Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Crowd-Funding/Sourcing – Is this the new way to make your movie?

I was lucky enough to encounter Peter Broderick at the Producer’s Forum at the Durban Film Mart this past weekend. He was talking about crowd-funding/sourcing. Peter is President of Paradigm Consulting in the United States, which helps filmmakers and media companies develop strategies to maximize distribution, audience and revenues. He has been an advocate of the ultra-low budget feature film movement and is a passionate advocate of digital film making.

The following piece is put together from notes I made during his impressive presentation at the DFM.

Crowd-sourcing/funding is a concentric way to make money but it is vital that you think of your AUDIENCE before you start your funding campaign. Remember that you have to do everything you can, use every marketing tool in the book, to create AWARENESS of your project. Broderick quoted some examples of how to do this:

• One producer incorporated a number of educational grants into his funding campaign so that the charity aspect of his drive could be emphasised and used to generate goodwill.
• Another successful group put their trailer online and invited people to remix it.
• A woman who wanted to fund her around-the-world yacht trip offered different rewards for certain amounts of money. If people donated $10, she promised them a Polaroid photo taken along her journey. $50 earned them a coconut sent from one of her destinations, and so on.
• Jennifer Fox, who crowd-funded her very personal project called My Reincarnation, sent personal thank-you letters to every single person who donated funds, from the smallest amounts of money to the largest sums.
• Some producers offered Co-Producer Credits for a certain amount of Euros.

What is most important, however, is that the website you create to raise funds has to be FUN and encourage people to come back to the site. The more visitors you attract, the better your chances of raising funds. Don’t fall into the trap of making your website nothing more than a press-kit. NOTHING is more boring than the unchanging dynamic of a press-kit site. Broderick emphasised that it is imperative you keep the following in mind when creating your crowd-sourcing website:

• Fewer words, more PICTURES
• Rich VISUAL content relating to the movie
• Content must be constantly UPDATED – i.e. it must be dynamic
• Harness VIEWER’S INPUT in some way – people want to contribute
• Website must be PERSONAL and written in the first person
• A good VIDEO documenting the journey of the project is a must
• HUMOUR wins the day every time
• Utilize SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES to create awareness of your project

The filmmaker must give actual information about the project on the site. Remember, piracy isn’t your prime concern here but obscurity is. Broderick showed a video example from a Spanish project which raised its funds through crowd-sourcing. The project was called The Cosmonauts and used humour and youthful energy to introduce the genesis of the film to the future audience. He also quoted an example of Neil Gaiman’s The Price which used social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, especially utilizing the #BoingBoing hashtag to create awareness and to raise funds for production.

Broderick referred to a project created by self-confessed Finnish “nerds” who wanted to make a feature which was a spoof of Star Trek. They wrote a rough outline and put the rough draft online. This soon attracted a writer. They then asked for people to contribute special effects skills. In the end, 3000 people across 300 countries contributed to this project which resulted in a 108 minute feature called Star Wreck. 30% of all the images contributed to the film were donated by people around the world who were happy just to be associated with the project. They all received screen credit. The project cost 23 000 Euros in total. The makers of the film knew their audience. They appealed to a niche core audience of like-minded “nerds” such as themselves who would be delighted to contribute to a project they believed in. The final product is free to download but the makers of the film earned 20 times their original budget in revenue through DVD sales. Remarkably, even though everyone could download the film for nothing, people still wanted to own their own copies, especially if the film contained their names listed in the credits.

Another production which used crowd-sourcing successfully was an animation feature produced in Australia about global warming called Coalition of the Willing by Simon Robson. Twenty different companies produced different segments of the film which was made in thirty different sections. Even though each section has a different style, the film fits together as a cohesive whole.

Broderick emphasised that the best way to get people to support a project is if they contribute to the making of the project in some way. It allows them to feel part of something as large as a film.

Broderick spoke at length about host websites such as and both of which provide a platform to host crowd-sourcing/funding projects. Both sites set dates for budget targets to be reached. Kickstarter takes a certain percentage of the income as payment but IndieGoGo doesn’t.

Advice for a successful crowd-sourcing website:

• Write the website in the first person to build awareness of the film
• Create a vision for the website that may be bigger than the film
• The website must take on a life of its own
• Make things you can sell that relate to your film
• Create some sort of payback for visitors either through allowing them to download video streams or buy DVDs to related topics or even buy books on your site if they are of similar topics. (Broderick suggests you buy goods wholesale that you can sell retail on the website)
• Try to come up with give-aways or incentives to encourage donations
• Remember your objectives for the site are to build AWARENESS of the project and to RAISE MONEY. Bear this in mind at all times.

