Kickstarted: crowdfunding films

Attempting to garner funding for any project is extremely difficult if you happen to lack any kind of deal that certifies you as A Thing That Will Be Released. Publishers and studios are a solid foundation upon which to place your project, your hopes, and your dreams. But if you don’t have that, fear not: you have the public.

Now, wouldn't a Kickstarter cinema be cool?There used to be a peculiar disconnect between filmmakers and the public, however we now live in an era where the two groups can be intimately connected via the internet. It is now possible to bring your work directly to your audience, and side-step the rigmarole of having to seek out a studio that will fund your creative endeavour, by simply asking those who want to see the film made to backing the project financially. But five years ago, this was a risky and at best, a hard-to-organise process. Cue Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform – crowd-funding being a term that almost no one had heard of before Kickstarter arrived on the scene. There are similar sites in existence, but Kickstarter has become the go-to site for those seeking project funding. While it may be currently limited to those operating (at least partially) from the United States, it has become the one-stop-shop for those who want to pitch their project to the Dragons who are the internet-using public.

One of the most alluring aspects for potential investors are “backer rewards.” Donate ten dollars and get a copy of the film in question when it is released and your name in the credits. Donate a thousand and receive a producer’s credit, a pile of merchandise, and perhaps even a private screening attended by the director. The service offers a rising scale of collector’s editions for a market all too keen to invest in the experiences and extra finery that surrounds the media they love so much – it’s no surprise that Kickstarter has become so popular.

There have been significant success stories – many in fact, and a lot of them have involved funding for films. As Kickstarter itself reports, their funding platform has put 12 films at the Tribeca Film Festival, 17 at Sundance, and 33 at SXSW, all within the first half of 2012. The crowd-funding approach isn’t so much a method as a movement, and there are specific examples of films that would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the generosity allowed by Kickstarter’s enabling of a financial conversation solely between film-maker and film-goer.

Blue Like Jazz was a bestselling book, before it being presented to those who are in the business of making cinema. However, despite the apparently sound cast and good reviews of the adaptation, its release was put on indefinite hold. Funds were the key to getting it to an audience who would appreciate it. A request to the public to the tune of $125,000 was put up on Kickstarter, and within the set time limit, $345,992 was donated.

Electrick Children, a film about Mormonism, music and the discovery of a world beyond one’s own narrow upbringing, was similarly funded, but with a slightly different success story. Having aimed for $10,000 to make the film with their own Kickstarter pitch, the filmmakers were surprised when a producer found their project, donated $5,000, and offered $20,000 to come on as a producer.

As far as more recent and (arguably) more left-field projects go, a good example of a film that only crowdfunding could bring to the screen is Bronycon: The Documentary. Confused? It’s a film that follows a convention dedicated to adults who have a passionate interest in children’s (though this classification is debated) television programme My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This isn’t the sort of cinema you’d bear witness to at your local screens, and isn’t the sort of cinema championed by those in boardrooms. It sought $60,000, and received $322,022.

It should be, ideally, but it isn’t, and Kickstarter enables these bold and original filmmakers to expose worlds normally moving in different orbits to our own, and to tell us stories that studios do not deem commercially viable enough.  Kickstarter enables filmmakers to express themselves without worrying about how to garner either approval or money from their audience.

Now, if there was only a way to Kickstart a site that reviews these films – oh wait! Here we are already. Phew. That’s a relief, isn’t it?

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