably will try at some point and I would hope people would be as supportive of my plans as I have been of others, but you can't count on it. For so many reasons (not all of them sinister) this is a volatile and selfish business - Middlemen streaming from the woodwork like cockroaches that want to get their hands in the pie anytime large numbers appear, people so busy (and rightly so) but to the sad fault that they become myopic and self-involved, people without the means to deliver financially, creatively and/or technically.
    I'm not some kind of freakin' Saint because I donate $250 bucks a year, but in fact, this year I helped 5 of the 8 projects I've supported reach their budget. If every indie filmmaker out there could do that, imagine the number of projects that could get completed! We might even be able to start talkin more realistically in those numbers discussed here.
    T.Reed - Composer

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  7. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and was happy to see someone put it into words so well. And the fact that you did some math to show how powerful we as a group can be really adds to the impact of the statements. Those numbers convinced me to actually give to a couple of campaigns, and let me tell you, it feels great to be part of the community by doing so. As you suggested, I'm also writing an article for my blog on www.watchcausality.com about how artists, and new media artists especially, need to support each other to help bring this emerging medium to life. Thanks for leading the charge to get more filmmakers thinking this way!

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  8. Paul,
    Thanks to you and your wife for supporting "Under the Boardwalk!" My biggest complaint about Kickstarter right now is that you don't get immediate access to the email addresses of your backers so you can't easily send thanks to the people who aren't your friends and family.

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  9. Hell yea!

    Crowdfunding is an amazing phenomena, and if everyone chipped in a bit on other peoples campaigns, it would be a big crowdfunding circle of filmmaking love.

    That's why we are declaring on our indiegogo campaign that we are giving back 5% of all contributions to other campaigns. Its a small chunk, but its something, if everyone did that and supported each other the future would be looking good!

    Check us out at http://indiegogo.com/hicksmovie and be a part of the revolution!

    Mike Babiarz
    Indie Film Producer

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