We hit 100,000 Facebook fans. At the time of this writing we are closing in on 700 Twitter Followers as we recently engaged that platform. While Facebook has had its share of critics, SPAM, religious zealots (who for some reason don't understand the concept of "unliking" something and instead preach on the evils of horror movies. Where's the Free Will thing when you need it?) we found an interesting trend on Twitter: Fan Funded Films.
The concept is not new and web based fundraisers like Kickstarter and Indie Go Go have bloomed as filmmakers go to these sites, set financial goals and lobby for donors. We are presently following several filmmakers who spend their day lobbying for Twitter followers to help them make their daily financial goals. 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 Twitter followers with the constant time line lobbies for money. When you have a large number of Twitter followers publicly informing the Twitterverse they are unemployed (that's another issue) you can imagine the response is not always a warm one to people asking for money to make their movies.
We have not done this avenue for either of our films, The Fields with Cloris Leachman & Tara Reid or 6 Degrees of Hell with Corey Feldman. We found single financiers, drew up a single contract for that person and deposited a single lump sum in the bank. To be blunt, their way seems like a lot more work. We are not intimate on how they 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.
Front cover art for The Fields DVD due out April 24th, 2012
Why are these people doing this? Why did WE do it? Why put yourself out there knowing the deck is stacked against you and that most of the public is gonna tear you down? We have two films with celebrity names and distribution: The Fields gets limited theatrical in March with a very wide video release in all platforms April 24th. 6 Degrees sold foreign rights on just 17 minutes of footage at AFM with Fabrication Films with several Tier 1 domestic distributors waiting on the final screener in March.
Early concept DVD cover artwork for 6 Degrees of Hell
The first thing a distributor asks 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 material. There's more chance of merchandise, franchise gold than taking risks on lesser priced indie fare that may not appeal to that coveted 18-34 demographic. 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 upcoming embarrassment John Carter (yeah, yeah, the film has staunch supporters but like the Star Wars prequels, this crapfest will need them because it just screams 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.
Two big budget cheese fests: Gyllenhaal looking as confused as we were & the embarrassing John Carter due in March that looks like a big budget mashup of Attack of the Clones, Conan, Yor: Hunter From the Future & Spartacus. Who cares if the Pixar guy did it, the trailer alone is unbearable.
Tell me Warner Bros. wasn't worried when they decided to make Green Lantern. The bottom of the super hero barrel is skimmed but they still gambled over $200 million in a film that may eventually see a 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 folks 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 DVD's 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 more often than not, they 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 right they get a Spielberg who produces more hits than flops for several decades. On the flipside they can get the Myrick/Sanchez combo who give one Blair Witch hit and fizzle. Either way, 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 (who makes more independent films that don't make money than those of his that do) it's a matter of small things like eating, keeping the lights on and the landlord off your ass. Many of the films seeking fan funds are horrors because the thought is that "horror sells."
While this is partly true, our own film has found the market is glutted with product. The most saturated horror sub-genre is the zombie flick. We have not seen any of these indie fan funded zombie films and are not judging. However Netflix and YouTube are replete with zombie films, as we have said before, 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.
These indie filmmakers must believe they have something different. Hell, we even have an undead from the grave girl in 6 Degrees just to cover our asses, although she is integral to the story. 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 we 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.
As Captain Kirk once said: "The odds are against us and the situation is grim." However he followed that up with: "Sounds like fun."
So why are they doing it? Why did we do it? Let's face it, our film does not have Brad Pitt, Channing Tatum or a marketing budget to turn a lousy, manipulative, mediocre confection like The Vow into boxoffice gold. We went against the present love affair with "found footage" in the vein of Paranormal Activity and its ilk like the rip off The Devil Inside (see our other blog post on this hit and run crime). We did not go the torture porn/slasher route as well. All of this could lead to one big hole in our foot and disappointment to our financier. But we only have one person disappointed. We 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 studio 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 as well as so many who think they know best. 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?"
Just look at our own Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Six-Degrees-of-Hell/242739789078346 We get daily impatient comments like "This is taking forever! My God when is this out it's been an eternity..." ad nauseum. The real fact is that 6 Degrees only wrapped shooting this past August and officially wrapped visual post production 2 weeks ago with a final sound mix March 4th In reality, this is fantastic time for a feature film, and we did it right.
And we don't owe these people anything! The only one we have to answer to is our single financier. Imagine over 100 people who believe their 20 bucks is more important than anyone else's clamoring for answers/results. God speed Indywood and Survivor's Movie and every single other fan funded film. And God love ya.