Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, “POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is a tongue-in-cheek look at how far a filmmaker is willing to go, how much he’s willing to sacrifice, in order to make a film.

The brilliance of “The Greatest Movie” is that like “Seinfeld,” it seems to be about nothing, except what it takes to fund a film. Most filmmakers, of course, have their own actual stories to tell. But they all share the same obstacle: raising money. So how can a filmmaker raise the substantial capital he’ll need without sacrificing too much? Without selling off pieces of his film like a sports arena? Just imagine: “Raging Red Bull,” “The Facebook of Eli,” or “Carnation’s Instant Breakfast Club.”

Some folks think crowdfunding is the answer. But could it be just another social-network-hopeful that winds up lost within the tangled Web we weaved?



Crowdfunding is when a filmmaker (or anyone, for that matter) creates an on-line campaign to raise money for their project. Backers browse crowdfunding sites and choose projects to support for as little, or as much, as they wish. When the filmmaker’s financial goal is met, the project can (hopefully) move full-steam ahead.

I’ve had success with something similar to this. As a teacher, I set up a campaign on to raise money for my guitar club. I wanted–and got–$400 for a guitar amp. But putting up cash for a film is a bit different. My donors were intrinsically motivated by helping inner-city kids (plus, I asked for peanuts compared to what a filmmaker would need). Backing a stranger’s film may not provide people that same fuzzy feeling.

But then again, it could. Sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and Kapipal have popped up, allowing filmmakers at least another potential venue for finding supporters. But is crowdfunding the great white hope? Will it replace traditional forms of groveling, er, fundraising?

It doesn’t appear so–keeping in mind that crowdfunding is still in its infancy. While miracles can happen (a Kickstarter campaign for the film “Blue like Jazz” raised $350,000), most campaigns fall short of landing sufficient payouts. This despite the hours each day folks are investing toward reaching the corners of the endless and expanding World Wide Web.

Those who do find success share commonalities. They view crowdfunding as a way to raise partial funds, not the whole enchilada. And even more specifically, they had already raised a decent chunk of cash before setting up an on-line campaign. This not only proves that you know what it takes to make your dream a reality, but it also gives you the opportunity to show would-be investors something concrete, like a teaser or trailer, rather than just abstracts ideas from some stranger’s mind.


INdependent or I’M dependent?

People see crowdfunding as a detour from the Avenue of Sold Souls, a way around visionless producers, and a means toward maintaining one’s independence. But there are some projects out there that make me question if this is the case.

Let’s revisit my guitar amp success story. In that case it was enough for my donors just to know they helped out a group of poor kids. Photos with the kids rocking out on the amp, as well as handmade thank-you letters, were sufficient. But backers of your film may thirst for a bit more.

That’s likely what artist Jim Ether assumed. Ether’s Kickstarter campaign focuses on a comic yearbook of the fictional Red Pines High. He plans to characterize 45 of his backers within the pages of his comic. Clever? Yes. But does it border on selling out? Is Ether hovering dangerously close to the land of request-taking cover bands or shopping mall caricature artists? Sure, these folks are creating … something … but a baby creates something several times a day in his diaper. I’m not about to call it art, though I’m sure someone out there would.

Not to throw Ether under the bus. He’s found a clever way to get his name and work out there, a way to gain supporters, or at least quasi-interested people. And there are other creative ways to rope supporters into your project.

One way is to offer supporters exclusive access and footage of your film: behind the scenes snippets, interviews with cast and crew, VIP access to screenings, etc. A carrot like that got me to join Pearl Jam’s Ten Club years ago.

NYC filmmaker Matt Finlin’s idea is similar to Ether’s except his idea doesn’t dictate his vision; rather it’s a result of it. In need of money to finish his documentary “Below New York,” (about subway artists), Finlin set up a Kickstarter campaign. Backers who donated a certain amount of money could have the doo-wop group featured in the film call a contact of their choosing to sing Happy Birthday to. Of course that raises the question: what could I offer my backers if I’m making a film about a deranged serial killer?

Others have traveled a more conventional pledge-drive route. They may offer complimentary DVDs for a $20 donation or even an Executive Producer credit for $1,000. Some even promise part of the profits (if any).

But this now begs another question: when does crowdfunding become synonymous with soliciting producers (AKA the suits who demand too much control)? Of course filmmakers can, and should be upfront with their intentions; they should be clear that backers are supporting the filmmaker’s vision, and not some collaborative effort. But that approach might limit how much money one can raise.

Perhaps more money would be raised if backers were involved in, say, script development, or trailer production, or editing, or … now wait a minute. This sounds a bit like a regular production team, or, at best, crowdsourcing.


Ah, yes, crowdsourcing. I remember back in school when the teacher had the kid at the front of the room write one sentence down. He’d then pass the paper to the next kid, who wrote a sentence to work off that first one. The paper got sent to every student until we all contributed to this one story. Such creative collaboration! But I also remember another similar childhood game: telephone. You know, when the final message presented is nowhere near what it started out as.

This is the trouble with crowdsourcing – when a group of people collaborate and contribute to a project. Too many eggs in one basket are bound to make a mess of things. Besides, I’d rather know an artist made his masterpiece all by his lonesome rather than had Joe 6-pack paint the eyes.

Color me crazy (so long as it’s you alone coloring me, and not an outsourced crowd) but I see little difference between too much audience involvement and censorship of art. It’s all a means of meddling in the direction of something natural and personal.

What if J.K.Rowling involved her readers in the writing process of the Harry Potter series? It’s possible a majority of her backers would have blocked the idea of Dumbledore being gay.

Art should not be influenced by the peanut gallery, or else all we’re left with are a bunch of choose-your-own-adventure stories, which I hate. I plopped down my $15 so you could take me on an adventure. Now you want me to do all the work?


One way to limit outside influence is to only seek out support among your friends, or social network buddies. This, of course, will severely limit your earnings potential. But it may let you sleep better at night knowing you don’t have to find a way to squeeze Old Man Harding (and his $2,000 contribution) into your film about a group of superhero teens. Of course the comedic potentials there are endless.

Kapipal (a play on capital) focuses on soliciting your friends to fund your projects, but I wonder: when does this become either glorified begging or a poorly veiled Amway schema? When do you become the friend everyone avoids for fear of your never-ending sales pitch?


Okay, so I may sound cynical about all this, but it can work, if you don’t expect the world, or $200,000. Like I said before, it pays to have raised some cash and support before you past an on-line campaign. Prove that you belong among the big-time players. But also, don’t ask for too much, if possible. And be creative in how you pitch and promote your idea. Even a catchy title helps. I named my amp campaign “Reliving Dylan’s Newport Moment,” in the hopes of attracting knowledgeable music lovers.

And when it’s all said and done, have a backup plan. Your campaign may not succeed, so you must be prepared to make do with what you have. There’s always room for another “Blair Witch Project” success story out there.