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December 9 at 8:32am

To Crowdfund or Not to Crowdfund, that is the question for today’s filmmakers

Guest post by Thomas Mai www.thomasmai.net

There are many advantages to Crowdfunding, but one of the less known is that you actually get to test if there is an audience for your film BEFORE you make it. We filmmakers are driven by passion (clearly not the money) and often we spend 2-4 years on making a film, just to find out that nobody really cares about it.

By Crowdfunding even smaller amounts you send a clear signal to potential investors/ film funds that you know who your audience is (and often where they live) this makes it so much easier for investors/film funds to believe in you because you have have proven that the audience believes in you.

In the traditional way of making films, audience was this magical thing that entered the life of the film once it was completed. Sure, we thought about the audience while making the film, but there was no direct audience participation. Yes, we could do test screenings and go back to the editing room but the film was ALREADY shot.

It has always been about the audience and it will always be about the audience, but we could never engage with our audience before the film was ready to be released. Social Media has changed the way we can communicate with a global audience instantly.

Ask and you shall receive

By engaging with the audience from the idea/script stage you can gather a large group of followers who want you to succeed if you ask them their opionion depending on the topic of your film. Ie what are the 3 best tango films in the world, and why? What is the best opening monlogue ever written for a film and why? Who is your favorite character that you “hate” or love and why?

Crowdfunding allows you to get great feed back on your project before you spend 4 “miserable” years trying to make it. I am not saying that you should lose your artistic touch with your film but I am simply saying that if you are making a film then (hopefully) you want audiences to go and see it. Why not engage with them now? The wisdom of crowds is often far better at judging your idea, than a script doctor, producer, sales agent or TV station. Plus if you do bring the audience then it is SO much easier to work with the script doctor, producer, sales agent or TV station.

Because it has always been about the audince, we as filmmakers had to rely on distributors and tv stations to get it “out there” because they “owned” the audience and that is why, traditionally speaking they had so much “control” over our films. By bringing your own audience to any producer, sales agent or distributor you have so much more bargaining power. It is time for us to own our own audience.

By not crowdfunding you are missing out on one of the best tools for any filmmakers these days. Then it is back to waiting in line with everyone else to go see the ever fewer “gatekeepers” that are still left in the game.

When I do seminars or coach my clients, many are so afraid about the changes in our industry and most say something in the following lines. I am already spending 100% of my time trying to get this film off the ground and now you also want me to build a website, crowdfund, distribute, build a fan database etc. There is not enough hours in the day….. Yes, the roles are changing but so is the world around us. How many distributors are still out there and what are they paying for film rights? It is all about building the right systems from the beginning. Imagine that you could keep making 1 film every year for the rest of your life and get it financed and distributed to the same group of fans that keeps growing every year. It is not impossible to have a direct relationship with 100.000 fans that can finance and buy your films again and again.

As filmmakers we have to start thinking about wearing many titles ie financier, producer and distributor. But we also get to keep the rights to our films for the rest of our lives. Social Media allows the entire film making process to be more democratic for everyone involved. What fun is there in making a film and then someone else gets the distribution rights to your film for the next 15 years and does nothing about it?

I personly believe this is the best time ever to be a filmmaker. All the tools (hardware and software) are getting cheaper and better, allowing everyone to profit from the previous closed foodchain.

Thomas Mai has been a sales agent for 15 years selling feature films like Cannes winner Lars von Trier’s “DANCER IN THE DARK”, Hollywood films starring Forest Whitaker and Julia Styles in “A LITTLE TRIP TO HEAVEN” to Berlinale winners to name a few among hundreds of feature films Thomas has sold worldwide. Thomas has sold films for some of the biggest directors in Scandinavia Lars von Trier, Lukas Moodysohn, Thomas Vinterberg, Susanne Bier, Baltasar Kormakur, Lone Scherfig, Josef Fares and many others

Today Thomas coaches film makers to thrive in a 2.0 connected world. Thomas also speaks and run workshops around the world. Find out more on www.thomasmai.net


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  • http://www.ekimnamwen.com Mike

    i've struggled with this on a couple documentaries i need to make. the problem is that i don't have the personality to be a financier or a distributor. i got into filmmaking because i am creative, not because i want to be a financier and a distributor.

    where are the new media financiers and distributors that can help filmmakers like me that just want to be filmmakers?

