I recently interviewed indie filmmaker, Paola Mendoza, for my own blog. In our conversation, we talked about all the aspects or “jobs” one needs to master as an independent entity creating art in this country right now and the places filmmakers can turn in order to learn how to do those all-important tasks, such as fundraising, marketing and distribution, and creating a presence to draw people’s interest to your project. What’s inevitable about all this is the massive amount of labor this entails. Mendoza also talked about community and about the possibilities of building community online via entities such as IndieGoGo, a newly-launched site (they hung out their online shingle on January 14th) which is marketing itself upon the DIWO, Do It With Others, model of production. Like many sites cropping up, the company, spearheaded by Slava Rubin, Danae Ringelmann and Eric Schell, is an online social marketplace that connects filmmakers and fans, providing artists with a platform that provides tools for project funding, recruiting and promotion, while simultaneously allowing audiences to discover and connect directly with those artists and the causes they support.
A couple of months after the company’s official launch, I had a chance to catch up with Rubin, the company’s marketing guru, for a quick chat to check in and see how things are going and what they have in the works for the coming year as they trend-watch and keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the online digital landscape.
Rubin told me that they don’t consider themselves a distribution site right now; however, they’ve partnered and are collaborating with companies and nonprofits such as IFP, The Workbook Project, From Here to Awesome, illumobile, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and global law firm, Orrick. You can read more about how these partnerships work and how they benefit filmmakers here. Citing other fundraising models such as the “Causes” application on Facebook, Rubin claims that IndieGoGo’s model is so effective with its own fundraising model, people are finding much easier, quicker success in that quarter than ever before.
Rubin says that the company, closely modeled on Robert Greenwald’s way of fundraising and creating awareness for a project, is a mind-set. “It’s a site based on action, not necessarily about any kind of social interaction. The set-up is straightforward: projects, people, resources. So, right away, when you go to a project, you can immediately discern what their particular needs are in order to move forward. You know right away what someone is seeking. The question of ‘how can I help?,’ in other words, is already answered.
“We’re in the business of discovering content, and in that regard, different distribution entities are coming to us because they know that’s where we’re headed. But right now, it’s about getting the projects made, and that happens by creating promotion and raising awareness which needs to start well before the finished product.”
Being an artist these days means that one just cannot solely concentrate on the work of making art. I’m not really sure that this is a change from being an artist in any other era, particularly if you’re an artist intent on sharing your work with others, but now, more than ever before, it’s a necessity. Rubin and his partners created and designed the site to contain a “business 101″ tutorial style learning model, each stage organically building on another–a) art, b) technology, c) business and marketing, aka, finding your audience and d) creating innovative ways and means to get your project to that audience.
IndieGoGo will soon be partnering with TubeMogul, a universal upload aggregator, of sorts, that allows one to only have to upload a video once. Then, through TubeMogul, that video will be disseminated automatically to a dozen different video sharing sites. “We want everything we include on our site, every application, every piece of software, to be helpful to our users. You shouldn’t have to give your whole entire life over to your project,” Rubin says.
For right now, IndieGoGo is careful to stay away from any elitist bent by allowing, literally, anyone to create a project site with them. Still in road-test mode, their current model speaks more to their concern with functionality than the quality of content. So it’s come one, come all, whether you’re a professional filmmaker or a mom in a small town trying to raise awareness for a particular cause. “Right now, we’re not concerned necessarily with how credible something is, but how effectively the site is being utilized.”
Currently, they have a couple of hundred projects and about $35,000 in contributions have come through for those projects. They are also quickly becoming a “discovery channel.” They’ve been contacted by lots of industry folks that have come to look at what’s there. But, at the end of the day, they really want to be a trusted source for the artist. And like artists that have created these models for themselves, like Lance Weiler, Robert Greenwald, Susan Buice and Arin Crumley (the creators of IndieGoGo consulted with artists like these before launching), there is a desire to wed “real life” with “online life,” thus Rubin’s whirlwind tour in recent months of as many film festivals as he can take in, where he can talk one-on-one with filmmakers, sit on panels to talk about future possibilities, and relationship build.
What excites Rubin the most, of course, is this sense that audience is being built as the project is being created, which is a new model for most. The filmmakers of The Lilliput, for instance, after raising their first $10,000, were approached by several festival programmers wanting to show it when it’s complete. Most of us are used to funders and/or other exhibition outlets wanting to see the completed film before putting in a dime. This is extremely exciting and encouraging for the independent still in production phase. Psychologically and emotionally, it seems to create a momentum that might be missing were these films not out there marketing themselves every step of the way, creating fundraising milestones well before it’s time to figure out how to produce the final cut.
As it moves through its “build” phase, IndieGoGo is intent on talking to as many people as possible and will be doing outreach through places like IFP, teaching in both the narrative and documentary labs and creating case studies on success stories, while continuing to investigate how they can improve and enhance functionality. Rubin’s advice: “Post your project online as soon as the idea for it forms in your mind. If you put it out there, things will happen.”