Canadian director Nimisha Mukerji found a fascinating subject for her next documentary: Burlesque icon Tempest Storm, once linked romantically to Elvis and JFK. When Mukerji learned of the former exotic dancer's story, she wasted no time heading to Las Vegas.
"With Tempest being 85, we thought it's not worth risking it; we should just get going right now while she's able to tell her own story. So we just went on our own dime, went into our savings and flew to Vegas twice to film with her.
"And that's why we've decided to take part in Kickstarter: We really need help to continue shooting."
Tempest Storm: Burlesque Queen will be one of the first Canadian projects seeking funds on the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, which launches in Canada on Monday (the same day Mukerji will present the project to Telefilm Canada's Pitch This! at the Toronto International Film Festival, one of six finalists vying for the $15,000 prize). Kickstarter, which launched in the United States in 2009, is finally – after many inquiries – allowing Canadian creators to raise money on the platform. Hopes are high that the move will further revolutionize fundraising for independent artists.
Kickstarter has raised over $775-million (U.S.) for more than 48,000 projects, including more than 11,000 films – one of which, the documentary short Inocente, won an Oscar this year. According to the company, roughly 10 per cent of the films accepted by the 2012 Sundance, Tribeca and SXSW film festivals were funded by Kickstarter.
"Our track record … is pretty staggering, even to us," says Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler, who will be in Toronto for the launch.
Up until now, Canadians could donate to a Kickstarter project, but could not raise money on the platform. For that, Indiegogo has become a go-to site, available to Canadians since its 2008 launch. A key difference: Kickstarter is all or nothing; if you don't make your campaign goal, you don't get a dime. On Indiegogo, you have the option to take whatever you raise. (Kickstarter collects a fee of 5 per cent for successful campaigns; Indiegogo takes 4 per cent of successful campaigns; 9 per cent for campaigns that don't reach their goal.)
Kickstarter's all-or-nothing approach can be risky, but it also creates a sense of urgency, driving donations – and buzz.
Fan involvement is an integral part of the experience. You are not just raising money, but creating a community of arts patrons who literally have buy-in. There are perks (Indiegogo) or rewards (Kickstarter) offered to donors – which might range from a copy of the finished product to a chance to name a character – but the sense of participation in the project is a key motivator for people who may not have the fortune of a Medici, but do have a few bucks and the desire to help.
"Crowd-funding is not about money. It's about audience engagement," says Tiska Wiedermann, development director with indie film body Raindance Toronto, which has partnered with Indiegogo to launch a TIFF-timed pitch video contest – also on Monday.
Crowd-funding represents a paradigm shift; an increasingly important, no-strings-attached complement to the familiar model. It's faster, less onerous. You won't have to contort your idea to fit the specifications of your financier, who may think your thriller would work better as a rom-com.
"With crowd-funding, you can go directly to the people who want to see your project as is, who have no creative input whatsoever," says John Trigonis, the lead for film and video projects on Indiegogo, and author of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign.
"So it's a completely revolutionary way and it's only going to get better through time."
It can't happen fast enough for filmmakers such as Mukerji (65_RedRoses, Blood Relative), who knows firsthand that being an award-winning documentary filmmaker is no guarantee that funding your next project will be a breeze.
She is looking to raise $40,000 in 30 days on Kickstarter, and believes the all-or-nothing challenge will help.
"I think it makes people take the project more seriously," she says. "If people are going to invest in your project, you want them to believe that you can actually do it."
Kickstarter is holding workshops across Canada over the next few weeks, including an event at the VIFF Film and Television Forum in Vancouver on Oct. 5.