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Is Crowdfunding the Future of Indie Film?



There’s a saying that if you don’t adapt, you die. While this is certainly true in nature, it is a philosophy that is also equally true in the business world. The entertainment industry is one that is notoriously competitive; something that is painfully evident by the fact that each generation seems to contain no more than a handful of so-called A-list actors. It is so competitive that, many talented thespians go years without being discovered – if they get discovered at all.

Rodney Dangerfield, everyone’s favorite self-deprecating comic, didn’t make it to the big time until he was 46 – and may not have gotten there had The Ed Sullivan Show not needed a last minute replacement for a cancelled act. Harrison Ford, the gruff actor that played the late Han Solo in George Lucas’ Disney’s Star Wars franchise, didn’t score his first big role until the age of 31.

The point is, because there are so many aspiring actors, directors, special effects makeup designers, and set builders, and so few movie studios (at this point, there are just three major studios who seem to enjoy a monopolistic grip on film production) it seems improbable that even a fraction of them have a snow ball’s chance of making their dreams come true.

For years, industry professionals trying to eke out a career had, at times, no other recourse but to take matters into their own hands, turning to or producing their own small independent projects. To their credit, they did spawn a sub-genre of moviedom that continues to exist to this day, and for many moviegoers, remains one of the purest forms of cinema. Indie film.

And suddenly, there’s crowdfunding. While it may not be the solution to everyone looking to get a piece of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, it certainly shows promise.

What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding allows anyone, anywhere to raise capital from the general public for a wide variety of purposes; everything from helping families that have lost everything to a horrible natural disaster to helping aspiring entrepreneurs bring their innovative ideas to life, to funding a film project.

At first glance, crowdfunding could be exactly what the indie film scene needs – a no strings attached source of funding – and is seemingly of equal benefit to the movie going public. Are you of the mind that Hollywood isn’t producing enough sci-fi films? Why not fund one yourself? Perhaps you can find one that’s been mired in the pre-production purgatory known as fund sourcing and chances are good that crowdfunding isn’t off the table. In a way, crowdfunding puts more power back into the hands of the consumer – the more people want to see a particular finished project, the greater likelihood that it will be funded.

And it’s not just those who are down on their luck or suffering their craft in anonymity that are turning to crowdfunding. In 2015, Oscar Award winning make-up effects artist Barney Burman took his latest project – which happened to be his directorial debut – to the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise the necessary capital for his passion project.

So what’s the catch? Is there a cautionary tale all potential backers should hear?

The answer, to put it simply, is that crowdfunding a project comes with no guarantees. Speak to anyone that has rolled the dice and they’ll likely tell you that they’ve had a great experience, but they are also just as likely to tell you the opposite. If you’re interested in backing a project, do so knowing that the project may never come to fruition.

In one extreme case, a team of fund seekers offering backers a 3D printer for a $300 pledge ended up taking legal actions against some of their backers for defamation. Without knowing the exact details of the case it’s difficult to say who is right and who is wrong, but what is known is that the company refused to deliver their product even once the promised date had long since passed.

Is crowdfunding a boon or a bust for the movie industry? To the perpetual optimist it absolutely is. One needs only look at Zach Braff’s Wish I was here (raised $3.1 million) to see the potential; the project went on to gross $5.4 million.

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