Crowdfunding, if you didn’t know, is the art of gathering large numbers of micro-payments to fund a project. It can apply to anything. Charities are crowd-funded. Televised telethons, same thing. In the UK the BBC is crowdfunded by the taxpayer through the TV license. In recent years websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have popularised the method in the filmmaking community. I’ve successfully crowdfunded a production, Jared is in the middle of a campaign as I write this and Koo at Nofilmschool.com raised $125k to produce his feature film with one of the best campaigns I’ve ever seen.

It sounds great. I want money. Instead of looking for all of it from a handful of investors, let’s aggregate a mass of goodwill and encourage people to donate a manageable amount of cash and build up slowly. But it’s not a handout. You have to work hard for the money. I gambled on being able to turn my blog readership into a donations. And, only just scraped it. Koo used the same model on his site but he’s in charge of probably the most successful filmmaking blog right now and really works hard on that engaging that community. Hats off to him. Just for the record, Phil Bloom recently got behind a Kickstarter project and even that failed to lift them over the funding threshold.

Kickstarter is great at celebrating its successes but there are plenty of projects that fall short. In fact, unsurprisingly, most do. But that says more about the quality of the projects, and the people behind them, than the system. There’s no doubt more and more people are jumping on Kickstarter (the number of new projects per day quadrupled in 2010) and a success story like the TikTok+Luna Nano wristbands shows how a good idea can go ballistic if it’s, well, a good idea.

The worry for me is that the success is counter-productive. I’ve funded a few projects recently and I just can’t be bothered to help any more out. When I fund I’m really not that fussed about all the intricate details of the production, more often than not I just want to see someone do well. I’ve run one campaign and don’t think I would ever raise money by that route again. It just seems too greedy, too easy, too lazy, perhaps too amateurish. Which is the dirtiest word of all in this business (witness the rise of the word ‘prosumer’ – what on earth does that mean?). I see more and more people raising money on Kickstarter for, frankly, terrible projects, and that’s not bad in itself, but it’s creating a situation symptomatic of the current state of the film and video industry: advanced, chronic mediocrity.

I was asked to sit on a panel discussion for the new Sony FS100 and the conversation turned to the Vimeoisation of video. The me-too, yes I can, copycat, self-congratulatory, shallow, crap-slinging, bag of rubbish that is the canon of DSLR filmmaking. It’s not Vimeo’s fault. As a genuine, smart, alternative to YouTube, it’s become the must-have badge of the ‘serious’ filmmaker. Again, I don’t have a problem with people making films, but the extent to which so much of what I see is thoughtless, plagiarised BS really hacks me off. The truly original voices are getting lost, ironically, in the crowd. They’re missing out on funding, and they’re having to fight ever harder to be heard.

Mediocrity is rife in this industry and it’s killing it. In all areas of my industry I see quality control being eroded and it’s just such a shame. I’m not being an old ‘it were never like that in my day’ kind of grouch, I just think it’s sad because it’s self-perpetuating and unless we actually make a concerted effort to preserve the high standards of the old industry in some way then it’s going to get worse and worse. For me, crowdfunding has been an interesting bubble, but its best days are over. There’s just too many mouths to feed now.

Time to look for alternatives. Again.

Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • http://nofilmschool.com Koo

    Thank you for the very kind mentions, Robin — and thanks so much for backing my project!

    I hear you on the not wanting to do a crowdfunding campaign again, as I was exhausted when mine was over. But I do wonder if crowdfunding’s best days are behind us. I think the novelty of it for guys like us who are super connected online and hear about a ton of campaigns has worn off, but even for my recent effort — which took place two years after the initial rise of IndieGoGo and Kickstarter — I would say the vast majority of backers were first-time Kickstarter users. So just because we feel saturated does not mean most people feel the same way. Yet.

    Crowdfunding’s future may be all about profit participation. Here in the states the Obama administration has actually brought it up recently; I’m writing a post about it now for NoFilmSchool but if we can actually give backers an investment opportunity (a chance to not only help us but perhaps make some scratch themselves) then that’s a whole ‘nother game. A game that is considered illegal here in the US at present, but has been successful over in your woods as seen famously in the Age of Stupid.

    Of course, that kind of scheme is another can of worms entirely.

    Thanks for the thoughts and looking forward to what you’ve got in the pipeline.

  • http://twitter.com/ewanthomas Dave (Ewan) Thomas

    Good post mate. I think you’re right about a number of things here, just seen another truly awful sounding Kickstater project get over their target amount. I don’t get it.

    But then I don’t get why a lot of people watch the things they watch on the Internet, so often I’ll see a Vimeo video, watch a bit, think that’s a bit crap and stop it only to see 444 thousand people have watched it. And I really do think What the F at that point.

    It is really hard to get viewership online and it’s even harder to get people to comment on what you do make as well (which is the current problem I’m having!) but that is the inevitable consequence of DSLRS. The equipment is so cheap that everyone can afford to do it, and everyone can be considered a success the minute that they have a lot of views for something.

    I guess I’m a bit old fashioned in that I’d rather someone said to my face what they thought of something, it means a lot more than a couple of words someone has written online.

    As for what you do about crowdfunding, personally I’m not sure it really works for UK projects in the same way it does for US ones, and I don’t know why that is. Maybe Americans have deeper pockets, maybe they are just better at supporting film makers. I’d argue the latter. There’s a real apathy in the UK generally, especially when it comes to creative arts, people like to watch them but can’t be bothered to support them, not surprising when you think of elitist institutions like the film council.

    I think virtually everyone in the community wanted Koo to get his funding and I’m sure if PB was doing a project for himself then people would have helped him too. 

    I think the answer is to turn the clock back and be born in the US! I think opportunities for film makers are so much greater there personally.

  • http://twitter.com/Mikespins Mikespins

    Wouldn’t profit participation basically be what is the current model though? Investors give you money with the hope of seeing something on that investment. Or are you talking about crowdfunding people getting profit participation? That model seems like people would either potentially get such a small amount that it might not be worth it.

    One think on the Kickstarter campaigns, as someone who has earned every credit he’s ever gotten by doing the actual work, it disturbs me to see credits being sold so easily to people. I understand fully why people are offering it. To me it cheapens the meaning of a credit though. And that’s not meant as a shot to anyone who has done that. You guys have used rewards to get your projects funded. Just my two cents.