BERLIN — With old models of film financing models breaking down, a new generation of filmmakers is turning to the Internet for the cash and fan backing to produce and distribute their movies.
Whether it’s Kevin Smith tweeting his 1.7 million Twitter fans to support the roll-out of his horror outing Red State, Luc Besson’s EuropeCorp asking online users to vote on scripts and cast for its next project or Amazon paying $1.1 million in a contest to find the best user-generated feature, the film biz is tapping the power of the online crowd as it looks for a new way to bankroll independent features.
Iron Sky, the long-gestating Nazis-on-the-moon film from Finnish director Timo Vuorensola, raised $1.2 million of its $10 million budget from online fans. The project, which finished principal photography last week and is being shopped to buyers in Berlin by Blind Spot Pictures, mixed online and traditional financing in a way that could prove a model for future indies.
Producers Blind Spot first generated interest in their “space Nazis” movie by pitching the idea to fans of their Finnish-language sci-fi feature Star Wreck, which was released for free online and was seen by over 8 million people worldwide.
“We built up the online fan base and did things like sell merchandise connected to Iron Sky,” says producer Tero Kaukomaa, whose credits include Dancer in the Dark and Everlasting Moments. “That fan base made it easier to convince traditional funding sources — distributors and subsidy boards — that there was a market for this movie.”
With backing from Germany, Finland and Australia and presales to Revolver in the U.K. and Poland’s Kino Swiat, Iron Sky nailed down 85% of its budget. The final 15% gap was filled by the crowd.
“We raised $400,000 online selling shares to around 100 people and used that as our guarantee to get a bank loan to close the budget,” Kaukomaa said. “I think it was the first time the online crowd has been used to gap a film.”
A handful of crowd-funded films have been made, the bulk of them documentaries, such as Franny Armstrong’s environmental doc The Age of Stupid, starring the late British actor Pete Postlethwaite. Armstrong raised the film’s $700,000 budget by selling shares in the project online to 223 individuals and groups who invested between $800 and $56,000 in exchange for a piece of the film’s back-end.
EuropaCorp’s crowd-funding site, weareproducteurs.com, also has lets film fans invest in its new feature. But the focus is less on raising cash than generating interest. French Pay-TV portal Orange Cinema Series has pre-bought French broadcast rights to the finished film and the bulk of the movie’s financing will be traditional.
“The participation of web users will be small in comparison to the final budget. The objective isn’t to have the web users pay for the film. EuropaCorp doesn’t need the money,” Orange’s Head of Games and Transmedia Jean-François Rodriguez explained. “We want to show Internet users how a film is made and to involve them by letting them make the decisions.”
How much decision making is done by the crowd and how much by the filmmakers is the big difference between crowd-sourced films such as Iron Sky and The Age of Stupid and Amazon’s online film site, Amazon Studios. Vuorensola asks his online fans for suggestions and farms out tasks like designing a poster or helping to choose music for the film’s trailer but in the end, every decision is his call.
Amazon in contrast, believes the wisdom of crowds exceeds that of mere filmmakers. Amazon Studios not only asks users to submit scripts but also to vote on the best projects and mash-up other user’s contributions to produce a better film. As Amazon Studios director Roy Price put it: “maybe the next Irving Thalberg is 6 million movie fans.”
“I don’t think that’s the way to go, a director should control his own film,” Kaukomaa says. “But having seen with Iron Sky that crowd-financing can work, it’s something I’m considering now for every new project. It might not work for all types of films, but I’m convinced it is the future.”
Rebecca Leffler in Paris contributed to this report.