Berlin 2012: Expert Panel Talks Crowd Funding

 Blind Spot Pictures

BERLIN — Crowd funding via the Internet can not only contribute to an indie movie's budget but also can help it build valuable buzz. And part of the appeal may be positioning an indie project as going against the Hollywood grain.

Those were two of the upshots from a panel on crowd funding here at the European Film Market on Friday, Feb. 10. Moderated by THR's German bureau chief Scott Roxborough, the panel discussed how best to harness an online audience to finance, promote and distribute films.

Online sites such as Kickstarter were a key topic as was European crowd-sourced success story Iron Sky, whose Finnish producer, Tero Kaukomaa, said the movie's trailer already has gotten more than 2 million hits online since its late Wednesday release.

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The sci-fi Nazi parody raised $1 million of its $10 million budget through online donations. The money helped with gaining buzz and reducing the cost for ads, Kaukomaa suggested. "I think it helps. It definitely reduced our cost in the traditional P&A [prints and advertising] budget," he said.

"Turning to crowds and a fan base is good and can add to your financing maybe a homeopathic dose," cautioned Juliane Schulze of film finance consulting firm Peacefulfish. "It is important to be realistic. And it is also about brand building."

While another panelist warned that it is hard for film investors to make money back, Schulze said, "There can be an emotional return."

Asking for audiences to get involved potentially helps create more excitement among donors and their friends, echoed Kaukomaa. "It's kind of a fight against Hollywood," he said. "People want and have to feel that they are part of it. It makes it more interesting."

Kaukomaa and Schulze argued that crowd funding can help producers get a better feel for the audience for their film. Such data can help filmmakers in their talks with distributors.

Jessica Caldwell, producer of Electric Children, which started off with a crowd funding effort via Kickstarter before an experienced producer came on board and brought along more funding, said crowdsourcing is "really, really difficult" but makes sense for indies as long as they don't see it as a saving grace for the whole sector.

Several panelists suggested it is most useful for genre and issue films. Meanwhile, "Spider-Man 4 is never going be funded on Kickstarter," Caldwell said, adding, "Studios don't need the money."

Kaukomaa quipped that it would be nice to do a test with Spider-Man 4, even though "I think my kids would rather invest there than in my film."

Asked whether crowd financing helps films get distribution or enables self-distribution, Caldwell said the latter is very difficult in the U.S.

Kaukomaa said his team got traditional distribution but also has started working on Iron Sky on Tour, which will take the film to 20 cities. It allows people to buy tickets, a T-shirt and a poster from the producer, with the screening being followed by a 45-minute Q&A.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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