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Rotterdam Panel: Creative Co-Funding of Indie Films, from Tribeca to Kickstarter (UPDATED)

Rotterdam Panel: Creative Co-Funding of Indie Films, from Tribeca to Kickstarter (UPDATED)

Funding and financing an independent film takes almost as much creativity as making the film, according to a panel of representatives from The Tribeca Film Institute, Kickstarter and Cinereach, moderated by producer Madeleine Molyneaux.

Filmmakers from outside the U.S. — especially those in Europe — benefit from government support and co-production treaties, but Americans are essentially on their own and it’s a complicated world to navigate.  Every funding organization has specific requirements and offers a range of funding and support services.  

According to Tamir Muhammad, Director of Feature Programming, the Tribeca Film Institute gives out $2 million a year in grants of between $15,000 and $100,000 for fiction and non-fiction films and new media through its various funds, among them the TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund, for projects that deal creatively with scientific, mathematical or technological subjects; the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund; and Tribeca All Access, for filmmakers based in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, who come from communities that are underrepresented in the film industry. Recent TFF-supported projects include “Computer Chess,” “The Case Against 8” and the upcoming “2030.” 

Elisabeth Holm, Film Program Director at Kickstarter, noted that over 55,000 creative projects, including films, have been funded to some degree through Kickstarter, including Oscar-nominated “The Square;” last year’s Academy Award-winning short documentary “Inocente;” and “Obvious Child” (above) which Holm also produced. 

Andrew Goldman, Cinereach’s Head of Production, said that the non-profit foundation and production company looks to fund and produce two to three projects a year through its Productions program. The Grants program aims to support 20-30 projects a year and gives up to $50,000 for each stage of a production; grantees must have a non-profit fiscal sponsor. Cinereach’s  Fellowships program is an incubator for indie features by young filmmakers, with support from the Ford Foundation. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and non-fiction “Teenage” are two of its most recent productions.  

In considering which projects to fund, Cinereach looks for “emotional engagement and for films that are vital and artful and that push cultural and creative boundaries,” Goldman said. “I want to offer filmmakers an opportunity not to participate in the world of Hollywood film.”

“I look for projects with a defined audience,” Mohammad said.  “I’m  looking for filmmakers who are already making a film – for projects that will be completed.”  

Because Kickstarter is a funding platform, any project can ask for support as long as it meets the guidelines.   Once launched, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition and it’s up to the filmmaker to convince potential investors to pony up.  Although the Kickstarter campaigns of Spike Lee and Zach Braff raised some hackles in the indie community,  “Kickstarter is for everyone” Holm insisted.

As anyone who has looked at the end credits of an indie film knows, most cobble together funds from a number of sources.  Money for “Obvious Child” for example, was raised on Kickstarter and also from Tribeca All Access.  Holm counseled filmmakers to create different narratives about their film to appeal to as many funding sources as possible.

As for audience building, each panelist saw it as crucial for the ultimate success of a project.  

Holm stressed the importance of the community that develops among a Kickstarter project’s supporters.   This group is likely to promote the film on social media, talk it up among their friends and become the core of the film’s target audience.  Kickstarter itself holds an annual free Kickstarter Film Festival which screens selections of films and works-in-progress and also partners with the Sundance Institute.

Using the TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund as an example, Mohammad pointed to TFF screenings of films like “A Beautiful Mind” which has a two-fold purpose:  it lets aspiring filmmakers see the kinds of broadly science-related projects the Fund supports and  builds an audience for them.  In another audience building tactic, TFI Sloan provides a list of science-related films to movie theaters and gives grants to theaters that agree to screen one of them. 

Cinereach also hosts screenings, Goldman noted, and has been partnering with the Sundance Artists Services Initiative to distribute films over digital platforms.  He hopes to also develop theatrical distribution platforms in the future.

Although the U.S. is not a party to international co-production treaties, some international cooperation does take place.

“People have pledged to Kickstarter in 98% of countries around the world,” said Holm.  She added that Kickstarter is expanding to the U.K., Canada and E.U. countries, but because more funds are available for indie filmmakers outside the U.S., for now, most supported projects will be American.

“The CNC [France’s National Cinema Center) fund has treaties with many countries – but not the U.S. ” said Mohammad, “but it is friendly to first- and second-time filmmakers and is willing to work with Tribeca.”   He pointed to Screen Australia as an international organization that will support U.S. films as long as they have significate Australian content and talent and to the CFC (Canadian Film Center) which will help navigate co-productions.

According to Goldman, Cinereach grants are not limited to U.S. artists–international filmmakers are definitely part of the mix.  

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