Last week, the Yvette Horizon project launched a campaign on the popular crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. For the uninitiated, Indiegogo is one of a number of emerging sites where people can publicly fund their creative or charitable projects, by offering perks in return for contributions. In planning said campaign over this last year I have mentioned, and subsequently had to explain the basics of crowdfunding to everyone I meet irl. What is apparent to me is that the crowdfund phenomena still has no currency outside of creative communities, that unless you or someone you know has run or is considering such a campaign, then it isn’t on your radar yet (yet). But it’s my conviction that crowdfunding is the next ‘video on the internet’, the next seismic change in how media is produced and received.
My personal introduction to the idea was about 2 years ago when I helped a friend with their campaign for a small-press publication. At that time I was intrigued as to how I might apply a similar model to a short film project, yet remained confounded as much as beguiled by that obvious question; “and people just give you money!?” Here were countless apparently successful projects, mostly far less interesting than Yvette Horizon, some with no mention of pirates at all, yet all apparently funded by strangers. It seemed to fly in the face of everything capitalism had taught us about the human condition. Surely capitalism wouldn’t lie to us, would it?
So why would anyone give money to something so frivolous as, say, a space pirate film? The answer is they wouldn’t, nor should they. Sites like Indiegogo are not a begging platform, and we are not asking people to simply give us money – we are offering a product, a number of products in fact, and a personal creative investment for contributors. Yvette Horizon has essentialy two things to offer an audience; the film itself and the unique ‘rags to space rags’ story of it’s inception, and we are offering incentives based on both.
Ours is ostensibly a completion funding campaign. We have already shot our short film and are seeking a sum for effects, sound and editing, which if earned will allow us to complete the film in 3 months from when the campaign ends on January 1st, 2013. Everyone who contributes gains exclusive first-run access to the finished film in a higher resolution than will be available elsewhere, and in contributing helps the film arrive all the sooner. In return they also gain a deserving film credit and access to exclusive ongoing updates including video and pictures. It’s a win/win/win triple header!
Yvette is a far-flung space fantasy, like a Star Wars or Dune, but built from nothing. Not from an independent budget or government grant, but from the petty cash jar, and by contributing and joining the team you can follow more intimately how we’re making that happen. In short, you get everything we have to give for just five bucks (or upwards).
This diary, and our various social feeds make the Yvette production already an open book, but higher contributors can also claim on an actual book, that is a pdf format behind-the-scenes digital book (to be produced shortly after production) containing hundreds of unique images. Meanwhile other awards include merchandise and original custom artwork from your author.
So that’s our story, and hopefully it’s convincing. But how does that make for some kind of seismic shift in film making paradigms? Well, take a look at this:
The day we started our campaign, a little known space franchise called Star Trek happened to release the trailer and accompanying one-sheet for its latest installment, so I felt obliged to produce the above troll/spam advertising pastiche on their Frankenstein use of photoshop tropes. The joke belies a serious point; at the end of the last movie, which I personally enjoyed and understand to be well liked, when the crew finally assembled in their iconic Skittles colored uniforms and promised to go where no one has gone before, did anybody think they were talking about a gritty politicized ‘Dark Knight’ parable set on a shattered Earth, replete with Transformers typography and Matrix coats?
What I liked about that particular movie is that it did its own thing, it sprang from one of those rare little windows where the franchise was so bankrupted that the movie-gods just let them try stuff. And therein lies the folly in investing any faith in a commercial franchise – such windows only appear once, after which the bold untested original ideas that made a shiz tonne of money get wrapped up, for no good reason, in the security blanket of tried ideas. The reason they rebooted Star Trek to begin with is that the franchise had exhausted itself in trying to play every zeitgeist. Everyone is speculating that this film will be a new Khan, yet in spirit it seems closer to the maligned and forgotten Star Trek Nemesis which also tried to cling to its youth by invoking The Matrix.
Perhaps the new film will be awesome, perhaps the advertisers and trailer editors are just lying to us about the whole Batman angle, as the scenes from a bright orange planet suggest, but if it is awesome it will only be luck, not design. Design, and the apparatus of Hollywood dictate that each new movie released is subject to what it believes some collective, hypothetical homosapien idiot has suggested it likes by merit of paying to go to a movie theater. Irrespective that these movies are the only thing going, and we all pay on the door. Only whimsical happenstance will let a movie like that be good, the apparatus of its inception all but precludes it.
In independent film there is no such danger. If an indie film is terrible it’s its own fault, and if you placed some personal audience investment in it then your loss lies only in creative differences or emotional needs, not in the terrible intrusive knowledge that a broken aging system is consistently keeping good movies from you. But until now even indie film has been subject to the whims of distributors, funding and selecting based on the same nonsense edicts that produce every homogenous movie. I feel confident as an aspiring career film maker to voice these complaints because I believe this era is ended. There now lies in crowdfunding a model for immediate communication with an audience, to grow and cater an audience for a niche product, and distribute to that niche with a guaranteed return. The days of the hypothetical Nielsen Family are numbered, along with the Viziers who advise the Sultans to what you and I are thinking. Instead, there is just you the audience and I the film maker, hanging out together and figuring what we both want from this relationship. But we both have to work to usher this era in.
So does Yvette Horizon stand on a precipice over the shattered wreckage of old-model capitalism, like she does in my picture? Well maybe not just yet. Our only aim is to make a one-time short of bold ambition, of a sort no funding commission would likely have the imagination to touch, but which is shamelessly populist in its own punk way, if only she can reach her audience.
To us, our current campaign is not a means to make the film, it is making the film. Just as we shanghaied the DSLR ‘movement’ to get our film shot, or used facebook to get it cast and crewed, this new conflation of audience building and financing we call crowdfunding is another chapter in our ongoing mission, so in joining us you really are becoming one of us.
And as such, this Diary until January 1st 2013 will become an ongoing account of the campaign process, what we learn, mistakes we make, to what degree we succeed or fail will all be discussed openly, for ourselves as much as for everyone else. For the last couple days we have been hanging out with Indiegogo’s founders and staff in person, at a series of live symposia, taking in ideas and refining our tactics. The psychology of successful crowdfunding is a specific, crazy, often surprising but ultimately more meaningful set of new Viziers magics, which we’re starting to learn.
The symposia didn’t really change my mind about anything, so much as validate and hone ideas I was already set in – such being, the possibility that this might be how it is now! That even after the chariot has descended and ambivalent movie-gods are all “Hey kid, we like your shiz, come make our Star Trek film its got zombies in it!” that crowdfund film making is going to be a continued part of how we all do this, and may even be the preferable option.