To Crowdfund or Not to Crowdfund, that is the question for today’s filmmakers

Guest post by Thomas Mai www.thomasmai.net

There are many advantages to Crowdfunding, but one of the less known is that you actually get to test if there is an audience for your film BEFORE you make it. We filmmakers are driven by passion (clearly not the money) and often we spend 2-4 years on making a film, just to find out that nobody really cares about it.

By Crowdfunding even smaller amounts you send a clear signal to potential investors/ film funds that you know who your audience is (and often where they live) this makes it so much easier for investors/film funds to believe in you because you have have proven that the audience believes in you.

In the traditional way of making films, audience was this magical thing that entered the life of the film once it was completed. Sure, we thought about the audience while making the film, but there was no direct audience participation. Yes, we could do test screenings and go back to the editing room but the film was ALREADY shot.

It has always been about the audience and it will always be about the audience, but we could never engage with our audience before the film was ready to be released. Social Media has changed the way we can communicate with a global audience instantly.

Ask and you shall receive

By engaging with the audience from the idea/script stage you can gather a large group of followers who want you to succeed if you ask them their opionion depending on the topic of your film. Ie what are the 3 best tango films in the world, and why? What is the best opening monlogue ever written for a film and why? Who is your favorite character that you “hate” or love and why?

Crowdfunding allows you to get great feed back on your project before you spend 4 “miserable” years trying to make it. I am not saying that you should lose your artistic touch with your film but I am simply saying that if you are making a film then (hopefully) you want audiences to go and see it. Why not engage with them now? The wisdom of crowds is often far better at judging your idea, than a script doctor, producer, sales agent or TV station. Plus if you do bring the audience then it is SO much easier to work with the script doctor, producer, sales agent or TV station.

Because it has always been about the audince, we as filmmakers had to rely on distributors and tv stations to get it “out there” because they “owned” the audience and that is why, traditionally speaking they had so much “control” over our films. By bringing your own audience to any producer, sales agent or distributor you have so much more bargaining power. It is time for us to own our own audience.

By not crowdfunding you are missing out on one of the best tools for any filmmakers these days. Then it is back to waiting in line with everyone else to go see the ever fewer “gatekeepers” that are still left in the game.

When I do seminars or coach my clients, many are so afraid about the changes in our industry and most say something in the following lines. I am already spending 100% of my time trying to get this film off the ground and now you also want me to build a website, crowdfund, distribute, build a fan database etc. There is not enough hours in the day….. Yes, the roles are changing but so is the world around us. How many distributors are still out there and what are they paying for film rights? It is all about building the right systems from the beginning. Imagine that you could keep making 1 film every year for the rest of your life and get it financed and distributed to the same group of fans that keeps growing every year. It is not impossible to have a direct relationship with 100.000 fans that can finance and buy your films again and again.

As filmmakers we have to start thinking about wearing many titles ie financier, producer and distributor. But we also get to keep the rights to our films for the rest of our lives. Social Media allows the entire film making process to be more democratic for everyone involved. What fun is there in making a film and then someone else gets the distribution rights to your film for the next 15 years and does nothing about it?

I personly believe this is the best time ever to be a filmmaker. All the tools (hardware and software) are getting cheaper and better, allowing everyone to profit from the previous closed foodchain.

Thomas Mai has been a sales agent for 15 years selling feature films like Cannes winner Lars von Trier’s “DANCER IN THE DARK”, Hollywood films starring Forest Whitaker and Julia Styles in “A LITTLE TRIP TO HEAVEN” to Berlinale winners to name a few among hundreds of feature films Thomas has sold worldwide. Thomas has sold films for some of the biggest directors in Scandinavia Lars von Trier, Lukas Moodysohn, Thomas Vinterberg, Susanne Bier, Baltasar Kormakur, Lone Scherfig, Josef Fares and many others

Today Thomas coaches film makers to thrive in a 2.0 connected world. Thomas also speaks and run workshops around the world. Find out more on www.thomasmai.net

Miao Wang On The Secrets of Her Kickstarter Success

We have a guest post today from Miao Wang, director of Beijing Taxi, set to premiere shortly in SXSW.

