ALTERNATE ROUTES: Crowdfunding as Networking

Marty Lang is a screenwriter, filmmaker, journalist and educator. His feature writing/directing debut, RISING STAR, won Best Premiere at the 2012 Seattle True Independent Film Festival, and was acquired for worldwide distribution by Content Film in 2013. His producing credits include the 2016 Independent Spirit Award-nominated OUT OF MY HAND, and BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, starring Michael Madsen, Virginia Madsen and Daryl Hannah. Twitter: @marty_lang.

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If you’ve turned on a computer or mobile device in the last five years, you’re familiar with crowdfunding, where creators use the Internet and social media to find audiences and financial patrons for their creative projects. In the movie business, you’ve probably heard all about successful campaigns for Veronica Mars, Spike Lee, Don Cheadle, and others. Scores of micro-budget filmmakers have run successful campaigns as well, like Ryan Koo and the webseries Money and Violence.

But what if I told you crowdfunding can have benefits for you beyond money, for years after you do it? That it could help you get into film festivals, find places to stay while traveling, even find jobs in the industry? It’s all true. If you’re smart enough to connect with the folks who help you create your films, you can all help each other long after those films get out into the world.

When I directed my feature film Rising Star, our team ran a Kickstarter campaign for $15,000 before we went into production. And thanks to their tireless work and enthusiasm, we actually beat that goal—we raised $15,211 from 176 amazing backers. Throughout the campaign, though, I learned something—people who want to help you can do so in many ways other than money. We had local residents contacting us via Facebook, offering locations for us to film in for free. (We actually ended up using two of them in the film.) One woman was a professional violinist, and offered to play in the film for free. We even had a farmer offer us the use of his herd of goats! (We didn’t use it for Rising Star, but in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m trying to write something with goats in it.)

That help also continued long after we finished making the movie. We made sure to stay in contact with our backers throughout the process of making Rising Star, and through that process, we learned one of our backers was a producer and production manager from New Mexico. It just so happened he got a job production managing a film (ironically called Goats), which was filming in multiple states. And one of those states happened to be mine! He knew I’d worked in location management before, so he asked if I wanted to be a location scout for the film. I said yes immediately, and throughout their shoot, I actually got a promotion, eventually working as the Location Manager for the additional unit on the film. And it all came from him backing our little movie.

Now what if you don’t have a project you want to crowdfund? You can still get in on the fun—by backing someone else’s. There was a wonderful Kickstarter campaign called A Year WIthout Rent, where creator Lucas McNelly wanted to travel the United States for a year, working for free on other people’s independent films. I ended up backing his campaign, and helping him complete an insane rally on its last day, where he raised almost $8,000 of his $12,000 goal in the last 24 hours. Once Lucas reached his goal, he began traveling the country, and I was able to help him on his trip; he stayed at my house multiple times during his year, sometimes for over a week at a stretch. And in exchange for that, he spent a day with us during our focus group screening of Rising Star. He took video of us finishing our edit for the screening, and the event itself, giving us plenty of great PR. And he also helped us with our film festival strategy, too. Lucas worked with Seattle filmmaker Wonder Russell on her short film, and through Lucas, we all became friends. When Rising Star was finished, Wonder suggested I submit the film for the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, a festival she had worked with. I did, and the film got in! We world premiered the film there in 2012—partially thanks to a film project I backed on Kickstarter.

Crowdfunding can also help you become part of a professional network. When A Year Without Rent was happening, many of the filmmakers involved went on to work on bigger things—and since we were all helping each other out starting out, we all became friends. Two of the AYWR filmmakers I met, Vancouver’s Jen and Victoria Westcott, were crowdfunding their first feature film, Locked in a Garage Band, around the same time I was directing Rising Star. I backed them, and we became friends as they got their film out into the world. Now, the Westcott sisters are making an animated Christmas movie in Toronto, with an eight-figure budget! And since we all helped each other out when we started making movies, we’re all part of a team. Think of it as a film school that costs a whole lot less.

So how can you take advantage of all the benefits of crowdfunding? Check out the most popular portals—Seed&Spark, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo—and browse through the films crowdfunding there. If you find a project you connect with, or a filmmaker local to you, back them. Doesn’t have to be for a lot of money; even a few dollars can establish a connection. Then, talk with those filmmakers—find out what they want to do, see if there’s other ways you can help them, and find out what their ambitions are for later in their careers. That introduction could lead to all kinds of positive things. And if you’re ambitious enough to try and get a project made on your own, use crowdfunding as a way to connect with filmmakers and film lovers who want to be a part of something creative. That’s one thing so many people fail to realize about perks-based crowdfunding—the opportunity to be a part of a creative project is of great value to a lot of people who don’t often do so. You’re offering them a chance to join the team—that can be really exciting. There’s no telling how they might want to help.

Don’t make the mistake of looking at crowdfunding as nothing more than a money grab. If you use it right, you can find help for every phase of making your movies, colleagues that can rise with you in your careers—and a lot of like-minded new friends.

So go forth and patronize!

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