It has been 40 years since Shyam Benegal made the film Manthan (1976) by collecting donations from five lakh farmers, who at the time contributed a mere Rs 2 towards the making of the National Award-winning film. The farmers were members of the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, and were enthusiastic to get the film made on the legendary Verghese Kurien.
Since the advent of the world wide web, a lot of filmmakers globally are turning to the internet to fund their films. Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the internet. Remember the Veronica Mars movie? The popular TV show about the sassy teenage detective was revived with the help of enthusiastic fans from all over the world who contributed funds. In India, a lot has changed since Onir released I Am, India’s first crowdfunded movie in 2011. Many indie filmmakers are getting onto the game, and as recently reported in the Economic Times, even mainstream regional filmmakers are following the trend.
Images clockwise: Who Am I?, Hola, Venky!, Goonga Pehelwan, Punyakoti
“A lot of filmmakers take the route of crowd funded movies because they don’t want the producer taking away their creative liberties,” says Anshulika Dubey, COO and co-founder of Wishberry.in, a popular crowdfunding portal. “Many documentary filmmakers and short filmmakers are turning to crowdfunding as a platform to fund their films because there are no grants or other ways to fund films.”
Here’s how you can get your film crowdfunded.
Step 1: Register
You need to register your project on a crowdfunding campaign website. There are numerous international crowdfunding websites like kickstarter.com and indiegogo.com, where the online campaigns range from charity donations to funding films. The candidates who sign up for sourcing funds for their projects are mostly first-time filmmakers, says Varun Sheth, co-founder of crowdfunding platform ketto.org. “A lot of filmmakers use crowdfunded shorts or documentaries as a stepping stone. This way they can develop their portfolio and later go ahead and make full length films,” he says.
Step 2: Strengthen social media presence
This is necessary as strangers who will fund your movie get to know about it on Facebook or other social media websites. Posting regularly on your webpage and making your film campaign look appealing makes a huge difference.
Vivek Chaudhary whose Goonga Pehelwan is a documentary on India’s first deaf boxer Virender Singh, echoes this sentiment. “We got a lot of crowdfunding from strangers, because we made sure that our social media page is active. One day, Logical Indian posted about our crowdfunded movie, and after that, funds started pouring in from all over the world. An anonymous donor from the US gave us a very large amount as a result of seeing the post.” The film won a National Award for Best Debut Film of a Director (Non-Feature) Category in 2014.
Roopa Rao, who is producing the web series The ‘Other’ Love Story about a same sex relationship between two women, set in the 90s, says “Building a presence on the internet really counts. If people see your campaign and are interested in it, they will definitely fund it”.
Step 3: Recognising target audience
Who are the people who’ll fund your film? Are they your Facebook friends who will feel pressured to give you funds or strangers who are enthusiastic about seeing your film made?
Sandeep Mohan, a filmmaker who has used crowdfunding in the past, says that it’s a mixture of both: “Friends on social media sites are likely to share your film's crowd funding campaign and give it more visibility, which might make their friends want to contribute to it. But then there are a lot of people who do fund your film just because they want to see an interesting movie.”
Mohan’s films Love, Wrinkle-free and Hola Venky! have both been crowdfunded and have got rave reviews, while his new film, Shreelancer, is in its post-production phase.
As Sheth puts it, “Around 25 percent of the donations come from friends and family but the rest from film enthusiasts – people who like watching indie films and documentaries.”
Step 4: Be cautious, but there is hope
This brings us to the question — how many crowdfunded films see the light of day? Sheth says, “Around 40 percent of the films that start with intentions to crowdfund finish their goals. It really depends on a lot of factors including people’s interest in the topic the film is being made on and also how strongly you present the film. It’s a mixture of everything.”
The phenomenon of crowdfunding films is new, so do filmmakers look at other avenues of funding their films in case they can't source enough funds? Not really likely, since they are first time filmmakers.
Prakash Jha (not to be confused with the Gangaajal filmmaker) and Anuradha Mishra, are two young filmmakers making their first feature length documentary titlted Who Am I. The documentary focuses on Hindu refugees who have fled Pakistan and settled in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Delhi. "We were quite apprehensive about crowdfunding our documentary, but since we are outsiders, we didn't know how to approach film producers who would fund our documentary," says Anuradha Mishra. The duo has successfully managed to raise 95 percent of their crowdfunding goal of Rs 10 lakhs.
The number of Indian filmmakers turning to crowdfunding is increasing by the day. One of the most recent successful examples of crowdfunded films is the Sanskrit animated movie Punyakoti which raised Rs 41 lakhs through its crowdfunding campaign.
It seems like crowdfunding just may be the light at the end of a very long tunnel for Indie filmmakers in India.