Recent advances in technology have made it easier for anyone to make a movie. They've also made it easier for anyone to contribute to a film production. "Crowdfunding" is the new term for the way many projects -- film as well as other creative endeavors -- drum up the financial support they need to get started or finished.
Crowdfunded productions range from short films to features, and sometimes are unusual projects like a filmmaker wanting to restore or digitize one of their older films. Filmmaker Bill Plympton, well known for his animated shorts, raised nearly $20,000 earlier this year to restore a Windsor McCay film from 1921, The Flying House.
Most filmmakers seek crowdfunding for a specified portion of their film budget, such as pre-production research, travel to another country to shoot documentary footage or post-production costs. They set up a web page hosted by a crowdfunding site to ask for money, usually within a set time period -- say, $8,000 in 45 days. The web pages include details about the production and usually an accompanying short video. The videos range from trailers to outright pleas for money, from earnest to hilarious.
Zack Clark's narrative film White Reindeer recently exceeded its $33,500 fundraising goal on Kickstarter, due perhaps to this video that includes a twisted (and NSFW) holiday carol:
When you give money to a crowdfunding project, it's not an investment you'll get back if the movie is a smash hit. Think of it more as a donation to support a film you'd enjoy watching.
Most crowdfunded projects offer rewards to people who give money at different levels -- much like pledge drives on public radio and television. If you donate $5, you might get a thank-you postcard from the filmmakers. If you donate $50, you might get a DVD of the completed film. If you donate $500 ... well, that's where many filmmakers start getting really creative with their incentives. In addition, donations through some crowdfunding websites might be tax-deductible.
Three major websites host most American crowdfunding projects for film productions at this time, and they work in slightly different ways.
-- Kickstarter is probably the best-known website for crowdfunding projects, so much so that the website's name is starting to become a generic term for crowdfunding. You pledge a certain amount, but don't actually end up donating it unless the filmmakers meet their financial goal in the stated time period. If a project sets a goal of $5,000 but only gets $3,000 in pledges, you give (and they get) nothing.
-- IndieGoGo doesn't require project owners to meet their financial goal to receive the contributions. If a project sets a goal of $10,000 and only receives $8,000, those $8,000 in donations are still made to the project. When you give money to an IndieGoGo project, it's an instant contribution, not a pledge.
-- USA Projects is a crowdfunding website for artists, started less than a year ago by United States Artists, an organization that also promotes grants and fellowships. The crowdfunding projects must be approved by United States Artists before they are launched. Many of the projects have been sponsored or partially funded by other arts organizations. Donations to these projects are all tax-deductible. As with Kickstarter, you pledge funds and your donation is processed only if the goal is met.
Here are a few interesting crowdfunding projects currently seeking your help:
-- The Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50 -- Brooklyn photographer Hannah Jayanti is making her directorial debut with this documentary about the classic children's book written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. The film is already in production but needs more funds for interviews and post-production. Pledge rewards range from a thank-you on the film's website to -- if you pledge $750 -- a handmade plush doll of your favorite character from the book. The project has less than a month to go and has raised raised more than half of its $16,000 goal. (Kickstarter, ends Nov. 13)
-- Pit Stop -- Filmmaker Yen Tan (Ciao) is currently developing this narrative feature about two gay men in a small Texas town. Tan worked on his script as part of the Outfest Screenwriting Lab in 2009, and the project has already received a grant from the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund. Tan and his producers hope to start shooting next April, and the funds they raise will go toward principal photography costs. With less than a month to go, the project has raised more than $14K out of a goal of $22,000. Perks include thank-yous, posters and for $1,000, a walk-on role in the movie. (USA Projects, Nov. 14)
-- It's a Good Day to Die -- Actor/writers Gregor Collins and Andrea Shreeman have scripted a feature film about an elderly woman with terminal cancer who plans her own assisted suicide and demands that her bedroom become a re-creation of the Amazon rainforest. The filmmakers say that Cloris Leachman (who appears in their Kickstarter video) and Fairuza Balk are attached to the project. They have raised more than $4,000 with a goal of $15,000 for fund their start-up costs, including a website, line producer and casting director. Their rewards range from signed production photos to -- for $100 -- some of Leachman's homemade tortilla soup. Give $1K and they'll send you some swag from the set of the film. (Kickstarter, Nov. 12)
If you've got a crowdfunding project in progress, feel free to drop me a line with a link to your web page.