Wednesday, July 31, 2013

CrowdFunding... is it getting annoying yet?

So, it's been 4 years since Kickstarter....errr....started. The crowdfunding phenomenon isn't new, but it is new in this particular form. Come up with an idea, shoot a pitch video and upload...then just wait for the cash to roll in - or not.

Years ago, bands like Marillion asked their fans to fund their records and that worked really well. The fans got the records they wanted and the record companies were left to concentrate on what they do best... talentless shit for the masses! (I jest...a bit)

Film funding has always been a tough subject. There's the 'establishment' side of things where you apply for funding from the BFI, production companies and film studios... they say yes or no and if they say yes, you put up with the artistic constraints they will put upon you. On the plus side, you will make a movie that will get column inches and a chance at success unless you are really shit at your job. On the minus side, you will have to tow the line.. you will have to make changes and you will have to work to a schedule you might not like... it's called compromise.

The other route is private funding from outside the industry. Attracting investors isn't easy and they want their money back plus a decent sized profit on top. That's fine as long as you've got a decent shot at getting a release, but for a lot of film makers, that's an unknown quantity until the film is finished and the results can be scrutinised.

So where does crowdfunding fit in? A few years ago it was small projects...first time film makers usually trying to raise five or ten thousand dollars to get their passion project made. Then it all started taking off. Film makers started pitching for bigger and bigger budgets and some of the time, it worked. But at what cost? How does running a crowdfunding campaign affect your online profile? Firstly, it means repeatedly asking your online friends for money. We all know how embarrassing asking friends for money is. Imagine asking thirty times a day for a month - that's crowdfunding. Some online crowdfunding producers like to say 'i don't want friends supporting me...i want fans supporting me'. Well, that's cool, but if you think you can suddenly differentiate between friends and fans unless you're already a famous director, your 'fans' will soon get the arse with being put in the 'fan' bin.

Another issue is, does this really count as free money?  It's not an investment.. and because you're not a registered charity, it's not a donation either... it's a sale. They are buying something - usually a perk of somekind...a DVD, a signed picture etc. So that means it's taxable income. Are you declaring it? Because pasting it all over the internet might attract the attention of Mr Taxman. Suddenly you need to factor Tax into the equation.  Also, remember to do your maths. Don't promise DVDs and signed posters and T-Shirts etc, and then not have the cash left after the shoot to get them produced and shipped... it happens. I've invested in several projects that never followed through on promises.

So why do i find crowdfunding annoying? There's a few reasons and most of them are based around the idea that this is somehow morally superior to asking people to work for free or for deferred pay. I know a few directors who are very snobby about people like myself getting a crew to work for free... but really...what is the difference? I ask people if they are up for giving up some time to work on a project and if it goes to plan, they will get a cut of the profits. It's no different than asking a bunch of people for free money only to then use that money to hire a crew etc... it's just cutting out an un-neccessary step. It's also starting to smack of 'jobs for the boys' again.  Why use other people's money (that you never have to pay back) to hire people and buy kit? What's in it for them? They often don't realise what you are actually doing with their money... if they did, they might have a better plan.

I think true transparency is the way forward.  Crowdfunding campaigns should be made to describe exactly where the money is going and how the long the project is going to take to complete. There's way too much ambiguity with Crowdfunded projects. Deadlines drift and expectations are lowered as the funds get whittled away...  Just look at Spike Lee's KickStarter campaign. There's almost no mention of where the money will go or even what the film is about?!! It's a case of 'I'm famous, you can trust me..'  That brings me to my last point..  fame & crowdfunding.

Wheather it's Veronica Mars, Zach Braff or Spike Lee...or any of the soon-to-be-announced Kickstarter campaigns by famous people, the question has to be this: Why should people GIVE you the money? IF your idea is a sound business, you would easily find either industry or private investment and that's without even mentioning the fact that you have millions in the bank and could fund it yourself!

I've heard that they (the famous kickstarters) see this as a chance for their fans to invest in their work and be a part of it. Really? Bollocks. What do you think your fans were doing when they bought those cinema tickets? That's right...they were supporting you and getting involved... you've already got their money. But no, you want to keep THAT money safe and sound in your investment portfolio or property investments.

I do understand that crowdfunding gives fans the chance to get films made that otherwise would never see the light of day....and to some people, that's reason enough for it to be a good idea. My issue is that it takes the risk out of the production for the producers... and at the same time, skews crowdfunding platforms.. What began as a way for the little man to fund his movie will turn into an uneven playing field where established film makers will use their fame and PR clout to drive people to their campaigns ahead of the competition. And what about the studios, distributors and broadcasters? I bet they can't believe their luck! The audience are covering the production costs upfront!!??  Fantastic! Let's see what else we can make them pay for!

