Film-makers raise money for movie projects on crowdfunding sites

The concept art for short film Departures, for which film-maker Jorik Dozy raised US$19,000, exceeding his target of US$14,000. -- PHOTO: JORIK DOZY
The concept art for short film Departures, for which film-maker Jorik Dozy raised US$19,000, exceeding his target of US$14,000. -- PHOTO: JORIK DOZY
Crime drama The Body by Kenny Gee, starring Lim Kay Tong (centre) and Noah Yap (right), beat its US$20,000 target to raise US$29,050 on Indiegogo. -- PHOTO: MATIN LATIF
Crime drama The Body by Kenny Gee, starring Lim Kay Tong (centre) and Noah Yap (right), beat its US$20,000 target to raise US$29,050 on Indiegogo. -- PHOTO: MATIN LATIF
Yeo Yann Yann (right) and Julian Hee (left) in sex comedy Rubbers. Film-maker Han Yew Kwang raised US$9,102 for the film on Indiegogo. -- PHOTO: 18G PICTURES
Yeo Yann Yann (right) and Julian Hee (left) in sex comedy Rubbers. Film-maker Han Yew Kwang raised US$9,102 for the film on Indiegogo. -- PHOTO: 18G PICTURES

Academy award nominated film-maker Spike Lee has done it. Actor Zach Braff from the now-defunct comedy series Scrubs did it for his new movie, Wish I Was Here.

A team did it to turn the cult television series Veronica Mars into a film released in the United States earlier this year.

They all crowdfunded their films and, these days, Singapore film-makers are doing the same.

Crowdfunding is turning to people on the Internet for donations. For film-makers, it means asking many people for relatively small amounts of money, from US$10 (S$12.40) and above. In the traditional method - still preferred by most - producers ask a few persons or organisations for large amounts.

In return, crowdfunding donors will often get nothing more than a "thank you" and the satisfaction of helping the film get made. Those who donate more, usually to the tune of hundreds of dollars, get more goodies, such as posters, scripts, DVDs and tickets to the premiere. The most generous donors, of US$1,000 or more, are promised anything from producer credit to a part in the film, to dinner at a nice restaurant with the cast and crew.

While crowdfunding offers a new avenue of raising money, film-makers tell Life! that the process comes with its own drawbacks, such as the humiliation of being associated with a dud that gets neither love nor money on the Internet.

The two most popular crowdfunding websites, Indiegogo and Kickstarter, each lists about a dozen Singapore-based film projects seeking money. Many have ended their campaigns, with the earliest projects dating back to 2011.

The targets range from US$1,000 to US$20,000. That only about half of the projects on the sites reached their funding goals indicates that crowdfunding is far from being a surefire means of putting cash in the kitty.

One project that has hit its mark - and exceeded it by almost 50 per cent - is the short film The Body, which is also one of the most expensive Singapore film projects on Indiegogo.

According to Kenny Gee (yes, he has heard every possible joke about his name, he says), the film- maker behind the proposed short film, its Indiegogo pitch was so persuasive that the project was held up as a how-to model by the website, which drew the attention of United States-based film news source Indiewire.

In a report, Indiewire named the project as one to watch, helping it win donors from around the world. Listed with a target of US$20,000, its month-long campaign closed in March last year at US$29,050.

The Body, now in post-production, is Gee's graduation thesis work for NYU Tisch School Of The Arts Asia. In the 20-minute crime drama, two men (played by veteran actor Lim Kay Tong and Noah Yap, from the comedy Ah Boys To Men, 2012) try to dispose of a corpse over the course of one long night.

Most people trying to raise money on Indiegogo come up with a variation of the standard "pitch", a video that shows off the concept art and a clip and can include the film-maker looking earnestly at the viewer while asking for money.

Gee, 32, decided to try a different tack. Working with producer and close friend Dhany Osman, 33, he made his 2½-minute pitch video a short film in itself. In the pitch, a bloodied and bruised Gee is shown tied to a chair by hammer-wielding thugs demanding money. He begs to be released by telling them of his plan to turn to his network of friends, who will give him money if he were to tell them he is making a film.

The video's succinct and punchy style made it stand out on a site awash in pitch videos. That, together with heavy promotion on his Facebook page (with its more than 3,000 friends) and the write-up on Indiewire made all the difference, Gee says.

He is hoping to release the short film at a film festival soon.

