Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Jul. 16th
It can be easy, when you live on Internet Time, to forget just how new all this crowdfunding stuff really is. The oldest platforms—like Kiva—are barely a decade old, and the creative platforms are years younger than that.
Seed & Spark is one of the youngest of those, having turned three years old this past May. The site differentiated itself from Kickstarter and IndieGoGo primary by being laser focused on film and video. For instance, Seed & Spark functions as both a crowdfunding platform as a distributor of indie films. Which has given them the freedom to use tactics that other platforms don’t like in-kind donations.
That’s part of the formula for success that’s driving the campaign for the second season of Money & Violence, a web series that is breaking Seed & Spark’s fundraising records.
“About 45% of what we have received so far has been in kind donations,” said series mastermind Moise Verneau. “We appreciate all types of support. It’s not just financial.”
The success story shaping up around Money & Violence is about a lot more than playing with numbers. Before we get into that, you’re probably going to want to know more about the series.
Money & Violence tells a raw story about—well it’s right there in the title, isn’t it—set in Brooklyn, New York. The show itself is made by a kind of collective, Cloud9TV, which is led by Verneau, who play the character Rafe on the show. The show’s first season built up a strong following on Youtube with the first episode of the show having over a million views and the final episode holding on to well over half those numbers.
For a scripted YouTube show with episodes that last over 10 minutes a pop—the final installment clocks in at about an hour—that’s some serious audience retention. The Money & Violence crew brings the spirit of that New York City tradition—hip-hop collective—into the world new media filmmaking. It’s the kind of work that Seed & Spark was made for, according to founder and CEO Emily Best.
“The story behind Money & Violence – a bunch of friends who teach themselves filmmaking on YouTube in order to tell their story, which they didn’t feel like anyone else was doing – is at the heart of what we believe crowdfunding is for,” said Best.
The series isn’t just Verneau and his crew’s first foray into filmmaking, it’s also their first time crowdfunding.
“What surprised me the most during the campaign was the amount of work that was required in order to ensure that it is successful,” said Verneau. “It’s literally a 24 hour job for the entire course of the campaign. I didn’t know that it would require so much.”
While Verneau is learning what it takes to turn a crowdfunding campaign into a success, Seed & Spark is learning something about the limits of crowdfunding platforms.
“We’re learning that many of the communities who support them are underbanked. Many of them don’t have debit or credit cards,” said Best. “These are communities that are being left out of internet commerce. And through a web series they love, they’re learning about a whole culture of participation from which they are currently being excluded. We’re starting to look at all sorts of [financial-tech] solutions to help these communities. Not that we would build [it] – we want to get the right fin-tech folks thinking about these communities.”
That issue of fans being underbanked had repercussions for the campaign itself.
“That caused us to get off to a slow start at the beginning,” said Verneau, “but what we decided to do was to hold weekly meet & greet fundraising events to give our supporters not only a chance to meet us but for those without debit cards the opportunity to show their support in person.”
(Analytical Sidebar: it still boggles my mind that the crowdfunding platforms as a whole haven’t come up with tools that enable launch parties and the like yet. It feels like literal money being left on figurative tables. I’ve held this position for almost five years now.)
With over $68K pledged in cash (around $38K) and in-kind donations the show is on course to hit the required $80K to be “greenlit” on Seed & Spark. That $68K makes it the largest campaign on the platform every already. The previous record holder was for a theater refurbishment project in Dallas. For Best this record-breaking run is a big deal.
“We never wanted to build something that just made it easier for people already in Hollywood to make their work. We wanted to build something that could support and sustain artists who wouldn’t have the chance otherwise. If I could have invented the fantasy project that we could support – a community based project telling a story so appallingly under-represented anywhere else – this would be it. If we can figure out how to really continue to build tools for projects like Money & Violence, projects that intentionally pump money back into their own communities, that really care about who they are serving…that’s the dream.”
The Money & Violence Season Two campaign wraps up on July 25th, 2015.