24 March 2007

let's talk about fundraising

i recently hijacked this discussion with my tangent on the gravida fundraiser. I didn't do it on purpose, mind you, it sort of just happened (kids, this is why you don't drink and blog). So, in the best interest of that previous discussion, I'm setting up a spot for it here.

The idea is to talk about fundraising in general, as a means for financing no-budget films, not just my one attempt at it.


lucas mcnelly said...

one thing i'm thinking of doing for the gravida fundraiser is changing the gifts a little bit.

taking a page from the Disney book, i may "open the vaults" and put a couple films on the DVD that i had effectively buried, saying that the DVD would be a "special edition" DVD containing 2 (or more, i'm not sure yet) films that are nearly impossible to find. This DVD would not be available for sale in any normal way, of course, making it something of a rarity.

Shopgirl said...

Hi, interesting blog! How many people use to write in this blog? hugs

lucas mcnelly said...


just me.

johanna said...

that would intrigue people, but how many will look and look for something hard to find?

lucas mcnelly said...

no one's gonna go looking for them, naturally.

but average person on the mailing list, who already has an interest in my films, but is unsure of the fundraiser, might be more inclined to donate if they know the dvd gift will have stuff on it they cannot get elsewhere. or, maybe not

lucas mcnelly said...

i shoud also add that from time to time, people ask me about these films, and i usually try to change the subject

so, there is some interest there. Josh, for example, has been trying to convince me to put window shopping on a compilation DVD for a long time.

johanna said...

I guess a lot of your strategy depends upon what you're really looking for in terms of dpress' future. do you want a strong, loyal fan base or are you just interested in pushing people's buttons to see what will work and what will not in "larger, greater crowds?"

i will probably always like guard duty the most, even once you start making the more important films of your repertoire, and the reasons are simple: i saw it with you in a cozy living room and we laughed about it.

lucas mcnelly said...

As far as d press is concerned, the goal is a strong, loyal fan base. as i was telling Sujewa the other day, one of the companies i'm using for inspiration is Criterion. that is, i'm willing to have d press be less well-known and less financially solvent in the interest of quality and fan loyalty.

but, at the same time, there's the larger crowds to attract, the potentially loyal fans to find, and i'm willing to push some odd buttons now, while the stakes are low, in an attempt to find the best ways to get them.

i'd say that 95% of our current fan base are going to be fans regardless of what we may or may not do in the next 6 months. so there's little risk right now, but in 6 months, 12 months, etc, the stakes get higher, so by then i'd like to have a much clearer idea of what will and will not work.

i have a pretty firm belief that most people will forgive marketing mishaps for a company of our size if our intentions seem to be good and we appear to be working hard.

guard duty--maybe one of the luckiest films ever made and still strangely popular. go figure.

johanna said...

if our intentions seem to be good and we appear to be working hard

Actions will always speak louder than words with me, but that is the corporate world's slogan: perception, perception, perception.

Good luck with your work.

The Sujewa said...

so are you going to do a fundraising party and or screening event sometime soon? i think a live event, where people are there in person, maybe more effective than a call for donations on the web.

- sujewa

lucas mcnelly said...

well, it would have to be after it premeires. i've already decided not to show the film before then to anyone, really, except for the 3-4 people who are intimately involved in the project (you know, editing feedback and whatnot)

or, it would have to not include much more than a trailer for the film. (and, of course, L'Attente and guard duty)

but i could do some sort of party thing revolving around the t-shirts being made. there could be music and stuff like that.

i think you're right, Sujewa, in-person is probably more effective than on-line

Michael said...

I've been fleshing out a platform for aggregating micro-finance payments toward film projects. It's sort of digg.com where you "digg" with dollars. If a filmmaker hits a budget goal, the funds are secured for the films production. The catch is you are selling off a share of future profits. A bit like a platform for starting your own aswarmofangels.com.

I've been working with the idea of a 4 way split of 45% to the investor pool, 45% to the filmmaker, 5% to the screenwriter (who could be the filmmaker) and 5% to the aggregating entity. The aggregating entity would also operate as a distribution partner and would be in change of collecting/paying all dividends, if any are actually earned.

I'm currently playing around with the notion of licensing. I like the idea of a Creative Commons type that would leave all the assets that went into making the film available for any other filmmaker within the community. If someone really liked some footage from a film they could use it in their own, or even do there own version of the script. I'm struggling with the effect that has on financial viability, and if that would be a deterrent to investors. I'm expecting that most of the investors won't count on actually ever seeing a return for their investment, so I think it could open some interesting doors.

