Out of Limitations Comes Creativity ~ Debbie Allen; or… how media has changed and the triumphs & pitfalls of independent fundraising

12 Jun

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. ~ Edwin Land

Some time ago, technology changed and made it so that anyone with a dream and some talent could make a movie- OK, the talent wasn’t always there, but it was if you wanted your work to actually be seen. The technology was readily available, at almost realistic for the average Joe prices, and the ability to get your work out to the masses was relatively simple. Of course, there was still a cost to it, so most people just made simple home movies to share with friends and family about their childs first steps or their wedding or what have you. It was better than the slide presentations my dad used to give, but just barely.

Then in the summer of 2008, Joss Whedon presented a project that changed things. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog came about during the writers strike with a tiny budget and went out into the world via the internet. At the same time, Felicia Day had a tiny web series that could (The Guild would eventually help Felicia to become queen of the internet). And things started to change. The internet became a viable place to present your creation. Web series started appearing everywhere! Some with big names behind them… others created by complete unknowns. A beautiful time for art had come!

But then… a new problem- how to make what you wanted to make, web series, tv show, or movie, and do it with no money. The obvious answer is to get backers. But as an independent, unknown filmmaker, how do you find a producer? I personally (not that I am a filmmaker) don’t have any friends who are financially stable enough to support a film. So how does someone do it? Well… in the past few years it seems that fundraising sites have become the way to go. Use the internet and social media to reach out to fans and potential “investors” and let them choose an amount to “donate”, generally in return for some “prize” or really a level specific thank you. By the way, this fundraising method doesn’t just work for film and web series- I have contributed to web series, CDs, jellyfish aquariums, and comic books, and that list is just off the top of my head! There are people out there using this fundraising method to get specially designed iPad cases made, or to help support cancer charities by making books. Almost anything you want to do can be helped along- especially if you or someone you know either has or knows someone with a little bit of fame in the social media (particularly Twitter) and can use it to get the word out. I wouldn’t have known about the jellyfish tank if not for a tweet from Jeri Ryan last summer.

Let’s focus in on web series though… mostly because I prefer to help get these projects off the ground and, well, since I don’t have TV in my apt I am more likely to watch a web series than to track down some of the network shows that aren’t readily available online. Not to mention that to see a movie in L.A. you practically need to sell a kidney!

I reached out to a couple of creators to ask them about their experiences using this method of funding. Joe Wilson, the man behind Vampire Mob, pursued independent funding to produce season 2 of the series. I can’t remember how I got connected to the series… I think it was through a link on twitter for tickets to the premiere screening, that came to my attention because I followed Kirsten Vangsness, who has a role in the series. However it was, I went to the screening and came out a fan. I’ve since gone to conventions and events wearing a Vampire Mob shirt and telling others about the show. So of course, I had to participate and promote the season 2 fundraising. But let’s see what Joe had to say about the process-

Losing over $6k on Kickstarter sucked. We didn’t hit the $10k mark, lost everything and had to start over. REALLY sucked! 

I chose Kickstarter because I like the idea of all or nothing, even though I lost, I still like it .

I would definitely consider going this route again for future projects. I’d rather work hard fundraising when the alternative is to chase meetings with companies to try to sell an idea and get it funded. It also changes the relationship with the audience, I think. A lot of people who I will never meet helped make season two and it changed how I felt about making S2. 

I felt a greater connection to the audience, like we were all in it together. That also creates a level of responsibility to the audience because it was their money I was spending to tell the story. 

The largest battle for indie artists raising money in this manner is the size of their network in relationship to how much they want to raise. It’s also a tremendous amount of work to raise money. 

I see a lot of folks who are raising money for a feature or web series just throw up a trailer or sometimes a still image and ask for money. They never appear in the video and I think that’s a huge mistake. People are buying a ticket to your project, their supporting you and your project, so they need to know who it is that is making it.

As I stated previously, I supported this project and when the time ended and the goal had not been met, it was a blow to me as well. Though Joe switched gears and pursued funds via a different avenue that I supported and promoted as well. One of the big things to take away from Joe’s words is that this funding method is a challenge and thus cannot be approached only once- it is a constant battle to get the word out. And even if it doesn’t work out, there’s still success in getting to a point- so keep fighting. Thanks, Joe.

