Filmmaking is not an island. It’s usually very difficult, if not impossible, to make a film all by yourself, with so many moving parts to the filmmaking machine you need many hands to keep it running smoothly. This is true of the film crew itself, but it’s also true of the community that grows around a film or filmmaker.
In the past, fans of a film would indirectly fund the production. The film would be pitched to studio executives and if they thought it was a good enough idea, they’d pay the production costs. Once the film has been made, they’ll pay for promotion of the film and eventually hope to re-coup the cost of all this by selling the film to viewers. A new way of funding films is by going directly to the audience, cutting out the studios entirely while not having to waste money on promotion and advertising.
This new way of funding film projects has evolved through communities on the Internet, people from all over the world wanting to see something come to fruition, so they’re stumping up the cash, then waiting for the film when it’s done.
The poster child of this type of funding is through a service called Kickstarter. If you’ve not heard of Kickstarter, seriously? Have you been living in a cave on the moon? Anyway, the idea is that people pitch their idea to the Kickstarter community, offering rewards based on how much you pay towards the project. If the project raises the funds that it set out to by the end of the campaign, they get the money. If not, they don’t. There have been countless examples of filmmakers successfully using this service, so I’ll just focus on two.
Freddiew is a YouTube channel created by Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch, where they make entertaining micro films, usually less than 5 minutes, centring around gaming, guns and visual effects.
Each of their videos tends to get several million views after being online for a couple of days. This is mainly because they’ve built up a community of fans through releasing consistently high quality videos at a regular interval, usually weekly, while sticking to the same theme of gaming, guns and VFX. People like what they do, they know what to expect from them and they know roughly when they’ll be getting it. When they wanted to start up their web series, Video Game High School, they led their fans to their Kickstarter page and had raised the $75,000 they wanted within one day. By the end of the campaign, they’d raised four times what they were originally asking for. Power to the people.
Ryan Koo is the founder of film blogging website nofilmschool, where he writes articles aimed at the indie filmmaker. He’s been running the nofilmschool website since 2005 and has built up a fairly decent following, through releasing well informed and useful articles on a regular basis. When he decided to fund his Manchild film through Kickstarter, again, he led his existing community from the nofilmschool website to his Kickstarter page, but this was a bit more of an uphill struggle than Freddie W, only getting the full funding for the film on the last day. He details all the steps of the campaign in great detail here.
These are examples of how a community, built around some filmmakers, have banded together to help fund projects that they want to see made. Kickstarter is great for this, but it’s not the only pony in the stable.
A unique example of community funding is project Mango. The Blender Foundation, a non-profit public benefit corporation, makes piece of open source 3D software called Blender. Every now and then, the Blender Foundation produces what it calls an Open Movie. The primary goal of the film is to develop new features for Blender by putting the software through its paces in a production environment. It’s also an opportunity for the Blender Foundation to share a completely open production, blogging about as many aspects of it as possible during the production, then offering all the assets for download after the film has been completed.
Above: Blenders previous open movie, Sintel
With Blender being open source, the Blender Foundation isn’t exactly rolling around in copious amounts of money to fund such things itself, so it turns to the Blender community to help out. The software is released for free, constantly updated and improved upon and there is no pressure whatsoever to pay anything to the developers, but, because of the community spirit, the open movies always get the funding that they need.
The open films obviously aren’t a one way street. The Blender Foundation gets the funds it needs to further develop its software and make a film showcasing its features, while the community gets improved software, tutorials on how new features can be used and they get to have a copy of the finished film that they helped into existence. Everybody wins.
I’m a backer of each of these projects and I must say that I get a great sense of pride watching them come to fruition. Freddie W’s Video Game High School just released the final episode of their web series, with signs towards another series in the pipeline. Koo is still bashing out a script for his Manchild film, but I’ll be sure to follow the progress of the film on his nofilmschool blog when he starts production. Project mango is currently in post-production, having shot all the footage, they’re currently adding exciting new software features and beefing up existing ones so they can meet their release deadline. Exciting times.
In all these cases, varying as they are, they have the common strand of having a community backing them. It takes time to build up such a community, along with the dedication and hard work needed to gain their trust. Filmmakers taking on this journey of building an audience to support their films need to start wearing a marketing hat, as well as the hats of their trade. It’s a whole heap of work, but ultimately worth the effort.
The mannequin featured in the images was modelled and rigged by Sebastian Lague and can be download here