Crowd Financing: The Saviour Of Short Film?

Here’s an exploration of how young filmmakers are turning to the web to translate their concepts into capital, by means of a case study.

Lucy Tcherniak, a very talented friend of mine, has spent the last 18 months working on ‘Dominic’, her Psycho-Noir short film set in an English gentlemen’s club in the 1950s. How cool does that sound?!

The project is nearing completion, and word on the street is it’s going to be a corker. Judging by early imagery, I’m sure it’ll be a cult hit on the online video and awards scene.

A still from the short film 'Dominic' - release date TBC
A still from the short film 'Dominic' - release date TBC

However, the film hit a snag that prevents it reaching completion, thanks to a cock-up pertaining to securing music rights. Here’s a note from the film’s director on the piece of music in question:

The film has an entirely original score apart from a vital track which is played on the radio in the very first scene – Vera Lynn’s ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’. This was in the script from the beginning and sets the tone for the film. The £600 fee for the publishing rights for the track were originally in Partizan’s budget. Though unfortunately, because Partizan had to go way over budget during the shoot they can’t stump up any more cash for it now.

So, how does this director plan to solve the issue, release the movie, and see her name in lights? She’s turned the funding issue over to us: the crowd. Lucy has created a profile and project page on IndieGoGo, one of several very cool new crowd funding services that makes it easy to get support and feel good about giving it, this one seemingly focused on media production.

Alternative services include:

  • KickStarter –  currently the largest crowd funding service in the world, with renown from projects like Diaspora, voyURL and Eyewriter.
  • RocketHub – which crazily splits it’s site into ‘creatives’ and ‘fuelers’, which in my view makes it feel like less of a collaborative effort.
  • CatWalkGenius – invites visitors to “make history by investing in the first ever public-funded fashion collection” in return for profit and perks.
  • Profounder – which is the more overtly business-focused site, where entrepreneurship and managing your investors takes precedence.
  • Fans Next Door – a new site focused on the creative arts, with a wide mix of typically very small art and music projects.

So how do you make your project stand out? In Lucy’s case, she’s bundled her plea for funding along with her film’s plot and pre-release stills, followed by details of her problem:

Dominic is a man who lost everything the day the love of his life killed himself. Years on, he is so consumed with grief that he has become victim to his own dangerous imagination.

The track is Vera Lynn’s ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’, which plays on the radio during the suicide scene. The melancholy but hopeful lyrics of ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’ bring a wonderful dark irony to start of the film, as Will attempts to write his suicide note, then picks up the radio and climbs into the bath; Vera Lynn’s cheery tone fizzling into silence.

This high profile short film starring Daniel Caltagirone (The Pianist, The Beach) and produced by Partizan Films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) is in its final stages. The only thing left is to pay for publishing rights for the vital piece of music used in the first scene of the film.

Pretty compelling, no? But this alone isn’t going to open too many wallets (sorry Lucy!). What investors are really after is a return on investment: a share, a slice of the action, a reward, notoriety or plain old ego-massage.

The various perks for investing in the short film 'Dominic'

So IndieGoGo allows it’s hopefuls to offer sweeteners to the deal (image right). It was the promise of premiere tickets and a Limited Edition DVD that nudged me towards a $100 donation (that and the need for some fresh blog content 😉 ).

With all this give and take however, it does beg the question: what is IndieGoGo’s business model? Where is their slice of action?

I suspect services like these skim a percentage of total funding, so really what they’re after are for investees to use their services to attract big bids, meaning a greater profit for the facilitator. The other route to profit is to take on more small projects. The clever bit is that growth seems entirely driven by the entrepreneurship of it’s users: their traffic driving is done for them through friend-to-friend referrals and through the PR-ability of the projects they host.

These sites seem a perfect storm, where the investee, the investor, and the platform owner have their needs met. With such potential for mutual reward, I’d be interested to see whether these sites take on an eBay-like ecology, where mutual gain through the system becomes so commonplace that near-all smalltime entrepreneurship starts out as a project page online.

It’s certainly a trend in the film industry, where right now there are 5,319 listed film projects on IndieGoGo alone. I’ve seen some projects where for funding of, say, $10,000 you’ll be credited as an Executive Producer! This is a major shift in film production, reducing barriers to entry all the way down to the level of one’s own ability to self-promote.

For anyone interested in donating to this cause, here’s the link.
Maybe I’ll see you at the premiere.

Summary So Far

In summary, Mobile AR has many paths leading to it. It is this convergence of various paths that makes a true historical appraisal of this technology difficult to achieve. However, I have highlighted facets of its contributing technologies that assist in the developing picture of the implications that Mobile AR has in store. A hybridisation of a number of different technologies, Mobile AR embodies the most gainful properties of its three core technologies: This analyst sees Mobile AR as a logical progression from VR, but recognises its ideological rather than technological founding. The hardware basis of Mobile AR stems from current mobile telephony trends that exploit the growing capabilities of Smartphone devices. The VR philosophy and the mobile technology are fused through the Internet, the means for enabling context-based, live-updating content, and housing databases of developer-built and user-generated digital objects and elements, whilst connecting users across the world.

I have shown that where the interest in VR technologies dwindled due to its limited real-world applicability, Mobile Internet also lacks in comparison to Mobile AR and its massive scope for intuitive, immersive and realistic interpretations of digital information. Wearable AR computing shares VR’s weaknesses, despite keeping the user firmly grounded in physical reality. Mobile AR offers a solution that places the power of these complex systems into a mobile telephone: the ubiquitous technology of our generation. This new platform solves several problems at once, most importantly for AR developers and interested Blue-chip parties, market readiness. Developing for Mobile AR is simply the commercially sensible thing to do, since the related industries are already making the changes required for its mass-distribution.

Like most nascent technologies, AR’s success depends on its commercial viability and financial investment, thus most sensible commercial developers of AR technologies are working on projects for the entertainment and advertising industries, where their efforts can be rewarded quickly. These small-scale projects are often simple in concept, easily grasped and thus not easily forgotten. I claim here that the first Mobile AR releases will generate early interest in the technology and entertainment markets, with the effect that press reportage and word-of-mouth behaviour assist Mobile AR’s uptake. I must be careful with my claims here however, since there is no empirical evidence to suggest that this will occur for Mobile AR. Looking at the emergence of previous technologies, however, the Internet and mobile telephony grew rapidly and to massive commercial success thanks to some strong business models and advancements in their own supporting technologies. It is strongly hoped by developers like Gameware and T-Immersion that Mobile AR can enjoy this same rapid lift-off. Both technologies gained prominence once visible in the markets thanks to a market segment called early adopters. This important group gathers their information from specialist magazine sources and word of mouth. Mobile AR developers would do well to recognise the power of this group, perhaps by offering shareware versions of their AR software that encourage a form of viral transmission that exploit text messaging.

Gameware have an interesting technique for the dissemination of their HARVEE software. They share a business interest with a Bluetooth technology firm, which has donated a prototype product the Bluetooth Push Box, which scans for local mobile devices and automatically sends files to users in acceptance. Gameware’s Push Box sends their latest demo to all visitors to their Cambridge office. This same technology could be placed in public places or commercial spaces to offer localised AR advertising, interactive tourist information, or 3D restaurant menus, perhaps.

Gameware, through its Nokia projects and HARVEE development program is well placed to gain exposure on the back of a market which is set to explode as mobile offerings become commercially viable, ‘social’, powerful, multipurpose and newsworthy. Projects like HARVEE are especially interesting in terms of their wide applicability and mass-market appeal. It is its potential as a revolutionary new medium that inspires this very series.