Balls of Steel: Crowdfunding Competition – Sink or Swim

I’m feeling a need to stick up for the little people today. I always root for the little guy. Hell, I am a little guy. Hence, this is why I love indie filmmakers. We have day jobs, work tirelessly to get our art noticed, and stick our tin cups out to crowdsource via Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, begging our family, friends and strangers to help us achieve our dream.

Who wouldn’t root for that? We’re underdogs.

Then came Veronica Mars and Zach Braff. This is the sound of me, heaving a weighted sigh.

Crowdfunding sites and indie filmmakers go hand-in-hand. They’re the little engines that could, fighting the giant studios and production companies with deep pockets… successfully, I may add. With money raised by the average Joe, films are launched, put into film festivals and careers are born.

crowdfunding competitionTo me, it’s synonymous with pioneers blazing a trail into a brave new world.

But what about those artists who have already been established in this new world?

To me, they’re akin to those people in first class on the Titanic, overhearing the fun Jack and Rose are having in the lower decks and wanting a piece of that thrill. They already have the expensive champagne and luxury cabins, but they want more options to enjoy their journey.

Everyone on that boat has the same goal – to get to America. Plus they’re all achieving it the same way – on a boat, albeit one that sinks. With a boat full of all of us just trying to survive, should one have more access to a life raft than another?

In real life, those with the means to buy the first class ticket were given access to the life rafts immediately, while the third class died in the belly of the ocean liner or clinging to wreckage in the icy water. If one already has access to safety, they shouldn’t be allowed to use the only dingy available to those who don’t.

To me, that’s what it feels like when celebrities use crowdfunding sources.

But this is the land of the free, the great country that is America. Why shouldn’t anyone be allowed to use crowdsourcing?

I don’t even know the answer myself. I can tell you honestly, my gut is to tell all those established players to find their own playground. But the other side of me appreciates they are artists as well and want the freedom to create their art without studios handcuffing them with rules and shoving them into a tightly-locked box.

I get that. I really do.

Perhaps what really nags at me is it doesn’t take balls of steel to crowdfund when you already know you have an audience so vast your goal will be accomplished in mere hours. However, that feeling may simply be the pounding of my own residual hangover from crowdfunding my short film, Impasse.

I think about myself and my friends who struggled for every single penny donated to us. Our Kickstarter campaign was not unlike when I was in labor with my children – exhausting and painful, ending in exhilaration.  I truly needed a community to help me bring my words to life. I had no other options. It wasn’t about my ego of not wanting studio’s rules to limit me. It was about survival – survival of my dream of becoming a produced writer.

I worry about the future of indie filmmakers if crowdfunding campaigns get oversaturated by already-accomplished and successful talent. As someone who has donated to many campaigns over the years, one of the very reasons I open my wallet is to help someone who may never be able to break into the industry otherwise.

Maybe that’s the deal breaker for me: If those established players are also creating an indie project that will help unknowns get discovered, I can wholeheartedly support their efforts. But if it’s simply about their ego of not wanting to deal with studio’s rules… funk that.

As an over-protective Sicilian mama, working as hard as the next guy to get my foot in the door, I might just be defensive. But I’d love to know what the rest of you think, especially if you’ve walked the walk and have experience crowdfunding.

Is there enough room in the life raft for all of us?

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3 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Crowdfunding Competition – Sink or Swim

  1. dpcrump

    Agree wholeheartedly with the viewpoint in this article. There’s something inherently unfair about celebrities like Zach Braff, Kristin Bell, Paul Schrader and Brett Easton Ellis trading on their fame to bring attention (and millions of dollars) to their projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, when thousands of others toil in anonymity to gather the tiniest bit of support for their campaigns. If there was a way for these people to shed (or even conceal) their celebrity identities, then that might help even the playing field — but this of course would be counterproductive to the whole fundraising objective.

    I’m sure if Steven Spielberg went on Kickstarter and said, “Please help fund my next movie because the studio is not letting me do it MY way” he’d have what he needed in a weekend. And no, Zach Braff is not Steven Spielberg, but this is a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line? Plus, what’s to prevent these people from taking the Kickstarter money they raise and then running back to that same studio that they just complained won’t give them the artistic freedom they need and saying, “Okay, I’ve got X amount of dollars now to help minimize your risk. Give me the rest of what I need and let’s work together.”

    Sorry, but there’s something fundamentally wrong about this.

    And oh yes, Kickstarter will tell you that the Braff and Bell campaigns drew huge numbers of new visitors to their site and that a good portion of those people went on to support other projects, but personally I have my doubts. Maybe these crowdfunding sites need to decide what they want to be and who they want to support. I always thought it should be the TRUE indies.

  2. OldeGrayWolf

    I never used crowdfunding, have never been produce (or even tried to be), and when I read about the two examples of established artists using crowfunding–and very successfully–I was a little freaked out. It really seems about as fair as those 4H horse events that sometimes pitted backyard home-trained-by-a-kid horses and riders against professionally trained mounts ridden by youngsters who also had benefit of professional riding instruction. I harbor no ill-will for the pros who use crowdfunding, but I hope there really IS enough for all of us. Now back to creating an energetic and viable Indiegogo campaign of my own for the first of our trilogy of quality dramas with wide demographic appeal.

  3. OldeGrayWolf

    Ah, this article touches a nerve, the nerve being my frayed one as I work on a crowdfunding campaign for a feature film. I’m a Little Guy, a newcomer, a rank rookie in the business. As I reviewed other campaigns, from the very tiny ones to the tens of thousands and up, I was startled to learn that the two large projects mentioned used crowdfunding. Uh…really, it scared me a bit. So now I’ve recovered and am back to creating the most energetic and viable campaign that I possibly can because I know the value of the project we’ve developed, the first of a trilogy of quality dramas that will appeal to a very wide demographic. So yes, I’d have to be honest and admit that I think it’s unfair for the established artists to ‘horn in’ on the little people’s turf. I wish them no ill; I do hope, however, that they’ll not drain the reservoir.