Interview with Thijs Schreuder Rinnooy Kan, film director at De Moerheks.
Successfully crowdfunded for the film project De Moerheks on Cinecrowd.nl. Crowdfunding model: donation. Budget raised: 20660 euro. Number of funders: 177.
What resources do you usually approach to get financing for your projects? Do you use specific financing resources for certain projects?
In The Netherlands, if you want to make a movie for the cinema, you can go to the national film funds. There are different funds for different phases of the filmmaking process. For example, there is a specific fund awarded for writing the script of the film. After this pre-production phase, you can ask money for production – the actual shooting and realization of the film, where the most money is needed. Finally, there are the post-production funds (such as for distribution). Succeeding at one phase does not guarantee you will get funds for the next phase. At any stage, your film can be simply stopped. You know your film is finished when it is finished.
There are furthermore different departments at the film funds. There is a department for young filmmakers (that handles debut funds) and one for established filmmakers (who usually get more funds). There are also departments for different categories of film: real, animation, experimental etc. Our film is on a thin line between animation and real film. Hence, we are not eligible for the animation funds. Nor are we eligible for the experimental funds, since there you would need, for example, an installation. Wherever we would go, we would not fit into a category.
Our film could also not depend entirely on a fund, since we need a budget of 2 million euro. No fund can give us that. So for this particular film, we are still searching for co-production opportunities in other countries, and might approach European funds, like Media Desk, at a later stage. The producer is currently looking for private funding, for example for companies interested in our way of working or in our visuals, design or technology. We, the crew of the film, are also investing our own money in the film.
Crowdfunding was thus just one of the things we did to support our film.
What made you decide to crowdfund?
Maybe this is a long answer to the question, but I should first explain how funding the film sector works in The Netherlands.
Filmmaking is a rather linear process. Normally you first write the script, then you visualize it and make sound sketches, then you start shooting, then post-production comes in. In Holland, film funds only support one step of filmmaking at a time. For the pre-production phase, they only fund the writing of scripts. 80-90% of that money goes to the writer. In our case, for now we received the money for writing the script.
However, with this film we work with a different production process. I asked myself why is it that we are still writing scripts for years without even touching upon the image and sounds? Films are all about story, image and sound together. In our times, a composer can, within an hour, make sound sketches to see what the feeling of the movie can be. Thus, with this film, I wanted to involve the digital art department, the production designer, the composer, the sound designer and finally the visual artist, all from an early stage. Why? So that together we could build one world for the film, from scratch. The whole process is not linear anymore, we go back and forth with everything in detail.
This affects the way we can have the required money. Our production company paid our wages for the first few months, however in The Netherlands we don’t earn enough with our films. Even if everyone in the country would go to see our movie, we would still do not earn a lot. With our biggest hits, we can attract maybe 1 million viewers (the country has 16 million residents), but the more realistic expectation is that maybe 250000 people will see it. In this context, you really don’t earn much money, so the production company could not support our initiative to work with script, visuals and sound at the same time. Nor could the film funds, like explained above. I think the film funds would first need to see of our non-linear way of working is successful. If we convince them it is, then maybe in the future they will adapt their criteria and regulation for awarding funds and also support film projects that work like we do.
Therefore, we had to look for partners and opportunities elsewhere as well. Crowdfunding was one of them, along with some other possibilities I mentioned for the previous question.
We decided to crowdfund at this rather early stage of our film because it is the most difficult one. The story of our film takes place in the First World War and we need much research on costumes, habits, architecture, cultural behaviour and even small gestures from that age. Once we have this research, the scriptwriter can further develop the script, while the composer can think about the music, the visual artist about images. We asked 20000 euro from crowdfunding, with which we made an experiment to see how it will all look like. We don’t have the usual 90-page script, which is the threshold after which you start thinking about the visuals. No, we want to see this world at an earlier stage, with only a blueprint of the script. We are now only creating the rules of the world in the film.
Why did we choose CineCrowd?
The main reason was because the people there have a background and are working in the film industry. They know how films are made. We had previously started crowdfunding with a platform for technical innovation. If you invented a new type of phone, that would be the place the advertise it. We thought it would be an advantage to crowdfund on a larger platform with various projects, but we soon realized we need a platform with a close bond to film. CineCrowd was focused on film, and they had much experience with crowdfunding too, unlike the previous platform we tried.
They helped our campaign in different ways. They guided us throughout the crowdfunding process, gave us tips and tricks. They also reached out to various supporters on their platform, who they thought would be interested in our type of film. They furthermore attracted a public fund for us.
How did the process of crowdfunding go? What were the biggest challenges along the way?
I was very excited about crowdfunding – it was the first time we did it. Friends of mine who had tried it told me it takes an impressive amount of work. They were right. Your need to give something to people in order to convince them to support you. We had to work hard to offer some visuals, but it was fun.
It was our production company however that put up with most of the crowdfunding work. Friends of mine who are directors had to do that themselves; I can imagine then you could not even work on your film anymore. I did not want to do that. I think what anyone should understand is that the process will demand a lot of work, from the production company and from the entire crew. 20000 euro is not a lot out of the whole budget for this film, but for us and for the funders it was. I had some friends donating 500 or 1000 euro. That is amazing, but I really want to give them something back now. This also applies to all the rewards we gave in return for donations – that takes a lot of the raised budget. Approximately a quarter of it was spent on these rewards (their production, their delivery), together with a fee for the platform. No one gets paid for this either, neither us the crew nor the production company – it’s an extra effort for everyone.
