Is Crowdsourcing Right For You?

Having ambition, creativity, and passion are not enough to make an independent documentary or photo project a reality. To see the movie play or hang the photo project in a gallery you will need money. It is a cruel reality for creatives, but money is needed to make large and ambitious projects happen. So what does one do?

Crowdsourcing your funds is becoming the answer for many videographers and photographers. Crowdsourced funding involves collecting funds for a project from a larger group of people. Instead of a few large checks from a handful of investors, the crowd contributes smaller amounts to fund the project. Both methods are ways to raise the necessary capital, but crowd sourcing does much more than just raise capital, it builds awareness and momentum for your project.

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Photo by Richard Hall

Last week on Facebook, I came across a campaign from the crowd sourcing website Kickstarter.com about a documentary called “Touch The Wall.” When I saw the picture of a swimmer touching the wall, I was intrigued. I was a swimmer all through high school and college, so I will click on anything that talks about the sport. The link took me to Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito’s kickstarter page. Christo and Grant are documentary filmmakers who in 2010 started documenting swimmer Missy Franklin. For those of you who don’t follow swimming, Missy is one of the best swimmers in the world. Last summer in London she won 4 gold medals, a bronze, and set 2 world records all at the age of 17. The documentary follows Missy and her teammate Kara Lynn Joyce, who is a 3-time Olympian, on their journey to making the Olympics.

I found this project at the beginning of its launch and contacted Christo to learn more about the project. Christo has been an editor, director, and producer on a multitude of projects over the years. In talking with him, I learned a lot about the process of making an independent documentary and why he decided to choose crowd sourcing through Kickstarter to fund “Touch The Wall.”

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I enjoy watching documentaries, but have no idea the costs and work that goes in behind the scenes. For this project, Christo and Grant spent a few years amassing over 400 hours of footage that they are looking to turn into a 90-minute feature. The documentary footage is important, but it is in the editing room where the film comes to life and the story is made. Editing a movie of this size takes months of work by a team of editors. Like all things, this costs money. Editors aren’t the only expense. Missy’s races at the Olympics are important pieces of the film that pack a hefty licensing fee with them. Did you ever see this video by the USA Olympic Swim team? Licensing “Call Me Maybe” and the rest of the music for the film is another expense.

With this Kickstarter campaign, Chris and Grant hope to raise the $110,000 to get them through the editing phase. This is not a small sum of money to raise in 60 days, but Chris feels that a crowd sourcing model is one that can work. More importantly, he turned to this model to help build awareness of the project. In past projects, he has worked with a few individuals who have written large checks for the funding. For this project he feels that a grass roots movement will help build momentum for the project. At the $10 contribution level, he will add your name to the credits of the film. This is a way to help build buzz about the project and spread the word before the film is even released. If I was going to have a credit in the film, I know that I would tell my friends about it, wouldn’t you?

His marketing plans include emails, establishing a presence on Facebook, some paid advertising spots and exploring options of involving members of the swimming community. He is aware that fans of swimming, like me, are the individuals who will gravitate to the project at this stage, but once the film is complete he feels that the story of Missy and her journey is something that is going to be relatable to a much wider audience.
Christo and Grant are just one of the many projects that have turned to crowd sourcing as a method to secure funding. Will it work? We will find out at the end of April when the funding period ends. I will bring you a follow up interview with Christo exploring what happened over the two-month period and find out if the funding was a success.

From this conversation with Christo, I have a better understanding of why it is advantageous for creatives to seek out crowdsourced methods of funding. Identifying who your audience is and getting them to take ownership and feel invested in your project makes sense. If the subject matter is something that you are interested in you will most likely tell your friends about it. Working at the grass roots level will take more individuals to raise capital, but it builds a larger base of supporters. If one person writes on check, that is only one person talking about the projects. Having more contributors means more people will be talking about the project. If you are looking for funding for your next creative endeavor give crowd sourcing may be right for you.

Touch the Wall Kickstarter Page

 

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1 Comment

HI Taylor, I really enjoyed your post and thanks for bringing up the importance of "resources." I think it's time for photographers to be honest with themselves and understand that there is more to photography than personal talent and initiative. Photography is connected to it's object, and objects do not appear out of thin air. Access to objects of interest is only available for those that have resources. Certainly, it should come as little surprise that many of the most famous photographers of the past century also came from well-heeled backgrounds. Yes, many of them had talent, but they also had resources. And they used those resources in one way or another (even if it amounted to something as simple as leisure time) to find or create something interesting to photograph.

Crowd sourcing is a bad idea. I understand that it provides a source of hope for people that lack resources. However, artists don't beg for handouts and crowd sourcing is really just a fancy way of saying "charity for artists." An artist will never be respected as an individual if he must ask a crowd for donations. In order to gain respect as an individual, an artist must find a way to appeal to others similarly as an individual. This could come in the form of finding individual patrons or small groups of dedicated investors that an have a personal relationship with the artist. But this kind of respect can never come from a crowd of people that don't really know one another or have any meaningful personal contact with each other.

Basically, if an artist wants to be taken seriously as an individual then he must find a way to appeal to others similarly as an individual. Crowd sourcing is too impersonal, and it only provides satisfaction for the crowd when they think of their contribution as a form of charity or donation. In the end, they have no meaningful personal stake in the outcome of the project.