Financing a film is a notoriously tricky process. There are legendary stories of budgetary excess, but the problem nearly everyone faces is getting anything to be excessive with. Many great films almost fell at that first hurdle, while we’ve missed out on countless others that never got the green light.
There is some hope. As independent financing gets harder and harder, and big production companies double down on established properties, in step crowdfunding platforms to provide another option.
Indiegogo has been one of the most successful to date, helping to lead this new revolution. America has already started to embrace crowdfunding, Europe and the UK much less so. That’s where Miranda Fleming, Indiegogo UK Film and Creative comes in. Over in the German capital for the 2015 Berlin Film Festival, she spoke to Flickfeast to discuss her role, the benefits crowdfunding brings to filmmakers, and the future for the industry.
Flickfeast: Tell me a little bit about how you came to work at Indiegogo?
Miranda Fleming: I’m an award winning producer and I came up working for companies like Channel 4 Films and the UK Film Council. I went back to producing a couple of years ago after I quit my job as Head of Production at Screen South and I felt indie filmmaking has become very, very difficult. I had a feature film as a producer with Aaron Taylor-Johnson [Dummy] in his starring role as an actor and we had a terrible distribution story. I learned first-hand how difficult it is.
I was selected as one of the producers to go on the National Film and Television School and Ingenious Media diplomas looking into new business models and disruptive business models in the creative industries, and it’s through those networks that I ended up finding Indiegogo. Two films that I’ve executive produced were crowdfunded and I’ve always thought it was an incredibly interesting industry. So here I am at Indiegogo.
FF: What does your role involve?
MF: Indiegogo felt the UK and Europe is enough of a developing market in the crowdfunding space to have somebody down on the ground here. In America they’ve stepped into that plain much quicker because they don’t have a subsidised film sector. I think they’ve also been looking at new distribution models for a few years from releasing films on VOD platforms the day after your festival screening using your festival as a premiere, to finding ways to cut out the expense of a middleman if it’s not the kind of film that suits having an expensive distributor.
There’s a bit of expertise that goes into crowdfunding, in America there’s a lot of knowledge that goes into it, and most producers you meet in America have crowdfunded from shorts upwards. I don’t think that’s the case yet in the UK and Europe so I’m here to give advice to anyone thinking about a crowdfunding campaign.
FF: So you play a roving consultant role. Do you help produce any of the films?
MF: No, we don’t produce any of the products. We’re a white label platform so if anyone wants to crowdfund, be it a film or a bit of tech, they can press a button tonight and go up. It’s a totally democratic process – we’re not a gatekeeper. We have the same system set up in America and Canada and I’m here to help support filmmakers. They might need advice, they might send me their draft campaign and say is this ok and we can take a look.
FF: You can help at the start when the filmmaker is thinking about crowdfunding and then during the campaign. Do you step out at that point?
MF: Once they’re up and running we step out and in development it’s very much us guiding them. It’s not like producing where we get involved. We don’t come up with a team. It’s very much their operation but it’s still a developing industry so having specialist advice is still really, really key.
FF: You mentioned you’re not gatekeepers. Does that mean there aren’t specific projects you’re looking towards?
MF: Yes indeed. There are some films that might be of a higher budget and they might come to us because they need a bit more attention because to get the higher budgets at the moment it’s still a developing industry so you need to do your campaign right. You need specific advice on lots of elements to pull off a successful crowdfunding campaign.
FF: Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you advise people not to use crowdfunding?
MF: Occasionally I get projects that think they can get too much money. That’s quite a common mistake. Part of the advice is to help the filmmaker work out the figures, look at their social media numbers and their inner network and help them make an informed choice of what that goal might be.
FF: In those situations it’s about lowering the expectations of what you can get then?
MF: I think crowdfunding is about an exciting surging wave. It’s not about a struggle or anything that’s looking difficult. There’s a thinking that there’s a good feeling to crowd funding and you need to create that environment.
FF: Do you think particular projects are suited towards it as a way of raising finance?
MF: In a way there are no exceptions. The world is everyone’s oyster. The whole industry is ripe for people to break the mould and do new things. But certainly films that have a niche work better than films that don’t and that translates all the way through to distribution as that means if a film has an audience they’ll be a stronger market for the film. Take Kajaki which played last night – that is a story that the director read on the internet about a squad of British army guys who faced a horrific incident in Helmand and it turned into one of the worst rescue operations. The Americans make a lot of Army films and the British don’t really.
