There’s strength in numbers. That’s the belief behind the money-raising phenomenon known as crowd-funding, an online campaign for artists, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations. Websites like IndieGoGo, KickStarter and Razoo allow people to translate their faith in a mission, project or business idea into actual dollars.
Local filmmaker Aaron Dennis, founder of Stone Hut Studios, has used KickStarter to fund two film projects: a documentary web series and a feature-length film.
Both projects -- titled “The People & the Olive”--raised between $5,000 and $6,000 in their 30 to 60-day campaigns on KickStarter.
Because Stone Hut Studios is an independent film house that focuses on “films for a better world,” income doesn’t come rolling in like you’d find at a Hollywood studio.
“It’s like the book industry,” Dennis said of doing filmmaking on one’s own. “At first, it seemed like it was dying out, but with the ability to distribute on eBooks, authors were able to turn 5% return into 70%.”
With most crowd-funding websites, such as KickStarter, creators keep complete ownership of their work.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
Sometimes people need more than a little faith when it comes to supporting something they believe in. That’s why some folks who use KickStarter offer incentives. A donation will not only support the project, but provide donors with things such as first copies of albums and DVDs, a gift set, business tours and other privileges that come from being a supporter.
“People who donated got a first edition DVD; others who donated more received fair trade olive oil, which was featured in the film,” Dennis said of his films’ donation “rewards.”
Those who do set up a KickStarter fundraiser, however, should be aware of such costs.
“We had 150 people to send rewards to,” Dennis explained. “If you don’t do it right, that’ll end up costing a lot in postage. So you really have to figure those rewards into the amount you’re asking.”
FULL CIRCLE SUPPORT
Both films for “The People & the Olive” came from Dennis’s trip to Palestine, where he followed a group of ultra runners across the county in their effort to raise money for Fair Trade olive farmers.
“For the documentaries, we essentially created the story. The run provided Aaron with the characters and the story,” said Chris Treter, co-founder of On the Ground, the non-profit organization which hosted the run. “The documentary provided an avenue for us to tell our story.”
KickStarter not only allowed Dennis to share the story of On the Ground’s effort through film, but it also helped local singersongwriters such as Joshua Davis and Seth and May spread the mission through song. Each of the artists who accompanied the non-profit on the trips used KickStarter to fund their own albums, which were inspired by trips to Palestine and Ethiopia.
“The important thing about doing global work is that you have to provide a voice or lens that people can easily understand the issues,” Treter said. “Palestine is a very complicated issue and I could write a blog about it all day, but people gloss over. They would much rather hear people like Joshua Davis talk about his experiences being a Jewish American in that country.”
For the organization’s Solstice Run this past spring, runners used the website, Razoo to raise funds.
“It was wildly successful,” Treter said. “We raised over $18,000 in less than two months.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT NETWORKING
While Dennis found success with two projects, KickStarter efforts fell a bit short for his latest endeavor.
“Connected by Coffee,” which follows the world of fair trade coffee farming through Central America, had a $30,000 fundraiser goal. But because project creators must meet their full fundraising goals within 30 to 90 days, that meant no money was raised through the campaign.
“It’s all or nothing,” said Dennis, “which makes sense because A) It doesn’t help anyone to have a partially funded project and B) having that deadline and those stakes drives people to donate.”
Of course, people only commit to a dollar amount until the campaign reaches its fundraising goal. That’s when the money physically comes out of your pocket.
“Even though the ‘Connected by Coffee’ KickStarter campaign didn’t reach its goal, it’s actually really positive because we just made so many contacts and were able to raise money through outside sponsors,” Dennis said. “We’re still accepting donations through our website and plan to finish filming by early 2014, which works great because it will be new for the entire year of 2014.”
Dennis has also used KickStarter as a means for his own income, by making videos for individuals and organizations on the KickStarter website.
“I helped a small business in San Fransisco called Pop Nation, which makes healthy gourmet ice pops” he said. “They ended up successfully raising $50,000 for more employees and an upgraded kitchen.
“When I make videos for people on KickStarter, they obviously don’t already have much money to begin with, so I give them a discounted rate with an added bonus if their campaign is successful, which gives me incentive to do a great job,” he said.
MAKING WAY FOR THE LITTLE GUYS
Since its release in the fall of 2012, “The People & the Olive” has played in film festivals and venues in New York City, Boston, San Fransisco, Toronto, London and more.
And while Dennis said he plans to re-focus on short film versions come the wrap-up of “Connected by Coffee,” the Traverse City filmmaker says it’s hard to turn down a project that resonates with him.
“Right now I’m doing exciting work through the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy,” he explained. “I’m doing a lot of motion time lapses on areas they’re protecting. There’s also some international projects in the works. Like I say, there’s usually a lot of irons on the fire. I say yes to everything, which sometimes comes to back to bite me, but it helps having a supportive wife and family.”
For more info on work by Aaron Dennis and Stone Hut Studios, as well as to see a trailer of “The People & the Olive,” visit stonehutstudios.com. For more information on KickStarter, visit kickstarter.com.MUSICIANS, TOO…
KickStarter has also been used with success by Northern Michigan’s music community. The Accidentals used crowdfunding to raise $11,500 in pledges for their new album, “Bittersweet.” Meanwhile, Blake Elliott wrapped up a campaign last week to raise $9,500 for her first album.