Crowd-Sourcing for Filmfun and Profit

This article first appeared (authored by me) February 20, 2011 on Technorati here.


Mainstream media and major film distributors don’t speak “Crowd.”They just don’t seem to get it.

Crowd sourcing and crowd funding, by nature are not mainstream and Netizens happily communicate in their own language and with their own peeps.

Two filmmakers, Karl-Martin Pold and Sarah Noeringberg, are soliciting donations at StartNext online for their documentary, A Man Called Spencer; about famous Italian actor, Bud Spencer, who is most known for his spaghetti westerns.

When the Italian press got wind of it, one of the newspapers released a misguided story claiming that Spencer was poor and was trying to raise money to support himself.  Really?

In the cafe culture of creatives around the world who are familiar with the subject and meaning of crowd sourcing and its counterpart, crowd funding, the subject is still hot. They understand it and are embracing it by the thousands.

To clarify for those who may not yet have entered this democratized medium, crowd sourcing is a way to engage the talented citizens of the Internet in the creative aspects or other elements of a project, i.e., the script, music, effects shots, titles, trailers, etc.

A subset of crowd sourcing is crowd funding, a platform that enables filmmakers or other creatives to solicit monetary donations for their projects.

Perhaps one of the earliest films to appear online for free download was Star Wreck, released in 1997. It was 45 minutes long and message boards caught on fire.  The phenomenon had begun.

The cast of the original Star Wreck

Star Wreck Cast

The same team released one of the first collaborative films to crossover into the mainstream press and become well known, Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning.  It was launched in 2000 by maverick filmmakers (five students and several unemployed friends from Tampere) with little money, lots of idealism and their own home computers.

The blue screen used behind many of the scenes of the film, was a piece of linoleum painted with blue chroma key paint and their equipment may not have been the most exotic, but they worked together to make their movie and found themselves in the post production process by 2004, much of which was completed in their homes.

Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning was released online on October 1, 2005, and within four days had over 400,000 downloads.  It was subsequently shown on TV in Finland, Sweden and Norway and the DVD came out in the UK on April 4, 2009.

Timo Vuorensola, Director of Star Wreck, is making another feature and creating independent film history with Iron Sky. The trailer for Iron Sky was released just before the Cannes film festival in 2008 and was viewed over 1 million times during that year.

In February of 2008, a group of netizens gathered together on <a href=””></a> to contribute our creative thoughts and ideas to the filmmakers and eventually many also contributed money to help fund the project, Iron Sky.  At the time, it was fun, but we had no idea how the wreckers would end up changing the face of film-making.

Iron Sky, a sci-fi about Nazis in space, is an anomaly because of the size of its budget and its potentially mainstream appeal.  It may now be the great-granddaddy of them all.  This could very easily be the Matrix of independent films.

Although the final numbers fluctuate depending on who is reporting, the budget is 6,900,000 Euros.  The filmmakers are trying to raise 900,000 Euros through crowd funding and merchandising sales and are just over 30% there as of this writing.

On February 6, 2011, after traveling from Finland to Germany and Australia, Iron Sky completed shooting.

Watch a video diary with Timo Vuorensola, Iron Sky director here.

What most mainstream entertainment press and film distributors seem to overlook, is that the core roots of crowd funding were built for niche product; independent films on subjects that Hollywood or other major funding sources of financing, whether private of from governments around the world, would never fund. If, by happenstance these films find a major supporter, great, but most don’t and won’t.

This is a new day and a new way to finance.  Over on Kickstarter, which claims to be the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world, numerous films have been funded.

If you wanted to make a movie about the death of the Linotype machines, you could have contributed to Doug Wilson’s Linotype: The Film, which was 311% funded by 279 backers for a total of $24,915.  Well shot and surprisingly engaging, it found its niche online and was born.

Happy – A Documentary, from acclaimed director, Roko Belic got finishing funds ($36,238), Girls Will be Girls 2012; was funded for $35,226 and other projects found backers as well:  i am i ($111,965), Ride with Larry ($62,695), A Perfect Ending ($53,585), Hidden Colors ($26,777) and many more.

Living on its own site is Artemis Eternal, a film in the making from Jessica Mae Stover who tells us, “This is the art of the possible.”  Stover is a dedicated creative purist who says, “We are part of a free-running pack wherein no one owns anyone else and everyone chooses to be here to look, to focus, to dream, to act in the same direction.”

World-famous French director, Luc Besson, known as a maverick filmmaker, recently set up a website asking fans to contribute to the screenplay and other elements for his next project.  See his latest video introducing the film here.

Besson suggests that we make a movie together. “This is a platform for people who really like movies to be a part of it right from the beginning. When there is heart, intelligence, humor and emotion in a film and we feel it, then there is a chance that others feel it as well.”

A crowd funding conference by, was hosted this week at the event location, Home Base Lounge, a popular venue for professional tech and social media gatherings in Berlin, Germany.

Danae Ringleman, COO of told Simon Chappuzeau and the crowd attending that, 20% of the people who donate are total strangers and find the project by browsing, but 80% already know the filmmaker or the project or have a relationship to the subject.”

What does this mean to those who would try to finance their projects this way?  In order to be successful, it is imperative that every project understands their target audience and employs a viable marketing strategy along with the solicitation for funding.

Chappuzeau elaborates, “Crowd funding is very interesting from a business perspective, because it forces every project to think about their target audience and by so doing, develop a clear marketing and sales strategy.  By the time you have listed your film on any of these sites, you are basically set to reach your target.  It is business integration at it’s best.”

Chappuzeau insists that crowd funding is only a successful tool if you maintain a strong connection with your marketplace during the process.  “In the old world a filmmaker would get his project ready and hope that it would sell.  This was a very risky model.  In the world of crowd funding, a filmmaker quickly knows whether or not the project will be successful and either starts it or not.  They have,” as he puts it, “a safety net.”

Crowd funding in the United States may be more advanced than some countries because of the donation culture that exists there.  “Americans are more prone to give money to things they like than other countries,” Chappuzeau says, but it is “picking up in Europe,” he continues.

IndieGoGo was founded in 2008 by COO Danae Ringelmann, CEO Slava Rubin and CTO Eric Schell. Although it is based in the United States, it claims to be the largest international crowd funder with members in 159 countries.  Why does this matter?  In order to receive funds, you have to have an active bank account in the country of origin of the project.  IndieGoGo boasts having as of this date, 19,239 campaigns.

Most platforms take a percentage of funds raised.  IndieGoGo gives you any money that you raise, but they take 9% if you don’t reach your goal and 5% if you do, thus creating a strong incentive to achieve full financing.  Kickstarter will only distribute funds if the project reaches its goal and they charge a percentage as well.

The important point of all of this is that a new kind of film is emerging.  Films that may not have seen the light of day are getting made.

The democratization of the filmmaking process is producing a fresh, energetic and dedicated crowd.  People like Dana Yuriko, who presented at the HomeBase Lounge seminar, talked of her film, Bar 25, about a notorious and very free-spirited nightclub in Berlin that raised 25,000 Euros (a large budget in Europe for a crowd sourced project) in less than a week through this incubation process.

Why?  Because there was a very loyal underground of club goers eager to see the film and they spread the word, encouraging each other to support Yuriko in her efforts.

And it doesn’t end there. Yuriko now has a fully funded film and can enjoy and reinvest the profits from several thousand potential DVD sales.

Creative people by nature are mavericks. Perhaps this new frontier will yield amazing projects supported by fans and enjoyed by many.

I, for one, hope so.