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Indie Filmmakers Are Now Soliciting Fans For Funding Online

Courtesy of Von Feissbach Film

When backing dollars fail, small-budget moviemakers are starting to turn to crowd-funding for help, but can the strategy go mainstream?

Award-winning documentary director Jennifer Fox had just wrapped production on her new film, My Reincarnation, when she got one of those 'bad news' calls.

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'One of our backers suddenly couldn't come through with their commitment,' she recalls. 'Our film was finished, about to go out to festivals, and suddenly we had a $100,000 hole.' With creditors at the door, Fox did what indie filmmakers are increasingly doing to get their movies made: crowd-funding. She went online and asked her fans for money. On Kickstarter.com, the largest crowd-funding site, she asked for $50,000 in donations. She got $150,000.

Fox isn't alone. Film editor Christopher Salmon raised $161,000 online to fully finance his directorial debut, an animated short based on Neil Gaiman's story The Price. Famed mumblecore director Andrew Bujalski raised $50,000 toward his new feature, a 1980s drama set in the world of computer chess.

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Several entries at this year's Toronto International Film Festival got backing from Kickstarter, including the urban drama Pariah, from first-timer Dee Rees, and Gary Hustwit's city-planning documentary Urbanized. For the political doc Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, director Nick Broomfield asked fans for $30,000 to pay for distribution.

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In Europe, where state subsidies are an option, crowd-funding isn't as popular. But there are exceptions. Finnish director Timo Vuorensola raised $1.2 million of the $10 million budget for his Nazis-on-the-moon movie Iron Sky through his website Ironsky.net. Hotel Desire, an X-rated German sex drama, secured its $200,000 budget through a combination of online fundraising and corporate sponsorship.

Kickstarter, launched in 2009, has helped members raise a total of $32 million for film projects. The largest single amount was $345,000 for Blue Like Jazz, a religion drama based on Donald Miller's memoir. Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler says he has had conversations with the major talent agencies and studios about using his site for larger projects. But he admits using just the crowd to raise even a $5 million budget would be a challenge. 'We aren't doing that kind of
business,' says Strickler. 'At least not yet.'