Among the latest crowdfunding platforms, Seed&Spark brings the wedding registry concept to fundraising for independent films. As Indiewire reported in November before the site’s launch, one of its 15 first crowdfunding campaigns was for screenwriter Bodine Boling’s “Movement + Location.” The project—a “casual science fiction thriller” set and currently shooting in Brooklyn—has completed its campaign, raising $32,644, or 81%, of its $40,500 target. Depending on the size of their donation, the film’s 122 supporters have been promised incentives ranging from a download of an original song from the film ($50) to a co-producer credit ($1,000). The $32,644 represent the majority of the film’s production financing.
Once a film raises 80% of its target, it gets a “Green Light” and the site releases the funds to the producer, after pocketing a 5% commission. “When an indie producer doesn’t get all that they need, they will figure out how to do the rest in blood, sweat and tears,” says Seed&Spark CEO Emily Best. But 80% is generally the minimum necessary to keep the promises made to contributors about what sort of film is being made, she adds.
"Movement + Location" producer Serena Hedison is delighted with the results. She attributes them to the satisfaction friends and family feel from associating their gift with a concrete need of the production. “You can really sort of break it down into increments for people who want to contribute,” she says. “For a lot of people, filmmaking is a mystery, and this opens the world up for people who want to be involved.”
The film’s Seed&Spark page is anchored by a wishlist itemizing the production’s needs, bucketing them by category, and showing how many of each have been fulfilled. For instance, in the “Camera” category, Hedison and Boling listed “Accessories - Tripods / Heads” at $50 per unit and received 10 of the 27 requested units. (Of the funds raised by Movement + Location, 21% were not associated with any wishlist item.) But unlike with a wedding registry, the funds go to Hedison to spend at her discretion—not necessarily on tripods.
However, the wishlist can also capture actual interest-free, commission-free loans of the requested equipment. According to data from Seed&Spark, for every $2 donated, approximately $1 worth of goods and services are loaned.
Performance of Other Launch Partners
Two months after launching, on February 5, Seed&Spark announced: “Seven films raised $146,429.90 in cash, goods and services.” By Indiewire’s calculations, the site’s 15 crowdfunding launch partners have raised a total of $157,315 by February 20. (Data for one of the 15 was unavailable.) Of those, the top seven account for $146,410 in total. But the bottom four account for only $795 in total.
“The greatest single determinant of the success of a crowdfunding campaign—no matter what the platform—is the effort of the filmmaker,” Best explains. She recommends starting by recruiting friends and family to build up activity on the Seed&Spark page and via Twitter and Facebook, and then moving “one circle out” to press, interest groups, and membership organizations. That means keeping up a steady stream of creative, sharable content. After all, a main reason people donate to independent film is access to “creative brains,” says Best. Of the unsuccessful campaigns, Best says, “We were really surprised by the number of people who did nothing.”
Animated filmmaker GB Hajim, whose “Aliya Jamal and the Rat Prince” was a launch partner, raised $235 on Seed&Spark. He tells Indiewire that this is similar to his prior results on Kickstarter. “It’s really hard for me to ask people for money. I don’t feel good about it. I’m really looking forward to the equity crowdfunding that’s coming out of the new JOBS Act,” he says. On a recent $1.3 million project, 8% of Hajim’s budget was consumed by legal and accounting fees, he says. He is eagerly awaiting SEC regulations implementing the JOBS Act and hopes that Kickstarter or Indiegogo will templatize the associated paperwork, including tax credit applications.
Best praises her competitors for having revolutionized fundraising. “I think what Kickstarter and Indiegogo have done is the forward pass in the funding space”—a game changer that people initially thought might be illegal.
Best acknowledges that the popular threshold model—whereby the filmmaker gets nothing unless a minimum amount is raised—might motivate some filmmakers to use their own funds to push the project over the tipping point. “Absolutely fraud happens” in the industry, she says. But 20% to 50% of the funds raised come from “people you know and see every day,” she says, so the social pressure to keep commitments to contributors is high.
Best worries that contemplated federal regulations on crowdfunding will be onerous and indie producers simply won’t have the time to meet their requirements.
Seed&Spark Streaming: Upcoming Product Releases
Hedison plans to finish shooting this month, lock a final cut by May, submit the film to festivals and hopefully sell it. But she adds: “The other thing about Seed&Spark which is so fantastic is that should our movie not get picked up, should it not get into festivals—God forbid!—we have a distribution outlet through Seed&Spark.” The site sells streams of its films and takes a 20% commission. Users pay in cash or points (“sparks”) earned for contributing to productions or engaging with films on the site. When a user pays in sparks, the film receives 20 cents on the dollar, $0.60 per stream for a $2.99 stream, according to Best. Films can restrict spark-denominated sales but Best discourages doing so, since users with sparks are among the most active independent film advocates on the site.
Best describes the revenue splits as “fair trade filmmaking.” She promises that those who funded your film on Seed&Spark will be its biggest advocates when it comes time to get the word out about the finished product. “We’re an end-to-end platform so you can put your project up at pitch stage, raise money, all the way through the end, keep building your audience through festivals . . . and then stream directly to those audiences on a lot of different formats.”
Starting in “a few days,” Seed&Spark will release a social viewing feature allowing users to pool their sparks in order to rent a film together, according to Best. Each user’s account will have access to the film during the rental window.
Soon, you will also be able to redeem sparks for benefits outside of www.seedandspark.com. Over the next couple months, Seed&Spark plans to announce five partnerships with membership organizations and perk providers in the film industry. The company hopes to announce one of them at the SXSW Film Festival next month in Austin, TX.
In Best’s experience, some filmmakers are even more passionate about their film than their wedding. “I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually we end up with a wedding registry on our site that is actually a wedding registry to make a couple of filmmakers’ movies.”