A number of people have asked me for my secrets in regards to Beijing Taxi’s successful recent Kickstarter campaign. Frankly, the campaign’s success far exceeded my expectations. As is often the case, I simply had no alternative. I had gotten the last of my rejection letters from the post production grants I applied for. I had just received my invitation to have BEIJING TAXI’s world premiere at SXSW. It gave me a much-needed boost of energy and a deadline to push for! I knew having SXSW’s world premiere would be a crucial element in the fundraising effort, yet it was a couple of weeks before I could publicly announce it. The pressure is on! It was either get into mounting debt for the post production expenses, or do my best to raise as much as I can! It seemed like a win-win situation. I had heard about Kickstarter a few month ago, but didn’t manage to find an invitation to post a project until the last minute. Luckily my friends at Argot Pictures came to the rescue and helped me secured an invitation. I was due to start color correction and sound mix in two weeks!

There were several limitations to the Kickstarter campaign from the very beginning. I knew I had to raise at least $10,000 in a very short period of time. I had to decide whether to go for a lower goal, like $5000, which is much more achievable, or just go for the full $10,000 bare minimum I truly needed to raise. $10,000 seemed like an impossible goal in 30 days, but I immediately decided on a back up plan. I will raise as much as I can through Kickstarter, and if in the last day we’re far from the goal, I have asked my family to essentially be on-call to pledge a “temporary loan” to make sure I don’t lose what has been raised up to that point. I also felt that, knowing the reality of the full amount I have to raise, people will feel more inclined to make a pledge amount that will make a difference.

Chinese new year always felt like an auspicious date to pick for a fundraiser, especially given it’s appropriateness for the film’s China theme. This year, Chinese new year was on February 14, 31 days away from the date I received the Kickstarter invitation. However, I had already started brainstorming creative ideas for pledge rewards a few days before that, so that I would be set to post and launch the project right away!

In terms of pledge rewards, I feel like it’s important to create some value in the rewards. I always believe that if you put your heart into creating something, people will sense that, and more willing to stand behind that. You’ve put all your heart into this film you’ve worked on for so long, your rewards should in some ways reflect the same heart and attention you’ve put into the film and not just something you slapped together. In two previous local NY based fundraiser parties, my team and I have obsessively handmade art objects like flipbooks (made from sequential frame grabs from the film) and an art book made with images from the film. We still had a bunch of the flipbooks and one art book left, so I naturally included them as part of the rewards. I diligently looked through some of the most successful projects on Kickstarter to get inspired for ideas as well as see how I can cater them to my project. I also wanted to think about cultural related reward incentives specific to Beijing. The dumpling class, a personal tour of Beijing with the director seemed like enticing rewards for those with deeper pockets.

To get the word out for the Kickstarter campaign, I set out on a major push in two phases. I signed up with a mailing list manager service (Mailchimp). I exported all my contacts from my many different stages of life into the mailing list manager. This allowed me to send out a beautifully designed graphics rich email campaign, and not just a text-based email. I sent out my first email blast as soon as I launched my Kickstarter campaign. In this first blast I was not yet allowed to publicize SXSW, so I just posted the headline as “accepted for premiere at a major film festival, details coming soon...” I also included some BEIJING TAXI updates from the last year, including grants received and labs attended. I knew SXSW was to make its press release on February 4, 10 days before my Kickstarter deadline, so I had to be ready to go on a massive e-blast campaign right away. As expected, the first phase brought in some pledges from closer friends, but it was far from enough and pledges started to trail off a week or so after the email blast. I couldn’t send out too many blasts because I wanted to send out the important announcement of SXSW on the 4th. In the meanwhile, I posted the Kickstarter widget on the home page of BEIJING TAXI’s website, tried to plaster my Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as reach out to my funders and supporters to help with the outreach. Many friends have kindly cross posted on their Facebook and other social networking sites. My diligent intern Aiyana Parker also helped me research film blogs and Asian related blogs. We made a list of those to reach out to once SXSW is announced. Phase two – SXSW announcement. As soon as SXSW news is released, I added the SXSW laurel on the home page of BEIJING TAXI’s website. I also sent out my second email blast with the headline “BEIJING TAXI : World Premiere at SXSW!!” in the subject line of the email. Sure enough, pledges starting flooding in. Aiyana emailed all the film blogs and Asian culture related blogs to help give a shout out to the Kickstarter campaign that was to end in 10 days. The sense of urgency prompted many to help.

