Over the past few years, and thanks to increasingly visible sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter, crowdfunding has gone from an interesting concept to an absolutely viable fundraising tool. But it's still a new phenomenon, one in which the ethics of the whole concept are still being worked out and some truly crazy things can happen.
As crowdfunding continues to grow, it seemed inevitable that someone would examine the meteoric rise of the movement. And what better way to approach crowdfunding than through a crowdfunded documentary? That's what Timon Birkhofer and Jørg M. Kundinger did with their movie, "Capital C."
"Capital C" looks at three creators whose businesses flourished thanks to crowdfunding: Zach Crain hand-knits koozies for water bottles; Jackson Robinson hand-paints playing cards; and Brian Fargo rebuilt a video game that he originally made 20 years ago.
When Birkhofer joined us on The Frame, we asked him about the lessons he and his co-director learned while crowdfunding their own movie, whether it was coincidence that the movie only focused on successful projects, and the message he wanted to send to the viewers of "Capital C."
So, you go through crowdfunding to finance this film. As part of that process, did it change your perceptions or inform your research about the kind of film you wanted to make and how other people were approaching crowdfunding?
Absolutely. Our campaign was running for roughly 60 days and it was a full-time job for me, I was basically not doing anything else. A lot of people, when they go on the campaign sites, they only see the amounts people have raised, particularly after a campaign: Oh, this person reached their goal, this person succeeded their goal.
What they don't know, and what we try to show in the film, is that even if you reach or succeed your goal, it's a lot of hard work. Making something from scratch is a lot of hard work, so funding is only part of the equation. Once you're funded, that's when the real work starts.
One of the things that's true with crowdfunding is that a lot of campaigns don't reach their goal, or they reach their goal and the product never turns out. Were you interested in those kinds of stories, or did you end up having really good luck?
We didn't know what we would get into when we started filming our subjects, but one of the most important things to us was to show that crowdfunding is still relatively new, especially in the mainstream. A lot of people that work in entertainment or tech know what it is, but the average person still might not.
So it was important for us not to scare people away from a new idea that can change so much in any aspect of life, and we wanted to inspire people. When we screened at film festivals, we'd get so many reactions afterwards like, Oh my god, now we'll go home and start working on the book we never finished, or that album I never finished. And that was our biggest goal — to inspire others to make something.
Generally, crowdfunding gets to bypass "the man," the person who is handing out the money, whether it's a corporation or an individual who can say yes or no. You have hundreds, if not thousands of donors, so in some ways the crowd becomes "the man" and there's some accountability to a lot of different people. That's something you experienced in crowdfunding, right?
Oh yeah, totally. In the movie, Brian [Fargo] says something like, "Now I have 60,000 bosses." We didn't have quite that many — we had roughly 600 — but throughout the entire three-year production, we met about half of our supporters in person.
The difference between this and working for a single boss or investor is that, as long as you keep them updated and in the loop about everything, they tend to be really forgiving. They might have their 9-to-5 job, but they always want to be part of this, so the journey's part of the goal.
You've made your first film thanks to crowdfunding, it's played at festivals, and it's about to be released theatrically. Do you want to crowdfund your next film as well? If so, what lessons did you learn, not just in crowdfunding this film but also in watching these other people?
First of all, not every project works for crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a very specific way of raising money, and some projects just might not fit with it. Second of all, from going through the process ourselves, we learned that we wouldn't make a campaign that early on — it's definitely better to do when you have more to show, and I think one of the main reasons it worked with us as no-names was just the topic itself. Everyone was like, Oh my god, it makes so much sense!