A particularly hard task was to get people over the 20% funding threshold. We had a good start – 5000 euro already within a couple of days. After that, it slowed down. The middle part of the campaign is the hardest. Cinecrowd had told us that this is the case with almost every project. 10-20% first comes from family and friends and then you have to make the jump to companies, private investors, film fans, weak connections and others you do not know. I think I underestimated this part. It was hard work to reach out to those groups of people. We turned to people we have worked with over the years, or those we have spoken to at the festivals. We did manage to secure the middle phase of the crowdfunding campaign, and the last part went easy again, especially when people saw that we were almost there so they jumped in. It’s important to have enough funds raised to make the last funders really feel like they have a last word in deciding. All in all, I believe more than half of our donors came from our immediate networks, both in the beginning and the end of the campaign.
We also had to make the decision to work before the money was there. The month before the crowdfunding campaign we worked for free, despite the risks of, for example, the campaign not being successful. We wanted to be able to show something beautiful for the audience.
How did crowdfunding change your perception about getting financed? Did it bring an added value?
Yes. With this film, we were creating and building a world from scratch and we wanted to see what our followers think. We would often ask questions and interact with them on the film’s Facebook page. Those answers really helped us out. I also did not think that people would like to follow and help out with the filmmaking process. I like that fact that we are building a community around the film. I am also aware that a lot of friends without much money invested a lot in me. That’s different from getting the money from a fund – although that’s also tax money coming, perhaps, from people without much money who, by paying taxes, unknowingly help support film. With crowdfunding, however, you are very much aware of where the money comes from. You are grateful for people’s direct contribution, and that raises the expectations.
Because we were crowdfunding, we were also put into spotlight by a film festival in Utrecht. They promoted us in their network and I also held interviews on the topic. I don’t think we got a lot of funding from those who heard about us then, but we did get Facebook followers and new collaborations proposals, including some for further funding.
How would you describe the experience with the crowd? Did it change anything about your project (production, concept, or your expectations about it?)
Our crowdfunding campaign was connected to our film’s Facebook page. There we interacted with followers on daily basis, often asking for their input. However, we only used the input we had asked for. I know there are cases where films can be entirely crowdsourced with the audience, but I believe that filmmaking is a craft, and a difficult one too, whether you learn it in school or by practice. So we needed to know where the audience can be of use – because we wanted to take them on an emotional rollercoaster with us in the film – and where we have to do the work. The public can only be an extended brain of the film crew.
Is crowdfunding a financial solution for you? Where there things about crowdfunding you wish you were aware about before starting it?
I think there are a few things any filmmaker should be aware of before crowdfunding their projects.
First, it’s important to know what you want and what you are doing with the crowdfunding campaign. For example, who is your audience? What’s the best way to communicate with it? You need to know this when you first start telling the story of the film, because the pitch of the campaign is essentially a story too.
Second, it’s a lot of hard work for not that much money. The best thing you can get out of it is the audience. The money and the awareness you raise are, for me, the two elements for which I would crowdfund again. You need a way to combine those. It is useful to know what motivates people to donate and be realistic with what you can offer – if you spend half of the money you raise for rewards, you won’t get to make the film in the end. A realistic perspective prevents you from disappointing your followers. In the beginning I was a too optimistic about what we could do. It was the production company that proposed a more realistic approach.
Third, the focus on the middle part of the campaign is very important. You need to ask who will support you after friends and family provide the first funds. This middle phase is difficult. Who are the people you don’t know yet? I don’t think they can be reached by means of newspapers or interviews, because we’ve done that a lot. Rather, you need to make face to face appointments with possible supporters. That was challenging for us – we only had a 1-month time frame. When you have 6000 euro to raise, you can perhaps rely solely on your network. But if you have a higher goal, that’s impossible, and you need to think about people from outside your network.
Overall, I think the public funds or private investors should really be there to support the film in the beginning – not the general audience. Only after you are well in the production phase, can you really show your work to the people and ask for their support. You cannot crowdfund with the script only, no one reads that, the audience needs visuals to form an opinion within seconds.
I also think the crowdfunding plan should be executed by the production company. The crew of the film should also be supportive in the process, of course. However, crew members are often involved in several films simultaneously, we even had someone shooting another film on another continent. It’s therefore up to the production company to be the center of the communication.
Would you crowdfund again and how? Did the campaign bring you new ideas for your next project?
People need to be a bit more careful when they say crowdfunding is a new funding model. You cannot use it for every project – maybe a couple of times, but it’s definitely not a solution. It might work fine for young filmmakers, since people think they should support debuting talent. I also did many interviews at festivals, for example, to draw attention on our film and the crowdfunding process. It might also work then you are very famous already. Yet in the middle of your career that might be a problem.
I would crowdfund again but for a different phase of the movie. I would start by getting the initial money from private sponsors, for example, in order to create the visual materials. Or I would apply for film funds, if only they would give initial money for the visuals too, not just the script. For this film, we crowfunded at an early stage and only had a few images to show the funders. I think it’s important for people to have something to connect to, and I want to be able to offer them that. But you need to be further up in the production process to be able to do that, not in the initial phase.
As for future plans, we do see the film turning into a transmedia story – perhaps it can be continued in a game, a book, a themed event. However, the only solution to make this happen is to get further support from private investors or public funds, and only turn to crowdfunding when we have most of the story, visual and sounds in place.