Monday, July 20, 2009

Crowdfunding: The Filmmaking Teenage Jules Verne Enthusiast's Friend

Many years ago, when I was working for a small film festival, I met some hairy young self-starters who were in the process of Scotch taping together their first feature film, a padded-out gutbucket horror movie, which they wanted to submit to the festival, even though there was some question as to whether they could actually get it finished in time. I did my best to give the impression that I was going out of my way to shepherd them along while hoping they'd all step into an open manhole and criticizing their mothers to anyone I met. The night their film was shown, I was standing at the back of the theater, staring at the slowly crawling, interminable list of final credits, cursing under my breath and thinking about setting fire to the screen so I could go ahead and lock up and maybe make it home in time for Conan, when I saw my own name, very nearly spelled correctly, listed no lower than three hundredth among those accorded "Special Thanks". At that moment, I wanted to throw my arms around them, call them each "Brother", and offer them pie. I offer this tender memory as my way of saying that I can sort of see where Adrian Bliss, Benjamin Robbins and Toby Stubbs are coming from.

Bliss, 18, Robbins, 18, and Stubbs, 17, are British, and are keen to produce and direct a film version of an obscure 1897 Jules Verne novel called Clovis Dardentor. Their pitch likens it to Indiana Jones meets Four Weddings and a Funeral. You might think that if three teenagers want to film a Jules Verne novel that you've never heard of, all they need to do is whisper it to a blue jay and then lie back to wait for the money to fall from the clouds, but apparently it takes a little more work than that. But maybe not a lot more. Having promoted their idea on the Internet, the guys started raking in money in exchange for their effort to credit contributors onscreen in the movie. Minimum charge for inclusion is a pound. You can donate, or just check out their pitch here. The relative slickness of their site inspires admiration for their potential filmmaking careers even as it sends chills down my spine. I'm tempted to send them a few bucks on condition that they lose my name but instead give whoever composed that music a wedgie.

Apparently the term for this sort of thing is "crowdfunding". The Dardentor boys didn't invent the concept, and not every crowdfunder peddles screen credits in exchange for cash. Artemis Eternal, a short sci-fi film whose director, Jessie Mae Stover, promoted it at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, inducts its contributors into the ranks of "The Artemis Eternal WINGMEN." And "Franny Armstrong, a documentary director, raised £450,000 for The Age of Stupid, a recently released film on global warming, through gifts from hundreds of donors." The Times also cites recent examples from outside the world of filmmaking: "Four years ago a British student, Alex Tew, set up a Web page to raise money for his university education, selling off pieces of a digital mural on the site for $1 each. He ended up raising more than $1 million. More recently, the Cologne soccer club in Germany has been selling chunks of a Web portrait of Lukas Podolski, a star striker, to help finance the cost of acquiring him from another team, Bayern Munich." Who knows? Perhaps the crowdfunding concept can even be tweaked in a way that it could be used to provide extra cash and the odd sexual favor for hard-working and underappreciated movie bloggers. Feel free to put your work on that cancer cure on hold to flesh that one out.

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