I can’t say enough that I have been so moved by all the wonderful family, friends, clients, co-workers, colleagues from my entire life who have pledged their support to make this campaign a success. It would not have been possible without them. Aside from the loving support of those who know me, Kickstarter’s website has been in itself an incredible outlet to reach out to new supporters. The biggest pledge for our campaign actually came from someone who just stumbled upon the project while browsing Kickstarter. This backer sent me a message and expressed interest in making a significant pledge. We exchanged a few Skype video chats. I mailed him a preview screener of the DVD. He decided he liked the project and went ahead with a pledge at the $5000 level! Some other associate producer ($500) level pledges have also come from a group of volunteers for a non-profit organization called Wokai.org. A couple of people were interested in supporting the film. They approached me about possibly having a private screening event for a very small group of people interested in making an associate producer level pledge. It was less than 8 days before the end of the campaign. They helped throw together this small private home screening party where we met. Three people from the group made a pledge as a result.

To me, the success of this Kickstarter campaign is not only in having over-reached our pledge goal, which is on its own an incredible feat, but also in the new supporters and interests in the film that has been gathered along the way. More than just a fundraiser, the campaign has served as a fantastic promotional and outreach tool for the film.

Beijing native Miao Wang has a B.A. in economics from the University of Chicago and a M.F.A. in design/film from Parsons. Her award-winning documentary YELLOW OX MOUNTAIN has screened at over 20 venues and broadcast on WNET Thirteen. She apprenticed at Maysles Films. Miao has been awarded grants from Sundance, NYSCA and the Jerome Foundation. She is a fellow of Tribeca All Access, IFP Filmmakers Lab and the IFP Market.

BEIJING TAXI http://www.beijingtaxithefilm.com
FACEBOOK http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beijing-Taxi/61435502672?ref=s
TWITTER https://twitter.com/beijingtaxifilm

PS.  Word of Miao's success has started to spread.  Lonely Planet just covered it.  Spread the word.

Jon Reiss’ new book Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era


Although Jon's book is not set to be released until November 2009 if you happen to find that charming man around IFP's Independent FIlm Week in NYC -- and you have some money in your hand -- you might just be able to get your paws on an advanced copy!

Most of the following is taken from the press release, but, it is still all true (not like some other stuff):
"If you’re only going to read one book about filmmaking in the new millennium, this should be it." Kathleen McInnis Festival Programmer, Strategist and Publicist
Covering everything from theatrical, non-theatrical, semi-theatrical, alternative theatrical, grassroots/community, publicity, live events, to DVD, fulfillment, affiliates, print ads, educational, t-shirts, boxed sets, web marketing, sponsorships, to VOD, download to own, download to rent, streaming, to Web 2.0, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Hulu, Babelgum, Amazon, blogging, tagging, webisodes, to crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, transmedia, release winows, audience identification and targeting, – the book is your guide on how to use all the new tools available to you, and I know, because I wrote the forward.