With all that said, i am not completely against crowdfunding. I do find it annoying and degrading (i've tried it in the past) but most of all, i worry how it's going to end.  What if Spike Lee's film gets made, comes out and is a massive success? Will the kickstarters feel good? A little bit cheated Spike got richer and they didn't? Who knows?  And what about after that... what if Zach Braff's film is a clears several million dollars in profit. Will he use that to fund the next one? Or go back to Kickstarter?

It's all food for thought people...


  1. Joe Gordon-Levitt had another idea - take a look at

  2. Interesting... always like a collaboration type thing where there's potential for everyone to earn. Little bit wary of the corporations backing it... but time well tell.

  3. Oh dear, and I have a project I was going to put up on Kickstarter!

    I've just had a very big argument with some people about some of the issues raised here. The problem people seem to have is that if something's a viable business - and I'm all about film being a viable business, which in the UK it too often isn't - then it should be possible to fund it through conventional means.

    For a start, this relies on the assumption that "conventional means" are just better somehow. Why that is, isn't clear to me. On top of that, one of the ways in which the largest features are funded is in fact through presales - and Kickstarter is, if you like, nothing more complicated than a presale.

    The other problem with the "conventional means" attitude is that the conventional means generally aren't available unless you are already a very successful producer. Not a couple of days ago someone from Canada told me that getting a loan to make a feature was just like getting a loan to buy a car. This may be true in Toronto but it certainly isn't true in London, where filmmaking really isn't seen as a potential business so much as a fringe artform. I know you've managed to get indie movies conventionally distributed in the UK and that's a major achievement; this is simply not an outlet that's open to most of us.

    And yes, all of that comes before you get to the artistic-freedom considerations.

    Sure, it's a bit of a windup when multimillionaire Braff turns up doing his "I'm a young independent filmmaker" schtick. He has approximately a million other options to fund his pet project. It also really makes me itch when you see people pitching their own idiosyncratic glory projects. But if people want to fund them, who the hell are we.

    And I do not agree with "deferred pay". You've had stuff distributed; you may be one of the people who've actually been able to make good on that deferment. But in the vast, blinding, overwhelming, huge majority of instances, deferred pay means no pay, and that's not a business.


  4. The reason i have no problem with deferred pay is that no one has to agree to it... those that don't i either pay upfront or i use someone else. Deferred pay on a movie that is just one of many that has no chance of distribution is one thing...but on a film that has a route to market, it is just that - deferred...and i never offer a straight deferred pay deal, i always offer points/percentages which can be worth more and keep paying long after the release. It's all about being honest. I know a lot of people who moan about not getting deferred pay yet, but it can take a while, often a couple of years before it filters through. No one is forcing people to work this way, it's just another option if crew/cast have time on their hands and would rather be productive than not.

    I don't have a problem with crowdfunding in all cases... like you say, it's a bit like pre-sales, which is an established route to finance. (although, obviously pre-sales generally refers to estimated sales to retail, not actual sales to end users) I think there might be issues if you find distro deals once crowdfunding is in place as you will no longer own the end product and the crowd funders might not want to wait over a year for their DVDs... but i'm sure there's a way to make it work.

    I think where deferred pay usually goes wrong is with good intentions but not enough reality checks going on. I've seen a lot of indie films get made with tight budgets and they've often had their sights on big distributors wading in and giving them a big advance or a huge opening DVD weekend to cover all their investors/deferred payments. It just doesn't work like that. No one pays advances (minimum guarantees) unless you're a name or making a sequel to a big DVD or maybe you've bagged a big star... it's just so rare it's not worth considering as part of your plan. Eventually, they sign a shit 10 year deal where all their revenue is eaten up by advertising and shipping costs... so they have nothing to pay people with. If a DVD doesn't sell well in it's opening week, it's a dead duck for all but the bargain bins/netflix/online distribution.

    I was told that putting my first film on YouTube in it's entirety for free was a bad move as no one would want to distribute it once it was on YouTube, but that's where it got picked up by a distributor which lead to getting finance for the 2nd film which has kept me rolling since then...

    I guess the upshot is, people are free to fund kickstarter projects if they want...and crew are free to work for deferred pay if they want... and ultimately, there are no rules (as long as the taxman is happy).

    Don't let me put you off Kickstarter... i'm just stirring debate... I gladly help spread the word on friend's campaigns..(as long as they don't have millions in the bank)