May 20, 2014
Editor's note: Since beginning to work with Gravitas, we've gotten to know Mia Bruno who not only has fantastic taste in films but also an insatiable curiosity about the future of the distribution landscape. She's already been a great resource for us and for our filmmakers. We asked her to give us the insider's scoop on how distributors feel about crowdfunding, seriously.
These days when making a film, there are two stories to tell. There is, of course, the actual plot of your film replete with characters, locations, and costume changes. And then there is the other story: the tale of how that film came to be. The genesis of the idea, the relationship that inspired it, the cans of bug spray and rolls of toilet paper that it will take to bring it to light in relative human comfort, the reason why this world simply cannot exist without this film. The first story invites relaxation or rumination. The second story incites action and passion. And like everything else in American culture, two for the price of one...what a bargain!
There is a surfeit of films today, films for every disparate desire and obscure obsession. But the question of taste still remains as elusive as it ever was. Who creates taste these days? The celebrities who dutifully tweet out the links of their upcoming films? The multi-million dollar P&A fund? Certainly, these things contribute. But these are factors that are often beyond the reach of the independent filmmaker. And therein lies the power of crowd-funding. By building an audience and inciting passion for your project, the independent filmmaker suddenly has a voice. And voice that has resonance.
If the '70s were the golden age of Hollywood, we may be entering our golden age of crowdfunding. Why else would iTunes put a new section on their storefront specifically for Kickstarter films? Now allowed to exist as their own genre, these are the modern day fairy tales. They are not just a facet of a film's existence, they are a reason to rent a film. For those who have contributed to a project, it is the final reveal of the process they have been a part of: the grand finale to the Adventure they have Chosen. For those who have not been involved from the start, to know that the film comes with the financial endorsement of dozens makes for a suddenly compelling choice. If 1,000 people jump off a bridge, you probably still shouldn't do it. But if 1,000 people contribute to a crowdfunding campaign for a film, shouldn't you pay five bucks to check it out?
As a distributor, knowing that second story helps inform the first. When a film comes to us with a significant crowdfunding following, that tells us this film comes with a built-in audience. The more stalwart of the cable and digital operators we work with are always happy to hear when we have a movie with Amanda Seyfried or Susan Sarandon, but that little indie gem they make take a chance on, is the one that comes to the table with $50,000 in Seed&Spark funds and a Twitter fanbase to beat the band. For a distributor, a film that has already activated its fanbase is a film that already has a presence in a vast marketplace.
We look to crowdfunding platforms as a place not only to find great stories, but to find great filmmakers. More and more, a filmmaker has to be an entrepreneur, and what better way to demonstrate passion than through a successful crowdfunding campaign. To understand the dynamics of marketing, to know how to tap into an audience, to make people fall in love with what you love, and THEN bring that concept into reality; these are traits we look for in filmmakers. The motivated filmmaker who is excited about all the steps of the process is a great match for the motivated distributor who knows how to best utilize that momentum. We work most effectively with a filmmaker who is just as energized to be tweeting up a storm, as he was to coach an actor through a scene; to relish strategizing as much as she loved scriptwriting. We know how to sell a film and make it shine in the marketplace, but you will always have that emotional bond with your audience. We are your partner for the last part of your story, that of releasing your film into the world, and who doesn't love a good happy ending?
From the inception of crowdfunding, through paroxysms of social media updates, to the final link of the completed film on an iTunes, Amazon, or Googleplay, a filmmaker can lead her audience effectively across the Red Sea of digital pathways. As Norma Desmond famously pronounced in Billy Wilder's SUNSET BOULEVARD, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." We may be at the same junction here, as indie film filters away from the big screen to the computer screen. The pictures may be smaller, but the stories keep getting bigger.