I've talked to a few people who I know have the financial resources to drop some small financing toward a project, and their feedback has been very positive, I haven't run this past any filmmakers though, so I would love some feedback from here.

Michael "Spazsquatch" Bodalski

BTW - ScreenCamp got bumped to the back-burner last week for me. I had intended to jump into it with this topic, but you beat me to it.

lucas mcnelly said...


that's some interesting stuff, but this part jumps out at me:

I'm currently playing around with the notion of licensing. I like the idea of a Creative Commons type that would leave all the assets that went into making the film available for any other filmmaker within the community. If someone really liked some footage from a film they could use it in their own, or even do there own version of the script.

for me personally, as a filmmaker, there'd have to be a lot of money involved before i would agree to something like that. Or, it'd have to be very, very limited.

But others might be more open to that aspect.

one thing i was thinking, re: investor splits, is a system where once a film breaks even, there are levels of how the profits are split between investors and the creative side...something like 80/20 (investor/creative) for x number of dollars, then it shifts to, say, 60/40, then 20/80 (or whatever, you get the idea)

i'm totally going to go check out those websites you mentioned now

lucas mcnelly said...

the swarm of angels site is interesting

am i correct to assume it's pretty much an open-source film, and that, on some level, they're going for a majority opinion as to what to do?

maybe it's because i'm a proponent of the auteur theory, but it strikes me as having a pretty high likelihood of ending up with a direction-less film

or maybe i'm just being cynical

it's an interesting idea, regardless

johanna said...


with something like that, I wouldn't mind donating some documentary "stock footage," especially not if I thought the images were worth circulating, but if it had been written by me I wouldn't share for the same reasons I wouldn't want to give up an ovary, and my belief that "too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the sauce." But even then, I probably wouldn't be willing to give very much.

I had thought about something similar, though, with film financing and generally speaking this sounds good, as long as it's understood that most times the money will not be recouped and that the royalties or whatever are just sort of fetching and not real incentive.

I didn't understand the "Nine Orders," but it reminded me of pyramid scheme-type companies that have massive rationalizations for why they do what they do. Is there a list of the 900+ angels somewhere, like a long blogroll leading to individual sites?

Probably, I like the idea of a film's assets (without its contents) being available...and that seems like a large database of people, some of whom probably have talent.

Michael said...

The thinking behind the going Creative Commons was to see how an "Open Source software" model could mesh with art. I'm not sure they can, but I'm really excited by the prospect. I think there are just some fundamental differences in the way the two sides feel about sharing of information, of course that's a major generalization and should be viewed as such.

I find things like the mash-up DJ Danger Mouse did with Jay-Z's "Black" album and the Beetles "White" album fascinating fodder for analysis even if creatively I didn't care for the final product or the originating source's for that matter. The idea of re-mixing an entire film, or seeing multiple variations of the same script just fascinates me.

As for Swarm of Angels, I'm not entirely sure how it works. I had considered contributing, but with the British pound somewhere around 2x the U.S. dollar, $50 was too much to drop just for the sake of curiosity. I know that many of the creative decisions are made "polling" the angels, which frankly seems like a very bad way to make them and in my experience would lead to group think. My model is different in such that a project wouldn't secure the investors funding until the total goal was met, and an investor could withdraw their funds at any time.

The difference here is that there is no requirement to listen to any investors ideas, but there is certainly incentive to find solutions to their concerns. The filmmaker is in change of steering the ship, but their direction will determine how many passengers they have aboard.

Going with the "open source software" idea, I was also thinking there would be stages in place so other filmmakers could "branch" a project from a idea, story treatment or screenplay. Extending that "branching" as far as the footage was something I just started thinking about recently. Of course attribution would be given at every step along a branch. Of course this would get really complicated when it gets to determining how dividends get divided, if you change the ending of a "branched" screenplay do you split the 5% stake 50/50 with the original writer? Part of my solution to that was that the screenwriter would have a separate financial goal to achieve, and when they reached it they would get paid out that amount. They could then take the money and run, or invest it into production. The script itself then belongs to the commons.

I don't really expect that anyone involved will be doing it for the the money though, that's why I have some problems with the gradated re-payment mechanism. While it sounds good to me in theory, to me it "cheapens" the financial contributors to just "wallets". I'm of the belief they can be a source for making a project better, while still keeping control in the hands of the filmmaker.

All of this is theory to me though, since I'm not a filmmaker and likely won't be contributing creatively to the fray so I really appreciate the feedback.

This whole post was written in between playing with my son, forgive me if it feels a little fragmented. :)

johanna said...

aww...that's nice.

this sort of goes back to the idea of a film-a-thon for me, which was quickly dismissed despite its merits. I was thinking of something with YouTube sponsorship where a fair amount of people would be watching and a fair would be conributing in some way.

