Scott Harris is an Edinburgh based documentary filmmaker who has taken part in SDI’s Bridging The Gap and Interdoc schemes. Last year he wrote two guest posts about the online release of his first film, Being Ginger, and he’s back with a case study about the crowdfunding campaign of his newest project, An American Ginger In Paris.
For the last year I’ve been planning to do a crowdfunding campaign for my second film. The biggest issue I had was trying to figure out a reasonable goal. Every campaign is different but I tried to talk to filmmakers who had raised $30,000 and $50,000 to see how big their mailing list was at the start, how much of their money came from that list, and how much came from people who were new to them. Unfortunately I found it difficult to get accurate information.
The only advice I got came from an Indiegogo presentation at Hot Docs where they suggested I figure out how much I could expect to raise from friends and family and set my goal at three times that number. But I had 2,500 people on my mailing list. I hoped I could get considerably more than that.
Last month I finished a Kickstarter campaign for my second film, An American Ginger In Paris (AAGIP), bringing in $15,788 towards a goal of $15k. I spent last week looking over the numbers to see where the money came from and thought it might interest a few others.Read more
“Staged financing must become the film business’s immediate goal.”
– Ted Hope, September 2013
Over a series of blog posts I’ve been looking at some challenges that film and documentary are dealing with online. In a conclusion to the series looking at what can be done, I explore the limits and opportunities around crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding’s lack of sophistication around risk
Much of investment is about dealing with risk. A backer of a project – be that an equity or debt investor who is hoping to see some kind of profit, or a crowdfunding supporter who wants to get their perks and see the finished film – has to predict risk. Normally, the closer a project goes from idea to release – from pitch to screen – the lower that risk gets; in other words, it's reducing all the time. To reflect this, in the majority of business investments, the first ‘angel' investors will normally put in the least and get the most equity, and as subsequent funding rounds continue, new investors put in greater amounts and get less relative share, but more value as the business is now worth more. As risk decreases, the cost of participation increases, just as there are far more ideas that get turned into scripts than scripts that get made into movies, or movies that get a theatrical release.
But crowdfunding, not technically an investment, is flat and treats all types of backer the same. At the start backers have to decide if a project looks viable and convincing, pay their money and hope for the best. It’s an investment of faith and confidence when 75% of all crowdfunded projects arrive late and a quarter over six months late (according to a July 2013 study). Some end up cancelled (examples here or here), which damages the whole space as they will doubtless put some people off backing a crowdfunding project again.
The problem is arguably even more of a challenge with flexible crowdfunding where projects can miss their target and end up raising far less than they need but still cash in. On Indiegogo, 80% of projects raise less than a quarter of their target, meaning often there isn't the money to deliver the project or to do it to the standard promised. This is a problem both for the creative, on whose shoulder the stress and reputation rests, and the backer, whose money is at stake. Meanwhile, the crowdfunding space depends on people having a good experience, backing a project and doing it again.
Yet the money is almost never all needed at the very start. For a lot of creative projects, some money is needed to pay some wages and overheads over the many months or years it will take on an ongoing basis – so it could trickle in. Indeed, the biggest cost might be towards the end during post-production or when 1,000 DVDs need to be pressed or a dozen DCPs created. By that time the risk is considerably lower – if a book is ready to print or a film fit to screen, there's less risk about delivery, while it’s easier to assess the quality at that stage.
Rolling with it
Is there space for a rolling or staged crowdfunding that drips money into the project throughout its creation? It seems to resonate with how Ted Hope (pictured) has been arguing the indie film world urgently needs to adopt staged investor financing to get more people investing in film.
It would support the kind of structure where, say, of 1,000 scripts or ideas that got funding, 200 would be supported to produce a budget, assemble a team and make a trailer/promo, 100 get shot, 50 get full post-production and packaging for delivery and 10 get extra marketing and distribution support. Investors at each stage would be taking a smaller risk and would be putting in larger sums of money – while the backer who’d taken a risk and made a good choice during at the initial idea stage could make a much bigger share of any profits.Read more
We launched the pay-it-forward concept with FUTURE MY LOVE at IDFA in Amsterdam a few months ago. This blog post about the thinking behind it was first published on the Huffington Post blog. We're republishing it here on the occasion of I AM BREATHING now also being available as pay-it-forward.
"To challenge economy is to challenge ourselves," says filmmaker Maja Borg. "It is far harder than complaining about the banking system." Maja's debut feature Future My Love tells a story of idealism and failure, looking at concepts for both our personal lives and society as whole. "Economy is a human relationship," states the film's tag line.