If you don't know Jon, check out B-side's interview with him, but whatever kind of content you create – feature film, short, webisodes, transmedia, You Tube – this book will be invaluable.
The independent film community is a buzz with the collapse of the traditional independent film distribution model. No longer can filmmakers expect their films to be acquired and released nationally. But just as the digital revolution created a democratization of the means of production, a new hybrid model of distribution has created a way for independent filmmakers to take control of the means of distribution. This hybrid approach is not just DIY or Web based it combines the best techniques from each distribution arena, old and new.
Pioneering filmmaker and author Jon Reiss spoke with countless filmmakers, distributors, publicists, web programmers, festival programmers and marketing experts to create this ultimate guide to film distribution and marketing for the digital era.
My blurb and I mean it with 100% sincerity:
Open this book! Eat up every morsel Reiss provides. Internalize it and make it your second skin. It is not a question of “just doing it”: we need to educate each other, tend to one another’s children, and inoculate our villages against the viruses of despair and isolation. Reiss translates the formula for world peace to apply to Truly Indie Film Distribution and beyond!


200 copies of the preview edition will be available only at personal book signings/appearances in September and October:
Jon Reiss will be appearing:
Sept 22nd Independent Film Week, IFP Conference New York
Book Signing 7pm to 8pm in the lobby outside Haft Auditorium immediately following the panel – STATE OF DISTRIBUTION – THE CURRENT & FUTURE INDIE MODEL 5:30pm-7:00pm at Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), Haft Auditorium 27th and 7th Avenue
September 24th DV Expo Pasadena Convention Center
Book Signing 12pm - 1pm Jon will be teaching two seminars between my filmmaker career development seminars: Top 10 Tips: Career Development in 2 sessions 10:30am – 12 noon and 1:30pm to 3pm
October 2nd: Vancouver International Film Festival Forum
Book Signing 2:15 - 2:45 pm and 5-6pm in the Lobby of the Vancouver International Film Centre, 1181 Seymour Street That day, Jon will be on the panel: 21st Century Doc Distribution Strategies 1:00 - 2:15pm.
October 11th: FIND Filmmaker Forum Jon will be on the Distribution Case Studies panel 9am - 10:30 am at the Director's Guild of America, Los Angeles
For more information and to receive a $5 off coupon and be able to buy the book on day one of wide release in November go to:www.jonreiss.com/blog

18 Actions Towards A Sustainable Truly Free Film Community

I promised the Twitterverse this list a few weeks back. Life gets in the way of completing things though. I eventually hope to have more than a draft for you, but I also hope it won't be necessary. I initially thought this was just a top ten list, and maybe it should have been. I already know I have left important things off this list though, and here I am at eighteen.

Having already left home before I hit such a mark, it seems fit this list does likewise. The comfort of the nest is part of the problem and its time to get the conversation started. And like so many things, with this list it is not about the size, but about the intensity with which we engage with each element. I wish I could give marching orders instead of discussion points. I wrote this to encourage but you can use it as a litmus test for whether you really want an independent and diverse culture or not. What are these are you doing? What of these are you willing to do?

The time is now. If we don't fully own the absolute necessity to change how we've all been working, we won't be working -- and we won't have the illuminating, inspiring, transforming films that we now enjoy. It's your choice, but action is required.

There is the capacity for many more of us to create and prosper from creative media work. This capacity can also close up and vanish along with our audiences. The canaries are now the size of Big Birds and we somehow are able to ignore them (but that is a subject for a different posts).

SO YOU SAY YOU WANT A SUSTAINABLE & TRULY FREE FILM COMMUNITY AND CULTURE? Time to take some action.

Mentor - if you have been working in the film industry for at least five years, you certainly have the knowledge to help lift somebody else up. Ideally this would be someone from a much different background than yourself (more on that later) so things don't have to stay the same. That said, those that you lift up will also carry on some of your knowledge, so the bonds that need to be strengthened hopefully will be.

Curate- You got into this business because you loved film, maybe you even always loved talking about films, but what do you do now to help spread the love? Friends and family are the best influencers in terms of getting others to see films, and there won't be any business unless we keep people going to the movies. Whether its as simple as getting friends over on the weekend to watch something they wouldn't normally have, using a social network tool to get a large group out and into the theaters, blogging about the things you think are essential, or forming a film club and actually booking films you love, there's something you could be doing to get work you love seen and appreciated. There are over 6000 films made a year; it's overwhelming. You have to become the filter for your friends, family, and followers. Tell them what you love, share it. And there are many alternatives that sending around that link where you found that others labors are now being bootlegged.

