99% of All Filmmakers Should Crowd Fund

The original version of this piece appeared a year ago on  the Future of Film Blog at Tribeca Film.com, a blog I created and edited.

There is nothing more frustrating and time consuming for a filmmaker than raising the money she needs to make her next project.  Whether shopping for funds from a studio, asking for money from a foundation, getting a presale from a distribution partner or asking for a contribution from friends and family, it is never fun and never easy.

Over the past 3 years a new method of raising funds has emerged and is gathering steam.  Using social web based tools provided by services like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, filmmakers can now raise money from the “crowd”.

Crowd funding is part of a massive shift created by the rapid rise of social media that is radically redefining the relationship between the filmmaker and her audience.  As with other parts of the filmmaking process—production, marketing and distribution, the audience now wants to participate—or as Frank Rose puts it, they want to “immerse” themselves in the film.

What does this “immersion” mean when applied to the financing of movies?

When someone crowd “funds” a movie she is not seeking an investment return that is expressed in dollars.  The value that she seeks is something different all together.

It is much like what a traditional (and almost always wealthy) patron gets when he gives to the symphony, the opera or commissions an artist’s work.  He gets recognition, (name in the program, on a building, etc.), a chance to meet the people behind the scenes and most importantly, a chance to connect with the person who has created the art.

In the process he gains an emotional connection to the art itself.  He becomes “immersed” in the art.  In this traditional model the barrier of entry is high but so are the psychic rewards.

With the rapid rise of social media something strange and very wonderful has happened.

1. The barrier of entry into this “immersive” experience has been dramatically lowered, while at the same time:

2. The psychic rewards of the experience have remained very high.

In other words, the tools of social media have democratized patronage for the first time in history.  Experiences that were previously open only to the very wealthy are now open to the “crowd”.  Now everyone can be Medici, Guggenheim or (fill in your favorite famous patron to the arts).

And artists who could never access the wealthy patrons of yesterday can now connect with the newly empowered crowd patrons of today.

New services like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo as well as others, have enabled this emerging patronage market.  So how is that market doing?

A recent blog post by Kickstarter  highlights the status of this market.  As of July 17, 2011, 10,000 projects have been successfully funded on Kickstarter, (of these, 3,048 have been in the Film and Video category).   A total of $60 Million has been received from 793,362 backers.

That is a lot of money from a lot of patrons.  What is most impressive is how fast the market is growing.

As the Kickstarter post says :

 “The march towards 10,000 successfully funded projects has accelerated a lot over the past two years.  Exactly one year ago today Kickstarter had seen a lifetime total of 1,885 successful projects.  The past year alone has seen nearly five times that. “

The amounts raised for films have ranged from $5,000 to $150,000 to over $345,000 for the film Blue Like Jazz.  So as the overall market has expanded, so have the amounts raised.

Is it easy to raise money from the crowd?  The answer is emphatically no, it is not.  It is time consuming, tense, exhausting, filled with ups and downs, fraught with anxiety and guaranteed to keep you up all night.  Just like raising money for your movie always is.

The rewards can be very powerful.

If you get the money, you make the movie you want, (not the movie someone else wants) and you don’t owe anyone any money in return.

All you owe to your patrons is an emotional connection to the movie, a chance for them to immerse themselves in your movie.  An experience, by the way, that will also lay the basis for the marketing and distribution of your movie.

So the question for filmmakers is not whether or not you should crowd fund your next movie, the question becomes: when you will start doing it?

And filmmakers: just remember to respect and treat your patrons as if they are the modern Medicis–because guess what–they are.

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at chris@digitaldorr.com or follow me at @chrisdorr
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