Kickstarting for Theatrical Distribution: Pro’s & Con’s

by Sara Kiener

One day we’ll say “I remember the film industry before crowdfudning existed,” and newcomers will drop their jaws in disbelief. Kickstarter has made a quick and lasting impression on the industry, opening doors for filmmakers who have reached the end of their fundraising and grant writing ropes. Countless movies have been made that wouldn’t have been made without Kickstarter - many of which have left a significant mark in the festival circuit, in theaters and in our homes. One of the more recent trends that I’m intrigued by is the bevy of films Kickstarting to raise funds for theatrical distribution. Urbanized, My Reincarnation, Tchoupitoulas, Detropia and, more recently, Taiwan Oyster, Starlet and The Waiting Room (the latter 3 are currently active) have been green-lighting their own theatrical releases. With their success, I'm sure many more filmmakers will follow suit in the coming months.
Whether you’re raising funds for a portion of your budget or you're trying to get your movie seen on the big screen following a robust festival reception, here are some factors to consider before you launch:Kickstarting to MAKE a movie:

  • Pro's
    • The obvious pro here is that you get money to make your film.
    • You also get to connect with your audience before your film even exists.
    • If you run a tremendously successful campaign, you’ll be noticed by festival programmers, producers, talent and distribution companies.
    • Through the process of your campaigning, you get to weed out you “good” outreach ideas from your “bad” outreach ideas, and you can use this data to inform your outreach and marketing efforts later on in your films’ release. Crowdsourcing is your chance to try anything and everything, and learn how to connect and engage with your audience so come screening time, you’ll have a slew of email addresses and Facebook fans to tell about your exciting news, in a tried and true engaging way.

  • Con’s
    • You HAVE to connect with your audience BEFORE your film exists. You have nothing (or very little) to show to your fans. If you do get backers, it’ll be months and months before you can show them a completed project and, by then, they may have lost interest in your project.
    • If you run a mediocre or not very successful campaign, you won’t be noticed by festival programmers, producers, talent and distribution companies. If they do stumble upon your less-than-awesome campaign, you may look disorganized or as if there is no built-in audience for your project down the line.
    • If and when the time comes that you need more money to finish your film/distribute your film/travel with your film/create key art for your film and so on, you may have already tapped out all your favors and asks via Kickstarter.

Kickstarting to DISTRIBUTE a movie:

  • Pro’s
    • The obvious pro here is that you get money to distribute your film and hold on to your theatrical rights.
    • You also get to connect with your fans RIGHT before you unleash your film onto the universe. If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll Kickstart with a theatrical plan in mind so that you can announce theatrical details throughout your campaign.
    • You get to SELL a finished product to your fans. Digital downloads, DVDs, tickets and community screenings (what people want!) are just a click.
    • If you run a tremendously successful campaign, you’ll be noticed by exhibitors across the country. Once upon a time, regional theaters looked to New York opening weekend grosses to decide if they would book a film. What if they looked at your Kickstarter grosses instead?
    • You get to weed out you “good” outreach ideas from your “bad” outreach ideas, as you gear up for your theatrical outreach. So by the time you’re 2 months out from your opening date, you already have a slew of partners waiting and ready to pounce on your promotions.

  • Con’s
    • Somehow you have to finance your film to completion without Kickstarter. Good luck!
    • If you’re Kickstarting to raise funds in order to hire a team to distribute a film (bookers, designers, publicists, grassroots outreach, etc.), you have to WAIT until you have the money in place before you can hire them. It can be a tremendously stressful situation to be in.
    • If you blow your film industry coverage and buzz on your festival circuit and your Kickstarter campaign, who will you turn to in order to create buzz for theatrical? Be mindful of the delicate balance - on the one hand, you need some industry press talking about your kickstarter campaign so that you can hit your goal and release the film. On the other hand, you need some industry press talking about your film right before theatrical, to help get butts in seats when the day comes.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong time to crowdfund. It just depends on what you want to get out of the experience, besides money. As you prepare for your crowdfunding campaign, be mindful of how the above factors may impact your films’ long term trajectory. And then hold your breath and hit the "launch" button!

Sara Kiener is the co-founder and marketing director of Film Presence which has implemented grassroots outreach and social media campaigns for over 30 films as they've prepare for their theatrical, DVD, broadcast, festival premieres and Kickstarter launches. Film Presence places an emphasis on organizational partnerships and community building. Highlights include the 2011 Oscar Nominated WASTE LAND and 2011 Oscar Nominated HELL AND BACK AGAIN. Twitter: @SaraKiener @FilmPresence