Films, finance and Facebook: Has Social Media helped the indie film?

No one wants to do anything for free, but everyone wants stuff for free.

That reality of the 21st century digital economy is creating a massive disruption to the finance models in place for independent filmmakers.

As traditional funds become increasingly difficult to obtain, more and more filmmakers are turning to crowdfunding.

Although many have been successful, others have found jumping on this particular bandwagon is not as easy as they initially hoped.

Of course, backers are out there, but instead of throwing all their eggs in one basket, they are tending to put a little bit of money into a number of projects, spreading the risk of getting nothing back.

All but the social media savvy are finding it hard to reach those potential backers, with many filmmakers finding that they need some sort of name for themselves first.

In the age of social media, with the entire world just a click away, are filmmakers falling into the abyss of the internet, or is it helping them find a potential audience they may not have reached without the likes of Facebook and Twitter?

The trials and tribulations of self-funding

Before crowdfunding, before public funding, most people would have to self-fund. If you wanted to make a film, it was the filmmakers’ responsibility to fund it and make the sacrifices to create their vision.

Of course, many would argue this should still be the case. Marketing strategist for IndieGoGo, John Trigonis argues that if someone isn’t willing to put their own money in first, they will have no hope of getting others to trust them with their money.

Warren B. Malone premiered his debut feature film Across The River at Manchester Film Festival this year. The film, funded on a micro-budget, was self-funded by Malone with only a small success from his crowdfunding campaign. The film follows the story of two ex-lovers trying to find their way across London during a tube strike, whilst also discussing the journey of their own relationship and how it changed.

Public funding and creative restrictions

Of course, if it appears that more money may be needed, there is always the option of public funding or co-producing.

Public funding allows certain bodies to invest an allotted amount of money each year in to film production and development which will in turn go back into the economy in terms of revenue, tourism and sales.

In 2013 almost 40,000 full-time equivalent jobs were created due to the film industry generating around £840 million of that year’s £21 billion spend by overseas tourists in the UK, according to the BFI report Economoic Contribution of the UK’s Film, High-End TV, Video Game and Animation Programming Sectors

This is a great option, but mainly for those who have already seen some success. However, there is no guarantee that a pitch will be successful and the process does risk hindering creativity for the sake of a bigger budget. Those in charge may find more risque or niche concepts harder to allocate funding for, as there is less guarantee that the money will be made back off the final project.

There are nine regional and national funding agencies in the UK that can be approached for funding.

The History of Crowdfunding

For everything from charity fundraising to buying equipment for a project, crowdfunding sites have changed the way many companies, and individuals, raise money for things they need or want to do.

Millennials may struggle to imagine life before it; having to really sell yourself, your credibility and your film face-to-face with very few visual aids.

The phenomena of crowdfunding has been around longer than the coined term, which is first recorded as being used in 2006. Its origins lie in word of mouth, but with the birth of the web came a faster way of reaching out to people without the barriers of distance or the need for prior personal contact.

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The main menu on the Foreign Correspondents website. This was one of the first major crowdfunded films.

Foreign Correspondents was the first major success story for crowdfunding. Producer Mark Tapio Kine created the website www.forcor.com to attract investors to help support the film in 1999, after his $40,000 in savings ran out.

In total the site raised $500,000 dollars and the film received massive acclaim.  With this came the birth of a tech-savvy bunch of filmmakers utilising the web to help them fund films.

From ArtistShare in 2003, to the more recent favourites of IndieGoGo (2008) and KickStarter (2009), numerous sites have been building themselves a reputation for helping filmmakers finance their dreams.

The strategy of Crowdfunding

It’s easy to argue as an outsider that there must be some kind of algorithm to make a successful campaign to fund a film. But is it that simple?

Without the help of personal charisma, some people may struggle to gain trust, whereas others may have a way with words that is easier displayed over a screen.

A lack of confidence in person, stumbling over words and seeming unsure will definitely harm the cause.

Trigonis states that although it is good to have the face-to-face charm, an online presence can be a massive help in this century.

“The best platforms to invest in are Facebook and Twitter, as well as Instagram if you really have a good following.” comments the marketing strategist.

Having a larger audience online has helped many filmmakers create films, as they are no longer using the same pools of donors. By using hashtags such as #supportindiefilm directors are able to find people who are interested in investing in films.

Using Facebook and Instagram to release photos from behind the scenes and create a more active and live interaction with backers also creates a better experience.

It makes the filmmaker seem more tech savvy and can be used as a tool to prove the money is going to the right places.

“Nowadays no one is funding, because everyone is crowdfunding, so it’s important to know what is trending, if psychological horrors are big, what is it about them that makes them big?”

“Investors want someone savvy, so making your campaign an experience is the best way to get those investors attracted.” – John Trigonis

The success of Crowdfunding

Successful crowd-funder Louis Holder agreed.

“I think the uniqueness is both in the campaign and also in the story of the film as well, so make sure the story of the film is unique. The more unique the more genre defying the better, because then you can make your campaign more genre defying and break those stereotypes of ‘let’s make a video and some perks with a stylised text’.”

Louis, a film student in London, has been making films through crowdfunding for years at different levels and in different roles. Currently, he is working on his first feature length film, One Night More. 

He continues, “I think we wanted it to be integral right from the get-go in publicizing people’s sharing of independent films because at the end of the day this is supporting it. People who donate are actively saying ‘I support indie film therefore this production should go ahead as a trademark of that.’”

“Crowdfunding is a very easy thing to get right, but also a very easy thing to get wrong.”

He reiterates it not just the film itself, but also looking after the cast and crew and shooting in certain locations. It’s easy to make a film on a small budget so long as you look after those involved.

Choosing the right platform matters too.

“I think although Kickstarter has a bit more publicity I think we’re now seeing IndieGoGo is a force to be reckoned with,” he said.

Kickstarter is all or nothing – you either hit the full target or you will not get any of the funds – whereas IndieGoGo allows you to obtain the funds even if it is not the full target amount, making it better for filmmakers.

In terms of advice for others, simplicity is key in that you make it personal and unique for the best return.

“Make the campaign as personal as possible. It’s absolutely key you want to relate to the person as much as possible, even chucking a mention that’ll help you develop a one-to-one relationship with that that can be great.”

The full interview can be found here.

Financing the future – What’s next for filmmakers?

In an economy as austere as the UK’s, crowdfunding may indeed be the only way to go for future filmmakers.

It might not work for everyone, but for many independent filmmakers it’s the first port of call in funding their dream. Showing some determination can make the difference between a massive success and a mediocre one.

If film makers cannot pitch their idea powerfully enough despite all the technical bells and whistles they will not earn the trust of potential backers and thus their crowdfunding efforts will fail.

With so many hopefuls clamouring to convince backers, the key to success is knowing how to stand out in that crowd. Being unique in your story, your campaign and your handling of the web will give you more chance of success.

There’s no simple answer to this. One filmmaker who replied to a Twitter query liked the idea in principle but found the reality tougher, summing it up as:

“Crowdfunding is not the problem. The tough part is selling it.”

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