Want a measure of how influential Kickstarter has become as a source of funding for indie filmmakers’ passion projects? Of the five contenders for the Spirits‘ John Cassavetes Award on Saturday, which honors features produced for less than $500,000, four are Kickstarter "alumni," to use the company’s parlance: "Advantageous," "Christmas, Again," "Krisha," and "Out of My Hand." (The fifth is the Safdies’ "Heaven Knows What.") To put this in perspective, in February 2009, when Lynn Shelton’s "Humpday" won the Cassavetes Award, Kickstarter didn’t exist.
Though it’s but one part of the rapid evolution of the indie film economy — see, for instance, the changes wrought by Netflix and Amazon’s entry into the already competitive Sundance market — Kickstarter has quickly established itself as more than an avenue to $55,000 potato salad and other eccentric notions from the viral web. Twelve Kickstarter-funded films earned 20 Indie Spirit nominations this year, led by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s "Anomalisa" (four) and Josh Mond’s "James White" (three), up from 11 nominations in 2015; in addition, Kickstarter-funded films nabbed three Oscar nominations, for "Anomalisa" (Animated Feature), Don Hertzfeldt’s "World of Tomorrow" (Animated Short), and "Racing Extinction" (Original Song, "Manta Ray").
This isn’t to overstate Kickstarter’s importance — as its name suggests, the platform is often instrumental in getting projects of the ground, but other, larger funding sources remain a key part of the indie filmmaking equation. (Compare the $406,237 raised by the 5,770 backers of "Anomalisa" to its $8 million production budget, for instance.)
If crowdfunding helps filmmakers of Kaufman’s caliber bring their ideas to fruition when traditional pathways throw up roadblocks, that alone counts as something on the order of a public service. But the real story is in the numbers behind the likes of Hertzfeldt’s latest ($215,512 from 4,478 backers) and Kickstarter’s Indie Spirit nominees, where the awareness and dollar amounts raised can really make a dent. Discounting "Anomalisa," the 11 projects in question raised an average of $46,169 — or nearly 10% of the budget threshold for the John Cassavetes Award. Capturing the independent spirit, indeed.