How Crowdfunding Has Taken Us From DIY to DIWO

Cerise | Trigonis Film

The same way people back in the day believed the earth was flat and Christopher Columbus set sail and proved them wrong, artists have recently discovered that the landscape of the imagination in its myriad forms isn’t flat, but round, robust, and teeming with potential.

That potential has a yang to its yin, of course, and for decades artists of all sorts, from basement bohemians to couch surfing filmmakers, have wrestled against it when they should have been working with it. It’s a guerrilla do-it-yourself world out there, and while once upon a time lack of money had put the kibosh on many creative projects, it has recently become much easier to create the art we want with the funds we need from an audience that cares. Welcome to the dawn of the Crowdfunding Age.

Crowdfunding has taken the arts world by storm, long before the U.S. government’s passage of the JOBS (Jump-start Our Business Start-ups) Act in April of 2012. For years, DIY filmmakers, fine artists, and indie bands have been seeking funding from their respective crowds, which is made up of audiences who want to experience their particular visions and sounds. The last five years have shown a substantial rise in the number of crowdfunding intermediaries like IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, and RocketHub, platforms that make it easier for these artists with little or no education in business and marketing to launch and maintain a successful campaign for their projects.

It may appear that crowdfunding is the ultimate means of DIY artistry, but a closer examination reveals that you’re not doing it yourself – you’re doing it with others. For those of you who may be reading about crowdfunding for the first time, it’s a form of online fundraising in which you reach out to the crowd by means of a pitch video or page that introduces yourself and your project. Your campaign accepts monetary contributions in exchange for perks that contributors receive for their help, such as a free digital downloads for a predetermined amount. In other words, they get cool rewards and you get the funds you need to make something magical. Your primary means of getting the word out about your campaign isn’t through fliers and fundraising fêtes; it’s through online promotion via email and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. It’s that simple, but by no means easy, because you also have to be creative enough to stand out from the surge of crowdfunding campaigns now flooding the Internet.

It may appear that crowdfunding is the ultimate means of DIY artistry, but a closer examination reveals that you’re not doing it yourself – you’re doing it with others. IndieGoGo has coined the acronym DIWO, Do It With Others, and I’m borrowing this phrase because I myself learned from firsthand experience the massive potential of working with a crowd to achieve a great product. In 2010, during the onset of a DIY revolution for indie filmmakers, I launched a campaign on IndieGoGo for my seventh short film, Cerise. Within two months, and through rigorous and innovative promotion, my modest team of soldiers and I reached our initial goal of $5,000. In the remaining month, and without a single tweet or update, an additional $1,300 poured in, giving me an extra $6,300 to put into a film that would go on to participate at over a dozen film festivals, including the prestigious Cannes Court Métrage.

How we got into all of these film festivals is another lesson in crowdfunding, minus the platform. Through Cerise’s website, which was donated to us by one of our funders (there are a lot more perks to crowdfunding than money and audience), I launched a series of ‘Film Festival Crusades,’ which raised upwards of $2,000 and allowed me to submit to about 90 festivals. This also led to my writing a book on the subject called Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign to be published by Michael Wiese Productions in February of 2013. None of this would have been possible without the crowd.

Since then, there have been thousands of campaigns that have launched and left marks all along the creative landscape of America, and especially in New Jersey and New York: short film projects like Joe Lomas’ Less Than Three, which brought in $2,202 on Kickstarter; restaurants like Thirty Acres coming to the Garden State at a Kickstarter win of $18,176; photography projects like The Jersey Side Project, a collection of photos of 9/11 taken from the Jersey side, which kicked up $2,750; novels like Black Wave by Brooklyn’s own Devon Glenn crashing onto shore at $1,625; and fine arts projects like New York City artist Molly Crabapple’s Shell Game, which secured a staggering $64,799. Even Lamplighter Magazine launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for its first issue, which ultimately brought in $2,155.

There are also plenty of campaigns going up every day for music albums, technological innovations, household products, scientific inventions, and trans-media projects. Some are successful, others are not, and success or The power lies in the crowd’s hands, much like the lives of gladiators in the Coliseum of ancient Rome rested on the thumbs of Caesars.failure depends on how much time, effort, and — above all — heart you put into your campaigning. Furthermore, the vitality of our artistic projects depends on how much of your campaign and project you make about the crowd itself. The power lies in their hands, much like the lives of gladiators in the Coliseum of ancient Rome rested on the thumbs of Caesars. If you’ve got the right idea and original ways of fundraising for it that engage your audience, the crowd will come to the plate for you and bat a home run every time.

The fact is that as artists, DIY doesn’t mean what it meant at the start of the independent revolution. Independent is now mainstreamed; even the most indie rock bands are more than happy to score a record deal. True independence lives in the audience, a crowd of supporters that is more than happy to lend a helping hand for a cool perk from your crowdfunding campaign or for the satisfaction of knowing they helped bring an indie band’s album or fine art exhibit to the world.