Friday, April 29, 2011

The In(dy) Crowd: thoughts on crowdfunding and crowdsourcing

It's been a while since I've done an update on my short film. After all, that's the main purpose for starting this blog, so I feel an update is overdue. I will update soon, but first, an update on the independent film environment.
A lot has happened in the past couple years since I've gone mum on the subject. A pivotal revolution in film-making has transpired in the interim; the new funding and distribution model for indies is now "crowdfunding." Sites like Sokap and Audience Productions have joined the likes of pioneers IndyGoGo, RocketHub and Kickstarter in allowing the potential audience for a film to participate in its funding. A brilliant model, in that it not only circumvents the prejudices of corporate distributors (who are usually too scared of their own shadows to innovate) but it virtually guarantees an audience when it is released (well, to the same degree that Gallup Polls can "guarantee" a winner in a political election). I've personally witnessed both success and failure among my peers in regards to crowdfunding. Certainly one of the successes was a project I followed for years before a tweet from Neil Gaiman pushed it over the top. The Price began as a labor of love by Christopher Salmon, a Gaiman fanboy seeking to animate the short story of the same title. At first, I considered his $150,000 goal to be far-fetched. To date, it is at $161,774. What this basically means for Mr. Salmon is that he can now concentrate on finishing his film as his full-time job, not something to devote an hour to each evening after the kids are in bed. The indy animator's holy grail.
Crowdfunding is a variation on crowdsourcing, which is the idea that creative communities naturally gravitate toward collaboration, even sans compensation, for the right project (see the successes of Wikipedia or Open Source if you don't believe). Along these lines, there are other films I'm following to track the success of their zero-budget business models.  Devils, Angels and Dating taps in on the trend of 3d artists either underemployed or underwhelmed with their current creative lives that are seeking inspirational volunteer service to bolster their demo reels. There seems to be steady progress posted on director Michael Cawood's blog, which is an educational service to the community which certainly justifies the experiment. Then there's Pink Slip Animation.
Anatomy of a Nightmare is the labor of love of DreamWorks animator Ben Rush. Though a volunteer project, it has a good chance of making it: First Flight originated in a similar manner and eventually was greenlit by the studio. When I was at Disney, we tried to tap in on this proto-crowdsourcing movement with something called the "Disney Shorts Club." As an institution, it never really went anywhere (as soon as it gains the Company's participation, it loses its Indy status and everyone wonders why they are not getting paid to work on it). However, individual projects associated with Shorts Club are still in the works. Mila and Ballad of Sinister are prominent examples.
Why isn't "Ballad" on Kickstarter? I'm not ruling it out, but I'd rather wait until it's 75% done and I'm in the final push. With all of the finished material I'd have on hand by then, it would be easier to promote and convince investors of its potential. Until then, it will have to remain a weekend hobby.