Crowdfunding won’t hurt you
At SpringBoard Media, the ever-thoughtfully provocative Brian Newman posits that Kickstarter and crowdfunding may have some unintended negative consequences.
I agree with the premise that film has been a privileged art throughout its short history and that “independent” film (the kind we crowdfund) has usually been the sport of people who didn’t need to actually work for a living.
However, the crowdfunding campaigns I’ve seen seem to have a more democratic flavour, relying more on a reputational economy than a strictly upper-middle-class paradigm. In general I think it’s good to call this out, but almost everything right now in the indie film world is affluent/white. Crowdfunding has potential to shift that dynamic. Plus, it is just way cheaper to realize a well-executed project now that has the chance to be seen by at least as many people as an old-school “independent film” was at a fraction of the cost. The old rules about film length and format can change when films don’t have to go through funds, festivals and distribution to be made and seen.
I have mixed feelings about subsidized arts. On the one hand, as a filmmaker, I could not realistically hire even a tiny crew without finding outside support. Ideally, that support would come from people who felt I could ultimately turn a profit, not an easy feat for documentaries, shorts or indie films. But what Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding platforms show is that people are willing to pay/donate for the potential of supporting an experience they will enjoy (and feel a sense of ownership of, even if they don’t receive stock or title). Feeling a direct connection to the work being made is the first step to greater power for the artist, as has happened in music.
I’m about to start crowdfunding for my documentary Acceleration and the idea that the project will be judged on the campaign’s merits does feel scary. On the other hand, from a distribution standpoint, I think the more information filmmakers have about the viability of their projects in the marketplace, the better off they are. Kickstarter does not work like a “popularity contest” in which projects are compared against each other. Projects are weighed against the passion of their own specific audience and fanbase, so a more obscure project can still be important to a fanatical if narrow group.