Provide- info, advice, access - Industries all go through cycles and it may have once benefited some folks who got established early to limit what others could know or get to do, but those days ended. It is changing too fast and yesterday's discovery is old news pretty damn fast. Our future depends on innovation and unity; sharing what you know and have are the most likely ways for each to occur. If you learn something, pass it on. Post it. Tweet it. Discuss it.

Learn/Evolve- Everyone likes to quote William Goldman's line about the movie industry, but it has never been truer that no one knows anything now. The ways films were financed & sold for the last fifteen years are no longer do-able. Audiences don't consume the way they used to. There is no acquisition market and no business model has emerged for earning significant revenue on the internet. People have been convinced that hardware should be expensive whereas content should be free (i.e. creators have become the advertisers for the manufacturers). We have the tools to build a new model but our ability to use them is rather limited. It's time to try new things and if you aren't learning new things on a regular basis you might as well admit defeat now. Build experimentation into your daily regime, into your business plan.

Migrate - Although this is close to "Learn/Evolve", migration is a specific form thereof. As much as we need to strengthen the net, we have to extend our web's reach. We have to both give and take. Cinema requires a global awareness and participation. Specificity is universal. You aren't just making your work for friends and family, unless it is the Family Of Man (to borrow an inaccurate phrase). Travel and source. Bring it back home. Give it away. Extend your reach and modify your inputs, but cross borders. It is a global community and the more we embrace that, the stronger we will be.

Aim Higher With Content Quality -For years the movie business flourished because not enough material was available. Now everything is there for the viewing when you want it, where you want it, and how you want it. As a filmmaker today you are competing against everything that came before you. Yet also as a filmmaker you have the benefit of having access to all of film history that has preceded you. You get to see what others have done, but you have to take it one step further. Since you can no longer win by getting there first, you have no choice but to try to do it better.

Aim Higher With Narrative Structure & Ambitions - It's not enough to have a good story well told anymore. Cinema is over one hundred years old and stories can't just have a beginning, a middle, or an end. Our films won't survive if they are dependent on a single author to deliver them or don't inspire others to deliver them. Take back what has always been yours and embrace the other aspects of filmmaking beyond content and production. There are many points of access to a story and many reasons to return to the world, but we have not been utilizing them.

Introduce- We have to knit this net a whole lot stronger. If your friends are stronger, you are stronger. One persons success does not limit yours, but quite the opposite -- it enhances your position. You have to work to get your team further down the field. It takes more than an army to create, promote, market, distribute, and appreciate good work. If you are not providing introductions to those that you know who will benefit by knowing the other ones you know, you asking to play a game solo when everyone else will be be fielding battalions.

Make Different, Make Strange & Change- Does it ever feel to you that half the films that get made are remakes but they don't know it? Or that everyone is preaching to the converted but they forgot what the sermon was about? Or maybe that they long ago stopped looking for the real sky and were content to keep going as long as the treadmill was moving? Once I had a friend come to me with so much urgency asking "Don't they get it? Our job is to make them want to be over there, farther away from here, aspiring for something better, feeling the hope that they can get there." He was right, but we aren't going to do it by repeating what has been done before.

Ignore - There are many in the film business who are never going to help you. Many of these will never help you even after you have helped them. The sooner you identify these folks and stop wasting your time with them, the better off you are going to be. We have to much to do to bother with them, no matter how powerful they may be, how smart or creative they may be, or how much they appear to have to offer you. Get on with it and move on.