Of the 381 donors listed on The Body's Indiegogo page, he recognises the names of about half of them. Many are other Singapore film-makers. The rest are anonymous or strangers. Most donors gave US$100 or less. No one donated in the maximum US$2,000 category, but two people, one of whom is not known to him, gave US$1,000 each.

"The stranger seems to be a Los Angeles-based music producer of some kind. He also offered his music, in case we needed any," says Gee, now working as a freelance all-rounder in film.

Film-maker Wee Li Lin (Forever, 2011; Gone Shopping, 2007) has not tried to raise funds by crowdfunding but is familiar with the process and has donated to several campaigns, including that of fellow Tisch student Gee.

She says of the campaign's success: "The Body had an awesome video that was funny and had great acting." But crowdfunding is not for her, she adds. There are costs to pay.

First, making a great pitch video takes time and money. A social networking plan must be worked out and updated on a regular basis. Then, after the end of the campaign, the Kickstarter or Indiegogo page has to be kept updated with progress reports, or the donors might post nasty comments on the site.

All these tasks take more time and effort than the traditional process of reaching out to funding agencies and investors, she says.

Crowdfunding also works better if the film-maker, like Braff or Gee, is an extrovert with a strong presence on camera and on social media.

"It helps if the film-maker is a good actor like Kenny Gee and is willing to put himself out there. The viral factor is elusive," she says.

And as Gee himself notes, once an idea is seen to work - such as his notion of a pitch video as a thriller - copycats take over and campaigners must innovate to stay above the herd.

Netherlands-born, Singapore- based film-maker Jorik Dozy's Kickstarter fundraising campaign ended in April this year with a final total of US$19,000, exceeding his target of US$14,000.

His proposed short film, Departures, is a drama about a father risking everything to grant his dying daughter's final wish.

For Dozy, a 26-year-old digital artist at Lucasfilm Singapore, Departures is a passion project, one that will feature extensive shots of the Singapore skyline. His impressive pitch video features clips from his special-effects resume, which includes films such as Pacific Rim (2013) and slickly made test shots featuring an actor and the Marina Bay skyline.

He says in an e-mail: "Before we went live with our campaign, I invested myself in four other Kickstarters, I wanted to get a feel for it and see how it worked. The campaigns were for short films as well, so I learnt a lot from seeing how they did things."

Many of the 128 backers for his project were friends and family, with $148 the average donation. Almost 70 per cent of donations were from Facebook referrals.

He says: "I did a lot of Facebook promotion and had quite a few of my colleagues and friends help spread the word. Our second biggest referral was CgChannel.com. This is a huge art website where they feature well-known artists and industry news. We were lucky enough to be picked up by them and received a front page news item, this generated a lot of traffic in our direction. Our campaign also got featured on Artstation.com, another massive online art community."

Crowdfunding is not just for those starting out, such as Dozy and Gee.

Established Singapore film-maker Han Yew Kwang, 38, and producer Lau Chee Nien, 40, went on Indiegogo earlier this year to raise US$25,000 for their cheeky Mandarin sex comedy Rubbers. They raised US$9,102, only about a third of their target, but consider the project a success.

Han, who made his name with critically acclaimed features 18 Grams Of Love (2007) and When Hainan Meets Teochew (2010), sees the Indiegogo project as part of his wider publicity and marketing campaign.

"A lot of people got to know the film through the site and a few private investors got to know the film through the site and got in touch with us directly. We received enough money and technical help to make the film," he says.

He and Lau turned to crowdfunding, they say, because, among other reasons, the raunchy subject matter would turn off both government bodies and commercial production houses. Commercial houses usually stay away from Han's slightly off-kilter stories, and this film, with its likely R21 classification, will limit its box-office appeal.

The full-length feature tells three stories of sex and love and stars Yeo Yann Yann (winner of the Best Supporting Actress Golden Horse award for her part in Ilo Ilo, 2013), Marcus Chin, Julian Hee, Lee Chau Min, Oon Shu An, Catherine Sng and Alaric Tay.

Han hopes to release the film in a few months. The Indiegogo site drew his fans, as well as those who enjoy the work of the actors and became something of a rallying point, says Han.

For example, through the site, photographers came forward to offer their service for free, in case Han needed still shots.

"My films get made with a lot of help from people from all over. People could see that Rubbers was going to be different from anything I had done before and they all came forward to share their resources."

johnlui@sph.com.sg