How Crowdfunding Tells the Story of a Hollywood Legend


By Robert J. Mullins CFB Sr. Staff Writer:

The classic Hollywood image of the film industry was parodied in the 1992 film “The Player,” in which Tim Robbins plays a studio executive constantly being pitched movie ideas like “It’s ‘Out of Africa’ meets ‘Pretty Woman,’” or “’Ghost’ meets ‘Manchurian Candidate.’” But today, you don’t have to grovel before a studio exec, you can just go online and pitch to the crowd.

Film is one of the most active categories of crowdfunding tracked by the major platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and others. But the proliferation of film and video pitches to the crowd means those seeking funding for their projects have to be even more proactive about getting noticed and getting funded.

A lot of buzz has been generated by crowdfunded film projects, notably the “Veronica Mars” project, a feature film remake of the TV series starring the actress Kristen Bell as a high school-age private detective. The “Veronica Mars Movie Project” raised $5.7 million from 91,000 people, both records for the Kickstarter film and video category. Other notable film projects still seeking funds include a remake of the “Star Trek” TV series featuring some cast members from the original series, which raised $86,000 so far through Indiegogo, and a feature film starring Sylvester Stallone, Danny Aiello and Kyra Sedgwick that has raised $262,225 through Kickstarter, surpassing a goal of $250,000.

But it is in the area of documentaries and small independent films that the power of the crowd is most evident, such as in the case of “After68,” a documentary about the history of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and the unsuccessful effort to spare it from the wrecking ball.

The hotel opened in 1921 and its guests included Hollywood stars, politicians and other celebrities. The hotel housed the Cocoanut Grove, a nightclub whose headliners included Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Barbra Streisand. The movie title refers to the change in the Ambassador’s fortunes after Sen. Robert Kennedy was assassinated there in June 1968 after he had just won the California presidential primary. Business was never the same again, the hotel closed in 1990 and was demolished in 2005 so that a new Los Angeles public high school could be built there.

Enter Camilo Silva, an independent filmmaker who just happened to live near the shuttered Ambassador in 2001 and began researching its history. By this time, the hotel was being used as a movie set for such films as “The Doors,” “That Thing You Do” and “Bobby.” While it was still open, films shot there included “A Star is Born,” “The Graduate” and “Pretty Woman.”

“How could a place with such an amazing history be closed?” Silva said he asked himself. “I felt compelled to document this landmark site before it was too late. The Ambassador needed its rightful place in history.”

Silva started raising money to research and film his documentary about the Ambassador, but found the process slow going. He had applied for grants but found them to be very competitive and had slow turnaround times. He also tried self-financing by working two jobs, which at least helped get the project off the ground, and held small fundraisers, but they didn’t generate much of a return. Then he heard from other filmmakers about crowdfunding.

“Crowdfunding looked promising given that it’s a platform which can give projects new exposure through different funding channels,” Silva said.

“After68” raised just over $25,000 through Indiegogo in just one month, ended Aug. 24, which he says will go toward filming more interviews and beginning post-production, although Silva says he may have to go to the crowd again to raise money to distribute the film.

Indiegogo declined to break down how much of the money it helps raise goes to film projects, but Kickstarter, which raised money for the “Veronica Mars” project, provides plenty of details.

Since its inception in 2009, Kickstarter has helped raise $778 million on a total of 48,272 “successful projects,” which means that they met their fundraising goal. Of those, 29,185 were film and video projects for which a total $165.4 million was pledged. The success rate for film projects – the percentage of proposed projects that were funded – was 39.95 percent, somewhat less than the average 44 percent success rate for all Kickstarter projects.

The popularity of crowdfunded film projects is such that CrowdFundBeat is hosting the CrowdFund Film Festival this December in San Francisco.

“Our campaign was great because it gave us a clear picture of who our audience was,” said “After68’s” Silva. “[Crowdfunding] put our film in a new light and put new eyes on the project where otherwise it would not be possible.”

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