Crowdfunding – the new direction for independent film?

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Crowdfunding websites, such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter, have hit entertainment news in a big way in the last couple of months, due to some of the new projects which have turned to the online community in order to get funding. Crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon which allows individuals to pledge money to a project that they want to see made, in exchange for rewards which differ depending on the amount of money an individual donates.

Traditionally these websites have been used by smaller parties, like theatre or film groups to try and fund their own small projects. Internet group TeamStarkid, known for their previous Youtube musicals ‘A Very Potter Musical’ ‘Starship’ and ‘Holy Musical B@man’ used Kickstarter and corralled their internet fans to raise funds for their next project, ‘Twisted‘, while other groups have used it to fund webseries’, creative projects and lots more. But Kickstarter hasn’t recently made entertainment headlines because of these projects. No, this is due of the newest group to turn to crowdfunding – established actors and producers attempting to produce their own labours of love.

This all started in March when Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas took to Kickstarter in an attempt to partially fund and prove to Warner Bros. that there was a market for the long awaited – for fans at least – Veronica Mars movie. This project was fully funded on the first day and eventually reached well over their $2 million target, with fans pledging $5,702,153 to see the movie made. This opened the floodgates for other actors to start campaigns for their own projects.¬†Scrubs¬†actor Zach Braff raised $3,105,473 for his movie project Wish I Was Here, while Hollywood actor James Franco is currently attempting to raise $500,000 for a film to adapt his series of short stories (although this project has quite a long way to go, and not many days left). Two stars from Criminal Mindshave also started campaigns to try and fund their own projects – Kirsten Vangness’ film noir project Kill Me, Deadly has just reached its funding goal of $200,000, while Shemar Moore still has a lot of time left to raise his $500,000 goal for The Bounce Back.

The idea is simple: fans donate money in return for rewards, and the more money you donate, the better the reward you get. With these big movie projects the rewards are pretty impressive – the Veronica Mars Kickstarter offered a private screening of the movie, and a speaking role in the film as part of their rewards system.

The benefits for the project creators are obvious – the people behind the project will have more creative control if they are able to raise the money to fund the film, rather than having to turn to a large film corporation, who may mandate certain changes to a script, actors, or high profile crew members. This way creators can make the project that they intended to, and not face the whims of the studio executives as they mandate re-shoots because they don’t like something about the film. And as evidenced by the Veronica Mars project, it allows fans to express their demand for something to be taken to film, or continued, when a studio repeatedly refuses to. This all follows the cancellation of Veronica Mars in 2007 after three series, with Warner Bros. repeatedly refused attempts by Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell to get funding for a movie for the next five years. This puts power directly into the audience’s hands, as they dictate what they donate their money to.

But these projects all have wider implications. There have been questions about whether highly paid television and movie stars should be asking ordinary people to fund their own personal projects when they have access to their own fortunes as well as studio backing and investors. This seems like a valid question, and one which I think has to be applied on a case by case basis – is a project being made at the impetus of fans, against studio opposition, or is it just a star’s attempt to make money so that they don’t have to ask a studio for backing on a project which may ultimately fail?

I tend to see crowdfunding projects as a way for people to express an interest in a project before it has been made. People aren’t just giving money to the rich – they are paying in advance for the film, and for merchandise or experiences that the rewards offer. I can’t see this model changing the face of Hollywood forever, but rather creating an alternative route for indie projects to get their feet off the ground. At the end of the day, crowdfunding is never going to fund a real blockbuster, and I would never want it to. Having researched some of the projects that have been funded, or are attempting to be, I’m quite excited to see some of them. I see crowdfunding as a way for projects to be funded by fans of a star, or a show, that may have never been made otherwise. And while there may be some duds, I think there could be some cult classics, and gems in the mix as well.

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Studying for my PhD focusing on Eighteenth Century Pirate Literature. Writer 2011-2013, Culture Editor 2013-2014, Editor 2014-2015, Culture Exec 2015-2016, Writer 2016-2017. Longest serving Edgeling ever is a title I intend to hold forever.

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