In 1998, James Rosenberg launched Adopt-A-Classroom, the world’s first online crowdsourcing site, allowing community members to donate money directly to teachers for classroom supplies. The concept has come a long way; in 2012, there were over 450 crowdfunding platforms. Kickstarter, one of the most popular platforms, has steadily grown as a source for filmmakers over the past several years. More than $100 million has been pledged to over 8,500 independent films as of January 2013.
Our own DCIFF team member Hannah Jayanti recently premiered her own documentary, The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations, at The New Yorker Festival after successfully funding through Kickstarter. I sat down with her to discuss her experience and what filmmakers should know when working with the platform.
DCIFF: Congratulations on the New Yorker Festival! I’d love to hear more about the film’s background and what attracted you to this project.
Hannah: I was first hired to film a short video to promote the 50th anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth’s publication. I immediately fell in love with both the author, Norton Juster, and the illustrator Jules Feiffer. I knew there was a longer story to be told. Since we were self-funded during the first year and I worked full-time, we shot on the weekends and edited late at night. Kickstarter seemed like a natural progression to help make the film a top priority.
D: What made you choose Kickstarter?
H: We were lucky to have an incredible audience built in to our project. In the film, David Hyde Pierce says, “You’ve either never heard of [The Phantom Tollbooth] or think it’s a biblical text.” Most films go through a commissioner or producer to determine its marketability. Our audience enabled us to bypass this process and go straight to crowdfunding. It’s also fitting that we funded Tollbooth through Kickstarter because the novel itself focuses on progressive education and the importance of innovation.
D: What were the positives and negatives you experienced working with the platform?
H: Like most crowdfunding sites, Kickstarter projects are not funded by a few large donors but by many smaller contributors. You also achieve direct interaction with your audience. The constant contact your audience craves can translate to a lot of leg work but the payoff is rewarding. The personal relationships we gained have made this film completely worthwhile.
D: Was social media a large part of your funding strategy?
H: When we first launched Tollbooth, I was tweeting individually. Once the project gained traction, our social media took off. I had to learn very quickly how to effectively run an online campaign. Most days I felt like two different people, spending half my day editing and the other half communicating with our social media audience. I had never managed an intensive campaign before but, on a small production like ours, you needed to understand social media, finance, marketing, and the creative aspects. That was one of the biggest challenges. If I had one piece of advice to our readers, I would say learn to wear many different hats.
D: Any other last words of wisdom?
H: If you would like to learn more about the crowd-funding process, check out Indie Game: The Movie’s case study. They have great insight on their indie film experience with funding, filming and self-distribution.