We know by now that celebrity directors such as Spike Lee use Kickstarter, as do independent filmmakers with no credits or connections. But, what about the independent director who has a big fan base and a respectable track record of making low-budget films with top talent? In the case of Hal Hartley, crowdfunding has freed him from the constraints of fundraising in the traditional route via pre-sales and producing partners.
The director of quirky 90s films such as "The Unbelievable Truth," "Simple Men" and Trust," who was responsible for advancing the careers of Parker Posey, Edie Falco, and Martin Donovan, found that he didn't quite fit into any category -- he wasn't as dark and edgy as most indies and yet his films don't have blockbuster potential.
"Well, I'm not the most popular filmmaker in the world. But I’m not difficult and obscure either. I like a good laugh, action, adventure, romance. And NED RIFLE has all this. But it's not mainstream entertainment," Hartley wrote on the Kickstarter page for "Ned Rifle," the third film in the trilogy that began with "Henry Fool" in 1997 and continued with "Fay Grim" in 2007. "Though it has great actors, they are not huge movie stars. Though it has action, it is not massive. And, anyway, my movies tend to acquire audiences slowly, over the years. They don't break box-office records in one weekend. And so the current trend of financing through pre-sales made by distributors or sales agents based on celebrity attachment is not likely for a project both this commercially modest and this artistically ambitious."
Hartley is remarkably at ease with his place in the film industry hierarchy. "A long time ago, I gave up trying to figure out where I fit. I was very suspicious of the language and the thinking about American independents in the early 1990s...I resisted being roped into this catch-all phrase 'American indie.' It just seemed reductionist and made it harder for us to get the audience that we felt would appreciate our work," Hartley told Indiewire. "There's nothing to be gained for being grumpy...I've always just tried to focus on making the kinds of work I want to make the way I want to make it. That's a lifestyle choice as much as it is a professional strategy."
Hartley was encouraged by the success which he had a couple of years ago with his first Kickstarter campaign to finance the distribution for his film "Meanwhile." He surpassed his goal of raising $40,000.
Although Hartley said that he considered going the traditional fundraising route with "Ned Rifle," crowdfunding seemed like a natural fit. Plus, by raising money on Kickstarter, he has an amazing amount of freedom. "If I can raise all the money I need to raise my films by promising the audience the actual products, I'm 100% in control of the cash and that's great. There are fewer chefs in the kitchen," said Hartley, who said that the film will "probably be distributed by the conventional modes."
Another upside of Kickstarter is forging a direct connection with fans. "I got a much better idea of who my audience is around the world, There are people who might be interested in your work and then there are fans. Fans buy your work -- even 8 months before it will even exist -- putting money down now for a film that hasn't even been shot, that's a real fan."
Here is the film's description from the Kickstarter page:
NED RIFLE is the most accessible and rollicking film I've ever written while concerning things I care about deeply. Oddly, I suspect I've written a hit. If I can just get it made. (I felt this way about Henry Fool too which did in fact turn out to be my most financially successful film.)
It's also an opportunity to pull off something that doesn't happen everyday: to make three films over the course of a generation with the same actors playing the same characters. Liam Aiken, who I cast as Parker Posey's son in HENRY FOOL, was seven years old in 1997. Now he's a young man with a stack of acting credits to his name and ready to play Ned again. (He doesn't even remember playing Ned in 1997.) Parker Posey is on board as is James Urbaniak who plays her peculiarly poetic garbage man brother. And, of course, none of this can happen without the participation of Thomas Jay Ryan as the unseen hand in everyone's life, Henry Fool.
See the Kickstarter video for "Ned Rifle" below: