Music Doc Filmmakers Increasingly Looking to Kickstarter for Funding

Perry Chen

In crowd-sourcing their financial needs, directors are cutting producers out of the process, but are they finding success? THR looks at two such rock visionaries as case studies.

Music documentary filmmakers are increasingly turning to the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter to fund their projects.

Since its launch in 2009, the online service that supports fundraising for creative ventures has been proven a viable avenue for musicians to raise money directly from fans for recording, distribution, touring and basically anything else. In return for financial support, artists offer tiered incentives that often include limited edition and personalized materials, merchandise, autographs and concert tickets.

Earlier this year, Amanda Palmer made headlines by becoming the first musician to raise more than a million dollars on Kickstarter, funds used to record her next album.

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Now, documentarians, record labels and musicians are trying their luck with the platform to raise direct funding for films. And in so doing, they are often cutting producers out of the equation by going straight to the source -- the consumers.

At least four films worth note are currently raising money this way, as many more have done over the past year. One of those -- Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton (This is Stones Throw Records) -- covers the history of Stones Throw Records, the avant-garde Los Angeles-based hip-hop label. Another is a live-concert documentary called See a Little Light: A Celebration of the Music and Legacy of Bob Mould , chronicling the 2011 event which found Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, Spoon's Britt Daniel, Ryan Adams, No Age and many more joining and honoring the Hüsker Dü frontman in stage at LA's Disney Concert Hall (see photo below). Also in the works: a feature-length film called Song Dynasties about Of Montreal, the eccentric indie-rock circus troop; another titled Beautiful Noise, focusing on bands like Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine; and a Jerry Garcia doc directed by Malcolm Leo based off a 1987 interview with the Grateful Dead icon.  

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"Kickstarter puts [the film] immediately in the hands of the creator and is a nice connection with the creator and the audience that you just don't get with the traditional model," says director Justin Mitchell of Mould's See a Little Light.

Mitchell explains that the intent for See a Little Light had always been to use crowd-sourcing to fund its production; it wasn't a backup plan reacting to any failure to find traditional funding. "I think for Bob it makes a lot of sense, considering his really strong DIY roots," he said. "If something like Kickstarter had been around when Hüsker Dü and all these other bands were getting started… It totally fits into the aesthetic."

Jason Miller, the director behind Song Dynasties said the old model of creating a film for physical, DVD release "just feels very antiquated." Instead, like most of these projects, the release will be digital.

Still, he had been reluctant to fund their film through Kickstarter until the band started discussing what sort of incentives it would offer fans, including albums' test pressings, unique props like a 10-foot dress frontman Kevin Barnes wore onstage at Coachella, and even a canoe used in a music video.

Miller isn't without his concerns, though. Each Kickstarter project must reach its goal to receive any of the pledged funds and only time will tell whether they’ll make it. He said, "Not having any idea of what the Kickstarter pattern is like, I'm still a little bit nervous because what if all the big fans came out immediately?"

When this article was published, Miller's documentary had raised nearly $50,000 of its $75,000 goal, with 14 days left to go. He continued, "I still fear we won't reach the goal but it's a pretty damn good start. So for the most part, I have faith."

Twitter: @THRMusic