Reduce- Unfortunately the industry has been rewarding quantity more than quality. Even more unfortunately, bad work has a greater impact than good, and its impact is not of the positive sort. Very little can prosper in an environment of poor attention, limited commitment, or fractured focus. I don't know anyone who doesn't have too much to do already (and less money or time to do it in than previously). We could all gain by slowing down and doing less but doing that thing we do better. We have to. The independent sector doesn't have the money to fool people to think that their mediocre work should be seen. More work needs to go into both making our films better and into how to reach and engage with our audiences in more rewarding way. Unless a filmmaker can demonstrate both of those qualities, they shouldn't be shooting their film. Failure in either department brings all of us down with it. We are all connected and only the best work lifts us (don't get me wrong, we can't have gate keepers determining what or who "is ready" to make a film -- we just have to be more demanding on ourselves).

Participate - You have something to say, so say it. Others are saying the things you believe, so let it be known. Your skill set and experience are both unique to you, but others would benefit from the gift of your engagement, so why not get something done now, even if it is not what you ultimately are striving for. We don't have time to be silent. Speak up not just about what you know or feel, but what you want to know or feel. If you care about something, write in, or send a proxy. Encourage others to do the same too. The world will change for the worse unless you engage.

Collaborate - We learn more when we break our normal routine and do something different, be it a different task, or a different situation, or a different sort of creation. There are times to lead and times to follow. We learn from those that see differently than us. We understand and process things better when it involves others we care about. There is also no denying that there is so much change both needed and occurring that we can't possibly gain by working alone. If you haven't realized that you can't possibly get it done alone anymore, you haven't engaged. Filmmaking and it's secondary necessities of marketing and distribution can't be the work of a singular auteur anymore -- cinema requires that you (to borrow IndieGoGo's mantra) Do It With Others.

Go To The Crowd - We need our work to have greater reach. At some point in the process, we need to engage and encourage everyone out there to determine something about the work. This makes them stakeholders in the process and cements a deeper relationship with you. Both CrowdSourcing and CrowdFunding are marvelous endeavors, not just for what the immediate product they bring, but for the engagement they deliver. Don't get me wrong, there are inefficiencies in many approaches and in reaching out we need to offer meaningful ways for people to engage, and reasons for them to remain. Today's collaboration is not just about working with those you know, but also those that you don't and won't ever know.

Question- I find the obvious is often ignored by the status quo. Whether it was making movies for six figures, creating a producer-driven company, starting an international sales company & licensing our own films, cutting digitally, shooting video and transferring to film, or the actions I currently contemplate, I have found resistance from the mainstream to adopt new behavior that might be game-changing. Culturally, we've all been seduced by security and knowledge, but it is risk and exploration of the unknown that usually moves us forward.

Keep It Human & Personable- It is sooo hard to get a movie made. It is soooo hard to write a decent script. It is soooo hard to find a way to make a living and to be engaged in the creative arts. Anyone that does any of these things is a hero to me. Good fortune is rare, but it is needed for most to obtain the life they want. It may take something that resembles an army to make a movie, promote it, and get it seen, but those engaged in the process are usually operating out of some aspect of love, and need acknowledgement. What's with all the ego that swims through this business?

Reward- If you are trying to make movies, or already working in the film business, you have too much on your plate; if you are able to do good work, help those around you, or just make stuff happen, you are probably super human. If someone around you is doing this kind of stuff, show your appreciation. When I get a note from someone that they liked my film, it makes my day. When someone has tried to help me without any personal gain on their part, I think the world may actually be an alright place. When someone indicates that they know what I do and they treat it with all due respect, I think we might just get out of this situation somewhat intact. Vote for the world you want with your actions and appreciation.

Make It All One Ongoing Conversation - We squander our efforts when we think only about the single project at hand. It is not about just getting that one movie done. We have to keep moving the conversation forward. We have to engage with our community in such a meaningful way that they will be motivated to move with us to the next project too. Don't reinvent the wheel each time, but if you have invested the time to seed an audience, feed them and breed them; bring them with you to all that you are doing. Help them understand why X eventually follows A. Keep them engaged. Keep them loyal.

And you thought you didn't have enough to do today!