THREE Merseyside film-makers knew crowdfunding was their only hope – and they knew the force was with them when even Luke Skywalker gave his backing to their campaign.
More and more people in the creative and digital sectors are using crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, to attract funding from backers around the world.
Creative sector businesses have always found it hard to win bank funding – and, in the current climate, many complain it is almost impossible.
Crowdfunding gives them a way to bypass traditional financial institutions and appeal directly to their fans.
The sites allow people to pledge money towards projects of their choice. If the project doesn’t raise all the cash it needs, they get their money back. If it does, they get “perks”.
Alan Donohoe, Jamie Williamson and Laura Purcell successfully raised $16,000 to make their film I Have A Bad Feeling About This.
Bad Feeling, which was filmed in and around Liverpool, tells the tale of the desperate attempts of two sci-fi fans to win tickets to a one-off screening of all three original Star Wars movies.
Their campaign won the Twitter backing of Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the first three Star Wars movies.
Other local organisations that have used crowdfunding include not-for-profit body First Take, which used Sponsume to raise funds towards its film Big Society The Musical.
And Lucy Myatt, who runs video game and comic shop Level Up in Liverpool, is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to create a “retro gaming cafe”.
Mr Donohoe shared his experiences at the “Power to the People” debate, held at Leaf cafe in Bold Street last Thursday.
The event, organised by support agency ACME and Liverpool Sound City, aimed to help people make the most of a crowdfunding campaign.
Mr Donohoe said: “Myself and my friend Jamie graduated from university in 2010 into the big empty void that was the recession. We studied film and television, so that didn’t help. “There were no jobs there. We were bored and quite depressed.
“So we started to write a film.”
They did not have the cash to make it themselves – so they made a trailer for £300 and then launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $16,000 dollars for the full feature.
The Bad Feeling team used social media to promote its work.
Its first campaign just missed its target. But the producers regrouped, got most backers to pledge again, and launched a second campaign that hit its goal.
Bad Feeling was filmed in August and September last year, and the team has since been editing the footage together.
Now they plan to launch another campaign in March to get the film released later this year.
The other speaker at Power to the People was singer-songwriter Chris Mackintosh, who raised £3,500 through website Pledge Music to record his debut album as Silent Sleep.
The self-effacing Mr Mackintosh said: “You’re trying to give people an incentive to buy a new album before it’s been made and before they’ve even heard it. Why would they do that? Why shouldn’t they wait ‘til it’s made, then buy it?
“That was one of the trickiest bits of the process for me – what was worth me putting out there to entice people to buy it?
“I started off with a download-only option for £8. And one of the things that came up was me coming round your house to cook tea – that cost £100. It’d be the most expensive beans on toast they’d ever had.”
“Only one person, he said, had expressed any interest in that. But he had sold a DJ set for £500.
“Even if you think nobody’s going to buy it, people want to get involved and want to help you. The pledges may not be worth £500, but people want to help you.
“If you’re thinking about doing this, it’s worth thinking about the most ridiculous incentives. People do want to help.”
Mr Donohoe said Bad Feeling’s offers to pledgers included personalised scripts and DVDs.
“We started our donations at $10,” he said. “We just said ‘if you do that, you’ll get a credit on the movie’. But that’s really exciting for some people – they can say ‘there’s my name’.”
Other filmmakers, he said, had asked for as much as $50 for a credit on a film.
But, he added: “Most people are going to donate because they want to be a part of it, not necessarily because they want something physical or material back.”
One criticism of crowdfunding is that it can feel as though it is, as host Niall McGuinness said, a form of “begging”. But all panellists said that it should not be thought of in that way as people are donating towards specific goals and receiving perks in return.
Mr Mackintosh said: “It was something I was quite conscious about.
“But you’re doing something creative. If I went ahead, recorded an album, then went on Facebook and Twitter and said ‘I’ve recorded an album, please buy it’, “I think I would have felt worse saying ‘this is what I want to do, come on board’.
“It was something they were all involved in. I was keeping up to date with video on the site and things like that. It’s a really exciting process.”
Mr Donohoe said: “It’s glorified begging in many ways.
“But I say it’s for a good cause. It’s not for charity, but we’re being up-front about it.
“I think there is a chance it will implode at some point. If you’re going to do it, do it now rather than later.
“There have been some scams already. If you’re smart it’s free money. That’s what it should be. It should be about funding your production.”
Later, though, Mr Mackintosh disagreed that crowdfunding would “implode”. Instead, he said, it could become a vital part of the record industry as artists choose to fund their own recordings rather than hoping for increasingly rare advances from major record labels.
Mr Donohoe said he had had to be careful not to “pester” people too much when promoting his campaigns. But social media is, he said, the most powerful tool a campaign can have.
The Bad Feeling team were thrilled, for example, when Mark Hamill tweeted about their project, prompting a surge of interest.
And they also organised “Facebook surges”, in which they encouraged their friends to all go online and talk about their film at a specific time. We wanted to spam the internet,” he said. “We raised $2,000 in one night doing that.”
Karen Bair, head of music at Indiegogo, joined the debate by phone from the US.
She said 45 days was the optimum length for a campaign, and said all campaigns should be launched with a short explanatory video.
Ms Bair said anyone considering crowdfunding should come up with a detailed plan for their whole campaign.
“It’s great if you can add new perks half-way through,” she said. “There’s always a lull.
“About 24% of people who look at your campaign say they will come back in three or four weeks. There’s a large surge at the beginning and a surge at the end.
“And always pick perks you know you can fulfil. Don’t come up with outlandish ideas you can’t deliver once the campaign is over."
Mr Donohoe agreed with Ms Bair’s point about planning crowdfunding, saying the second, successful Bad Feeling campaign on Indiegogo was much more tightly planned than the first.
He said the team was already planning its third campaign, which will launch in March. It will raise money for reshoots and will also help fund the film’s promotion.
And, finally, Ms Bair again hit out at the perception that crowdfunding is in some way equivalent to begging.
She said: “You’re offering people the opportunity to participate from the ground up and offering them things they couldn’t get anywhere else. The perception that it’s ‘panhandling’ is so far off the mark’.”