Why I haven’t used crowdfunding to pay for my next film… yet

Image courtesy of filmcourage.com

I’ve been lucky enough to get money from various people – The BBC, Channel 4, the NDCS, Jack Ashley, the UK Film Council, Film London and BSLZone – to make various films over the years. I’ve never had to resort to writing letters asking for loans (OK, just the once, and I paid him back) or using crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. With Kickstarter about to launch in the UK this month, the opportunities for getting people to pay you to make a movie are better than ever.

Making a feature film is the long term goal. I have a shortlist of about five story ideas that could be made on a low budget, which – with the right actors – could even end up on supermarket shelves for £5.97. Each of these ideas are in various stages, some more advanced than others. But how to finance a feature? I could do a Kevin Smith and pay for it by credit card, but all my cards are maxed out. I could do a Truffaut and get a dentist to raise my money for me, but I don’t know any dentists. I’ve thought about asking the BFI for some development money, but the application form looks like a nightmare.

That leaves me with crowdfunding, which seems to be the platform of choice for getting film projects off the ground. So why haven’t I used a crowdfunding site to launch a low budget feature film project?

First of all, I don’t have anywhere near enough fans or supporters to raise the £150,000 to £250,000 I reckon I’d need to make a film that would stand a chance of being properly distributed. 500,000 views on my YouTube channel won’t translate into cash money. My overinflated yet fragile ego would be destroyed by the crashing failure of raising 6% of my total in six months. I’m just being realistic here.

Secondly, I’m not sure the crowdfunding model is fair on those who fund it. A typical crowdfunded film works by giving people who contribute a series of ‘rewards’. If you donate £5 you get a copy of the film on DVD. £10 gets you a signed copy. All the way up to £10,000 giving you an exec producer credit and an invite to the premiere. That doesn’t really sit right with me – again my overinflated yet fragile ego would prevent me from having the brass neck to charge someone £10,000 to invest in my film and attend the premiere, without getting their money back.

Wouldn’t crowdfunding sites be better if they worked on an investment basis, with the tax breaks that film investment gives you in this country? I’d feel happier about coming up with a budget that projected X amount of sales in various territories (theatrical, DVD and online) with various name actors attached. The crowdfunding route seems to be a way of avoiding coming up with a business plan while keeping all the equity for yourself and avoiding film industry gatekeepers who select the projects they fund based on their potential profitability and quality.

Thirdly, no one seems entirely sure who crowdfunding is really for, especially in terms of film funding. There have been success stories about up and coming artists I really like (such as Ryan B Koo’s Man Child, Freddie Wong with Video Game High School and Sophie Woolley with Deaf Faker) using crowdfunding to get their ambitious (and relatively inexpensive) projects made.

But then there’s Jon Heder. I – perhaps wrongly – assumed the star of Napoleon Dynamite and Blades of Glory could easily fund a new venture with his own cash. But I’m guessing when he saw how easy it is to leverage other people’s money and not give up any equity in the project, he chose that option instead. Why not? Use other people’s money; and at the same time get tons of people (who are all potential customers) to learn about your venture through all the film news sites writing linkbait articles about you resorting to Kickstarter to make your next project.

He raised a bit more than he needed in the end, and his funders will be looking forward to their complimentary end credit, their free posters, their props and more. Lucky them.

Heder was one of the lower profile stars to take advantage of crowdfunding. Since then we’ve seen Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) and Dan Harmon (Community) raise more than double their target for Anomalisa, while Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader are now releasing Grindhouse Style trailers for The Canyons. Is it fair that celebrities use their name recognition to make vanity projects that the studios won’t finance?

Probably the worst example of the recent trend of celebrities turning to the public to fund their hobby projects is David Fincher. I love Fincher’s films ever since I saw Se7en, I think he’s one of the most interesting filmmakers making films today, but even he can’t get all of his films made. Which is why he’s turned to Kickstarter to fund The Goon, an animated movie he’s been trying to get off the ground for years.

Except he’s not actually crowdfunding the film itself. He’s funding a story reel, which is a feature length trailer for what the finished film might look like.

For $400,000.

Most people set up Kickstarter projects to create entire feature films for less than that. I won’t comment any further except to say read Jon Spira’s excellent blog on the subject.

So what’s the point of trying to use crowdfunding when some of the best filmmakers in the world are using it as a launch platform? How can you compete with them?

What’s the alternative – to get myself crowdfunded as an individual? Use Selfstarter to create my own bespoke crowdfunding scheme? Or take my chances with the BFI and private investors with a half baked business plan?

I have a question for you – if I decided to take my chances with Kickstarter UK for a feature film, would you pay for it and what would you want to get in return? More money, a copy of the film on DVD, an invite to the premiere, or something else?

Kickstarter launches in the UK on 31st October. Thanks to Adrian Sevitz for the link to Jon Spira’s blog

Further reading:
Kickstarter in the UK
5 Projects that Kickstarter has helped get off the ground
Spare some change for a millionaire filmmaker, mate?
What if you could crowdfund a filmmaker, not a film?

8 Replies to “Why I haven’t used crowdfunding to pay for my next film… yet”

  1. I want to be have input into the script, the sound track, have a ALSO STARRING CIAN WEERESINGHE in the credits, be the DP and have rule on editing decisions and DVD box design. Also be able to make the shoot 300 days and move the location to the deepest Amazonian rainforest and have no catering just LSD.


    Take it or leave it.

    1. That’s a great offer! To be honest I wasn’t expecting such generosity so soon. I’ll start work straight away. £2.50 up front, £2.50 on completion.

  2. Will,

    You’re missing something here, which is the amount of publicity for your film a campaign can generate. If folks have put some real dosh in, they have also invested something emotionally. They will add to the word of mouth you will very much need after you have completed the movie.

    And I don’t think people really expect to get their money’s worth from the Rewards. They are symbolic.

    Will be interesting see how this works out in the UK.

    1. I sort of touched on the word of mouth thing in the article – but isn’t the main problem the sheer number of crowdfunding projects out there? It’s getting harder to make yourself stand apart from the rest.

      1. Granted. But that’s true of any pot of money you have to compete for. Word gets around. My point is that your funders, once you find them, will help you publicise the film once it’s made.

        Even better, they will take an interest in any future projects you may have, so you can build on the community you’ve created. The current Kickstarter model is just the beginning. It will develop and grow.

        1. Do you think we can keep going back to the pot though? Once your mate’s donated £20, are you going to go back and ask them for another £20 for the next one? It feels like a one shot deal to me…

  3. I really despise Kickstarter based on its premise alone. “I’ll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today”. No thanks Wimpy. How many instances can you think of aside from these crowd funds where you give your money today for the promise of something tomorrow? Any one in a creative industry knows that while money might help you start a project, it is by no means any guaranty that you will finish it. Why should I pay you in advance for a project I might not like in the end if you should finish it?

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