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.
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
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?