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Independent Films Have Received $100 Millon on Kickstarter So Far, Are We Just Getting Started?

Think about that for a second. Just a few years ago everyone was talking about how the bottom had fallen out of independent film funding. While that may be true to a certain extent, Kickstarter has completely changed the way smaller films are funded, and they’ve created a new golden age of film funding. Who knows if the funding on Kickstarter will ever dry up, but for now, it’s one of the best places to go if you’re trying to make a movie or web series. Check out some of the incredible statistics below:

Film & Video statistics (April 28, 2009 — January 1, 2013)

  • Total pledged: $102.7 million 
  • Total collected: $85.7 million
  • Total backers: 891,979 
  • Funded projects: 8,567

In the past three years, nearly 900,000 people have pledged their support to an independent filmmaker on Kickstarter, pledging more than $100 million to features, documentaries, shorts, webseries, and other film and video projects. Nearly $60 million has been pledged in the past 12 months alone.

To me, the really staggering number is the fact that almost 9,000 projects have been funded. Whether they have been successfully made yet or not, that means 9,000 different productions were created because they reached the crowd directly — of which there were almost 900,000. We always talk about it being so difficult to compete with all of the different screens that most people are bombarded with, but clearly there is an audience out there somewhere, even if it’s not as big as we’d like it to be.

Here are some of the highlights from the history of film on Kickstarter:

127 Kickstarter-funded projects have premiered or been official selections at Sundance, SXSW, and Tribeca, and many of these films have gone on to win awards at those same festivals. 16 Kickstarter films have been broadcast on a number of different networks, and 8 films were nominated for Independent Spirit Awards just this year.

Obviously the big winner has been documentaries, with narrative feature films not too far behind — in accolades and in money. It might be worth thinking about why documentaries might be the most funded (even though there were about the same number of both docs and features), especially when we know that for the most part documentaries receive only a fraction of the budgets in Hollywood, and usually only receive a fraction of the revenue. It could have a lot to do with the fact that these movies have a built-in audience already. Whatever their subject, it might be easier convincing people to give money towards a project that is about something tangible and real. It also could have something to do with the way documentary filmmakers get themselves and their ideas out there. Making a doc is an uphill battle in all sorts of ways, and it may be that they can target a potential audience better than narrative filmmakers can.

Of course, if you look at it another way, narrative feature films still raised over $30 million dollars. That’s nothing to scoff at. Another significant number is $60 million. That’s how much has been pledged in the last year. If you’re looking to make a film, and you want to fund on Kickstarter, it looks like things are only going to get better. Based on those numbers, it’s not clear when we’ll hit the ceiling — if ever. As Kickstarter enters the mainstream, and opens up in more countries, it’s going to become even more relevant, and likely reach a far wider audience. This is only going to help independent films going forward. More eyeballs means a better chance to hit your goal and make your movie. It also means more competition, but that’s a fact of any industry that lowers the cost of participation.

We have more hurdles ahead, however. A lot of the money for these projects goes directly into production costs, and not necessarily towards helping these filmmakers make a living. That’s the next big challenge, figuring out how a person can make a living in this industry outside of Hollywood (if that’s even possible). It may be that independent film is destined to be strictly a hobby, and not as a way to sustain yourself. Only time will tell, but from the looks of it, we’re just getting started.

What do you guys think? Have you funded anything on Kickstarter? If not, do you plan to in the future? What do you think is next for all of these funded movies — will we figure out independent distribution or will most indies be relegated to passion projects that only a handful of people see?

Link: $100 Million Pledged to Independent Film — Kickstarter


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Description image 31 COMMENTS

  • Film genius on 01.7.13 @ 9:51PM

    What the hell happened to Man Child? I know a lot of loyal readers helped Koo out it’s going on two years and not a peep how that project is going? He has plenty of writers who do an outstanding job. From what I can tell we all bought Koo a scarlet.

  • Wow, where did that come from? Perhaps a quick perusal of the Comment Policy might be in order?

  • ThunderBolt on 01.7.13 @ 11:00PM

    KS is a great platform. I have funded three film/video and 8 other art projects. I do it for the sake of helping someone reach a dream or goal without expectations. I feel crowd sourcing is in it’s infancy and over time we’ll see CS transform into a regarded means for production. It builds community and has the potential for cross over funding. As the studios loose it’s monopoly to indies, you tube and vimeo this potential will transform the future of entertainment. Great post Joe!

  • shaun wilson on 01.8.13 @ 12:06AM

    Oh please, not this argument again, just shut up about the bloody Scarlet camera- the argument was dead in the water for the first 100 times anyway. Give the guy a break and just let him make a movie which if you have ever made a feature, you would know it can take years. I should know. So can we just bury the Koo buying a Scarlet thing and move on?

