Financing an independent movie, whether it be a short or feature, is no mean task, and more often than not you’ll end up securing funds through a plethora of channels.
In the last few years, crowdfunding film productions has been on the rise – we’ve all heard of the success of the Veronica Mars movie campaign – but because most of the mainstream crowdfunding sites offer their service to a broad spectrum of ventures, it’s not ideal for smaller projects without cult followings and for something as niche as the movie business.
British writer and director Dan Bronzite spoke to Peter J. Storey, the man behind Greenlit, a new London-based film-centric crowdfunding platform to find out how his new international service evolved and sets itself apart from the rest.
Dan: Tell me a little about your background in film production
Peter: I started out – like a lot of people in the industry – with training as an actor. I soon realized that I had limited technical skills and too thin a skin, so I ended up doing a lot of stage lighting at drama school. When I left, I moved into working as a gaffer on film shoots – student stuff, no-budgeters, and moved up quite quickly to major productions.
For me, being on a film set was like coming home. The camaraderie, the Magnificent Seven thing where a bunch of people at the top of their game in different disciplines come together for a project, and everything (sometimes) works like clockwork.
When I hit thirty, I felt it was time for something a little more entrepreneurial, so I went back to college for an MBA in finance. After that I moved into production finance, organizing large-scale co-productions across Europe. Unfortunately, one of the flaws of the British film industry is that it is too heavily dependent on government schemes and tax breaks, so when the system was changed in 2007, a lot of companies – including mine – were out of a business model.
Dan: How did you get the idea for Greenlit and what was your motivation behind it?
Peter: I was approached by some finance colleagues of mine who were launching crowdfunding platforms in other industries with a view to seeing if there was room for one for the film business. I spent several months working up a business plan, speaking to dozens of filmmakers and people who’d done crowdfunding in other industries, and concluded there was a huge opportunity for something bespoke that recognizes how our industry is different to widgets or craft beer.
Personally, it was an absolute delight to start engaging with creative people, trying to pull their projects together and being able to help. It was that coming home thing again.
Dan: How does Greenlit differ from other crowdfunding sites?
Peter: We only deal with film, so we’re building expertise in how to optimize campaigns for those specific creative needs. A lot of producers, especially if they’ve come from production management or creative roles, have never encountered marketing as a discipline, so we provide training, advice and practical support on putting together a campaign, something you’d never get from the big commodity platforms.
More than that, we’re building a community. The filmmakers we’ve worked with have been hugely supportive of each other, and if there’s something needed for production, we can generally do an intro to someone who can help.
Dan: How do you choose projects, what are your success rates, and what are your fees?
Peter: We don’t make any judgements around genre, length, form or subject. If a filmmaker is passionate about something, they’re going to be far better equipped to understand their potential audience, so we’re happy to support in any way we can.
That said, we have to be confident that the film will be delivered, broadly on time, broadly on budget and resemble the project that was pitched. So we require enough experience from producers to believe that will happen.
Our success rate on “All or Nothing” campaigns is currently 90%. We’ve just started offering the Indiegogo-style model of flexible funding, and we’re doing very well on that also.
We don’t have a lot of wiggle-room on fees – Kickstarter and Indiegogo both charge 5%, so we do as well. Our bank charges and payment structure does generally work out cheaper than those two, especially for European-based projects.
Dan: How do you feel crowdfunding in general has changed the traditional model of film financing and do you feel it benefits shorts more than features?
Peter: From a UK perspective, film funding is dominated by public bodies – The British Film Institute, regional operators like Film London or Screen Scotland. Of course, they only have a limited pot and the ubiquitous criticism is that they are “small-c” conservative, with the same old names cropping up again and again.
With crowdfunding, you can take charge of that process. If you’ve got a bit of entrepreneurial hustle, you can genuinely make it happen, without waiting for those old-school gatekeepers to give you permission.
Crowdfunding is great for shorts. The existing funding opportunities are generally limited, so it’s a terrific way to work in non-standard formats, and build your audience, for this and future projects. Features are more challenging, simply because budgets are higher, but the principle is the same – you just have to put a bit more work in!
Dan: In your experience is crowdfunding typically used to raise entire film budgets, or sometimes just for production or completion funding?
Peter: We’ve done both. Sometimes it’s better to split your campaign, do one raise for production, and when you have something to show people, go for finish money. It entirely depends on the nature of the project, and your audience – but we’ll help you try and understand that.
Dan: Would you recommend filmmakers not rely on crowdfunding alone but instead utilize it as a part of a broader fundraising strategy?
Peter: Most filmmakers are happy to take money from anywhere! So of course, if there are other potential sources of funding, then go for it. There’s also a definite symbiosis – if you have industry money, then that can be good social proof for backers. More importantly, if you’ve demonstrated that there’s an audience for what you’re doing, and you know how to talk to them, then people are going to start to sit up and take notice of what you’re doing.
Dan: Do you offer support for international users with campaigns in different currencies?
Peter: Yes, we have worked with filmmakers and audiences from a number of different countries, so we can tailor our currency and payment procedures in several different ways to help the filmmaker.
Dan: How much time would you recommend filmmakers allow to prepare a crowdfunding campaign and what are your top tips for success?
Peter: We generally advise a 2-month lead time before the start of a campaign, for research and the practicalities. You can do it quicker, but the more room you have to build things, then the more likely you are to succeed.
Two simple tips: Preparation and Persistence.
You wouldn’t start shooting without a script, a budget and a schedule. So don’t enter a campaign without knowing what you’ll be doing and when. The more research and contacts you have, the easier it’ll be when you launch.
Persistence is absolutely critical. I don’t know if it’s a British thing, but many producers are shy about asking for money. Don’t be! There are hundreds or thousands of people out there who want to hear what you have to say, so make sure they do hear it. People are busy, emails get overlooked, so don’t worry about reaching out 8 or 10 times until you get a response.
Dan: What are your “blue sky” ambitions for Greenlit and how the platform evolves?
Peter: We’ve got some big developments rolling out in 2020. We’re expanding the platform to offer equity, where backers can make an actual investment in a project, so we will be moving up the chain in terms of the budgets we can deal with. We’ve also had some approaches from creators in the commercial theatre space, so we’re looking at whether our approach could work with other art forms.
Personally, I want to destroy the stigma around crowdfunding. It’s often regarded as what you do when you can’t get the money elsewhere. This overlooks the tremendous power it brings to build audiences and fans who want to come on that journey with you, not just for this one, but the next and throughout your career. I look forward to the day when productions WITH crowdfunding are the norm!
Visit the Greenlit website for more details.