Did you watch the Academy Awards last night because it’s fun or because you’re in the business, independently or otherwise, and you consider it part of your job to do so? Or do you not care at all about any of it?
Well, last night the Academy of Motion Picture Arts made “internet history” by awarding the first-ever Oscar to a documentary that was in part financed via crowd-funding. (In this case, through the Kickstarter website.)
‘Inocente‘ is the story of a 15-year-old homeless Californian girl who wants to become an artist, and it won the Best Documentary Short Oscar. The filmmakers raised $52,527 from 294 backers through Kickstarter in the summer.
Kickstarter recently stated that, since its 2009 launch, more than $102m has been pledged by users to independent film projects. Approximately 40 per cent of those funds went to documentaries like ‘Kings Point‘, also nominated in the Academy’s Documentary Short category. Live action short ‘Buzkashi Boys‘, set in Afghanistan, was also partially funded via Kickstarter, as well as three other films nominated in recent years.
Ardent Pictures has never financed a project via sites like Kickstarter or Indie GoGo; we’ve contributed though, and I think they’re a good use of net based social media, and a good way to, of course, raise funds.
But I do think it’s a shame that in the current version of news media, stories beget stories, and that on-line crowd-funding has received a lot of recent attention. Why? Because anything that goes through a surge of popular media coverage usually suffers a backlash in fairly short order. I’d hate to see these sites go the way of the dodo simply because they suddenly went in, then out, of fashion. Like this satirical piece by The Onion…
I’ve spent a lot of hours browsing IndieGoGo and Kickstarter and though I don’t have hard stats on this, it looks to me that they service important sectors in need of funds – namely various charities and arts. One of the most interesting facets of fundraising sites is that it opens up to the world, what used to be local grass-roots efforts. People have always “passed the hat around” to raise money locally for neighbours hard hit by natural disaster or tragedy, just as they have to send local talent to college or camp, or to build a museum or sports centre. So why not pass that hat the world over?
While I admit The Onion’s video made me laugh, it also made me wince. Picking on people with more ideas than money, whether they’re in the arts, education or activism, just seems like shooting fish in a barrel. The Onion isn’t satirizing crowd funding, it’s satirizing the people trying to do it. Point your barbs upwards; it’s always going to be funny if you’re sending arrows to Donald Trump or the Pope. They’re big, they can take it.
Those same arrows aimed at a lone individual working without support at whatever endeavour is just… cheap.
But in all the recent discussion of crowd funding, I never hear anyone mention its importance in an area other than finance: awareness building.
It may very well be necessary to raise $20,000 to $50,000 for your project, but what about just the public relations aspect? There are going to be people that learn about your project only because they’re regular browsers of your chosen crowd-funding site – and that’s people that didn’t know you or your project before.
Outside of pure community-minded charities, a contributor to your campaign can receive a “reward” copy of your work or product; that’s an audience member or consumer who was not previously familiar with your work.
My current smart phone cover was a crowd-funding campaign “perk” from its designers at a certain contribution level; Ardent partner Chris Comrie liked the design of their prototype and contributed to their campaign and gave it to me as a gift. I’m a world-class dropper / punter of my phone; I need something that can take a beating; something made of metal, rubber and Gorilla Glass. People admire and ask about my phone cover all the time; I tell them where to find it. That’s customers the fine folks at Lunatik never had before.
So if you’re an independent filmmaker considering crowd funding, remember that it’s not all about the money, despite “funding” being part of the term. Apart from investors or patrons, you’re picking up audience as kind of advance ticket-buyers. And remember too, that if someone is not a contributor today, if they like what they read and view, they may become a dedicated audience member in the future.
And in the future, there could be an Oscar. You’ll never know unless you try.