Looking at the homepage for film on the crowdfunding site Pozible is almost like peering into the collective unconscious of indie filmmakers around Australia. There is the short film about a boy with a meteorite stuck in his head, a film examining roadkill in Tasmania, a webseries about a lonely superhero, and many, many others. All looking for your dollar to help get their ideas on to our screens.
The beauty of having a film funded through crowdfunding is that we have full creative control
In the past, these ideas would've perhaps remained as just ideas in the minds of their creators. A few of these filmmakers may have maxed out their credit cards and borrowed from friends and family in order to create a bootstrapped project. But sites like Pozible and Kickstarter are making it so that creatives don't have to go broke to see their vision come to life. The popularity of these sites also mean that increasingly filmmakers don't have to rely on traditional avenues for funding such as Screen Australia, state government agencies and independent film grants in order to get their film made.
Not all crowdfunded projects will be successful of course. Pozible has a success rate of 49 percent. But that still means half of all projects will succeed. Those are pretty good odds – and probably much better than the odds of getting your project funded through hotly contested government funds and grants. In 2012, $5.8 million was pledged on Pozible – a great whack of money helping ideas that may not necessarily fit the mainstream to get off the ground. One of those ideas was Gayby Baby, a documentary film that will tell the stories of kids raised in same-sex families.
Gayby Baby became one of the most successful projects on Pozible in 2012. The project raised $118,375 on the site and with 1,244 people backing them, had more supporters than any other film project in Pozible's history. Maya Newell, the film's director, who is herself a 'gayby' – i.e. a person raised by gay parents – has been taken aback by all the support the film has received.
“Charlotte [the film's producer] and I were overjoyed. We have received an overwhelming amount of support from the general public. In the end, it was not any big investors, or generous individuals, it was everyday families chipping in 20 to 50 bucks that got us over the line,” she says.
Maya came up with the idea for Gayby Baby mostly because she was not seeing families like hers represented on screen. “Gayby Baby was conceived when I realised that there was a gaping hole of narratives, information and understanding about kids growing up in families like mine. Most children can turn on the television every night and see some semblance of their family story told onscreen. Gaybies can't. I wanted to make the film that I would have loved to have seen as a child, the film that would've validated me and my family. Our narratives are yet untold.”
She and Charlotte initially tried to raise funds through the usual means before turning to crowdfunding. “We did try some of the traditional funding options. Mostly they wanted different versions and angles into the story we wanted to tell. The beauty of having a film funded through crowdfunding is that we have full creative control,” she says.
This, however, brings its own unique challenges. “I think a really interesting part of crowdfunding is the accountability of the filmmakers to produce the film once they receive the funding. There is no binding agreement really, and I love that crowdfunding relies on honesty and trust. Perhaps more than ever these are the qualities necessary of a filmmaker in our age. If we don't deliver what we have said we would, I have lost not only an audience for the film, but potential supporters for all the films I ever want to make in the future.”
Gayby Baby's success was in part due to how they marketed themselves. Maya made a memorable appearance on the show Q&A when she asked Senator Penny Wong a question and as a result found herself as the subject of discussions online and in a Sydney Morning Herald article.
“Mainstream media and print media were certainly the catalysts that got us over the line. Q&A was extremely helpful. We spent about five hours after the show chatting to people online, on Facebook, email, and Twitter. We were even trending on Twitter for about an hour!”
Her main advice for filmmakers crowdfunding their projects is to market hard and work hard.
“Find your audience. Write interesting articles for print media. Try to attract radio. Attack the Twittersphere and Facebook with interesting intelligent comments [not just about your film]. Engage people in discussion. Find a physical presence in the world too – leaflets, or a performance, cross media. Be visual, be transparent, and work harder than ever.”
So is crowdfunding the answer for indie filmmakers? “Yes and no. It's not the answer for everyone and often only supplements a budget. Some films are also definitely more crowdfundable than others.”
As for the future of crowdfunding, Maya is pensive. “Crowdfunding as we know it may have a limited lifespan, but I am sure it will pave the way for other more interesting ways of funding all genres and stories. It has certainly been a part of breaking down the strictures of traditional funding methods and that is an exciting feat in itself.”
For now, however, crowdfunding is here to stay and has become a credible avenue for new voices to be heard without having to taint their vision and/or conform to the mainstream, thus making it for some filmmakers, a better option than traditional funding avenues.