Why Aren’t Feature Films Crowdfunded?
Reading the news that Terry Gilliam has finally secured funding for a new feature after three years of trying got me asking the most obvious of questions: Why don’t more big-name filmmakers use crowdfunding methods like Kickstarter?
Gilliam, whose movies include the wonderful – but not necessarily commercially successful enough to be considered “hits” – Twelve Monkeys, Brazil, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and, a favorite of this parish, The Brothers Grimm, has described the process of finding funding to make his movies as being “in this eternal waiting room” leading to a “dull throb” of existence. Considering the quality of work that he produces, that’s a sad thing to read, but is it something that’s even necessary in today’s world of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and countless options for artists to go directly to fans and say, “Hey, wanna help me out here?”
Small movies and short films have used crowdsourcing methods to become funded in the past, but to the best of my knowledge, no-one’s yet used the increasingly-popular process to fund a full-length feature. Is there a particular reason for that? Well, maybe; I can think of one potential bump in the road off the top of my head – The scale of the whole thing. Let’s look at The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, for example; that film was relatively “low budget” by movie standards, but it still cost $30 million to produce. That’s a lot of money; more than three times the record amount a Kickstarter has ever raised, to put it in some kind of context. That’s not to say that someone with Gilliam’s track record couldn’t raise that kind of money, in time – After all, the $7.8 million Kickstarter record as it currently stands is more than double the previous amount of just a few months earlier, so it’s not as if people aren’t apparently getting more comfortable pledging large sums towards projects they want to see succeed – just to point out the scope of what would wait ahead.
(As USA Today points out, larger scale crowd funding is about to happen anyway, with corporations opening themselves up to the process starting next year.)
There are other concerns, too. What if the movie went over budget? Would there have to be an additional amount raised in the initial crowdfunding to cover that? What about taxes and the like – Would Gilliam or whatever moviemaker attempted this have to factor that into the initial figure, or just hope that they could cover the amount themselves (Spoiler: Unless they were rich, they probably couldn’t)? Would the investors get a say in decisions regarding the movie’s production or release schedule?
Also: If the movie made profit – and, surely, everyone would want it to be successful – then who would see those profits? Would everyone receive a share equivalent to their initial investment? If so, imagine the logistical nightmare that would be, working that out and keeping track of the many, many people who’d require reimbursement. And if not – if there was some kind of agreement that all profits would stay with Gilliam or go into some trust for future projects – doesn’t that open up the possibility of a lawsuit from an aggrieved investors who decide after the fact that they want a piece of the pie? (Then again, it’s a Gilliam movie; the odds of it becoming a massive success to the level that that would happen are minimal, sadly.)
And one final question: Even with all of these problems, does that make the entire prospect less enticing than the familiar dull throb?
Gilliam may not be likely to crowd source the money he needs for future projects anytime soon, but the potential is there, and it has to only be a matter of time before a full-scale, released-in-theaters, crowdfunded motion picture actually happens, and we get the answers to all of these questions as well as finding out if movie-making can become a more democratic process as a result – and whether that’s a good thing or not.