I want to talk a bit about crowd-sourced funding and what it means for our local collective of Atlanta (and Georgia) independent filmmakers.
For the scant few of you who don’t know what crowd-sourced funding is, it’s a method of circumventing the traditional investment route of getting a few rich guys or a bank to give you money to produce a new project or product. It instead allows a whole lot of people to contribute to your idea.
There are now over two dozen websites devoted to getting your ideas in front of the public who want to throw money at it. Among the most popular of these are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Rockethub. Here’s a 2010 comparison of some of them that will give you an idea of the costs involved.*
A prime example of how popular crowd funding has become with getting small creative projects off the ground, Kickstarter alone generated over $99 million in 2011, with their Film & Video category taking the biggest slice of the pie at $32 million and 3,284 projects meeting their goals.
It came very close to the NEA’s budget of $161 million in the same year and is looking like it will be surpassed by the end of this one. That’s nuts! We, the people, are the Medici’s of the modern era!
But before you become all hot and bothered about getting that Led Zep tribute documentary with the singing cats in to production, there’s something you should know:
It’s as hard, if not harder, to get a crowd-sourced project funded as it is to go through conventional channels. It’s tons of hard work and dedication. Especially if you have a hefty monetary goal.
Kickstarter’s funding success rate for projects in 2010 was 43%. In 2011 it jumped to 46%. Those are gambling odds and they aren’t in your favor.
And if you want to make an indie film that rate drops a bit more. Why?
Here are the problems as I see it:
1. Your idea sucks.
2. A “thank you” and my name in the credits of your film sucks as a reward for my money.
Getting a copy of the film that I put money in to is a given. That isn’t debatable. A name in the credits is a start, but isn’t the finish. Up the ante right out of the gate. The backers of your wonderful idea are your audience, your first one; even if they only give you a buck. Before the flick goes to festival or is tipped into the rank abyss of the internet think about your rewards and how much they’ll cost. Above all: make them worth it!
3. You aren’t reaching as many people as you think you are.
Network like a motherfucker. The number one reason why good projects don’t meet their goals is because no one’s talking about them. Print campaigns help. Telling your favorite barista at the coffee shop helps because she can gab about it all day to everyone else.
Also: Videos. Short, concise beg videos like these help. Here’s a local Atlanta campaign called Magic The Gathering: the Musical that is filming now, and here’s a favorite of mine (that isn’t film related), called Clang.
4. A film is not a commodity that someone can use.
You can’t bake bread with a movie. It’s practically useless. With digital distribution you don’t even have a jewel case with which to level out your coffee table! But, seriously: the crowd-sourced projects that do the best have something cool and concrete that a backer can hold in their hand; like Tik-Tok. It makes a difference in their life. How does your film do that?
But don’t take my word for it…
Here’s some good advice I ran in to while researching for this article. The first from Nathaniel Hansen, who has raised over $350,000 through crowd-sourced funding: http://www.nathanielhansen.com/film-fundraising/the-ultimate-crowdfunding-to-do-list-before-you-launch/
Then, Ryan Koo, who launched the second most successful film Kickstarter at the time: http://nofilmschool.com/2011/09/how-i-raised-125000-on-kickstarter/
The key to getting your project off the ground is demanding to be taken seriously and show that you aren’t wasting people’s time and money. Crowd-sourced funding can make it happen, but it’s by no means a magic bullet.
Want to see how badly an ill-executed crowd-sourcing project can fail? Here you go!
*For the purposes of this article I will be focusing on Kickstarter. Their info is more public and readily available than the others.