Crowdfunding can give life to a project that would otherwise hit the dust.
Simon Columb (@screeninsight)
As you may be aware, Film Stories magazine is a product of crowdfunding by hundreds of you fine people who helped bring it to life. But the magazine is simply following a path that’s been established by many film projects beforehand. At the last London Film Festival, two outstanding documentaries (United Skates and Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story) were revealed to be the consequence of fans putting together their cash. These films, in addition to Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here and Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, would have never reached screens without this new stream of funding. A film that requires a hopeful crew to ask anyone to donate anything to help them succeed has a risk attached – there’s a reason investors couldn’t fund the film outright.
However, despite the risk, the creators believe it is still worth the time, effort and ambition to make this idea a reality. Maybe it is the humbling nature of crowdfunding that spurs on filmmakers to ensure they get the very best; maybe filmmakers behind the camera are all running on the fumes of their passion for the project – but the desire for the film to reach you I would argue can be felt through the story or subject matter itself.
When you first explore crowdfunding services like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, you’ll notice an enormous array of shorts that desire your support. Shorts are expensive to produce and are difficult to hunt down on a cinema screen. Rather than pulling in cash via ticket sales, they’re calling cards for aspiring filmmakers to showcase their talent in the hope of working on a larger project in the future. If you had a desire to work with or find out about this process, and can spare a few quid, look no further than these exciting, prospective artists who have an idea – and respectfully hold their hat out for a little support. A few examples of the weird and wonderful shorts that had managed to raise over 60% of their funding in January included Pizza Time (pizza delivering and a hit man…), Return To Sender (handwritten letters and love in a dusty American town…) and To The Head (a stop-motion allegorical animation involving greed and growing up).
Zach Braff drew our attention to feature filmmakers with his Kickstarter in 2013 for Wish I Was Here. To think that he couldn’t get finances for the follow-up to Garden State was a surprise. Often these projects boast experienced talent with a partially funded film already in the bag and they need your help to cross the finish line. Blue Ruin, directed by Jeremy Saulnier (who would go on to direct the critically acclaimed Green Room and, recently, the first two episodes of True Detective’s third season), was initially crowdfunded (to the tune of $37,828 on Kickstarter). They had already been “maxing out credit cards, refinancing homes and cashing in retirement accounts”, before they turned to Kickstarter. Blue Ruin made almost $1m worldwide, appearing on multiple end-of year lists.
Spike Lee and Paul Schrader (both nominated for Oscars this year for BlacKkKlansman and First Reformed respectively) have all had to turn to others for support. But, as Lee explained in his video to pitch ‘The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint’ (it became Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus), this has always been the nature of feature filmmaking. “I was doing Kickstarter before there was Kickstarter,” he said, referring to the letters, phone calls and hand-shaking that has always been necessary for gaining an investor. Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child was part-funded by crowdfunding too, but it was only after the film was created that the team raised almost $40,000 to cover the costs to market, publicise and share the film on the festival circuit. In their words, for “sound design and mix, color correction, music licensing, title design and animation…” and the list goes on.
Following films on crowdfunding sites gives you a taste of the incredible cost required to release a film theatrically. What social networking has brought together, uniquely, are the thousands of people who are dotted across the globe, yet enjoy a particular, niche subject matter. This is why Nintendo Quest, Indie Game: The Movie and Insert Coin: Inside Midway’s 90s Revolution were all successfully funded – every country has its share of computer game fans.
The best crowdfunded docs, like any film really, gain word of mouth at festivals. In 2014, Keith Maitland used Indiegogo to gain support for his documentary Tower, a rotoscoped re-enactment of the 1966 Austin shootings in Texas, narrated by the survivors. An innovative and powerful film, it would go on to be nominated for awards across America – and winning the Critics Choice Documentary Awards “Most Innovative Documentary” honour. United Skates; a magnificent documentary detailing the incredible culture of roller-skating in the US, was funded over $50,000, and went on to win the Top Audience Pick at Hot Docs and snag the Audience Award at Tribeca.
While Indiegogo and Kickstarter support the lion’s share of film projects, there are alternatives that have ever so slightly different options for filmmakers to choose from. Seed & Spark distributes films but you must raise at least 80% of your goal. Ulule lets you run your campaign for up to 90 days, unlike Kickstarter and Indiegogo’s strict 60-day policy. If you want to take a leaf out of Neill Blomkamp’s (District 9, Chappie) book, you could have it all in-house. Blomkamp, after launching his own production house, Oats Studio, avoided all the popular sites and simply gave fans the opportunity to directly fund on his website.
Crowdfunding has produced exceptional films, and launched talented filmmakers. Even without a penny, you can share and spread the word. It’s like scanning a film service where the delivery time is months or years away, but you are personally part of the process.