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Crowdfunding Cynema

Do I Or Don’t I?

There are crowdfunding sites for films, projects, medical issues, video games, bankruptcy, personal hardships and well…one for making potato salad.

What does Cynema have to do with crowdfunding? After all, it’s about people pursuing their dreams, correct? Maybe. Some of that is legit.

I am focusing on the film projects. Thousands of folks out there have turned to The Internet to get their movie funded.  Kickstarter, Indie Go Go and Go Fund Me have bloomed as filmmakers go to these sites, set financial goals and lobby for donors. I’ve followed several of these ventures on Twitter. They spend their day lobbying followers to help them make their daily financial goals to make “their dream” come true. They offer “packages” that give the title of “producer” to their films. This is ball busting work and to be sure has pissed off a legion of followers with the constant time line shake downs. Some of these filmmakers publicly announce that they are unemployed, which doesn’t always sit well with The Twitterverse.

I have yet to do crowdfunding. I have been urged by several to try it. I understand it, but not sure I want to embrace it. To date, I have found single financiers, drew up a single contract for those individuals and deposited a single lump sum in the bank. To be blunt, crowdfunding seems like a lot more work. I am not intimate on how crowfunders will divide “profits” or how they handle a donor’s request for creative input or what happens if the film doesn’t come out well or never gets released. We are assuming it’s a “donor beware” situation and your 10-20-50 bucks…whatever, is donated with the concept that you are gambling with it and may never see any return whatsoever.

That’s at least how I would pose it. Otherwise the legal issues are stupefying.

DONOR VS. PRODUCER

I am not a lawyer, but there is something not quite right with labeling someone who throws 20 bucks at your project a “producer.” The title implies a couple of things: creative control or input, share in profits, input on the direction of the film. I get it, the title sounds cool and affords bragging rights to someone (“Hey! You know I’m a producer on Super Troopers 2? No, seriously!”). It’s not so simple, but I don’t think the law has quite caught up with crowdfunding (like other aspects of the digital world).

The word “producer” should not be used. “Donor” is better, as the word implies just that…a donation.

So here are some questions for the folks in charge of their crowdfunders using the word “producer” instead of “donor:”

  1. What happens when a “producer” demands a new cut of the film or creative input on the script or cuts of the film?
  2. Do “producers” share in the back end profits or sale of the film? Minimum guarantees? Pre sales? Merchandise?
  3. If “producers” donate a sum, do you have paperwork outlining a reservation of rights? Is there some kind of documentation clearly stating the donors have no input on creative control of the film, no right to back end profits, no right to monies made on minimum guarantees, pre sales or other income?
  4. Do you have some kind of document prohibiting the donor from claiming any kind of ownership over the project?

I get it, there are all kinds of cool packages and incentives to get someone to click and fund. Autographs, posters, clothing, name in the titles, etc. But what happens when a cynical donor tries to exploit a way to hijack a project? Has it happened yet? I have not heard that it has, but to me, it’s only a matter of time before we see it.

“Fans” feel they have ownership over a celebrity at conventions. I have seen this numerous times. A fan waits in line, spends 20 bucks and up for a picture, an autograph, whatever, and they suddenly believe they have the right to say whatever they please to the celebrity. They feel some kind of ownership because they saw, bought or rented their movie/merchandise. The celeb is to stand there, smiling or show no reaction to the obtuse comments that come from an overzealous “fan.”

The Project

As for the project itself…

The first thing a distributor asks about a film is: “Who’s in it?” The industry has shrunk and the “indie business” is not what it used to be in the glory days of DVD in the late 90’s early ’00’s. Studios are cranking out less indie product and sticking with big blockbuster “tentpole” material and remakes/reboots/repackagings.  A name is a piece of equity to a distributor. It proposes the idea that there is less exposure on taking a risk on the film. This is why a studio like Disney would rather take a chance on expensive dogs like Prince of Persia or the embarrassment of John Carter (yeah, yeah, that Yor: Hunter From The Future flick had staunch supporters but like the Star Wars prequels, this crapfest just screamed cheesy big budget SyFy Channel movie). Spending 100 million on a hopeful blockbuster is less risk to the studio system than 10 smaller films at 10 million apiece.

greenTell me Warner Bros. wasn’t worried when they decided to make Green Lantern. The bottom of the super hero barrel was skimmed but they gambled over $200 million in a film that may eventually break even or profit. It wasn’t the smash hit they hoped; coming nowhere near Iron Man or Dark Knight levels, but something told the studio to take the shot. Do you know how many indie films, GOOD indie films coulda been made on that budget or just the marketing budget alone?