More recently, a bit of discussion surrounding the idea of promoting a film through online discussion (after an actual, live screening) seemed to be more positively accepted, but it's not all that different from the original idea, and it could even possibly incorporate your "remixing" idea.

If, for example, a group of people were involved in giving feedback after a screening and wanted a "what if" scenario as a sort of test drive for a piece, that would get people involved in the process, especially if the filmmaker was willing to do a bit of groundwork that presented how the film was made and some of the thought processes that went into it...that sort of thing can get tricky, of course, and not a lot of filmmakers want to spend a lot of time remixing their work, especially not after putting so much effort into getting a final cut.

Thre may be fundraising potential there, I guess, but where I don't know. Seems like the sort of thing that would need to be felt out and developed trial and error...

lucas mcnelly said...

I have some problems with the gradated re-payment mechanism. While it sounds good to me in theory, to me it "cheapens" the financial contributors to just "wallets". I'm of the belief they can be a source for making a project better, while still keeping control in the hands of the filmmaker.

here's the part I'm having trouble wrapping my head around.

if i'm understanding your model correctly, the investors have a say in the creative process, but the final decision comes down to the filmmaker. but isn't this the same as the standard model that's spawned the cliche of the investor who wants a shoot-out in a character drama?

what exactly is the difference? just that there's more investors?

i'm not saying it's a bad idea, i'm just having trouble fully understanding it.

not a lot of filmmakers want to spend a lot of time remixing their work, especially not after putting so much effort into getting a final cut.

yup. exactly. i think the thing that's forgotten in the Danger Mouse example is that the original artists weren't all too thrilled with being involved in the project. most artists tend to be pretty protective of their work. would i want someone re-mixing L'Attente? not at all.

but that's just me

johanna said...

hell, I wouldn't want someone remixing L'Attente, which brings in a new can of worms in the form of splintering audience factions. The last thing you want is people taking sides and possibly even losing interest because of all the issues involved here: artistic integrity and how much fan loyalty can revolve around that being two of the more important, probably.

I have no idea what the Danger Mouse example was.

Michael said...

There are two things that make this different as far as I see it. To begin with this is a fan-funding model. The people who are financing it should be the same people who will help you promote it and will buy it down the road. Lastly the balance of power is significantly shifted by having a diverse pool of financiers.

Hollywood studios have consolidated financing resources, and in the case of public companies, legal obligation to return profits to their shareholders. Their pressure on filmmakers is driven strictly by doing what they feel is in the best financial interest of the films underwriters, their control comes from the knowledge that they can single-handily shut down your production by pulling financing.

By distributing the financial funding, no single financial entity has much say in the direction of the project. A couple of producers might think your story needs an "action scene", but if their contribution represents < 5% of your total budget, the filmmaker is in a better position to decide how much they want to bend. Its hard for me to imagine a filmmaker getting a full on mutiny from their financiers, although I'll admit it could happen.

This raises the issue of treating the financiers as "wallets". If the only motivation you enable the investors to have is the promise of financial gain, their only interest in your project will be commercial viability. If you are receptive to their input and think of them as a collaborative partner you'll be offering value that doesn't rely on commercial appeal.

I don't think the internet is going to cause a paradigm-shift on the way projects are financed. It is still is going to come down to the exchange of value for dollars. My intention with this project would be more in providing a "commons" where the two sides can find each other.

As for all the Creative Commons talk, that's just stuff I find sort of interesting. I do think it can provide opportunities for others to discover your work and I know that I have at least one friend who was turned on to Jay-Z as a result of the Danger Mouse mix after previously discarding his work as major label garbage. I would guess there are hip-hop fans who "found" the Beetles as well. I also don't recall the problems with it being led by the artists but rather the record label. As far as I know the A Cappella tracks Dangermouse used where released by Jay-Z with the intention of remixing, although I doubt he could have imagined it going that far.

In any case, it's all just fodder for conversation because from a practical standpoint it would be a simple thing to let the license within the environment be left up to the filmmaker. No reason to force something on anyone. I think I'm going to start the ScreenCamp board with a thread on that topic though.

Michael said...

Oh, Johanna... info on the Dangermouse stuff.


johanna said...

Ugh. You just reminded me of everything I hated about working in a music warehouse (wholesaler) where I had to deal with Jay-Z's albums sales, returns and re-stocks pretty much ad nauseum...and a litter of really bad rap music that made me cringe on a daily basis.

