Thursday, January 27, 2011
As the price of cameras and editing software goes down and the quality goes up, making filmmaking becomes more accessible to more people. Another recent innovation that can help indie filmmakers is online funding through organizations like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.
Kickstarter (launched in 2009) and IndieGoGo (founded in 2008) are what have been called "crowd-funding" or "online pledge systems" for funding creative projects. They have helped people fund a diverse array of projects ranging from independent films to music to inventions. For many young filmmakers, this is a way to try and get financing for their projects without incurring debt.
Andrew Rubin is a film student at NYU. I showcased some of the high school short films he made while at Francis Parker School in San Diego at my student showcase Film School Confidential. He is currently trying to fund "Ride with Larry," a feature length documentary that puts a human face on the day-to-day fight against Parkinson’s through the story of Larry Smith, a retired police captain and now small-town baker. Rubin set, and recently met, a $50,000 goal on Kickstarter, and is looking to add a little more to that before the February 1 deadline.
"There are so many upsides to crowd-sourced, D.I.Y. funding," Rubin says, "Using these sites you can literally open the door to your project to the world. If the project is worthy and your willing to put the enormous amount of work behind the campaign, then you can get your funding, and sometimes far more than the goal you’ve set."
Rubin says there are a number of factors making these online organizations attractive: "The biggest factor is the economy. Independent films have always been hard to finance but with the collapse of the independent studios and the DVD market, you suddenly have a lot a lot more people looking for funding. At the same time a lot of the sources for private capital and grant money has dried up. The grants and traditional funding sources left are all the more competitive to get. You can spend months applying to grants and if you are lucky enough to get one, you still have to face the many rules and stipulations for using those funds. Plus, this can breed a stop-and-start scenario where you get a little money, shoot some of your film, stop, find some more grants, shoot some more, etc… It can go on for years. One grant rarely covers a budget."
But Rubin advises that filmmakers carefully look into what each of these online funders is offering or you might face some tense moments: "Kickstarter has a rule that you have to raise all your funds by the deadline or they cancel everything and you get nothing! If you succeed 5% of our funds go to Kickstarter, another 5% to our fiscal sponsor, the International Documentary Association, and 3% goes to Amazon. IndieGoGo takes 4%, uses PayPal [which takes a 3% cut] instead of Amazon Payments, and we would still have to give another 5% to the IDA. IndieGoGo allows you to receive your funding even if you fall short of your goal, however they take 9% instead of their usual 4% as a penalty."
Local filmmaker Nicolas Simonin learned this the hard way. His short "Derailed" played at the recent Horrible Imaginings Film Festival (which has also raised funds through Kickstarter and IndieGoGo), and he tried to raise $6000 to fund his next short film entitled "Vincent." But since he only had received $830 in pledged money by his January 6 deadline, he received no funding at all from the campaign. But check back on his website for updates about future funding options.
That's why Kevin Perkins, the man who so kindly gave me my zombie film debut and blew my brains out, is trying to raise $5400 on IndieGoGo to finish "My Boring Zombie Apocalypse." With IndieGoGo, he will at least be able to use any pledged funds to help him complete his zombie short.
What all this implies is that filmmakers have to become well versed in social media and online funding options to take full advantage of what's out there.
"With Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, the filmmaker is now actively engaged with his or her audience," says Rubin, "Even before the film is released your audience can be talking about your movie. As you raise your funds you build your audience. If someone has invested their time and money into supporting your project, they’re going to want to see it when its finished! Suddenly you have an army of advocates. The wall between the silver screen and the audience is disintegrating."
Some may ask why would anyone want to just give their money to a struggling filmmaker? After all they are not donating to a non-profit and able to write off the amount on their taxes. The answer varies. People can sometimes donate as little as $10 so it's easy for a filmmaker to tap into friends who may be willing to part with $10 or $20, and if you get enough of those small contributions you might have enough money to buy some software or help pay for a camera. People might also be encouraged to participate by perks offered by the filmmakers. Perkins, for example, offers "a customized scene for you and your business (or family) to appear in the final cut of the film! Scene must take place within 75 miles of Baltimore city limits. We will even take suggestions as to what you want to happen in the scene!" But that will cost you a thousand bucks. Donations can also get you a credit as producer or a thank you at the end of the film so anyone who just wants to be a part of a film can do so for a relatively small price.
"Movies are exciting and people want to take part," says Rubin, "Kickstarter and IndieGoGo provides this opportunity while solidifying the filmmaker’s connection with his or her fans. In return for a donation, filmmakers can give their backer a credit in the movie and other rewards. And it's an honor to give them."
Rubin has the added incentive of allowing people to feel good about donating to a film that has a cause, in this case increasing awareness about Parkinson's.
"For a film like 'Ride with Larry' that is working to support the Parkinson’s cause and create an international movement for awareness, there already exists a large population with a vested interest in what you are doing. If all of those with Parkinson’s, their families, and caretakers are willing to give whatever they can to support something they are already passionate about, then suddenly you have your budget. Today, films can be made on smaller and smaller budgets without the sacrifice in quality! You can even film movies on digital SLR cameras! Thus you have a new era of micro-budget films popping up. For documentary filmmakers this is all the more exciting because you can make your film look like a million dollar movie for less than 10% of that amount."
The other benefit of this D.I.Y. funding is that the filmmaker does not relinquish any of his or her creative control or freedom. "If a filmmaker has raised his own funds," Rubin states, "Then he can make the movie he or she truly wants to make."
With the $50,000 he has raised, Rubin will now be able to film his subject in South Dakota as well as all of the scientists who have invited him to their labs and research centers in places like the Netherlands, Ireland, and Cleveland.
Hopefully this will inspire some of you to take a look at the projects mentioned here or to investigate other projects online and make a donation. Supporting the next generation of filmmakers is a very satisfying feeling. Hmm? Maybe I'll consider donating a thousand to Perkins and ask him if I can now be a disemboweled zombie. You have 77 days left if you decide you want to donate and join the undead.