Another project has recently come to my attention- PROJECT: PHOENIX. It’s creative drive comes from Chad Darnell, who I also follow on twitter (and again, I can’t remember why I started but I’m glad I do because he is always creating such interesting projects!). I’ve seen the pilot and cannot wait until I have some extra funds to support this project because, HOLY HELL- I’ve gotta see what happens next! But don’t take my word for it, click the link above. Touched base with Chad in regards to why they are pursuing funding in this method, let’s take a looksee at what he had to say about it-

I used indiegogo for PROJECT: PHOENIX because of the flexible campaign.  On Kickstarter, if you don’t hit your goal, you don’t get your money.  And to get close to a $20K commitment in a month and not reach it by a few thousand would be devastating.

The percentages on indiegogo are substantial.  9% if you don’t reach your goal is still better than nothing.

With Sherilyn Fenn and Lee Meriwether, I hope to tap into some of their fan base.  I also hope to tap into the horror/ zombie fan base. I watched as HUSBANDS: THE SERIES made $50K in less than a week.  It was a very simple show with three actors who are not household names.  I loved the first season, so for me to raise $20K in a month seems doable.

The money goes to insurance, SAG/ AFTRA, the crew, and locations. It’s NOT a lot of money when you consider that shooting what will amount to basically a feature film will be cut up over 8 episodes is trying to raise $20,000.  My budget for THE PORN BRAT PACK is nearly a million dollars.

We hope to shoot in five days.

New media/ web series is a great way to prove yourself as a filmmaker.  If you can create a compelling story that keeps people coming back and talking about it, Hollywood will pay attention.  We would love for the first season of PROJECT: PHOENIX to work as a back-door pilot for a television series.

So, Chad and his crew clearly did their research and weighed the risks- the chance of losing it all if the goal isn’t met was too high for them, which I completely understand. As a grad student, I have to consider financial requirements very carefully and when it comes to making sure I have the funds to get through a semester, I wouldn’t want to choose the option that only gives a chance at meeting my needs. At least with the other option, I’d have some funds to tie me over while hunting more. Makes complete sense to me. What I love is that this project understands that though others have been successful, it doesn’t mean that this one will be- as of this writing, the project is over 20% funded with around a month left.

I guess the point of this post is that it is possible to succeed at getting your project out there. There are options to help fund it and thus make it the best possible thing it can be, whatever IT is. But you can’t just expect it to happen- you have to do the work. You have to utilize the social media and everything at your disposal in order to reach fans, friends, and funders. You have to get the word out there. Amanda Palmer did it. She was looking for $100,000 for her project and made $1,192,793. The Jellyfish Tank I mentioned earlier was looking for $3000 and eventually made $162,197. So obviously, these are special situations. Someone with a fanbase and following shared these campaigns with the public and thus the word spread like wildfire. There is never a guarantee that will happen- unless you know someone. So there are risks. But you can’t know if you don’t try. Is what you want to do worth that risk? Will others think so?

4 Responses to “Out of Limitations Comes Creativity ~ Debbie Allen; or… how media has changed and the triumphs & pitfalls of independent fundraising”


  1. If I Can Just Have 5 Minutes Of Your Time~ Web Series reviews, issue 1, Vampire Mob « NerdLush - July 30, 2012

    […] you’ve been hanging around the site for a while, you might remember my post about independent financing for projects. One of the people I interviewed then was Joe Wilson, who is the creator/writer/director/jack of […]

  2. If I Can Just Have 5 Minutes Of Your Time~ Web Series reviews, issue 3, Husbands, The Series « NerdLush - September 4, 2012

    […] ran a Kickstarter campaign that yours truly contributed to (remember when I wrote about fundraising?). They succeeded, raising 120% of their targeted goal. And just recently, August 15th, the second […]

  3. When my worlds collide- the creation of crazy in a character « NerdLush - February 17, 2013

    […] Darnell (you may remember Chad from a post last summer in regards to independent fundraising. Personally, I’m dying to see some of the upcoming projects he has in the works.) “I never […]

  4. NerdLush Asks~ Let’s Make a Movie with Kirsten Vangsness | NerdLush - June 21, 2013

    […] new, you won’t know this about me so I’ll just spell it out for you- I love helping independent art get created. I also love movies. And TV, but that’s not important right now. What is important is that […]

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