Sundance Trend: How Filmmakers Use Kickstarter to Finish Movies

The Foxy Merkins Still - H 2014

The Foxy Merkins Still - H 2014

A growing number of directors and producers are turning to crowdfunding to help competition films, such as "The Square" and "Citizen Koch," cross the finish line; says one employee: "Filmmakers come to Kickstarter at all stages of the creative process."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

For emerging filmmakers, there's nothing like the high of learning your movie got into Sundance. But then a harsh reality often sets in: You have only two months (and limited money) to finish it.

"It's like a cold chill that washes over you during the phone call where they tell you the news," says writer-director Madeleine Olnek, who returns to Park City this year with The Foxy Merkins, her fourth film to make the cut. Postproduction expenses such as sound mixing and color correction can be one of the priciest phases on the road to Sundance, not to mention the spending on basic marketing, PR and travel. For films without a coveted postproduction grant, finishing costs can be daunting.

That's why many Sundance filmmakers like Olnek have turned to crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo to help nudge their movies across the finish line. While many still think of crowdfunding as a strategy for getting projects off the ground -- thanks in part to the high-profile geneses of films like Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here, which bows at this year's Sundance -- Kickstarter does not restrict how or when a creator can turn to it for help.

"Filmmakers come to Kickstarter at all stages of the creative process, from development through distribution," says Elisabeth Holm, the company's film program director. "If you look at the 73 Kickstarter-funded projects that have been official Sundance selections over the past three years, there's a huge diversity of when they come to the site and how much they raise."

Twenty selections for this year's festival raised money on Kickstarter, the largest number to date. And that tally likely is growing during the run-up to the fest and beyond. Following Sundance 2013, for example, such festival selections as The Square, The Moo Man and Citizen Koch launched Kickstarter campaigns to help secure distribution.

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Holm, whose job in part is to help filmmakers navigate the Kickstarter process, also is a producer who can relate to the financial constraints indie filmmakers face. In the spring, she took a sabbatical from the company to produce Obvious Child, which premieres at this year's Sundance and is running a Kickstarter campaign.

Holm says Kickstarter has allowed her to circumvent usual fundraising avenues: "We would have had to bring in another equity investor, give our existing investors an even larger percentage of the backend or so reduce our budget to the point that the quality of postproduction and marketing of the film would suffer."

For Olnek, the site offers a crucial final push toward the holy grail of Sundance: distribution. "If I don't have that money," she says, "I'll have to have audience members come to my apartment to watch the movie."