Crowdsourcing (also known as crowdfunding) is a relatively new term made popular by new media sites that draw on the collective and voluntary knowledge, expertise or support of their visitors or users. If you look up the term “crowdsourcing” via Google’s define function, only 4 definitions appear (“crowdfuning” only has one). Yet, crowdsourcing is increasingly gaining in popularity as a way to raise funds for documentary and series productions.
I have not used crowdsoursing myself but have been invited to donate through crowdsourcing sites such as Kickstarter.com , IndieGoGo.com and RocketHub.com. These sites allow producers to present their ideas and projects then set a monetary fundraising goal (such as $5,000 in completion funds for a documentary) and a time frame. If the target goal is not reached on some sites, the project does not receive the funds. Other sites give the project owner whatever funds are collected. Most sites charge a fee.
Visitors to the project fundraising site are able to donate however much they like and are often offered thank you gifts for certain donated amounts. For example, one project I saw offered the documentary soundtrack to anyone who donated at the $100 level.
I recently that the chance to ask some of my colleagues in the independent production business about their experiences raising money on crowdsourcing sites.
- Anne Mathide Cobern exceeded her $5000 kickstarter goal for her thesis film “Pretty All the Time.” Her film was winner of DC Shorts 2009 Script DC and a semi-finalist for the Carole Fielding award through the University Film and Video Association.
- Mary Ratcliff is a writer and director who used crowdsourced for her film “Catching Up.” You can find out more about Mary on her website.
- Ishu Krishna’s company is Citra Productions. She is currently crowdsourcing her film “Arrange to Settle.” Check out her kickstarter page here.
- Emmett Williams is an independent producer is using crowdsourcing to raise funds for a short documentary about people living with Multiple Sclerosis called “If You Can Dream.” Check out his IndieGoGo site here for more about the his documentary. Or visit his website.
Why did you choose to raise funds through a crowdsourcing site rather than ask family and friends?
Anne Mathilde Coburn: For me, it’s a mix. In many ways, I probably could have gotten cash straight up from family, which has accounted for a good bit of the total, but I like the artificial deadline of Kickstarter–it creates deadline pressure on the part of the donor and the person with the project, which (at least with me, my family and friends) is a real concern in an open-ended fundraising scenario. I would suggest making arrangements with large potential donors to hang back until the last minute in case you have difficulties reaching the end goal. Also, craft a personal letter to everyone you know that hopefully creates an emotional tie between you and your potential donors. The good thing about social media/Kickstarter/crowdsourcing et al, is that if your contacts are in wildly different cities (for me, they’re in New York, DC, and Cleveland), people like to come to a place where they can follow the progress of the film. A blog with a link to the Kickstarter page; the Kickstarter page itself; Twitter updates– all of these things take time, but create a deeper connection between you and your donors/friends.
I’m actually using Kickstarter right now for my thesis film, which is a short narrative piece. I’m trying to raise $5,000. We’re currently at $4,265 with 21 days to go. I should also mention, though, that I have been saving for my thesis film (for 8 months), and have gotten a couple of grants from my university in order to make this film as well.
How involved is the process?
Mary Ratliff: I raised $500 through Kickstarter and I fully believe I would have raised over $400 of that through direct donations without the campaign. If you want to get substantial results through Kickstarter you need to make fundraising almost a full time job with promotions and getting your link out there. Getting your project featured (on their site) is one of the best ways to actually get funding from strangers, which requires a lot links back and forth from your page to and from other websites, people tweeting, etc. You have to work really hard to build your own press because they don’t do any of that for you unless you are already really popular and successful. Also, I’ve been told repeatedly that projects with videos have much, much higher success rates.
Are there any fees involved?
Mary Ratliff: You have to account for the fees that you have to pay to both the crowdsourcing website and their payment processing system (IndieGoGo and Paypal, Kickstarter and Amazon). Depending on the size of the donation, they can run over 10%, but that’s the average.
What are some benefits to fundraising through crowdsourcing sites?
Ishu Krishna: I put up a paypal link for my previous project, and asked people to donate. I got some donations but not a lot. With Kickstarter, it gives me a kick in the butt to be more aggressive with fundraising, and it puts the urgency behind it. I have also had two people contact me through kickstarter to invest large amounts, and not just donate through kickstarter. I am currently in talks with them, and not sure if it will pan out. But it’s two people I am talking to that I didn’t know before.
What types of thank you gifts are you offering?
- For $1: You will be added to the IF YOU CAN DREAM email list to receive updates on the progress of the film throughout production.
- For $25: The above plus a DVD of the broadcast television version of the documentary and a Thank You in the film credits.
- For $100: The above plus the official “IF YOU CAN DREAM” t-shirt.
- For $250: The above plus the extended Directors Cut of the documentary available to film festivals.
- For $500: The above plus a Producers credit in the film.
- For $1000: The above plus you will play a role in the development of the film through special online screenings where your opinion of the Work In Progress will be sought.
For more information about crowdsource financing check out this blog post from FilmContact.com. It talks about some interesting crowdsourcing distribution concepts.
Find out more about grants and funding in the grants and funding category.
To purchase a download of the Funding Your Dream Documentary seminar, click here.