"Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted." — attributed to Albert Einstein
There is much talk about Social Return on Investment, which in a way works brilliantly in tandem with Documentary filmmaking which more often than not comes with a cause attached. Narrative Films have a harder standing here.
If you look at the history of crowd sourcing and funding you see that the platforms that pioneered before Kickstarter where mostly attractive to investors because they put a personal story and a face to their investments. But still: they were straight money investments. It’s easy to say: you give me $250 now and in 18 months I will return $300 to you: it’s a clean, clear-cut deal, no emotions involved, no room for interpretation. Only: we, as independent filmmakers, know that, but in the rarest cases, we cannot promise a principal plus interest in return on investment.
So we look elsewhere. When you crowd fund a project you engage backers on a totally different level, they do not only support you financially, they also provide encouragement, support, and public validation. Backing through crowd funding creates a stronger bond for better and for worse as the backer supports not only our work, but also you (or your team).
Let’s say our levels of support are:
- for $1 you get a thank you credit on the film’s website
- for $10 you get a thank you credit on the film’s website and in the film’s credit roll
- for $25 you get all of the above plus a DVD copy of the yet unreleased film and a poster
- for $250 you are now an associate producer of the film (and get all of the afore mentioned benefits)
- for $2,500 you get all of the above and a cameo in the film
As of level 2 you are heavily invested. Your name is now not only on the website (where it can be removed in a flash) – it’s now in the credits of the film and stays there for all eternity. It better be a brilliantly good film – otherwise your backers are going to be embarrassed to see their (potentially) good name associated with a project of dubious creativity (or worse: content). Choose your benefits carefully – give a backer the option of anonymity. Public acknowledgement might be more than backers bargained for.
The more your film is on message and is cause related the easier it will be to reach out and find people willing to back your film. In finding your audience and you might be surprised to find that your audience is not who you thought it was. One group might not like the slant on your message, another might not be ready to ‘hear’ your message, and support might come from a group you would have never thought of.
At the IFP week a filmmaker spoke about a documentary she had produced about a young marine coming back from Iraq. Naturally she thought that the marines would be her first audience. She invited them to a screening with a discussion after to find out how they could help support the film. The scene after the screening must have been very awkward. There were quick good-bye’s and the vaguest promises of support. The marines who saw the film where still on active duty; they were not ready to see the documentary, nor able to acknowledge what happens after deployment. The filmmaker later found great support for her message in the war veteran’s and mental health communities.
What I learned: the crowds don’t come to you – you need to find them, be it for a Kickstarter campaign or an outreach effort to show and share your film and ideas. It’s hard work and endless contacts made, but if you are passionate about your film (documentary or fiction) and you have a strong message you will get there (whatever your “there” is) and you will find alliances in the most unlikely places – mark my words.