I have some experience with crowdfunding films. The first time I did it was with a PayPal button on this website to fund Modern Prometheus way back in 2009. The most recent effort was our successful crowdfunding of Time Signature this June (2014). I’ve done it 4 times. Three of those times were successful. One was not. I’ve used Kickstarter twice and Seed&Spark once. With this experience under my belt, I have this to say about crowdfunding: I hate it, but I’m still probably going to do it again some day.
Before I get too negative let me start with one of the things I love about crowdfunding: the audience. I love being able to tap into people who have enjoyed something I’ve done (there are a couple of people out there) and want to participate in the next project or who just think what I’m doing might be of interest to them. Hearing people say “this sounds like a cool project and I’m looking forward to seeing it” is a wonderful experience. I’ll admit I’m not really an audience-focused filmmaker. I make what I want to make and I just hope that I can get it out in front of some people who will enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it. When I find those people (or they find me) it’s really a wonderful experience. I love crowdfunding as an audience building tool. It makes me engage better with people who may enjoy my work, which is something I otherwise have difficulty with.
Now, let us get to the point and why for all the positive, warm, fuzzy feelings I can get from crowdfunding, I can’t stand it. Crowdfunding is a full-time job in order to allow you to pursue another full-time job (making the film). I know it has to be a full-time job, because I tried to balance a campaign with regular work when crowdfunding for Meme and that really did not work out. You have to have a plan and you have to be implementing that plan and working every angle you can every day of your campaign. This I can do. This I have done. This I am happy to do. But when you get weeks into the campaign and you still have a considerable distance to your goal you begin to question every single thing. Not just the work you’ve been doing on the campaign but your worth as a filmmaker. When not even at 40% of your goal at halfway to your deadlineÂ you start to wonder if every decision you’ve made in your life has been the worst thing ever.
Then you see someone raise nearly $40,000 for potato salad in less than a week (yes, it is real. No, I won’t link it.). Let’s talk about this. The work for crowdfunding is hard. It is time consuming and rough on the ego. I can do it, though. I get stressed. I get irritable. I can be unpleasant to know when I’m doing it. Regardless of how tough it gets I’m still beating my head against that wall to make my way to my goal. Then, someone posts a crowdfunding campaign for potato salad with a $10 goal and raises thousands of times that. He raises multiple times myÂ own goal in just a handful of days. Then, everything seems pointless. Clearly people do not want my movie. They want some stranger to make potato salad.
Now, I’m not opposed to the guy raising money for potato salad. Good for him. I think it’s funny. What I am is irritated at the response that campaign received. There are legitimate projects on every crowdfunding platform where people are trying to raise necessary funds to create something less temporary than a potato salad. There are all sorts of projects but I will focus on film as I am a filmmaker. You might try and say that the people funding the potato salad wouldn’t be funding a film anyway and my response is: that’s the problem.
Many people online and offline like to say that they’re tired of the same old crap coming out of Hollywood year after year. Reboots, sequels, remakes, and adaptations dominate the market. I don’t particularly complain about this, because I know there is an alternative. Independent filmmakers are generating original ideas and creating original stories every single day and they are asking all of us to participate in that process every single day. They’re doing it through crowdfunding. They’re doing what I have done: working all day every day to scrape together just enough cash from a handful of interested people to barely pay to make their story a reality. The audience isn’t meeting them, though. The audience is funding potato salad.
In the end as much as people complain about the constant stream of just the same old crap from their entertainment sources, that’s really all they want. They will flock by the thousands to fund a project with a familiar name or face attached or just a joke about potato salad, but an original story that addresses that desire to see something new? Not a priority. They don’t really want that. They want potato salad. This is not to absolve the responsibility of myself or any other filmmaker in engaging the audience to get their interest. It is just to point out that one of the primary difficulties of crowdfunding is that we as filmmakers are in competition with the familiar and it is an uphill battle.
And this is what I hate about crowdfunding. I hate that it is both a great way to engage with my potential audience but that that potential audience is more interested in spending their money on something familiar or silly than on what they’ve been complaining that they want. Crowdfunding then becomes beholden to the same things restricting mainstream film funding (you can’t get it funded, if it is not already familiar) What’s the point of crowdfunding for the filmmakerÂ and the independence it can offer to produce original works, when the only way to really make it work is to just do something that has been done over and over. I hate crowdfunding because of what the crowd is funding, and yet I’ll probably be back at itÂ some day in the not too distant future, because I want to engage directly with that crowd again, because the ones that I find in the crowd who want to fund something different are wonderful and I love trying to fulfill that for them.