  • http://twitter.com/blindlylefilms blindlylefilms

    Thank you for a positive story about being a filmmaker now. I can't tell you how many times I've heard how tough it is “these days” and that you can't get money in “this economy”.

    Although you aren't going to necessarily raise your entire budget with a site like Kickstarter or Indie GoGo, you do engage your audience and get them involved early in the process.

    I look forward to making a movie every year and being able to have my audience one day cover my budget beforehand so that I can continue doing what I love.

    Thanks again,

    Adam Cohen
    Producer
    Blind Lyle Films
    (Our latest project)
    http://www.blindlylefilms.com/

  • FollowMyFilm

    Dear Thomas,

    First, thank you for taking the time to write an encouraging and positive post! I look forward to visiting your site and learning more about your work…

    I definitely agree that this, indeed, is the best time ever to be a filmmaker. And I affirm your conviction that independent filmmakers need to wear many hats, including marketing and distribution.

    Having recently completed an IndieGoGo campaign for my film, GIRLFRIEND 19, I would like to add a few thoughts. First, although I did not raise my goal, I did raise over $9000 with over 70 funders! But I can't say this reflects audience appreciation in my film. Why? Because most of the funders were close friends and family of either myself or my cast/crew. They ultimately gave because they want us to succeed, not because they necessarily are interested in the film.

    Second, you state that “It will always be about the audience.” I honestly feel this is one of the greatest hindrances aspiring filmmakers face. As a capitalistic, egotistic, political, entertainment venture, yes, filmmaking is about the audience, but as art, it cannot be. It must be about personal exploration and expression. Sure, the audience is a part of the creative process as viewers, I am not denying that; however, they should not be a part of the creation itself, unless, of course, that is part of the artist's intentional methodology.

    My favorite films, including Mr. Von Trier's are highly personal, original and unique. Though you know him better than I, I highly doubt he would want a bunch of strangers chiming in on his film at the developmental stage, unless, of course, that was part of his creative process. I can't image Mr. Von Trier discussing ANTICHRIST with his fans during development and incorporating their feedback. From what I gather, he makes what he wants, when he wants.

    Additionally, if crowdfunding is a “test” of audience interest in one's film, as you suggest, then many, many filmmakers will find themselves discouraged. The truth is that most films, especially narrative dramas, like my films, are not “tasty” at first. They sound boring and banal. “Another relational film?” people will wonder. For most dramas, it's the nuances, the performances, the dialogue, the mood, the directorial execution that makes them great! And that cannot be conveyed, articulated until after the film is made. You can talk about it, you can storyboard it, you can write about it, but most people lack the vision and faith that it will happen, unless the project is being pitched by a well-established filmmaker. So your notion of audience feedback does not apply well to certain kinds of films and filmmakers.

    Even if one is audience-oriented, i.e., they create for the audience, I'm not sure the audience themselves know what they want. Like everything else in this world, art needs leadership, thus, the artist must lead the audience and if they don't like it, then the artist will take that into account on the next project and so on.

    Once again, thank you and hopefully my thoughts are of some value.

    Sincerely,
    Christopher J. Boghosian

  • FollowMyFilm

    Dear Thomas,

    First, thank you for taking the time to write an encouraging and positive post! I look forward to visiting your site and learning more about your work…

    I definitely agree that this, indeed, is the best time ever to be a filmmaker. And I affirm your conviction that independent filmmakers need to wear many hats, including marketing and distribution.

    Having recently completed an IndieGoGo campaign for my film, GIRLFRIEND 19, I would like to add a few thoughts. First, although I did not raise my goal, I did raise over $9000 with over 70 funders! But I can't say this reflects audience appreciation in my film. Why? Because most of the funders were close friends and family of either myself or my cast/crew. They ultimately gave because they want us to succeed, not because they necessarily are interested in the film.

