27 June 2010

more thoughts on crowdfunding

I'm the type of filmmaker who would love nothing more than to disappear for awhile, make a film in total secrecy, and then show up at SXSW for the premiere of a film no one's heard a single thing about.

But, that's not really something that's practically possible in today's climate, so I've had to teach myself self-promotion and audience-building, which I'm not great at, but I'm getting better (I think).

I think it's easy to think of Kickstarter, etc, as pretty much just free money coming from a mysterious mass of people somewhere giving $5, $20 at a time, but it really isn't. First off, you have to find them, which isn't easy. And you have to convince them to give you $$, which also isn't easy.

So far we've raised $1445, which is pretty awesome. It's broken down like this:

Friends/Family: friends being everyone who I had some sort of non-film relationship with prior to the film one. So, from people I went to college with to co-workers.
Colleagues: basically fellow filmmakers, or people I know through film
Strangers: I have no idea who these people are.

Friends: 42% of the backers, they've given 80% of the money
colleagues: 46% / 15%
strangers: 11% / 4%

So, you can see where the money is mostly coming from. Friends are going to give more money per person (and I'm thinking this will hold up, even if that 80% comes down), but there may be fewer of them. Even if you pull out our one big $$ number, a lot of friends have been in the $50-$100 range, whereas filmmakers are usually in the $25 area. This makes sense, as a filmmaker will want the DVD to see what else is happening with their fellow filmmakers. At some point, the friend pool is going to dry up and the stranger pool will have to be tapped. My guess, without any real data, is that over the life of a campaign you have friends and colleagues early, and then that spreads to strangers later on. But we'll see, I guess.

The trick then, is finding those strangers. But I think they come from the friends and colleagues, in some way. It comes from my friend telling his friend about it, and a blogger writing about it on his blog, and a fellow filmmaker mentioning it on Twitter/Facebook. So it builds a network in that way, and the all-or-nothing approach to the fundraising helps, as it adds a sense of urgency. I mean, so far people have pledged ~$1500, which is amazing, but if we don't hit our goal, we get $0. So the people who want the film to get made now have a vested interest in telling people, because you don't really get that warm fuzzy feeling of supporting the arts if the art never gets made.

And, I think the reason people give is that, on some level, they like the power of voting with their dollars on what gets made. They want interesting art to exist and this gives them a way to help make that happen directly. I'm not sure. I know that I give because it's important to me that the film community be strong.

Back to the network. I think in the crowdfunding equation, the crowd is more valuable than the funding. If one person were to give $3000 right now and get us over our goal, that would be amazing, but it wouldn't be as valuable, long-term as a large group of people giving $25. Think about it. This might be the biggest promotional push your film gets. And more importantly, when the film does come out, people are already aware of it. That's huge.

As far as the artist goes, the value of the money itself is huge. One of the things that drives indie film, creatively, is the complete lack of money. You can't just throw money at a problem. You have to figure it out. The good ones can do this in a way that looks like it was always the plan. But, making a film with your rent money is generally a bad idea. Crowdfunding is great because it gets you just enough money that you don't run the risk of living out of your car, but not so much money that you can have caviar delivered to the set. There's the same professional risk that drives creativity, without the personal risk that harms it. Kind of like playing in a big poker tourney with someone else's money. You can afford to play for the final table instead of worrying about busting on the bubble.

And there's no one to pay back. If you can get your film finished under budget, you've already broken even. There's no investor peering over your shoulder saying, "Why don't we do this?". You have final cut. Your only responsibility to investors is to fulfill the rewards you offered on Kickstarter. If you do your research before you start, well then you've already budgeted for that. Right?


Anonymous said...