Contemplating the ideal of a world without money (or, respectively, a relationship without possessiveness), the film focuses on Jacque Fresco's ideas for an economic system in which goods, services and information would be freely available. Fresco's Venus Project (Wikipedia) and the related Zeitgeist Movement have hundreds of thousands followers worldwide. In charge of audience relations for Future My Love, I could possibly tap into a large existing community.
With a thought-provoking Scottish-Swedish co-production that has been critically acclaimed, toured international festivals for more than a year, and won a Green documentary award, what could possibly go wrong?Read more
Not before time, the new year started with some promising news about selling films online. For the first time, the annual decline in DVD and Blu-ray sales in the US has been outstripped by the growth in digital sales, rentals and subscriptions. Home entertainment rose 0.7% in 2013 (PDF source). $6.5bn – over a third of total consumer spending – came from digital rental, retail and subscriptions, with download-to-own rising a hefty 48% on 2012. The figures don’t even include subscriptions bundled with other services (like a cable company’s deal with Netflix) or advertising-supported VOD like Hulu or YouTube.
Of course, a chunk of this growth has been for television and traditional film, and the biggest beneficiaries continue to be the studios and large rights owners. For independents – as Scott Harris detailed in his frank description of the struggles self-distributing Being Ginger – digital distribution is typically a lot of work for limited gains. Why is this?Read more
Scott Harris came to Scotland four years ago to pursue an MFA at the Edinburgh College of Art. He previously specialized in short observational documentaries but is today releasing his first feature, a personal doc called Being Ginger. Rather than attempting to screen at film festivals or sell to a broadcaster, he is releasing the film for sale directly on his website.
When the Scottish Documentary Institute approached me to guest blog for them they suggested I might write about why I'm doing a direct release of my new documentary "rather than the festival game." The simple fact that they'd call it a game is a big part of why my film won't appear on the film festival circuit.
I should start by saying I'm not quite sure how I should present this. Which is to say that I am mindful of my tone. While I want to be accurate and honest, I don't want to sound bitter and angry, because I'm not. But I also don't want it to seem like this has been easy, because it's been anything but.
I'm a relatively young filmmaker, just 32 years old. I graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art two years ago with an MFA in Film. Being Ginger is my first feature. My graduation film was a 23-minute doc by the same name. It was about my experience as a redhead and my quest for love. If I may be allowed to say, it was charming, warm, and painfully honest. It screened twice, first at the college's degree show, then at a special industry screening, and both times it brought the house down. I had lofty expectations when I sent it to festivals, 35 in all, but I was nervous. Previously, I'd been very proud of my first year film only to see it rejected by every one of the 80 festivals I applied to. I privately told my friends that if the same thing happened this time I was done making films. I didn't see the point in trying to bang my head on the door hoping that someone would let me in. One friend, an industry professional who has been extremely successful with several short docs and was at both screenings, told me not to worry: "There is no way a film that gets that kind of reaction from an audience won't get picked up by some big festivals."
I sent it to most of the usual suspects, plus a few smaller festivals, and it was rejected by each and every one. A handful gave me feedback, and while I won't name names, some told me the film was just too long to program, which is fair (but they had all programmed longer shorts). Two others said there was no audience for a film about redheads.
"No audience for this"
While the film was still out to all these festivals I began to think that I had really only scratched the surface of the topic, and that I could go much deeper, so I decided to turn it into a feature. The original short would essentially become the first act, and I went on filming. I approached several broadcasters and numerous pitching forums but no one was interested. I tried not to take it personally, I was aware that there were an incredible amount of more experienced filmmakers out there, which makes it a very competitive market. Also, I have no problem admitting that for some people my film is just a hard sell. They don’t understand what it’s really about, and some people don’t want to give it a chance. You see it isn’t really a film about my hair at all, my hair is just a MacGuffin of sorts. The film is actually about something much more universal. It’s about being different and never feeling like you belong. It’s about not having any self-confidence. It’s about trying to get over the effects of bullying that went on long ago. Not red-hair bullying, which most non-redheads think is funny, but the kind of nightmarish stuff that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.
But if I say I’ve made a film about bullying I’m not going to reach the audience that I want. So I decided to approach the subject with humour. My natural audience is redheads, but my hope is that it will branch out from there...Read more
Ben Kempas, SDI's Producer of Marketing and Distribution (PMD), shares his Top Ten Tips on how to get the most out of Distrify, a key tool for "selling movies socially" across the web.