    Second, you state that “It will always be about the audience.” I honestly feel this is one of the greatest hindrances aspiring filmmakers face. As a capitalistic, egotistic, political, entertainment venture, yes, filmmaking is about the audience, but as art, it cannot be. It must be about personal exploration and expression. Sure, the audience is a part of the creative process as viewers, I am not denying that; however, they should not be a part of the creation itself, unless, of course, that is part of the artist's intentional methodology.

    My favorite films, including Mr. Von Trier's are highly personal, original and unique. Though you know him better than I, I highly doubt he would want a bunch of strangers chiming in on his film at the developmental stage, unless, of course, that was part of his creative process. I can't image Mr. Von Trier discussing ANTICHRIST with his fans during development and incorporating their feedback. From what I gather, he makes what he wants, when he wants.

    Additionally, if crowdfunding is a “test” of audience interest in one's film, as you suggest, then many, many filmmakers will find themselves discouraged. The truth is that most films, especially narrative dramas, like my films, are not “tasty” at first. They sound boring and banal. “Another relational film?” people will wonder. For most dramas, it's the nuances, the performances, the dialogue, the mood, the directorial execution that makes them great! And that cannot be conveyed, articulated until after the film is made. You can talk about it, you can storyboard it, you can write about it, but most people lack the vision and faith that it will happen, unless the project is being pitched by a well-established filmmaker. So your notion of audience feedback does not apply well to certain kinds of films and filmmakers.

    Even if one is audience-oriented, i.e., they create for the audience, I'm not sure the audience themselves know what they want. Like everything else in this world, art needs leadership, thus, the artist must lead the audience and if they don't like it, then the artist will take that into account on the next project and so on.

    Once again, thank you and hopefully my thoughts are of some value.

    Sincerely,
    Christopher J. Boghosian

  • Dave

    This is a great response Mike and a very serious issue that needs to be addressed. I am a firm believer that every crowdfunding campaign needs a promoter and in most cases the filmmaker is not this person. That being said most people that put projects on crowdfunding sites don't allocate capital for the people who are willing to do this for them.

    What's that worth to a person whose job is to do just that….promote and drive sales to your artwork?

    Most filmmakers think that people should do this for them out of love for their project. Not citing your project as an example Mike but your project and your film career better pay my mortgage or I'm out. Or maybe I'll just try and make one of these film thingy's myself…I mean…how hard can it be right?

    That last comment was meant to be facetious and absurd and what I think filmmakers need to realize is that unless you build the financial rewards for a person who is going to support you, that your idea seems as absurd an idea to them.

    Great post Thomas!

  • http://www.marblepolishing.net/ Marble Cleaning Miami

    I was agreed, I'll keep in touch to your blog.

  • Thomas Mai

    Dear Christopher

    Thanks for your notes and comments on my article.

    I completely agree with you that art needs leadership, but art also needs funding. As traditional funding and distribution methods are crumbling around us, one way to be seen and heard and thereby funded is to engage with the audience.

    I am not talking about having too many chefs in the kitchen, there can only be one, but I am talking about sharing your art with the audience before it is made so that you can get it made. That can either be done through asking questions or sharing some footage/storyboards/outline.

    While I do love art film, having produced some myself and sold hundreds of them, not all should had been made at all. Trust me. But unique voices like Mr. von Trier will always be recognized and funded. The next von Trier today should certainly use the net to find his audience and thereby funding

    Thanks

    Thomas Mai

  • http://www.thomasmai.net Thomas Mai

    Thanks Marble

    Thomas

  • http://www.thomasmai.net Thomas Mai

    Thanks Adam

    You are absolutely right. Go get them.

    Look what Robert Greenwald has done. He has more than 1.500.000 people in his database and do all funding and distribution directly with them.

    Thanks

    Thomas Mai

  • FollowMyFilm

    Thank you for your reply, Thomas – much appreciated. It's encouraging to know that I'm on the same page as a leader in indie film such as yourself.

    To quickly share, I launched my blog, FollowMyFilm.com, last year in order to share my process of making my first feature film, which is currently being edited. It has been an immensely rewarding experience with great feedback.

    I also regularly contribute Production Notes for the Garage on Mubi.com. That too has enabled me to engage with many people.

    Finally, I have a newsletter that I send out to hundreds of people quite consistently.