I am sure the crowdfunders lobbying for funds on Twitter are aware of it every single day.

So why do this? Unless an indie film is exceptionally good or has at least one “sellable” name, the chances for the film escaping its hard drive or avoid the eventual YouTube upload are slim. Most times indie films are the most expensive DVDs on the director’s shelf, shown to friends and family accompanied by grand talks of how they will eventually get it out there. Many times these films are nowhere near as good as the filmmakers think they are.

But there are those that are spectacular and deserve to be seen by wide audiences.

The Hollywood Studio System does not make superstars. It discovers them. It has no interest in nurturing talent or educating it. It wants those who already have the spark to translate that into fast revenue. If the stars align they get a Spielberg who produces more hits than flops for several decades. These people had their talent long before Hollywood discovered them and that’s why it feeds on it voraciously.

The studio system is like a vampire, it needs to feed constantly on new blood because it does not produce its own supply. This is why remakes have been embraced…it is cannibalism as there is a dearth of new food supply being discovered. Play it safe: go with the super hero trend and run that into the ground as big franchises like Harry Potter, Twilight and Pirates reach their ends.

In playing it safe, the indie circuit, whether consciously or unconsciously has made efforts to align itself with “what is selling.” It has to because in the end, unless you have a ripe donor like Woody Allen or Spike Lee (who make more independent films that don’t make money than those of that do) it’s a matter of small things like eating, keeping the lights on and the landlord off your ass.

CELEBS AND CROWDFUNDING: REAL CYNEMA

I have not, nor will I, give money to any celebrity crowdfunding project. Using James Franco as an example, this guy could fund several films just on what he was paid for that dog, Your Highness (he admits the film sucks here). Celebrities with large personal wealth should be ashamed going to the Internet and exploiting fans simply because they don’t want to spend their own money. Studio projects like Veronica Mars or Super Troopers should not be shilling for personal funds. Studios can fund them, they just wanna see how the crowdfunding thing goes with other peoples’ money.

Someone at the apex of Hollywood will make a ton of cash on Super Troopers 2, but it won’t be the donors who contributed.

HORROR SELLS?

Many of the films I see online seeking funds are horrors because the thought is that “horror sells.”

horror-film-crowdfunding

 

One of the most saturated horror sub-genre is the zombie flick. Before the release of my own zombie film, Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard, I went all “open letter” on why I caved and made the movie.You can read it HERE. There is zombie fatigue out there and I know it firsthand.

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Me on set of “Zombie Killers” with stars Billy Zane and Michael Kean.

I have not seen any of the indie fan funded zombie films and am not judging them. Zombie films have one plot: humans must survive. Whether The Walking Dead or the best of Romero, the plot is the same and the films never stray from this aspect because they can’t. However this is also what fans love and want and expect from their walking undead. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I Have The Next…

These indie filmmakers must believe they have something different. These online film funded ventures have passion and a belief in overcoming odds and taking the chance a studio would not afford. As far as I know, they have no major boxoffice star or even a stunt casting name that would mean something to a distributor. They have budgets that may not exceed $50,000 USD. Rough odds, to say the least, that these films will ever reach a wide audience or get beyond a local theatrical screening.

So why are they doing it? It’s hard enough to temper the expectations of one investor. I could not imagine answering to over 100 people.

“Making movies is the best set of electric trains a boy could have,” Orson Welles once said. He was an auteur who also paid a heavy price for having an independent vision as the system that built him up also destroyed him. It’s the dream…that’s why they do it. The hope it will lead to other things. It’s the old story of the man standing on the corner selling apples for a million bucks apiece. All ya gotta do is sell one.

The Parnormal Activity/Blair Witch “get rich with nothing” formula is a myth. They were carefully calculated films backed by major studio advertising campaigns. Unfortunately it has created a breed of filmmaker who thinks they’re gonna make a $5000 film with their Best Buy camera and computer editing software and make 300 million. This creates a subterfuge for the real filmmakers out there trying to get their work funded and most of all seen. They have to push their way past the wannabes, and most of all…fight.

Fan Funded Films are a risk–perhaps greater than having single financiers because you have so many to answer to who may also think they know best. getting the movie made is one thing. Getting out there making money is another.

Once it’s done they will have to fight even harder for distribution and the constant harping of “When will it be out? I gave you 20 bucks, where is it?”

What happens when someone says the funded film failed because their input wasn’t considered? What happens when they sue not for their twenty bucks back, but for “estimated lost” because their producer title was ignored? Could we be that far off from this scenario? Anyone can sue for anything. I did not say anyone who does this will prevail.

Simply, it can create a legal nightmare for filmmakers who simply wanted to run down a dream.

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