A year ago if you asked someone what crowdfunding was you would probably get a puzzled look. Today if you ask someone you will probably get asked to support their crowdfunding campaign. As I write this there are at least four campaigns I am supporting, if not with money (I am an unemployed screenwriter after all), by at least spreading the word. There have been four campaigns I have given money to in the past and I was very happy to support the filmmakers I gave to. There are a lot of success stories out there, but success breeds followers and now it seems like there is no end to the filmmakers and artists out there trying to get their projects funded in this manner. I wish them all the luck in the world, but I will never crowdfund and here’s why:
- Making films the way I ideally would like to is expensive. I am a firm believer in paying everyone that works on a project (except myself apparently) and making sure that people are hired to do specific jobs well. I want to have the tools to make the film the way we want with the schedule and locations we need rather than just taking what we can get. (plus I would prefer to never have to act as the caterer again) This may not make a movie good, but I have learned that it can greatly enhance the overall quality of the final product as well as your ability to eventually sell the film. You simply cannot raise that kind of money by crowdfunding. That is not to say that every film requires a big budget. There are filmmakers that can thrive in low to no budget scenarios and for them crowdfunding might be an ideal solution. I was happy to support Gary King’s campaign to make “How do You Write a Joe Schermann Song” and not only has he finished shooting the ambitious low-budget film, but based on his previous outings I have no doubt it will be a quality film. At this point though, I cannot envision any of our future projects getting made to our satisfaction on a budget that could be supported by crowdfunding.
- Successful crowdfunding is a lot of work. Make no mistake, if you want your campaign to succeed it will have to become a full time job for weeks and weeks. This money will not just drop into your hands from eager film fans in love with your project, it will come to you by people you connect with directly, engage with and win over. You will have to be creative and compelling far beyond the story you hope to film. I love what the “Tilt” team did to support their successful campaign. Julie Keck, Jessica King and Phil Holbrook have come up with all kinds of clever ideas to get people engaged in their yet-to-be-filmed thriller, the best being to create a virtual world inhabited by the film’s supporters, giving each their own character and back story in the fictional town where the film takes place. This was a wonderful idea that got them a lot of notice, but it also created a lot of additional work.
- I have a hard enough time choosing a film to watch, let alone what I would like to see get made. My Netflix DVD queue has over 80 films in it. My streaming queue has over 60. I have 50 hours of TV and films on my DVR. These are all things I would like to watch at some point. To add to that a queue of films that I would like to see get funded, get made and then hopefully watch is a little overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that most of the films I have given money to was because I liked the people behind the projects. I also liked the projects themselves or I would not have given money, but they would not have received the money if I did not have a connection with them on a personal level. I simply cannot sift through all the projects needing money to find one I would love to see get made on merits of the story alone, and that is unfortunate. My guess is this is the same for most people.
- I would be terrible at it. I have the wrong disposition to crowdfund. You have to stay positive the WHOLE campaign. You cannot get frustrated. You cannot guilt people into giving. I would crumble. I know it. At one point during Jerry’s Cavallaro’s campaign I sensed what I interpreted as despair and asked him about it. Jerry was not having much success getting the non-sequel to his smart and funny debut “Stuck Like Chuck” past a certain level of funding. My query to him did not come from a place of criticism, but from thinking I recognized a behavioral trap I would fall into. He may not have met his goal, but Jerry eventually learned a lot from the experience and even gained interest in the project from other channels. I think the tough reality of crowdfunding in this crowded climate is that most projects will not meet their goals. Personally, I would rather play to my talents and this type of solicitation is not one of them.
Guaranteed, one of the first questions I always get asked as a filmmaker is: “where did you get the money?” It is a fair question, and I hate answering it. The fact is movies require money to get made and to get seen. You can make them smarter and cheaper but you will spend money and getting that money has been the eternal quest. Crowdfunding provides one more option, but it is not easy money and in many cases it will be far from enough money to get your vision to the screen.