Through ArtistShare, Fundraising is a BLAST for Filmmaker Paul Devlin
The concept of fans funding their favorite doc projects generally means passing the hat among friends and family. ArtistShare has taken fan-based fundraising to a global level where projects are funded via the ArtistShare website in exchange for access to and participation in the creative process.
While filmmaker participation is new for ArtistShare, its fan-based funding model has been in existence since 2002 and has enabled access to Grammy Award-winning artists such as Maria Schneider, Billy Childs and the Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project.
IDA spent time with five-time Emmy Award-winner and Independent Spirit Award nominee Paul Devlin, the first filmmaker to test the ArtistShare model with his new movie BLAST!. The film follows a team of young cosmologists through the Arctic to the Antarctic to launch a unique telescope on a massive, high-altitude NASA balloon.
IDA: How did you get involved with ArtistShare?
Paul Devlin: I was working with a musician who was exploring ArtistShare and I had a chance to meet Brian Camelio, the CEO. He had such great ideas and was so convinced that this new model was the solution of the future that naturally I wondered if it could work for me as well. And Brian was immediately open to the idea of expanding into film.
So, my producer, Claire Missanelli, and I approached ArtistShare with our new film BLAST!. It wasn't easy to adapt the ArtistShare model for a film, but they were very supportive. Getting it up and running was almost like doing a separate movie. We hired a project manager, Amber Yoder, who has done a fantastic job and just about put the whole thing together for us.
In return for a set-up fee and a percentage of the funds raised, ArtistShare provides a template and the structure for artists to do this kind of project. They provide the website, but it is up to the individual artist to generate the content for the participant offers. ArtistShare does not get involved in the content or distribution of the film.
IDA: What are the levels of participation fans can avail themselves to?
PD: We have several different levels of participation. At the lower end, fans can pre-order the BLAST! DVD or simply receive our behind-the-scenes video production updates. We also have levels where fans can access extra footage and information revealing the science behind BLAST!. Or budding filmmakers can download raw footage and try their own hand at editing BLAST! material, that we will then critique. Higher-end participation levels include opportunities to attend the premier of BLAST!, interaction with the filmmakers and the scientists, as well as credit on the film. All of the participation levels are listed in detail on our website at www.blastshare.com.
IDA: Does a larger donation get a bigger credit?
PD: Contributing to the BLAST! ArtistShare project is not a donation, nor is it an investment. It is a purchase. The ArtistShare model allows participants to purchase involvement in the creative process.
As the contribution increases, so do the benefits. The level of credit on the film goes all the way up to Executive Producer. These higher-end packages are targeted to participants who are interested in exclusivity and access. Benefits may include, for example, a personal lecture from Mark Devlin, PhD. (the lead scientist in BLAST!, and Paul Devlin's brother) or an exclusive screening of the movie with friends at the New York City club SoHo House.
But all levels of contribution emphasize interactivity with the process of making the film.
IDA: How do you handle the issue of credits? Does a donation mean a type of producer credit? The fans aren't really contributing to creative process-or are they?
PD: Participants will be credited for the level of participation they purchase. So, if you purchase a Gold Participant package, your name will appear as "ArtistShare Gold Participant" in the credits of the film. The highest level gets an Executive Producer credit.
Fans are contributing to the film by purchasing an opportunity to interact with our creative process. ArtistShare started in the music business and the musicians who have been most successful using this model have done so by building a sense of community for their participants. The fans are directly responsible for creation of the art they value, not only financially, but also through direct interaction with the artist.
IDA: The press release mentions packaging and pricing ranging from $19.95 to $25,000 for an Executive Producer opportunity. Does the executive producer concern himself with budget issues or profit/loss?
PD: No, the executive producer need not be concerned with budget issues or profit/loss; he/she is making a purchase, not an investment. So we encourage participants just to enjoy themselves as they come along for the ride of making an independent film.
We think ArtistShare is a great idea, but it still has to prove that it can work for independent film. The great thing about ArtistShare is that the participant model removes some of the stigma for artists in seeking private financing. The donor model, in contrast, turns the artist into a beggar. The investment model has the potential of turning the artist into a liar-that is, if it requires touting the dubious potential for high rates of return on a documentary film. The participant model allows the contributor to make a purchase, which puts the artist in a much better position.
IDA: What happens if the film needs more funding?
PD: BLAST! is the first film to work with ArtistShare, so it is an experiment for both ArtistShare and for us. It took some time to adapt the model from music to film and get it up and running. The challenges of making a film are much different from those of making a CD and the budgets are much higher. It remains to be seen if the ArtistShare model can completely fund a film project.