When they crowdfunded they knew they would have a niche audience. At that stage it’s not the filmmakers or fans who love good films; it’s the people who care about that story – the army, the charities about limb replacement and military victims. All of those supporters and charities helped to support Kajaki. Not just with money but when they released in the theatres they emailed all those funders to ask them to tweet out. They are involved and they did help to make this film and they can keep running that marketing process.
FF: Do you input on the distribution side as well? Kajaki is a really interesting case in this regard.
MF: It is interesting. What you have is self-distribution in the UK. What normally happens is you have a sales agent who comes in – everyone needs a sales agent but not necessarily in your home territory. They took on a consultant to guide them to distribute in their own country. If they’d have felt pressured and not had the idea of self-distribution, most films at that stage give their domestic distribution to the sales agent. They decided we’ve done this all ourselves. We crowdfunded and got here without much support from anybody else so let’s go do distribution.
Gareth Ellis-Unwin [Executive Producer on Kajaki] who’s the producer of The King’s Speech has a very good relationship with Vue cinemas so he took the film to Vue. Vue really liked it and gave it an exclusive in 80 cinemas. When that window ended, Cineworld wanted it so they did it, and now it’s come back to Vue and its playing back in the cinema. I think they had to promise a sixteen week window until their home entertainment deal, but instead of having a distributor sitting in the middle of that, they went to an independent agent who’s brokering all their VOD deals. I think it’s the first really successful case in this country of a British filmmaker self-distributing in their home territory.
FF: You mentioned earlier that crowdfunding has caught on quicker in America because they don’t have a state subsidy system. Do you think in some ways state subsidies have held back Europe and the UK in particular?
MF: That’s a very big question. How long have you got? I don’t think hold back as there’s been a lot of good work. As much as people feel they’re left out of the funds, if you look at the work of the UK Film Council and the BFI often or not you’ll see support come in from them. My complaint would be there’s an overdevelopment mentality. These development processes can be endless and you create more cooks. I think there’s a conversation about how people can have a bit more power without everyone trying to edit people’s scripts. That would maybe be the complaint from filmmakers in Europe but if you asked someone in America they would probably say that’s ok if someone wants to give us some money so it works both ways. I think it’s up to every filmmaker to know if subsidisation suits them.
FF: When you’re raising money through crowdfunding routes are you able to avoid interference or is there still the risk that someone throws in a pile of money and says I want you to do it this way?
MF: It’s totally independent in crowdfunding so the money you walk away with, you’ve given away no IP. And that’s why to do a $100,000 campaign is really hard work, you don’t get something for nothing, but you’ll come away with total ownership of that project. The cost of the campaign can be up to 20% of that but everything else is all yours.
FF: How do you deal with situations where someone raises money, goes away to make the film and runs out of money? Can they come back and ask for more or is there an awkward situation with contributors?
MF: I’ve seen it where they come back and email their people and say that didn’t go to plan and I know we asked for that but now we need to make this. It’s about keeping in contact. It comes back to the democratisation of financing. If you get that democratisation, just like a film financier you have to take that risk and if luck doesn’t go the way of the filmmakers, are you going to be supportive or not. One hopes they would be. I’ve never heard of an angry crowd.
FF: There have been negative stories written about big names that turn to crowdfunding. Is it good that the likes of Zach Braff have used it or is it a distraction?
MF: It all helps. It’s an industry and everyone is crowdfunding for different purposes. You can still be a big name but want independence. You can be a big name who wants to know if there’s an audience out there. And there are a lot of people who love to crowdfund. In the old days there was a barrier between people in film and not in film and it breaks it down.
FF: Where do you want to be in the next five years with crowdfunding? How high do you think it can go?
MF: The top films are pretty high anyway and I don’t think we sit there with that as our only ambition. It’s about spreading a net to catch more films. I want to see a lot more films in the UK using self-distribution – using Kajaki as a case study. And I think there are sales agents leaving their jobs, marketers as well that are all setting up as consultants so I would love to see UK filmmakers using these models.
Flickfeast would like to thank Miranda for taking the time to speak to us.