  • I contributed through KS to and a film project by Sharon Wright of Change for a Dollar fame. I love the idea of being able to support film projects directly like this. While I am just a videographer/photographer at a private school, I love the idea that anyone with a good idea and the passion to succeed may be able to raise the funds to see their project to fruition.

  • Getting back on topic. Since most Kickstarter project don’t promiss anything in terms of the intellectual property rights to the end product (mostly signed DVDs, Blurays, downloads or bumper stickers), the artists are still in full control of any future monetization option. If it’s any good, they can still sell their content in a myriad of ways to pay for their living, instead of merely the production fees.

  • I remember I did an indiegogo once. Couldn’t even get 1 cent donated, even tho I’ve worked my ass off, so it’s not for everyone.

    • john jeffreys on 01.8.13 @ 2:16PM

      It is not an “instant gratification” free money platform. Successful campaigns have 24/7 social media whoring and a really good marketing savvy person running them.

  • The sad thing is, is that this is still less money than Uwe Boll alone has lost investors.

  • We’ll be receiving funding on our short film in the next 48 hours, following a successful campaign. We’ve even gone about 20% over our target! Peoples generosity, including strangers, constantly astounds me.

  • I really wish KS is available for the Canadians!

  • I’ve been lucky enough to have two of my own projects funded via kickstarter over the last three years (one for $12k and one for $30k) and have helped fund a number of others. Some delivered, and some didn’t, but I knew that going in and I was more interested in the process and the journey fore most of them, than I was the final output.

    I think what will emerge next (and is emerging) are viable, transparent, distribution channels for these crowdfunded projects so that they can be somewhat sustainable. For those of us that do this for a living, as much as we hate the dreaded “revenue” question, it’s something we have to think about and I hope it’ll be more obvious and easier to access in coming years. The current “legitimate” distribution model is outdated, incestuous, and based on expensive physical screenings, critical praise from NYC/LA, butts in seats, etc., not eyeballs online, shares/likes, or user engagement.

    After running two projects now for my own work, I just don’t realistically see myself utilizing Kickstarter again (at least not for the next few years, maybe longer). Social capital can only be spent so many times and, as you can all probably attest, social media is already beginning to suffer from crowdfunding fatigue. My goal with this current project is to crack the sustainability nut before it cracks me.

    • Re: social capital – I spent a ton of time tweeting emailing and FBing about a friend’s project – one that I’ve donated to twice on different platforms. Because of that I don’t feel I can reasonably start the merry go round again for a project of my own for another 8-months or year. Since many of my friends are filmmakers as well, it adds up. At said, I’m glad that kickstarter and other platforms are thriving. It’s good to know that people can find ways to create larger projects than they would have been able to otherwise.

    • I disagree. While the volume of social engagement might be flattening out, I wouldn’t say it’s fatigued necessarily.

      We are at the beginning of a cultural shift in story telling. Traditionally, we’ve had a very large wall between content producers/providers (studios, network TV, etc) and content consumers. Content production was so tightly controlled by the producers that consumers had little input. Content was simply a byproduct of a financial system. If it didn’t fit that system, it wasn’t produced.

      Even if thousands of fans wanted Star Trek or Baywatch or whatever to continue…once it’s financial potential fell below a certain threshold, the content producers would kill it. Plus, the multitude of financial fingers in the pie made the process very restrictive. Cable networks are somewhat free from those constraints and the content they produce are more vibrant, risky and IMO, worthwhile. Cable networks (HBO, Showtime, etc) are the birthplace of user paid content when you think about it.

      Now imagine content that is 100% paid by the consumers. Or at the very least, majority funded. I believe that is the future. We’re not there yet, but it’s inevitable. People are already seeking the content they want through alternative means. Once the financial models finds their footing, I think we will see an explosion of great story telling and there will be no turning back. Kickstarter is the beginning of these financial models.

      • I agree with you whole-heartedly, actually, so I think we may only disagree on the way in which I used “fatigued” – in fact, pretty much everything you typed is what I harp on incessantly, semester after semester, in the class I teach here in Boston (have you read ‘The Story Wars’ or A Whole New Mind?).

        I love kickstarter. I love crowdfunding – it completely changed my filmmaking life. That said, if you’ll hear me out, I think it is fatigued from a particular vantage-point.

        Because crowdfunding is becoming so “common” in the US in the filmmaking/gaming/tech world, social media and networking is no longer a sufficient ‘ask’ for most people – yet statistically it’s where 80% of pledges come from (FACEBOOK!). So when I say it’s fatiguing, I’m not speaking on the macro level — rather I’m speaking as someone in the trenches who for the last three years has utilized kickstarter, hand-held almost 50 campaigns for colleagues and friends and run two of my own. I can tell you it is in fact fatigued and fatiguing, and that’s OK – I anticipated that as a model for raising funds, it would eventually saturate my network near to the point of obsolescence and my/our approach would need to evolve.

