It’s a funny old fish, crowd funding. And there’s been even more noise than ever about its viability as a funding model here on Shooting People over the past weeks. Yes – crowd funding has opened up the world of indie filmmaking to immeasurable possibilities, and yes – it puts the filmmakers in control. But the one thing that seems to be missing from this conversation is that running a crowd funding campaign is incredibly hard work. And – a couple of campaigns later – I’m a staunch believer that the most important part of this fund-yourself-golden-carrot is the crowd, not the funding.
A crowd funding campaign is a bit like a wedding cake; it’s all about layers, and if you leave it sitting in the freezer, it won’t get eaten. A successful campaign identifies and engages with its core audience, then moves out beyond it and eventually gathers enough speed of its own that it (you hope) becomes some sort of contagion. But the work that the filmmakers must do in order to get to that point is where the real bounty lies.
I saw an ad for I Give it a Year in the paper yesterday, it read “In cinemas now”. I hadn’t heard about the film before it was ready to be consumed – I didn’t know about how much money and time it took to make (probably for the best) or why I should have any reason to go and see it (which I haven’t). How far from the world of independent crowd funded filmmaking that phrase is I muttered to myself, ignoring the startled sidelong glances from my fellow bus passengers. It should be the anti-slogan for any filmmaker running a crowd funding campaign. For the crux of the matter is, in order to engage anyone and turn that engagement into contribution, you have to put yourself and your film out into the world before it’s shiny and cinema-ready, before even – in many cases – it’s a data file on your camera or a timeline in front of an editor.
We’re in the throes of our campaign for One For Ten, a series of interactive short docs telling the stories of innocent people who were on death row in the US. You can read all about us here, and about our distribution model here. We’ve built a strong coalition of charity partners who will be sharing the films and building campaigns around them. But if it wasn’t for the crowd funding campaign, we wouldn’t have been asking for their active support right now. We wouldn’t be writing articles and blogs for them. We wouldn’t be doing interviews with press, law students, or podcasters. We wouldn’t be emailing our existing supporters with such virulent frequency. We wouldn’t be researching every single relevant group, coalition or local mother’s meeting who care about the issue and making contact. We wouldn’t be spending sleepless nights thinking about how to raise awareness and who else this project could matter to.
And that’s the true beauty of it. We’re building an audience, nay a dedicated and passionate community who want to see these films before there’s a swanky poster or a quarter-page ad in a newspaper. Of course, we do need £30,000 to make the project possible. And we do need as many people as possible to contribute in order to make that happen. Without the funds, we can’t very well make the films. But the pressure of having to reach a target has forced us into being more thoughtful, effective and better social issue filmmakers because we’re having to stand outside of our safe creative places and truly engage with the individual people that we hope our films will affect. And this, for me, is hands down the pot at the end of the rainbow.