One of the highlights of SXSW this year was an enlightening brunch I had with Kevin Smokler, Linda Holmes, and Alyssa Rosenberg. After getting past the fears that I’d geek out on Holmes (I’m a big Pop Culture Happy Hour fan), I saw the meal settle into an idea-and-personality-driven discussion as enriching as any good SX panel.
One of the topics of conversation was the whole Kickstarter as the Future of Entertainment thing. Short version: Large groups of fans funding an artist’s work from inception as opposed to waiting for a studio to fund it and then paying the studio. Holmes in particular had some ideas about how this model could be expanded. First, we discussed the notion of Joss Whedon asking for $50 million to shoot a Serenity sequel. No one at the table thought that implausible. But Holmes wondered if that couldn’t be taken a step further. What if, instead of asking for $50 million for Serenity 2, Whedon asked for $25 million for a project whose nature he wouldn’t even reveal? Just, “I’m Joss Whedon. I know you trust me. I have an extremely cool project I can’t tell you about but trust me, it’s going to be awesome. I need $25 million.” Would he get it?
At least that was the consensus at the table. Where that led, though, was to the notion of supporting personalities as opposed to individual projects, which inevitably led to the idea of a subscription model for crowdfunding. Instead of funding Whedon’s next project, what if I wanted to fund all of his projects? What if I wanted to fund him and his ability to continue to make films without answering to a studio? Or ever having to pitch a studio? What if every month a certain amount was charged to my credit card and put into a pool for the artist Joss Whedon? Or any artist? And if at any point I don’t like a particular artist’s work or lack of work, I cancel my subscription?
For this model, the term “crowdscourced patronage” seems especially appropriate.
As an artist, it’s an exciting idea because I find that the thing holding me back as a filmmaker isn’t money for equipment, it’s a lack of time because I work a full time job. What I need is money to live, not money for tools. In this model, a large enough subscription base could make that possible.
We discussed how that might skew the relationship between the artist and the audience and how it might make one a little too beholden to one’s fan base–I mean how disappointed would you be if you contribute $1,000 a year to The Whedon Fund and Serenity 2 sucks versus just paying $12 at a movie theater and having Serenity 2 suck? But I feel it’s only an extension/refinement of the current artist/fan relationship and, if Serenity 2 sucks, you can cancel your subscription. Although I suppose there’s a risk there that “burned” patrons will be less likely to fund other artists.
Rosenberg took the patronage concept even further suggesting that a foundation model, again crowdfunded but involving grants, might mitigate some of the “burned patron” risk of outright crowdsourced patronage. This got me thinking of a sort of crowdfunded studio with foundation systems in place to pay out for a number of artists.
Holmes also suggested that funding movies through Kickstarter doesn’t have to be an all or nothing scenario. Studios could pay matching funds for any money a filmmaker raised, thus mitigating their risk and increasing the likelihood of reaching especially high goals (like $50 million). Also, the filmmaker will be able to show the studio proof of concept of the potential audience simply by raising the first $25 million.
This is kind of a nice model because it provides some role for the studios who, as disintermediation becomes standard, will be shuffling about, looking for some way to be relevant. Not that I think the studios are going anywhere, but you couldn’t swing a dead cat at SX this year without hitting a panel or talk on disintermediation, and while it’s not going to be the only game in town, it’s going to be bigger than the studios probably expect. (We’ll get more into SXdisintermediationW in a future post. Seriously, though, even Barry Diller is banging that gong.)
Slava Rubin, founder of the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo, happened to be at SX this year and I ran some of this by him and he seemed to think that the subscription model in particular was perfectly viable. I don’t know if that means he’s actually working on it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a year from now you saw that as an option on a number of crowdfunding sites.
As it happens, the brunch was the same day as Joss Whedon’s talk at SX. There are very few things I’d be willing to miss Joss Whedon for, but this brunch was definitely one of them.