Taking a quick break from working on revisions to book two to point out some recent discussion of the use of crowdfunding to raise money for independent films. Since the 2008 closure of several major indie distributors, there has been a slow but steady turn toward alternative funding and distribution models, and there seems to be some evidence that prominent indie filmmakers are using crowdfunding techniques.
Writing for the Sundance blog, Elisabeth Holm discusses The Canyons, a collaboration between Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader and novelist Bret Easton Ellis on The Canyons, a drama about a group of power-hungry Hollywood types. Notably, in addition to raising funds through Kickstarter (the team has already raised $148,000-plus with a day of fundraising left), Schrader and Ellis also invited supporters to help cast the movie, using Let It Cast, a kind of open-source casting system that allows actors to post auditions for parts online. But I think that what is striking about The Canyons is the degree to which the film ‘s crowdfunding promotions are tied up in more traditional forms of promotions and tie-ins. Although it is relatively common for indie producers to promise copies of the DVD when the film is completed, it struck me that selling the DVD before the movie comes out functions somewhat like “foreign pre-sales” might have in the past; that is, it is essentially selling some “rights” to the movie (in one case, broadcast rights, in another, the right to own a copy of the DVD) before it is finished in order to finance the completion of the movie. This is sort of obvious, but by selling enough copies of the DVD before the film is made–by my count, they pre-sold well over 700 DVDs–they can also demonstrate interest in the film before it is even finished. At the same time, the campaign seems to offer, more than most Kickstarter projects, a ticket to a limited form of access to celebrity. Gifts for larger donations include the opportunity to meet Schrader or Ellis, to get script notes from Schrader, and in one case, Schrader’s set gift from Robert DeNiro on Taxi Driver (an engraved belt buckle). It’s an interesting example of how older forms of independent cinema are now being repackaged through these crowdosurcing models.
Lucas McNelly discusses a similar project featuring a familiar Hollywood actor, Matthew Lillard, who is usually remembered for his role as Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo movie or as one of the wise-cracking teens in Scream. Lillard has raised over $128,000 (with a week left, as of today) from over 1,800 backers, suggesting that he has a much broader base of support, even if the donations have been smaller. The movie, Fat Kid Rules the World, which has already played at South by Southwest, is an adaptation of a novel, providing it with an existing fan community beyond Lillard’s reputation as an actor. There are some creative perks–one donation amount will allow you to have Lillard (as Shaggy) record your outgoing voicemail message–but as McNelly suggests, Lillard’s active attempt to engage with potential fans has been crucial to the campaign’s success. Lillard spent a marathon 3 hour session on Reddit, chatting with fans and allowing them to ask him anything they wished. This is not suggest that one approach is superior, but instead to point out that inside and outside are becoming increasingly blurred when it comes to the use of crowdfunding models.
For something a little more substantial, Geoff King (author of the forthcoming Indie 2.0 and several other books) pointed to a BBC report on crowdfunding and its place in the indie sector, which they framed through a discussion of another successful indie project, Andrew Semans’ Nancy, Please (note: I had the opportunity to review Semans’ poignant and observant short film, All Day Long several years ago, so I can’t wait to see his latest effort). Some data from the BBC piece: over 5,000 films have successfully raised funds on Kickstarter, and as King notes 17 films from this year’s Sundance and 33 from this year’s SXSW were Kickstarter projects. Definitely quite a bit to think about here as indie funding models continue to evolve.