Money, Money, Money Dec 15, 2011

Money, Money, Money Dec 15, 2011

Maria Datch

With the festival just over three months away – and the 2012 submission deadline coming up in a mere 3 weeks – the DCIFF staff has been busy reviewing films in an effort to produce a lineup worthy of the festival. As DCIFF is a juried film festival, a portion of our time is spent vetting the submitted projects to make sure that they meet DCIFF’s screening criteria (is this film making its DC debut, is it original, is it independent, etc.).

In the course of doing this research, we’ve stumbled across something that seems to be endemic in independent film production – the need for filmmakers to rely on nontraditional funding sources to get their films produced. After all, with a recession wreaking havoc on people’s basic needs it’s hard to convince donors that your film project is more important than hungry children or homeless families.

Because of this, initiatives which rely on donations to survive (including many independent films) are using social media-based e-financing (AKA crowdsourced funding). We’ve all admired (and many of us have participated in) the efforts of social media-propelled fundraisers such as Chase Community Giving, which apportions funds according to users’ “votes” for the most worthy recipients, and Give to the Max DC, which organizes a campaign around a dedicated day of giving. Give to the Max, whose latest push raised over $2 million for local charities in just 24 hours, also has a mission of helping other organizations get the tools and information they need in order to more effectively raise funds on their own, providing a series of free online tutorials (which I have taken advantage of and have found to be very helpful).

Indie films which are not nonprofits often make use of sources such as Kickstarter (one of Give to the Max’s partner organizations), Rockethub, IndieGoGo, IndieVest, and Pledgie. These sites allow people who want to support filmmakers’ efforts – but who may only be able to spare five or ten dollars – the opportunity to help out and remain connected to these artistic endeavors. And despite the Internet’s global reach, these online tools are often used by artists to search for local funding, which allows these small donors to make a direct investment in the artistic life of their own communities.

This strategy can definitely bear fruit. A neighbor of mine recently sent our neighborhood mailing list a plea for donations to a film that she is producing. This direct appeal to her neighbors (with the help of Kickstarter’s banner on her website) was enough to meet her modest budgetary goal ($30,000) within an hour. Of course, we’ll never know if it was fond memories of the annual marshmallow roasts and summer film screenings on her front lawn or if it was the tick-tock of Kickstarter’s virtual clock that lit a fire under all of us donors. But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter–she made her budget and is now able to produce her film.

Crowd sourcing and social media will not replace foundation grants and underwriting, distribution deals, and (an old standby despite everything we were taught in film school) maxed-out credit cards as ways to fund independent films. But it can be a virtual “Salvation Army Santa” for the indie film producer, working one dollar at a time.

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