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“Crowdsourcing” and Democratic Filmmaking

Shannon Arvizu | Thursday March 13th, 2008 | 6 Comments

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“Crowdsourcing” is an innovative approach towards getting fresh ideas tested, funded, produced, and distributed into the market. CambrianHouse is the central hub on the net for crowdsourcing. Through their “IdeaWarz” competition, anyone can post ideas, instantly receive feedback, secure funding, and/or build a team of supporters to get the idea launched.
One of the ideas to come out of this competition is FilmRiot.com. On FilmRiot, you can watch trailers of independent films that are currently seeking funding. If you like what you see, you can become a supporter for as little as $10. Once the movie reaches its financial goal, filmmakers receive the money to complete the rest of the feature. Supporters can submit feedback during the production process, receive a digital copy once the project is finished, and join an affiliate program to receive further monetary benefit through referrals. Most importantly, supporters get to watch movies they want to see made. It’s democratic filmmaking at it’s finest!
This afternoon, I spoke with Don Holmsten, founder of FilmRiot, to find out more about how this model works.


What is “crowdsourcing”?
It can mean a lot of things. In our case, we’re building in mechanisms for people who watch films to benefit from the film. The crowd is involved in funding the film and marketing the film. The people who contribute are not investors in the technical sense. They are pre-buying a copy of the film, join an affliliate program (like Amazon’s affiliate program), and earn revenue by referrals through myspace, email, blogs, etc.
What is the average level of funding you expect from supporters?
The model we’re proposing is similar to that of Sellaband.com. On Sellaband, roughly half of supporters give the minimum of $10. The other half give substantially more. On average, they receive $50 from each supporter. We’re expecting the same response on FilmRiot.
Who ultimately benefits?
Everyone benefits. We become more in control of what are entertainment options are. You can find filmmakers from all over the world on FilmRiot who would have never been able to produce a feature before had they not had this platform.
Do you see FilmRiot acting as a “change agent” in the film industry?

That’s what our goal is. Obviously the industry is still controlled by Hollywood and the major networks. But the film industry is being pressured by broadband distribution, just like the music industry. At the same time, the technology to produce a film is relatively inexpensive now, thereby making independent film a more viable option. The main costs now are people’s time and skills. That’s where FilmRiot can really help. Of course, we don’t expect to compete with the “big hits.” But we think that the “big hits” are becoming less and less relevant. We provide a new level of open-ness. It’s what film fans want.


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  • Don Holmsten

    Thanks, Shannon, for writing this article.
    We talked about several things that didn’t make into the article. We had talked about was the idea of using FilmRiot.com to support issues based films. For instance, the issues talked about at triplePundit.com. People can come together to get a film made that supports their causes and concerns. Then the film goes on to have a life on it’s own – educating people wherever it is viewed. Wouldn’t it be great if filmmakers didn’t have to go deep into debt to make a film about an issue they are passionate about?

  • quarterlife

    So how do the investors get their money back? What’s the return here?

    It seems like you need to establish a level of trust and credibility, not only for the transaction of the investment but also for the quality of the filmmaker. I didn’t see anything about setting up a corporation for each film to invest in. Infact, I think this probably breaks a number of SEC regulations on investment right off the bat.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think the concept is great. Independent filmmakers shouldn’t have to go deep into debt to make their movies… but there is a reason that raising funding is hard.

  • Shannon

    Actually, supporters are not “investors” in the technical sense for this very reason. They are called “supporters.” You don’t get your money back for your support, you get a copy of the film and any residuals from referrals for others to see the film.
    It’s not really about getting “returns” in the traditional sense. It’s more about being a part of the production process and getting the content you want to see.

  • Danson

    I think the reason they can’t be “investors” has to do with the SEC and how complicated it is to legally make this an investment. But, but by getting a return on ticket sales via a referral program, you can accomplish something similar.
    I don’t think a lot of people would do this for no return. I would also think that websites that sell tickets could do well on this by being brokers between “supporters” and ticket sales… which might of course introduce another whole strange middleman issue, but it might be inevitable…

  • Don Holmsten

    Yes, Shannon and Danson are correct. We are introducing an affiliate program for each film rather than having shares in the film because of strict SEC regulations. It is absolutely legal because the supporters will only be rewarded for the work they do – referring sales of the film and related products.
    BTW – perhaps some of the films will make it to theatrical release, but most will only available on DVD or digital download. The affiliate program will cover all products sold via the FilmRiot store including t-shirts, posters, bound copies of the script or anything else the filmmaker chooses to make available.

  • Vanessa

    This seems like a new wave of sites. I read about a similar site, IndieGoGo.com, on the front page of Filmmakermagazine.com. There was something about a $10,000 succes story. Exciting stuff.