Thursday, May 9, 2013

Liam Brady on Seed&Spark

Give me you elevator speech for Seed&Spark.

LIAM: Seed&Spark is an audience-building platform for filmmakers to crowdfund and distribute their films. Audience members earn Sparks for supporting films in the Studio, and they use Sparks to watch them in the Cinema. Filmmakers crowdfund using a custom-made Wishlist, which is like a wedding registry for film productions.

Movie projects that crowdfund in our Studio take home more of the money they raise than on Seed&Spark than any other crowdfunding platform. No merchant account required. If a filmmaker chooses to release their finished film in our Cinema, they take home 80% of their streaming revenue. We call this model Fair Trade Filmmaking.

What makes your site different from other internet options for filmmakers?

LIAM: Right off the bat, filmmakers are excited to learn that on Seed&Spark that they'll walk away with around 95% of the money they raise if their campaign is successful. That's because we pass along credit card fees instead of requiring a merchant account, but also because we put a little button at customer checkout that says "Cover Filmmaker's Fee." It turns out that people love this button! Supporting a film through the Wishlist on Seed&Spark feels like shopping online. My theory is that online shoppers are so used to paying sales tax and shipping, so without those add-ons, voluntarily adding 5% as an extra benefit for the filmmaker feels natural.

The biggest difference about Seed&Spark is that it's dedicated to movies at all stages of the process. The Wishlist format on the crowdfunding side simulates a really cool shopping experience for supporters and movie audiences. Each supporter gets a unique and individual story about how exactly they’re helping to make your film. When it's time to start spreading the word and asking people to watch your movie, those supporters have a story they can tell to others. You want your supporters to feel that sense of ownership and pride. You want them out there talking about this movie they helped to make.

Also, it should be mentioned that supporters can loan you an item or items from your Wishlist. If you accept the loan, that supporter will be credited for the value of their support, and your little campaign speedometer will show the equivalent amount of progress toward the success of your campaign.

In building the site, the key for us was to give filmmakers a tool that would support them in making their film no matter what, and to provide them with opportunities to engage their future audiences as much as possible along the way.

What is the process for choosing projects to help seed?

LIAM: On the Studio side, we select for quality of content, ability to communicate a story, willingness to promote your project, and most importantly: passion. If you know how to tell a good story now about why you’re making your film, we figure you'll also do a good job when it comes time to tell the story in your actual film.

We also take a look at your team, your past work if you have any, and the proportion of the scale of the budget you’re trying to raise to your filmmaking experience and your current following (if you have any).

Successfully funded Studio projects are guaranteed the ability to release their finished film in the Cinema, so it's important to us that we're selective in our process.

Why would someone with a finished movie want to approach you?

LIAM: Our audience is growing every day, and right now there are 1000s of unused Sparks that our audience members have earned for supporting films and are eager to use. By the way, we still pay filmmakers a small sum for Sparks views.

There are so many great films out there, shorts and features, that have played at film festivals and even won awards but that are now sitting on filmmakers' shelves somewhere, or that got picked up for distribution but the distributor did nothing with the film or the terms are up and rights have returned to the filmmaker. We are making a home for those films and building an audience for them. We want to build a vast ecosystem of filmmakers and audiences, and even if you're an experienced filmmaker without a crowdfunding project at the moment, you can still be a part of it.

Also, since we’re still really new, right now is a great time to jump in with your film because you’re more likely to land on our homepage. Right now, when a new film comes out, we’re able to send a notice to our entire mailing list announcing it.

Is marketing entirely up to the filmmaker when it comes to bringing viewers to the site?

LIAM: I think we’ve done a really good job so far helping filmmakers spread the word, especially on social media but also through more traditional media outlets. Our earliest filmmakers were given access to our publicity resources, and really soon we’re going to be able to group films by genre or affinity group or what have you reach the audiences for those films more directly. But if by marketing you mean spending tons of money on advertising for individual films (sometimes even more money than it took to make the film!), then no, that’s not where we think anyone should be putting their resources.

We built Seed&Spark with a new model in mind. Films that begin in our Studio have the advantage of months and months during their crowdfunding and production phases to gather hundreds of dedicated followers. When it's time to release a film in the Cinema, there are so many untapped and virtually free ways that you can transform a core community of support into a paying audience in the 10,000s or more. And if you're a filmmaker with a new project in the Studio, it’s extremely beneficial for you to have a movie or two in the Cinema. Our recommendation metrics give top priority to projects and movies by the same filmmaker, so your efforts in fundraising will have the direct benefit of driving viewership toward your films in the Cinema, and vice versa.

I also want to mention that we’re planning some very exciting initiatives and partnerships that go even further beyond what I’ve already described to help filmmakers spread the word about their movie, but I can’t tell you anything about that yet. Standby!

Can you provide some background on the people behind Seed&Spark?

LIAM: All of us are filmmakers. We met on a location shoot two summers ago. Our CEO Emily Best was the producer of the film. I was the first AD. Our Chief Creative Officer Eve Cohen was the DP.

I'm a writer and director myself, and as a filmmaker who’s gained some experience in this brave new world of crowdfunding and building an audience from scratch, I wanted to help develop a platform that really works for the needs of my film and my team, but also for the community that inevitably emerges around every film project.

My short film Fog City was one of the pilot projects on the site, and my Wishlist campaign was the first to get the Greenlight in the Seed&Spark Studio. It's pretty cool getting to build something new and then be one of the first to actually test drive it. I’m using Seed&Spark as the single pipeline for Fog City, from beginning to end. And by “end” I mean the place where someone will actually pay a little something to watch my movie.

How do you see Seed&Spark growing in the future?

LIAM: Steadily and sure-handedly. We're meeting new filmmakers every day, many of whom who have already heard of us, and those who haven't always get the concept right away.

I'm really excited for when we start to have handfuls of Studio projects in the same geographic area working on their films at the same time. I think we're going to see filmmakers working together through the Wishlist and helping each other in ways that weren’t possible before.

I'm also extremely excited for the day when our Founding Filmmakers who launched the first crop of Studio projects with us begin to release their finished movies in the Cinema. Some of those projects have already wrapped shooting or are getting very close. It's so cool to follow their progress as they continue to post updates and grow a following for their film. Presumably some of these films will do a nice festival run first, but once they become available in the Seed&Spark Cinema, that's when we'll get to see what Seed&Spark can really do.

The Future of Filmmaking from Seed&Spark on Vimeo.

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