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THE SCREENER: Adventures in Crowdfunding

southern film

Bringing Rapture Us to Life

My editor asked me if I wanted to write about my current indie film project and my effort to raise money through crowdfunding. I usually steer clear of self-promotion, but this new era of Internet fundraising and microfunding seems to invite discussion. Sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter raise money for all types of projects, including films like mine—or projects having to do with photography, technology, health, and publishing. If you have an idea for a project that you need help raising money for, you can start a webpage to raise a pre-determined goal within a set time period, with the promise of certain perks or gifts in exchange for donations. For example, if you give twenty-five dollars to my new film, you get a bookmark and a DVD of said film.

The fundraising process gives you a guilt-free way of asking your friends and family for money. If you’ve been thinking of ways to ask your rich uncle for a “loan” in order to produce your latest dubstep/alt-country concept album Vince McSkrill, you can send out Indiegogo and Kickstarter links in mass e-mails and Facebook statuses, saving you from direct conversation (or confrontation).

RAPTURE US INDIEGOGO TRAILER from Levi Agee on Vimeo.

For all the good that comes out of crowdfunding through social media, part of me feels like it’s a cop-out. There’s not much to it. Create an interesting video that outlines your plans for the project and how you’ll use the money, then constantly barrage your Twitter followers, contact lists, and “friends” with pleas to give through the link you provide. That isn’t to say you can’t be creative with your campaign and put more effort into your webpage; both Indiegogo and Kickstarter give you advice on how to be “successful.” Here are three helpful hints I got from a project manager at Kickstarter for an abandoned music video I was trying to produce:

  1. A video is a must. It makes an emotional connection and shows you care. Plus, projects with videos succeed at a much higher rate!
  2. Cool rewards make a big difference. Not every reward has to be special, but they’re a great opportunity to share what’s unique to you and your project.
  3. Spreading the word pays off. You provide the experience and the idea, your network helps fund and promote it.

Some friends and I got together to make a teaser. We had no money to shoot it, so we borrowed everything we could. We shot with a borrowed Red Epic camera and a light kit my video production job graciously allowed us to use for the day. I found people on Facebook who did zombie makeup and begged them to help out. We filmed for about six hours—two of those hours I spent in makeup. I made the smart choice of electing myself to play the zombie character.

RAPTURE US SNEAK PEAK PROMO from 2007 Productions on Vimeo.

There are dozens and dozens of blogs and “experts” who give you little tips and tricks to guarantee better funding. From what I can tell, the involvement of children and pets (as with anything on the Internet) pulls bigger numbers. My script features a “zombie,” but I abhor that trend and so designed the character to be an anti-zombie, a re-animated corpse that, in addition to being able to talk, is also charming and non-violent. After reading up on some tips, I started using the term zombie more liberally in my call-to-actions, thinking it would increase our numbers. It didn't help that much, but it was the first of a few times when I was willing to amend my integrity to get more funding.

About two weeks ago I went on Reddit to announce that if we met one of our goals I would crash a church service dressed in my full zombie makeup. Reddit is a cruel mistress. She can make or break your spirit. Reddit is where memes are born and trolls flex their muscles. It’s a system that relies on upvoting and downvoting posts in an online meritocracy; naturally, I thought my film, an End Times horror-buddy-comedy story about a Christian and a zombie, would catch on like wildfire with the kings and queens of the interwebs. I had to be delicate and gramatically flawless, lest I be torn to shreds.

Suffice it to say, the initial response to my announcement was pretty negative. The Reddit masses liked the premise of my film, but thought the church thing was a “dumb idea.” I wasn’t aware I had tried to spin it as anything other than a “dumb idea.” The film deals with religious themes; I figured if Lady Gaga could be subversive and get attention, so could I. Maybe I need a few Grammy-winning albums first.

Our campaign ends in less than two weeks, and though we’re on a decent trajectory for raising money, I doubt we’ll reach our final goal. Indiegogo takes something like ten percent of your campaign funds if you don’t reach your goal in time, Kickstarter does not. The former’s “flexible funding” sounded like a better choice at the time, though the threat of not keeping some money should motivate myself and others to be more aggressive about campaigning.

So, is crowdfunding the way of the future? Will it reinvigorate independent filmmaking in a weak economy? Will great works of art—and social change that couldn’t have been funded traditionally—become a reality because of one hundred and forty characters typed on the internet? Whatever the case, I’m not ashamed to ride this wave into the ground. Wasn’t it the great filmmaker Terrence Malick who said, “He who gives money to my Indiegogo campaign gets to share my Oscar statuette”?

Editors Note: Give to Levis indiegogo campaign to see this movie become a reality!

 


 

Charlie Kaufman’s latest venture is on Kickstarter.

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