In the meantime, we have also sought traditional methods of funding for BLAST. Nick Fraser, commissioning editor of BBC's Storyville, liked my film Power Trip so much that he funded BLAST! early. This eventually attracted commissions from Discovery Canada, Swedish TV and Finnish TV. BLAST! also received my first grant ever, from the New York State Council of the Arts.
Our agent, Louise Rosen, is seeking additional co-production partnerships and we have interest from ZDF ARTE and NHK. In combination with ArtistShare, we hope these will provide sufficient funds to finish the film.
IDA: Does BLAST! have distribution already in place?
PD: We have distribution on international television from our European co-production partners. Otherwise, we expect that a successful film festival run will attract additional distribution opportunities.
IDA: How do the "fans" follow the filmmaking? Do they have "real time" access to the production?
PD: Keeping in touch with our fans and allowing them to access the production progress is really at the heart of our ArtistShare project. Our video production updates are designed specifically for ArtistShare participants, all of whom have access.
These include behind-the-scenes on our shoots in Antarctica and Chile, candid meetings with industry professionals such as Nick Fraser of the BBC, consultant Robert Hawk, our composer, editors, etc. We also share the tension and excitement of pitching BLAST! at the Toronto Documentary Forum, and future updates will take participants through the entire process of finishing post-production, attending film festivals and navigating distribution.
We also have interactive video Q&A sessions where fans can send in their questions in for our team and me to answer. This can cover everything from progress on the film to my experiences with making my other films. Participants also receive e-mail newsletters to keep them up to date on everything we are doing with the film. Another offer allows participants to edit scenes using BLAST! footage, which we will then evaluate.
We want participants to feel that they are a part of our process in order to build a community around this experience that will sustain future projects as well.
IDA: How have you been able to generate interest in participation?
PD: This is a very new idea and we've just got it up and running recently. So far, generating publicity has been a challenge, even after hiring a publicist. Traditional media outlets are less interested when they realize the film is not yet complete. So to drive traffic to the site, we have been trying many different online approaches, including interviews on blogs and podcasts, e-mails and newsletters, and even outreach on MySpace and Facebook.
Our first participants started out as just friends and family. However, as we continue to generate more publicity through the Internet, participants we don't know personally have started to join. So now we're confident the participant model can work. But we need to find ways to get the word out as far as possible and develop an effective message for those higher-end participants, if we hope that independent film will be as successful as music with the ArtistShare model.
IDA: Are schools participating at the production level?
PD: There are several ways a school or classroom can participate in our project.
We have a group of participants who have purchased Filmmaker Participant packages, which allows them to access raw footage from the film and try their hand at editing it. Science classes may be interested in our Cosmological Participant package, which includes access to videos and downloads that explore the science behind the film. For universities, there is the Artist in the Classroom package. This purchases an "in-house" master class with me on the process of documentary filmmaking, and includes classroom extras like study guides, Q&A sessions, production notes and a copy of the film for the school archive.
IDA: Would the BLAST project have been made without the help of ArtistShare?
PD: Yes. We started shooting BLAST before we became aware of ArtistShare, and production continued as we were developing the ArtistShare project.
Now that ArtistShare is in place, we're counting on it to alleviate some of the financial challenges that most independent filmmakers face as they try to finish their films. If it is successful, we expect that future projects will start with ArtistShare in place.
IDA: What films are being developed through ArtistShare? Do you have plans for feature films?
PD: So far we are the first and only film to partner with ArtistShare. It is our hope that many will follow, including more of our own.
I have another feature documentary in the works, tentatively titled Super Star Dumb, about the broken promise of middle-class rock and roll stardom. We'll get that going after BLAST! is complete.
IDA: How has technology changed the business model?
PD: New technology has transformed--some might say devastated--the music business. It was a retail industry, now it is becoming a service industry. Music artists have responded with innovative ways to generate revenue.
The film industry may be headed for a similar transformation, and we should be ready for it--especially when resources are so tight already. The ability to reach our audience directly through the Internet presents a revolutionary opportunity. We think ArtistShare provides a good structure to take advantage of this. But we'll need the support of the filmmaking community to demonstrate its viability for all filmmakers.
Filmmakers interested in becoming an ArtistShare artist are invited to approach them with an e-mail at www.artistshare.com.
Kathleen Fairweather is really the nom du plum for Where's Waldo, as she has left the State of Arkansas and is now launching Southern Jewish history multi-media projects in Austin, Texas. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.