This past Sunday, the 2013 Sundance Film Festival reached the end of its 119 feature film roster. The films screened were selected from all over the world, and involved a variety of production processes and – importantly – budgets. Looking at last years festival, an interesting statistic cropped up in regards to this. Approximately 10% of the feature films selected to play at the film festival sourced at least part of their budget through the online crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. This year, 16 out of the 119 features were funded through the site (by my calculations around 19% of the programme).
In his annual address at the beginning of the festival, festival founder Robert Redford emphasised the current state of ‘change’ within the world of film, especially within the independent sector. This recent emergence of an alternative route of funding for filmmakers would seem to represent this – a chance to present their vision directly to their audience. Hoping they will part ways with their cash in order to see that vision become a reality. Of course, Kickstarter is not the only platform to offer this service. Other popular sites include IndieGoGo, Sponsum and PeopleFund.It; hosting a wide range of projects, by no means exclusive to film (the first such site, ArtistShare, was a platform for independent musicians).
There are typically 3 distinct types of crowdfunding projects which fund seekers can choose from. The first and most basic form of funding, Donation crowdfunding, offers backers no reward on their investment, instead hoping that the finished product will be incentive enough. On the other hand, Equity crowdfunding offers backers a return on their investment – if the project generates a profit, then so will the backer (akin to holding a share in a company). By far the most popular mode is Rewards crowdfunding, this form of hosting offers backers some form of non-financial reward. In the context of film projects, this can range from a piece of artwork, to a free copy of the film or in some cases even an executive producer credit. The greater the ‘donation’; the greater the ‘reward’.
What many fund seekers do not recognise is that by placing your project on a platform such as this, you are automatically creating a viral marketing campaign for it. The funding process itself can be almost self-perpetuating. Take for example video game developer Tim Schafer, whose Double Fine Productions generated much internet buzz when their ‘Adventure’ proposal reached its $400,000 goal in the space of nine hours, cracking $1 million within a day. The process of funding itself became newsworthy and the Double Fine team responded enthusiastically to this in video-blogs that began to accompany the project page.
This method of funding can also be used to achieve a creative vision that regular funders (saviour of cinema Megan Ellison not withstanding) are just not prepared to back. Charlie Kaufman, whose films have been playing with audiences minds since 1999’s Being John Malkovich, launched a campaign in July of last year. The page noted the desire to make the film – titled Anomalisa – “outside of the typical Hollywood studio system”.
It is not only the films themselves that are using these platforms – film exhibition is also finding ways to generate revenue through crowdfunding. Sheffield Doc/Fest used Indiegogo to raise money for its ‘superconnector’ project (an initiative allowing filmmakers, sales agents etc. to connect year-round) and ‘Floating Cinema’ raised funds there for its innovative film screening practice. These appeal to true fans not only of film, but also of cinema and the industry as a whole. The rewards offered for projects like these can range from complimentary tickets, to private hire or even – in the case of Doc/Fest – the chance to walk on hot coals with the team (I guess everyone has different interpretations of the term ‘reward’).
All in all, it is an interesting time for the independent film industry. However, as we move forward with this democratisation of funding for creative processes we must be aware of the projects that we are backing. Projects like the brilliant feature-length music-dance-video Girl Walk//All Day, understand the platform and not only were the backers invited to partake as backing dancers in the film but also the film is completely free to watch online, with most cinematic screenings being accompanied with a ‘dance event’. A fascinating interplay between physical performance and digital distribution that shows a true understanding of how the internet works in today’s society. On the other hand, when David Fincher, whose last film made £145 million at the box office, runs a campaign to fund his pet project we must question if this is perhaps gone slightly too far. Projects such as this will inevitably garner media attention and are likely to smother other works; works that could possibly lead to the independent debut of some promising filmmaker.
Any filmmakers utilising crowdfunding are forced to consider their audience from the very conception of their project. As such the audience, should thoroughly consider the filmmaker and the project, to see if it is a worthwhile venture for them to back. With the right consideration and awareness, these new platforms could herald a whole new wave of cinema.