Sundance Preview: It’s Getting Crowd(fund)ed In Here

on Friday, Jan. 18th

To the surprise of absolutely no one, crowdfunding has become a major part of the scene in Park City. Last year, the Kickstarter party filled a rather large venue to capacity almost instantly, forcing them to turn away hundreds of people at the door. And, oh yeah, a bunch of films made noise in the festivals themselves, including Keith Miller’s Welcome to Pine Hill, which won the Grand Jury Award at Slamdance.

This year is no different. The Park City landscape is littered with films, and I’ll be there to sort as much of it out for you as I can. But first, we sent out a survey to a number of filmmakers about their campaigns. Think of it as a preview of coming attractions. Some got back to us. Some didn’t. Some we’re hoping to catch up with on the ground. We culled some of the best bits for this piece.

But if you’re going to Park City or you’re staying home and watching from afar, here’s a few films to keep an eye on, made possible (as they say on PBS) by people like you.

I asked four questions of each filmmaker:

1. What part of your film did you crowdfund? And why did you decide to go with crowdfunding?

2. Can you take us behind the scenes of your campaign? What was it like when you were running it?

3. What, if anything, would you do differently? 

4. What advice would you give someone that you wish you’d gotten before you started?

Here’s a cross section of the responses, the films are listed in alphabetical order.

Best Friends Forever (Brea Grant)

Combine two girls, a ’76 AMC Pacer, the open road, and an impending nuclear apocalypse, then you get BEST FRIENDS FOREVER.

We covered Best Friends Forever in the inaugural Crowdfunding 201 post, and I actually worked on this film as the Best Boy Electric, so it’s natural that we’d get a strong response. Three people actually replied to our survey: writer/director/producer/star Brea Grant, writer/producer/star Vera Miao, and producer Stacey Storey.

What part of your film did you crowdfund? And why did you decide to go with crowdfunding? 

Grant: We funded the majority of the post-production of our film – so editing, color correction, post-sound, etc. When we shot Best Friends Forever, we knew we didn’t have enough money for post. So when we wrapped, we started scrambling trying to find more traditional avenues of funding like selling our overseas rights or pairing up with a post-house who would cut us a huge discount. After a few months of trying that, we were pretty frustrated. We had always thought of Kickstarter as a potential back up plan and started thinking of it as a way to gain fans before we actually finished the movie. 

Miao: We did talk to a couple of potential investors who might have come in with money, but would have taken a level of creative control and ownership that we didn’t feel comfortable with. So Kickstarter, in exchange for all that work (and it’s a lot), gave us the freedom to finish the movie how we wanted to.

Key Stats:
Raised: $81,797 (goal of $75,000) from March 20th through April 24th of 2012.
Backers: 939 ($87.11 per backer)
“Likes”: 1,388 (ratio of 1.48; $58.93 per like)
Updates: 58

Best Friends Forever plays in competition at Slamdance, where it’ll make its World Premiere on January 19th at 5:30pm.

The Cub (Riley Stearns)

Wolves make the best parents. This is a short about that fact.

Can you take us behind the scenes of your campaign? What was it like when you were running it?

Stearns: Our campaign was actually fairly laid back. We set the bar fairly low in comparison to other shorts I’d seen on the site so after a few tweets about it over the course of a few days it was quite apparent that we were going to make our goal. Surprisingly, more than 90% of our donations were from complete strangers. I think the dumb pitch video we made stood out to some people. I had the idea to set it up like we had just done this typical Kickstarter video but because we didn’t press record it ended up recording us talking about what worked and what didn’t with the take. I actually received a message with a donation from a guy who said the only reason he donated was because the video made him laugh. That felt nice.

Key Stats:
Raised: $5,045 (goal of $3,000) from March 2nd through April 1st of 2012.
Backers: 70 ($72.07 per backer)
“Likes”: 12 (ratio of 0.17; $420.42 per like)
Updates: 9

The Cub plays in the shorts competition at Sundance, where it premieres on January 20th (playing with Hell Baby, which apparently has Keegan Michael Key from Key & Peele in it).

K.I.T. (Michelle Morgan)

Frustrated by the flakiness of Los Angeles, a neurotic young woman eschews cliche and actually makes an effort to keep in touch.

What, if anything, would you do differently?

Morgan: I feel pretty good about how things turned out for us. We raised our money and made our little film. I guess I could have been more ambitious and tried to raise more, but I didn’t want to seem greedy. It bugs me when people meet their goal and then urge you to keep giving them money. I was grateful we got what we got and relieved that it was finally over!

Key Stats:
Raised: $5,032 (goal of $5,000) from April 12th through June 10th of 2012.
Backers: 37 ($136.00 per backer)
“Likes”: 77 (ratio of 2.08; $65.35 per like)
Updates: 1

K.I.T. plays in the shorts competition at Sundance, where it’ll play in Shorts Program 1.

Newlyweeds (Shaka King)

A love triangle between a repo man, his globetrotting girlfriend, and Marijuana.

Can you take us behind the scenes of your campaign? What was it like when you were running it?

King: It’s been a pretty crazy time because the response was so immediate and overwhelming…I think we reached our goal in 3 or 4 days. My intention was to thank every backer personally but then I remembered I had a movie to finish. So I’ve had to step back from the campaign a bit as we attempt to make the Sundance deadline.

Key Stats (campaign is still going):
Raised: $12,306 (goal of $10,000) from January 3rd through January 17th of 2013.
Backers: 272 ($45.24 per backer)
“Likes”: 1,457 (ratio of 5.36; $8.45 per like)
Updates: 2

Newlyweeds plays in the NEXT program at Sundance. It’ll premiere on January 18th.

This is Martin Bonner (Chad Hartigan)

A film about two men at opposite ends of the social spectrum, starting new lives in the same town and forming an unlikely friendship.

What, if anything, would you do differently?

Hartigan: I did two Kickstarters for one film and the second one went much, much smoother. Partly because I knew how to approach people better, partly because we were asking for less money and partly because I think people are more apt to a project that is almost finished and they can see clips or other tangible items from its existence. I don’t think I would do anything differently if I had to do another one, although I hope to God I never do because I’m pretty sure my friends are over me asking them for money.

Key Stats (There are 2 campaigns):
Raised: $11,525 (goal of $10,000) from June 12th through August 14th of 2011. Second campaign raised $6,001 (goal of $4,500) from July 27th through August 25th of 2012.
Backers: 268 ($43.00 per backer) // 108 ($55.56 per backer)
“Likes”: 558 (ratio of 2.08; $20.65 per like) // 188 (ratio of 1.74; $31.92 per like)
Updates: 10 // 4

This is Martin Bonner plays in the NEXT program at Sundance. It premieres on January 20th.

In reading the full transcripts, what strikes me time and time again is how cognizant these filmmakers are of just how much more is involved in crowdfunding. It’s easy to assume that a quality project isn’t that hard to raise money for because cream rises to the top, right? Well, no, it doesn’t. Hard work rises to the top. Persistence rises to the top. These are, by at least one measure, quality projects, worthy of your support. And for the most part, they worked incredibly hard to get funded, harder than any of them expected.

And now, they stand on the cusp of realizing that potential. Actually, I think this says it best:

Park City, here we come.

Lucas McNelly is the filmmaker behind A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. He consults on Kickstarter campaigns for a living. He hasn’t lived anywhere in a long time.


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