LOST IN THE CROWD
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.