The Art of Crowdfunding Your Independent Project

When crowdfunding can become crowdsurfing. Here is how filmmaker, Wil Magness, is funding his independent film, The Manual.

Finances can be one of the biggest walls between your story and its potential audience. For independent artists and filmmakers, finding the means to create their craft can be a daunting one. As the modern creative landscape becomes more varied, so do the means to raising funds and awareness for each project. Crowdfunding has been a very successful way of finding a means to and end, and for musicians and filmmakers alike, rallies support for their story.

For Wil Magness, his new short film, The Manual is a labor of love that has lasted for years and is finally nearing the public eye. Using personal stories to inform his narrative, his crowdfunding campaign is a vulnerable one, which also entangles with the larger story of the film. From his campaign film (watch below), we have gleaned 3 fundamental elements in what makes it compelling and successful.

1. Be genuine. It is not just about story in the film, it is about the process. Talk straight to your audience and get to the core of the emotional and practical fires in your project.

2. Be transparent. Do not sugarcoat anything in your process. Be honest with where you are at. State your needs and where you will be allocating your resources in great detail.

3. Be accessible. When you are creating a crowdfunding campaign, it is not just about you anymore, it is about the community that will help you get to where you need to go. Here is a chance to find ways to engage with your audience, so be open to working with others to achieve the goals you have set out.

We chatted with Magness to get to know more about his project and what has inspired him along the way. Get to know Magness in his own words below. 

Marmoset: Who are you and what do you do in the world?

Will Magness: I suppose, I am a storyteller before anything else. I think that encompasses most of the things I am involved with. Professionally, I work as a commercial director, editor and creative at Sockeye, where I have done work for adidas, The Nature Conservancy, OHSU and others. In my own time I like to get mixed up in as many story driven things as I can. Such as, films, music videos and skits, but also, purely audio stories like our podcast, Clip Machine, where we pick a subject and scour everything we can for anything related to it, then cull it all down and shape it into something interesting. I am a huge believer in family inspiring art and I try to include my family in my art whenever possible. I think Francis Ford Coppola has a talk about how before he had any of his success he had his first kid and was totally inspired, which ended up giving him the kick in the butt needed to launch his career. I have always found that very reassuring.

M: What was the inspiration behind The Manual?

WM: I have always had an affinity for science fiction. Growing up, every Monday was “Star Trek Night,” and we would all get together to eat homemade veggie burgers and watch the latest episode. Some of my favorite authors are Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Whom created a world that is to a degree fantastical, but at the same time anchored in scientific possibility, is compelling for me. In terms of the story, I realized after writing it that a lot of it came subconsciously from my childhood, which was not necessarily normal. My family moved around a lot and I was home-schooled through high school, so I never really had a solid group of friends to grow up with and know deeply. I think the story captures those feelings of being alone even though you have a family right there that loves you. And, the shock of going out into the world, out of your comfort zone, and realizing the differences that exist between the real world and the one you thought existed.

M: As an independent filmmaker, what is one of the more challenging and rewarding elements in your career?

WM: I think raising money is the most challenging element I have faced. I have never thought of myself as a salesperson, but when you are making an independent film and you are not independently wealthy, you have to “pitch” your idea. Especially with short films because you are not guaranteed an ROI. I kind of flipped this fact on its head and tried to make it a selling point. It makes the project altruistic, to walk into a meeting and start the conversation with, “We are not making any money. This is pure passion.” It seems to get people excited. I think if you really believe in something, and are genuinely excited, all you really have to do to “sell it" is show up and start talking. My most rewarding moment so far would have to be sitting down to a packed house at our first film festival and watching our movie All Ear is Dread Here unfold on the screen. There is something very thrilling, nerve racking and just horrible about being surrounded by people watching your work. A close second, is when the pieces finally fell into place for me regarding directing actors and getting authentic performances. I think this is the place where independent film falls short most of the time, and it is such a valuable thing to learn when working with actors that are not professionals.

M: How do you feel crowdfunding has changed the landscape in filmmaking?

WM: I think it is similar to the way digital video made filmmaking more accessible, though probably to a lesser degree. If you look at Kickstarter or Indiegogo there are just a ton of film projects happening at any given time and at all ends of the spectrum. You can find short student projects that are looking for $500 dollars all the way to huge feature projects that A-list actors are circumventing the studios with. It is just another step toward accessibility. Now, we have more films being created consistently with the quality falling all over the map. I think that film making is becoming more like other art forms, where the thing that sets you apart is skill and craft, and less about how much money you have at your disposal.

M: What is one common misconception about your career?

WM: Something that surprises people is that I have no formal education. I was home-schooled, got a GED, and then did a semester of college and decided that I might get a better education spending that money on making a film, so that is what I did. Everything I have learned came from YouTube videos, and trial and error.

M: What role does music play in this project?

WM: Music is extremely important. With any film, it does so much to help the story along and reinforce the performances. I think the ideal music solution is one that is completely unexpected and that works perfectly. I did an anthem video for an app for firefighters, Active 911, we shot a piece full of heroics, burning buildings and life saving. The music I found, through you guys [Marmoset] actually, was a piece by Matthew Morgan that consisted entirely of beautiful piano. The contrast between the music and the visuals was really compelling. People were expecting rock music out of a Ford commercial or something “badass,” and I think everyone was pleasantly surprised. That is something I will definitely be looking out for. Opportunities for music that are unexpected but fitting. Kerry Smith is going to be composing the film. We have worked together on a bunch of commercial projects, and he is an extremely talented composer. We have not gotten very deep with music concepts yet, as we are still pretty early in the process, but I really like the idea of stripping back on the technology we use in creating the music to match the world of the film. Even though it is set in the future, it is a post-apocalyptic future where technology has regressed to a new iron age. Humans have left the world to robots, but with artificial limitations programmed in that leave the machines dependent on technology they cannot understand. I think if we impose these limitations on ourselves we might come up with something unique that supports the story.

M: What do you hope to achieve once this film is released?

WM: I want to show people. We have such an amazing crew and a great story, that I am sure this is going to be the best thing I have made to date. I think people are going to enjoy the world and the story. I just want to show as many people as possible.

M: In what ways does the process of creating this film parallel with your life as a creative?

WM: My first instinct is to say that there is not much of a parallel, but I think there may be ways which it does. I guess you start with an intention or a desired message and go from there. With the film, I had two years to write, rewrite, scrap, un-scrap, etc. until I had something I was happy with. Usually, we do not have more than a month or two to get a commercial concepted, filmed, edited, and out in the world. I think the biggest difference is time, and with time comes care. With this film, I am planning on working with the actors to build their characters into something genuine before we even start filming. We just do not have the time to take that kind of care on a commercial shoot. I am super excited about getting back to creating some genuine characters with this film.

Posted on June 15, 2016 and filed under Field Notes, Filmmaking.