The thing with hip-hop culture is that it's a culture of numbers that has absolutely nothing to do with interpersonal relationships (even a critique of a work establishes some sort of interpersonal relationship) but rather who can garner the biggest party, the biggest fan pool and the biggest wallet...it's one of the most destructive mentalities around, as far as I'm concerned and pretty much goes against everything that I stood for then...and now.

Also, the relative power of the people involved sounds like too much of a power struggle and a little too theoretical; i.e., the intentions of the project to keep things flowing smoothly has no real reinforcement as-is. I'm not saying the idea doesn't have merit, but where's the inspiration? What's the artist's incentive? I don't think the motivation of funding will be enough, generally speaking. I think there'll have to be more to an idea like this for it to really work.

Michael said...

"What's the artist's incentive? I don't think the motivation of funding will be enough, generally speaking."

Oh, now this opens a whole new door to go through. I don't think you could ever find a universal incentive for artistic motivation. I'm personally motivated by the "doing" of a thing more than the output. That's why I'm pretty open to sharing elements that went into creation, they are simply the memory of the art itself. For me anything that makes it easier to "do" is an incentive.

What is your incentive?

As for hip-hop... I'm the last person in the world to defend Jay-Z, cause frankly I wouldn't recognize a Jay-Z song if it ran me over in a tricked out Hummer and then got out a shot my crushed body yelling "I'm a Jay-Z song!". I'm that far removed from the man's work. However I do take some issue with that blanket statement about "hip-hop" culture. I do listen to several "indie rappers" who are as far removed from "blingy gangstas" as Hal Hartley is from Jerry Bruckheimer. They still proudly consider themselves part of the hip-hop scene.

lucas mcnelly said...

I'm personally motivated by the "doing" of a thing more than the output. That's why I'm pretty open to sharing elements that went into creation, they are simply the memory of the art itself. For me anything that makes it easier to "do" is an incentive.

that makes sense.

personally, i'm of the belief that the end product is the single most important thing, that creating a piece of art that might just stand the test of time is worth all the headaches and sacrifices involved along the way...not that the process itself isn't fun and enjoyable, but my focus is on the end product above all else.

that might explain where our disconnect is coming from. both approaches have value, they're just different approaches is all.

lucas mcnelly said...


johanna said...


it's probably better not to take issue, especially when you haven't actually met the person you're talking to online or seen her music collection (let alone her work.) Mostly, from your reaction, all I can really tell is that you didn't work that job and can neither relate nor sympathize.

As for what my incentive is, you'll have to be more specific than that. With art in general, making the world a better place is my basic incentive, but my specific inspiration for any particular project has to be strong enough to see it through.

You wanted feedbck, correct?

Okay, here's an abstract thought. I'll let you make of it what you will. I used to listen to a lot of jazz fusion and in the midst of that I happened upon the band Phish. I was never really into the hippie culture in the sense that I was the daughter of a hippie and it all seemed very old-hat to me, but I did attend about six shows over a coupla years.

During that time the band's popularity exploded and suddenly they found themselves inundated with huge venues of immature kids on all sorts of drugs, mostly hallucinogens. This made for really frenetic shows sometimes, especially since the band often let the audience members sort of direct the music -- their best shows always being the ones where the audience was the quietest and their worst ones being where the audience made the most noise. It really paid to be attentive.

The band's solution to the dilemma, which they felt a strong responsibility for, was to set up a giant chessboard above the stage for the audience to play with and interact with...the point being that audience members felt gradually more compelled to concentrate and focus and not just get wasted and wind up making a bunch of noise. The audience would have to come to some kind of majority agreement about which move to make, and then the band would countermove. The next city on the tour stop made the next move, and so on.

Now...what was the audience's incentive? Obviously, there wasn't much in the way for individuals to shine as master chess players, but the connection between the band and its audience became a less subtle, more tangible thing.

Karl said...


Something for nothing doesn't work. I like your idea of giving the "investor" something material. Some earlier work of yours maybe, and/or a copy of the finished film of course. That works. Just my two cents.

lucas mcnelly said...


i think the "something for nothing" donation will work a little bit, if you're persistent, but not enough, obviously, which is why i set up the gifts of stuff you couldn't get otherwise, thinking that might inspire people because, hey, $25 ain't really all that much to a normal person with a job, and on my end it adds up quickly.

oddly enough, the $99 we've raised so far has been entirely from people who couldn't care less about the gifts and are just being nice

but i'm still hoping the gifts will inspire people over the next month or so left.

lucas mcnelly said...


there have got to be other, potentially weird, methods by which one can raise funds, that can be discussed without branching off into a debate about artistic ownership and whatnot

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