At the Scottish Documentary Institute, we've been using Distrify for over a year now as part of our Virtuous Circle initiative, testing it thoroughly and creating innovative connections with other tools.
First and foremost, it's important to understand that Distrify are not here to go out and sell your film for you. That's still your job. They're just providing you with one of the best tools to do so. Distrify is used by self-distributors and distributors alike, and its effectiveness is determined by the overall effort you're putting into a campaign around your film.
1. It's about engagement, not just sales
Start using Distrify for initial audience engagement while you have nothing to sell yet, as it will allow people to sign up for your email updates.
Make sure all your allies and outreach contacts will embed the Distrify player rather than a YouTube trailer. I find it debatable whether you really need a trailer on YouTube or Vimeo to begin with. These may reach more people – but they only allow for simple likes or comments. You won't ever be able to contact those people directly later on.
Launching Future My Love at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, we were pushing hard for everybody to embed our Distrify player, and it ended up being the most-watched of all EIFF trailers hosted by Distrify. Between the programme launch and the end of the festival, our player counted six times as many previews as the next best trailer.
2. Use the player to announce screenings
List your upcoming festival, cinema, or community screenings in the player. Not only will it draw attention to those events, more importantly, it will make potential audience members elsewhere want to know when they can see it where they are. The "I want to see this!" button is invaluable for gathering email signups.
3. Connect it to your database of followers
We tend to get more signups through a film's Distrify player embedded in various places than through a form on the respective website for that film. Make sure to export lists of your Distrify followers and import them into the general database you're using to reach out to your audience. It's absolutely crucial to have such a central place, as you can't rely on social media alone to gather your followers (remember how restricted and expensive it has become to actually reach all your Facebook fans).
In our case, the central platform is a NationBuilder community organising system. Upon import, we automatically tag people with the film they signed up for and any products they accessed. The file from Distrify will tell you who agreed to receiving email blasts and who didn't. It is paramount to respect these choices.
But don't just think about mass blasts. The more individual your emails are the better. For example, you could contact people just after they've seen your film on Distrify and ask them for their thoughts, and maybe to share their feedback on your website?
4. Connect it to automated DVD fulfilment
Distrify does not only sell streaming rentals (TVOD) or downloads-to-own (DTO). You can offer any product through their store, be it a DVD or merchandise such as posters or T-shirts. Up to now, this meant the order was processed by Distrify but it was up to you to fulfil it and send out that DVD in reasonable time.Read more
Although this headline may sound like it, this is not really a post about the independence debate in Scotland. It's more about what independent filmmakers can learn from politicians when it comes to nation-building.
I explained in my previous post about the Virtuous Circle why it's particularly important for documentary producers to take their audience with them across projects, rather than starting from scratch with every film.
In tech speak, we want a toolkit that combines Customer Relationship Management (i.e. your audience) with a Content Management System (i.e. your films, each on a dedicated website) – and fully integrates with event management, fundraising and social media.
It was during last year's election campaign of the pro-independence Scottish National Party that I first came across powerful software called NationBuilder, geared towards political use but flexible enough to be used for all sorts of campaigns, including outreach to those niche audiences of documentary films...Read more
It was 1997 in a Wired magazine when Nic Wistreich first read about "virtuous circles". In an article about the "New Rules for the New Economy", Kevin Kelly had come up with this law:
"In networks, we find self-reinforcing virtuous circles. Each additional member increases the network's value, which in turn attracts more members, which in turn increases value, and so on, in a spiral of benefits."
This is what Kelly's circles looked like at the time:
Yet it would take another 14 years for this concept to appear in documentary production.
Fast forward to 2011, and Nic Wistreich has become the tech consultant on an audience engagement project of the Scottish Documentary Institute, aptly named the Virtuous Circle. What is it all about?Read more
We’re trying to get a handle on audiences (let’s not use “the market”). Let me rephrase that:
How can we interest individuals in what we do, the documentaries we make and the questions we – or YOU – raise with them? How do we get people involved online and in person, and perhaps affect change? And how does this translate into a more sustainable business for filmmaking as a whole? That is what we want to be working on for the next 18 months thanks to funding from Creative Scotland.
Our colleagues in North America have been doing it as a matter of necessity. They have nurtured relationships with donors, individual giving and sponsorship for a long time. It’s tempting to focus only on how much money this might “bring” to a film. What is much more interesting is how “getting to know YOU” (one by one) can be an enlightening part of the whole process, deepening our understanding of the film and its need to exist in the world. Or, in other words, how and where do you want to meet your filmmaker?Read more