    The way I see it, Thomas, it's all about connecting with a core group of supporters and friends who want to see me make films. I love your kitchen analogy, and quite frankly, I have found that most people really don't want to be chefs or even help me cook! They simply want to hear about the cooking process and ENJOY THE MEAL! :)

    I'm cooking and having a blast. It's tough as a “nobody” chef, but it's all about the cooking and providing personally inspired, yet tasty food. Which is why I'll be launching an exciting project next month with a quick turnaround time while my feature is in post: I want to continue to provide fun entrees.

    Pax,
    cB

  • http://www.thomasmai.net Thomas Mai

    Hey Mike & Dave

    You dont need to have the personality of a financier or distributor. You need to have the personality of a filmmaker, just like yourself. For a great example of this please check out the film I AM I that is currently being funded on Kickstarter.com http://www.kickstarter.com/pro

    They are open, honest and very creative in terms of talking about their project and that is why they will be successful.

    If they can, so can you

    Thomas Mai

  • http://www.ekimnamwen.com Mike

    thomas, sorry but the film I AM I is a bad example because that filmmaker is obviously well-connected to wealthy people in the entertainment industry. is that her gigantic house that she's walking through? if i had to guess i would say she comes from a wealthy family herself.

    of course you don't have to have the personality of a financier if you have wealthy friends.

    show me an example of a filmmaker that is not a trust fund baby and doesn't have connections with other trust fund babies like jason ritter.

  • http://www.thomasmai.net Thomas Mai

    Mike, you are missing the point. It is not about the house, a trust fund or connections.

    It is about connecting to unknown people online to talk about the vision for your film. It doesnt matter where you live or who you know, it is about sharing your story and asking people to participate. But people online will only donate if you connect with them. Tell them your story and why you MUST make your film.

    What is the alternative? Wait for someone to knock on the door? Sorry, kidding, but jokes aside, you had to connect with financiers, sales agents and distributors in the “old” world now you can connect with the audience before, during and after you have made your film through Social Media.

    I hope this answers your question

    Thomas Mai

  • Dont

    There's nothing in the I Am I pitch which would attract a knowledgable investor, or even a reckless one, for that matter. Or an art philanthropist, either. It's very hard to believe they got $42,000 from strangers.

    A sucker may be born every minute, but even one a minute isn't enough to finance everybody's movie.
    And if the business is so great these days, why are so many people trying to make a living selling services, rather than investing their own money in films?

  • http://www.ekimnamwen.com Mike

    i understand what you are saying, but what i am saying is that people are too apathetic to support the arts, let alone a filmmaker that they don't know. the only way to get any support on kickstarter or indiegogo is to have wealthy family and friends. i bet 99% of the money raised for I AM I is from family, friends, and friends of friends.

    i want to see examples of crowdfunding that involved filmmakers with no connections receiving lots of money from total strangers, not examples like I AM I.

    in today's world there is no alternative for filmmakers that aren't wealthy or well connected or extremely lucky, which is why i wish i was a trust fund baby.

    i'm not waiting for someone to knock on the door, but i also understand it is crazy to assume that people will want to connect with my movie. most people are simply too indifferent to indie film. i've realized that if you want an audience that cares, then you have to cater to that audience.

    so now instead of catering to the old school system you now have to cater everything to the audience to get a very small fraction of them to give you their hard earned money that they would rather waste on booze and weed. i don't know if this is a better system, let alone a sustainable system. most audiences have been dumbed down by hollywood, so to appeal to an audience you'll most likely have to dumb your material down to the standards they have come to expect with movies.

  • http://www.ekimnamwen.com Mike

    don't, did you miss the semi-famous actors or just simply not recognize them?

  • Ruthcohencharif

    shalom eliahu
    see you are busy with some good new ideas. good luck with this and see you soon
    ruth and shmuel

  • thinkbeforedoing

    Thomas Mai, I'm quoting you by saying that you “help filmmakers connect with their audience before, during and after they have made a film. I enable filmmakers to create funding, merchandise and direct distribution with their fans..” What would a filmmaker – like myself – do to receive your advise and guidance, considering that I'm 3000 miles away from you if (I'm assuming) you're in NYC: which is where I'm focused on moving back to in the near future.

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