Brave new world of fundraising

Sourcing donations online can be a good way to fund projects, but it helps to know what you're doing

If it wasn't for crowd funding, chances are Locked in a Garage Band wouldn't be making its world première in London Oct. 1.

It's been 18 months since Victoria and Jennifer Westcott raised $20,101 via online funding platform Kickstarter to shoot their coming-of-age film about high school bandmates who find themselves locked in a garage on the day of their breakup.

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The sisters surpassed their goal by $101, enough to film their low-budget feature over 10 days in Mission.

"We wanted to show there was audience support so we could get more investors," recalled Victoria Westcott. A month after their film premières at the Raindance Festival, she will pitch it to potential distributors at AFI Fest in Los Angeles.

"It really was to kickstart our project, to get that green light," said Westcott, one of a growing number of filmmakers who are using social networking to raise tiny amounts of funding from a mass of potential donors online.

"It's a lot of work, a fulltime job really," she said, dispelling the myth that raising funds from such grassroots funding sites is simply a matter of posting your objectives, setting a deadline and waiting for the funds to roll in.

While sourcing funds online - whether for a dream movie, a nifty invention or non-profit initiatives - has become commonplace, it's a widely misunderstood practice. Which is where Ian MacKenzie comes in.

The Vancouver-based new media producer, who crowdfunded $80,000 for Velcrow Ripper's Occupy Love, has become the go-to guy to answer everything you've wanted to know about crowdfunding but were afraid to ask.

He'll conduct a workshop presented by Media Rising on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Victoria Event Centre. In the spirit of such collaboration, key players in Victoria's media community have united to host it - MediaNet, CineVic, ViFPA (Victoria Independent Film Professionals Association), Media That Matters and Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission.

"The biggest mistake is thinking it's easy," says MacKenzie. "It's not like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams where if you build it they will come. You have to look at other networks. You need to release video clips along the way to get people fired up."

MacKenzie likens the rise of crowd-funding to the emergence of permaculture, the ethics-based system that guides the development of sustainable agricultural ecosystems after decades of monoculture, the growth of a single crop or product.

The innovative economic tool provides a user-friendly alternative to the traditional advertiser-driven model, he said.

"It's one of the newest potential ways to allow individuals to fund imaginative, compelling projects that normally wouldn't see the light of day," he said. "If you're funding socially relevant projects you're taking an active role in creating your world."

It's in stark contrast to the current model driven by passive consumers. And crowdfunding principles transcend just media projects - reflecting a new way of participatory thinking inspired by online engagement.

While the social mediafuelled funding phenomenon raised $837 million US via 208 platforms such as Kickstarter and IndieGogo last year, according to the Canada Media Fund, misconceptions persist about the concept of collecting funds from many micro-donors.

They're not just "donations," but can also be loans and investments with potential tax implications.

"People new to crowdfunding have this sense it's asking for a handout," MacKenzie said. "It's that unconscious question embodied in welfare. 'I'm down on my luck and I need some temporary support to get back on my feet.'"

Such attitudes can spark skepticism, he adds: "If your idea was that great why can't you get someone else to pay for it?"

The reality, he says, is many projects seeking online funding wouldn't be deemed to have value under the traditional system.

MacKenzie's workshop will also address topics such as donor fatigue; common mistakes and audience building techniques. He might also express his enthusiasm for waves of the future such as patronism, which allows fans to subsidize bands in small amounts in exchange for access to music and content such as liner notes, videos and VIP concert seats.

"It creates a much deeper relationship with the band," he said.

Media Rising's Mandy Leith said the idea to present MacKenzie's workshop arose from Making a Living, a spring workshop presented by ViFPA where local media organizations with different agendas agreed to create alliances across various sectors.

"The spirit of the day is collaboration," said Leith.

"With the new way we're consuming media this isn't something we can all sit in our basements and figure out. The smartest person in the room is the one trying to understand the future of the group mind. We're all relevant but we need to step up and have conversations with people we felt might be in a different field." Online: 1415Broad.ca

mreid@timescolonist.com

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