2012 was a breakthrough in the history of crowdfunding. The most popular platform, Kickstarter hosted more than 18000 successfully supported campaigns last year, which generated around $320 million by 2 million people.

It sounds like an enormously large amount, but this is just a little bit more than a single Hollywood blockbuster’s budget. It shows the huge growth potential in the crowdfunding business, which can double its annual revenue to $6 billion in 2013. And it is not the only reason why filmmakers should keep their eyes out for it.

Crowdfunding, however, is not just about the money and the financing itself. It demands a new approach to creating an artwork, which can result in new genres, aesthetic categories, and new kinds of cultural entertainment. For example, in the process of making a film you should be able to define your audience at the very beginning of the project. If you fail to do it, or you miscalculate something, you would not be able to realise your plan. This creates a two-way and seemingly controversial artistic approach: on one hand you should be enthusiastically collaborative to involve your supporters in the intimate process of creation. On the other hand, you need to build up your own brand as a filmmaker to be visible and recognisable to a certain target group.

These two elements are often the key to running a successful crowdfunding campaign. Alternatively, there should be a very important case or public figure to support the case, like the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei and the documentary about him. (Pledged around $50,000, premiered at Sundance.) Documentary is a successfully crowdfundable genre, because it can be personal and important at the same time, which can urge many people to take part.

The traditional way of short film financing is not connected at all to the audience’s feedback, because it assumes that there is no audience for these works. The main aspect of this system is to realise the films, to make a 35mm copy or a digital one to send it to festivals – and that’s it. This is fair enough for most directors and producers, but not always satisfactory for the viewers. It does not mean that there aren’t any masterpieces that have successfully found their audience, but until now, this method has generally put short film into a cage to function as a lab animal, instead of being an individual piece of art or entertainment.

Crowdfunding – as a new chance for filmmakers – is the newest chapter in the recent story of bringing short film into public attention. For a few years it has been quite obvious to find your audience on the new platforms like Daazo, Vimeo or Youtube. Now you can go and look for your supporters as well. If you do it well, these two groups (audience and supporters) will be the same and you will be able to re-use your previous works to finance the new ones, as your backers will be the first viewers and promoters of your work.

As most of web-based success stories, crowdsourcing also started in the US with the two major platforms Indiegogo and Kickstarter which helped to realise several thousand projects. Besides the technical features, there is a cultural difference in the tradition of helping a certain case – or financing culture generally. In Europe, there are strong and well established systems for supporting fine arts; governments spend a lot on it, but in the USA, in most of the cases you can only count on the 4F factor at the beginning of your career: founder, family, friends, fools. The crowdfunding platforms are built on these and on the strong civic engagement of the American society.

text: Dániel Deák
images: Zoltán Áprily