Broderick closed the seminar by referring to one of the first ever cases of crowd-sourcing. The first Oxford English Dictionary was a literary example of the crowd-sourcing. People came together from all walks of life to contribute words to this enormous literary work. It is almost certain that none of them was paid.

A good example of a positive website on Indiegogo is


Friday, July 08, 2011

Adventures of a Wannabe Lion King

On my first day home from half way across Africa (well it felt like it, though it was only Polokwane) after lecturing for the Wild Life Film Academy, I missed waking to the sound of a five-year old lion roaring in the bush next to my tent. You see, he’d roared outside the camp and in it, every hour, day and night all five days I was there.

This was unusual behaviour according to the game rangers. It had never happened before on any of my previous visits either. But the rangers told me that this particular lion had been thrown out of his pride recently by the dominant male. So the poor soul had been wandering across the reserve lamenting the fact that he was without a pride since I’d arrived. After the initial thrill of fear I felt when I woke up to the sound of a lion very near my canvas tent on the first night, I grew accustomed to his resonating groans. In fact, I eventually found them reassuring and, on two occasions, quite a spiritual experience.

For example, on the third morning of my all-day lectures, I showed my students White Lion, the film I’d co-written about a lion which is cast out from his pride. The sound of the lions roaring on film must have travelled out across the bush, as sound tends to do in these otherwise silent places. Suddenly Jagadesh, one of my students from India, told me to stop the DVD and to listen carefully. Just outside our lecture tent the lonely lion was roaring his heart out. We crept out onto the deck and peered into the bush. There was no visible sign of him. Reluctantly we continued to watch the footage. Within seconds of the lions on screen beginning to roar, our visitor outside joined in again. It was one of the most exceptional moments of my life, watching footage I’d written about a lion on screen with the sound of a real lion roaring in the bush outside at the same time. The students and I decided that he must have thought he was close to a new pride and wanted to join it. We were overwhelmed by the rarity of the moment.

On my last evening in camp, in spite of a sore neck, I decided to join the students on a game drive. After all, it’s not often I get the opportunity to go for a drive into the bushveld. The students told the ranger she had to find the lions for me after our incredible experience of watching them on the screen and hearing the lion’s roars outside in the ultimate version of surround sound.

We drove along for about half an hour until we came up to three male rhino on a plain. The ranger decided to drive really close to them. It was at this point I regretted taking the front seat (which I’d done to protect my neck a bit). The front seats of the Land Rover, you see, had no doors. As the ranger drove alongside the three walking lawnmowers shaped like tanks I kept seeing footage of the rhino attacks I'd shown my students in a documentary the day before. I noticed the ranger thought nothing of driving me broadside to the large grey mammals. I looked at my flimsy corduroy jacket which I’d draped across my knees. I wondered how much protection that would be from a charging rhino’s horn.

The fear I felt then was real, but that was nothing compared to our next encounter.
After driving around for another hour, we saw him. We’d been driving off-road through plains of windscreen-high yellow thatch grass when we heard him. Our lost boy. The ranger drove towards the sound. Suddenly we realised he was behind us in a thicket. So Deanna, our ranger, turned the vehicle around and there he was - right in front of us - the most beautiful five-year old male lion I've ever seen and my first sighting of a lion in the wild. He continued to walk towards us, not more than two meters away, grumbling and growling to himself. He looked me straight in the eyes as he passed. Once again, I was broadside to him. I’m embarrassed to admit that my initial reaction was sheer terror again. He passed within a metre of my unprotected legs. I'm glad I didn't have a camera as I would’ve dropped it in fright. If I'd stretched out my hand I would have touched him. Even Ashwika, one of my keenest students, stopped her incessant camera-clicking behind me. She froze, even though she was relatively safe in higher seats behind the solid steel sides of the Landy. Fortunately she continued to click again once he’d walked past. These are the photos. I might add that she did not have to use a zoom lens.

Once I'd recovered from the shock of being so close to an unhappy wild lion, I could appreciate his beauty. He lay down just a little away from us on the plain in the shadow of the mountain. Deanna turned the vehicle around and we parked a few metres away from him, watching him roar, yawn, grumble, roll over on his belly and feel a bit sorry for himself for over an hour. As his roars echoed majestically off the Waterberg mountains at sun set, I couldn't believe how privileged I was to be alive in that particular moment.

He stared right into my eyes a few times and I tried to send telepathic messages of love to this lonely lion. Silly, I know. I consoled myself with the knowledge that the alpha male in the pride he's been rejected from will soon be old and he'll be welcomed back home again. All good things come to those who wait.

I lecture for the Wildlife Film Academy at Entabeni Game Reserve. Students from around the world come for a one month course to make their own short wildlife film in that time.