        But, anecdotally, when I ran my first kickstarter campaign in early 2010, the “ask” was MUCH easier because crowdfunding was novel. Talking about it was easy simply because it was new, and it was cool. Very cool. The idea of crowdfunding got as much traction in my press releases than the the individual projects were getting – this was a common problem. No one (hardly anyone) was doing it, so we had to talk about what it was. I’m not saying it wasn’t damn hard work, but fast forward two and a half years and having just walked off my second successful personal campaign (2 weeks ago), it was infinitely more difficult this time, a lot less “cool and novel” and nigh impossible to cut through the noise to get any traction beyond my extended network. 10 times more difficult than it was in 2010.

        I’m fatigued from running my own campaigns and helping on those of my friends and colleagues. I’m “fatigued” by the 10 or so crowdfunding requests I get weekly via email. that’s not counting social media. And I’m not alone. My colleagues all feel it. We don’t even ask each other anymore to “help spread the word to your network” because 1) we’ve all run a campaign by now, and 2) we’re socially bankrupt. It takes years to buildup social credit again, and unless you’ve got a product you’re selling, have a celebrity talent spearheading or backing with THEIR social capital, or you’ve got a MASSIVE personal network, you’ll find crowdfunding to be thrilling, and life-changing, but in the end it’s very, very fatiguing.

        For US filmmakers, the crowdfunding honeymoon is over, and anyone who has been married can attest, it’s that first year after the honeymoon that’s the hardest and puts the future of your relationship into perspective.

        • Nathaniel, really great insight into crowd funding and independent film, especially documentaries. You are one of the pioneers of this type of funding. Top notch work too.

        • I guess the hope would be that the end result from your campaigning would earn you more social credit. As in, the film does so well it opens you up to a whole new audience based on a successful distribution (whether that’s word of mouth/critical reviews/etc). Same with the personal social networks that you’ve fatigued with crowd funding campaigns – if they were involved in funding the next Clerks/Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity/Beasts of the Southen Wild/Monsters/etc, and they saw the success that an equivalent film earned, they would share an equal sense of that reward and they’d also feel like they can trust you, and they’d be more inclined to help on the next one. If you give a guy $5 to make you a burger and he brings back a steaming pile of shit in between 2 buns, then you most certainly won’t be buying anymore burgers from that establishment. (I’m not saying your metaphorical burgers are turd burgers, btw). I guess, ultimately, I’m saying there is an element of accountability with the final product. I’ve seen quite a few indie productions, short and feature, that whilst I appreciate the effort that went into them, I think they fail on a multitude of levels, and I think an audience who doesn’t care about the effort would just think “this is shit”. And with film being such a subjective platform, that makes it all the more harder to convince people you’ve done a great job with their donations.

  • Kickstarter has been a great success….for Americans. They accept money from anyone around the world, but only US citizens can run a project. Now if they would open up to say Canada, I would appreciate the service that much more ;) Why they went to the UK before Canada is frankly baffling.

    Before anyone says it; no, Indiegogo is not the same. They don’t have nearly the same marketing strength, web traffic or reputation.

    Congrats to all however! Crowdfunding is the future.

  • on 01.8.13 @ 10:44AM

    I haven’t funded anything through a crowdfunding platform, though I have contributed to projects on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.

    I will be releasing a review on a promising crowdfunding platform called Seed&Spark next week. If any of you have had limited success with Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, you might consider giving S&S a shot.

  • Almost a year ago to the day, the documentary I’m making was successfully funded through Kickstarter. Really, based on how new both myself and the rest of my crew were to the industry, I don’t think we would have been able to find many other ways of funding the film so we owe being able to make it on the fact that Kickstarter exists.
    On the note about the money going to production costs and not to help the filmmaker earn a decent living, that again is completely true of us. Everyone on the very small crew are struggling financially just to get this thing finished. It has definitely tested my will many times, but from what I’ve gained through making this film I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And it’s all because crowdfunding exists.

  • Kickstarter is also a primary source for films shot in non-traditional markets far from Hollywood. For me, it represents one of the numbering fingers, (DSLR, Digital Content, Web-delivery) slowly tightening its grip on the major studios.

  • Daniel Austin on 01.11.13 @ 12:45PM

    If you get funded on kickstarter for a movie can you not buy equipment for the movie with the money gained from Kickstarter?

  • Crowdfunding can be a beat-down. We’ve ran two different campaigns for our first feature Locked. The first was for production. That one was not successful. Six months later we have finished production on a shoestring budget and have now launched an Indiegogo campaign for post production and premiere funds. 2000 visitors later we are only 14% to our goal ($5000) with just 7 days left. We paid for traffic, referrals, etc. all to no avail.

    Maybe the issue is our project. Maybe it’s our approach. Either way it’s tough.