The world of independent film is a shaky one. With studios and distributors increasingly wary of a tumultuous market, securing funding for more outside-the-norm projects is precarious. Enter Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform that has ventured into the film world, in a big way. Last month's Toronto International Film Festival, for instance, featured a record five Kickstarter-funded movies (including the acclaimed Charlie Kaufman film, Anomalisa), while Oct. 15 will see the biggest ever Kickstarter Film Festival, which takes over 32 cinemas across the U.S. The Globe and Mail spoke with Kickstarter film lead Dan Schoenbrun about the company's plans to change the film industry.
With Anomalisa, James White and River of Grass at this year's TIFF, you guys made quite the footprint.
We've been around for six years now, and have had a pretty amazing showing at Sundance and other American festivals. But TIFF has been a tougher nut to crack because the festival is commonly showing more late-career, bigger-budgeted Hollywood films. But we've seen a steady increase every year. By far, this is our strongest showing.
Some of the films at TIFF are by more veteran filmmakers, though. I'm thinking of Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa, and Christopher Doyle's Hong Kong Trilogy.
Yeah, we really are seeing all levels of filmmakers at all stages of their careers. But while there's a pretty diverse range of voices, the unifying factor we're finding is that all these filmmakers have an independent spirit – these are directors who are making work in their own way, and always have. There's also a real desire to engage with the audience. They're not just going to Kickstarter for financing, but for a more genuine, one-on-one relationship with the audience.
Is that something Kickstarter actively encourages? I mean, Kickstarter provides the obvious benefit of quick access to financing, but what other reasons should filmmakers turn to you?
It's more than we actively encourage reaching out to audiences: it's really essential to the process. Filmmakers who have success on Kickstarter have less to do with their name and recognizability and more to do with how passionate they are about having a relationship with their audience, their fans. You have to build transparency with your audience from the beginning. They want to know that they are helping this thing exist. If the goal is simply to put up a page and get money, you're not going to succeed.
Do you go out and engage with recruiting filmmakers?
We are definitely members of the filmmaking community. There are hundreds of film projects on the site right now. But we're not going out to who can raise the most money, but who are the great artistic voices who can find this an empowering tool. We don't think in terms of sales, but more so, hey, we really want to work with Charlie Kaufman, what can we do to make that happen? We're trying to connect with filmmakers and artists who are doing great things outside of the mainstream.
How much of Kickstarter's model and this new model of film financing has to do with what's going on in the major studio system? Are you seeing ripple effects here from studios being more franchise-happy, and more tightfisted when it comes to other projects?
I don't think too much about causality of the studio system trickling down. It's not a new model we're working with, the patronage model. This sort of direct crowd-initiative way of supporting artists they believe in has been around for centuries. The Internet has helped it become more user-friendly, sure. Kickstarter isn't replacing the studio system, just supplementing. We're not trying to become a producer or a distributor or anything like that.
This interview has been condensed and edited.