Why I Support Filmmakers Via Crowdfunding

Me_Paul Schrader A couple of weeks ago, I attended a screening of the Kickstarter funded film THE CANYONS, of which I was an active backer. It was held at a low-rent tourist trap that no self-respecting New Yorker would find him or herself dead in, yet, there I was. Afterwards, director Paul Schrader sat for a Q&A with the audience. Instead of going right to the audience for questions, he asked the most poignant question of all: why did you fund this film? An audience member shouted out, "You!" There it was. Simple and direct. An answer that got to core of what the campaign was about: the creators. People wanted to see another Paul Schrader film. Or a film written by Brett Easton Ellis. Or they wanted to see a Paul Schrader film written by Brett Easton Ellis.

After scrambling for foreign money and a series of false starts on a earlier project with Ellis that got canned, Schrader looked toward Kickstarter. The film’s self-referential criticism of the film industry ties into the campaign. Film is dead, long live film.

I've been following crowdfunding and its effects on the way we make films and the way we see them. Personally, I’ve backed six film projects. Three were successful (one completed, two are in various stages of production/post-production), two were unsuccessful and one is now in the middle of a campaign. Combining crowdfunding with new exhibition platforms like VOD and we’re in the middle of an exciting time for filmmakers. There are no more excuses for not getting your film made. Getting it seen? That’s an entirely different post for another day.

There are some who think crowdfunding is short-cutting it to the front of the line or some sort of scam. I think it’s an empowering tool to get your footing and get something out there. Crowdfunding isn’t film specific although there is a site dedicated exclusively to film projects called Seed & Spark. The other two big names are IndieGoGo and Kickstarter and there are others developing as I write this.

I’m toying with the idea of crowdfunding for a future project of mine and here are some thoughts/reasons why I think it’s a viable way to go as a filmmaker, an audience member or just a fan. And of course, there are caveats.

YOU DON'T NEED PERMISSION

So much of independent filmmaking is plodding through the treacherous minefield of financing. To get money, you need interest and approval from those entities who have money. Not all these entities understand how films are made and what goes into making them. Some do. Some are very educated. Usually both kinds of financiers have one thing in common; they want to have a say in how the film is made. As filmmakers, we all know this. By setting up a project on Kickstarter, for example, you are gathering up your network of people who believe in you enough to basically make your dream happen, unencumbered. The filmmaker can make the film he or she wants to make, interference free. When was the last time you saw that happen?

THIS ISN'T CHARITY

By supporting a filmmaker through crowdfunding you’re not just throwing money at a project and told to go away. You're kept in the loop about the progress of the film by way of updates and rewarded with DVDs, signed posters, screenings and walk-on roles. As a backer, you are part of the process.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

I love the fact that I’m getting a signed TAXI DRIVER screenplay but meeting Paul Schrader, one of my film heroes, and talking about his film, the film I helped finance, is just as nice.

By backing, you are enabling someone to hopefully get something worthwhile into the world. You are proactively voting to see their kind of films get made. Speaking for myself, I want more. I want more films that challenge me or don’t fit into the studio mold of what works. Dramas, comedies, B-movies, midnight movies, whatever. Not only is it a way to insure that, I’m potentially changing the course of the filmmaking experience. My hands are on the wheel and I’m steering the ship, even if it’s in some small way.

THE CELEBRITY THING

I mentioned why most people backed THE CANYONS. It was by a known director with a provocative body of work collaborating with a known writer with an equally provocative body of work. People wanted this film made. Spike Lee, Zach Braff and the creators of VERONICA MARS are just some names associated with getting new projects off the ground by way of crowdfunding. They’ve all received their fair share of criticism too. Some I agree with, some I don’t. One thing I think these names bring to crowdfunding is legitimacy and democracy. It can be a $1,000 film or it can be a $1.25 million dollar film. Crowdfunding is open to everyone.

Steven Soderbergh explains why he pledged $10,000 to Spike Lee’s Kickstarter campaign:

“For me, Spike Lee is one of those filmmakers. He is a totally unique figure in American cinema, and he’s always gone his own way and spoken his mind (even when the commercial stakes were high), qualities which are in short supply in the film business. ”

More from that letter here.

Crowdfunding is obviously not for every project.  I still want to see epic filmmaking from the masters with substantial budgets. For example, I don't know if Kickstarter is the place for Francis Ford Coppola to look if he wants to eventually make MEGALOPOLIS but a new David Lynch film? Yup, I'll chip in.

CAVEAT EMPTOR 

Just to be clear so that I’m not painting a picture of rainbows and puppy dogs, crowdfunding needs to be looked at carefully before jumping in. Some thoughts on that:

  • Making art is unpredictable. No one really knows how a film will turn out. You’re going on faith.
  • Do I think crowdfunding is going to cure the ills of the film industry? Absolutely not but I think it’s a doable alternative for a micro-budget filmmaker trying to be relevant in a time when the industry is in flux.
  • Know what you’re getting yourself into before you launch a campaign. It’s not as easy as just saying, “gimme” and then everyone pours money into your account. Research. There are a lot of resources online. Consultants too. Know your network of supporters and ask yourself honestly if you can leverage it into a viable budget.
  • If you're a new filmmaker, you're essentially building your future audience from the ground up starting here and now. If you've been around, you have a base. Either way, if the campaign isn't successfully funded, it's not making your life any easier. See Darci's Walk of Shame.
  • Be genuine. It’s a serious endeavor, asking someone to believe in you. Don't take it lightly. People work hard for their money at awful jobs all day and night. Make something that will excite them, move them, make them want more.


  • Like I said, I'm exploring this option for a future project so when I get to the other side I’m sure I’ll have some newly informed opinions about the process. Until then.