Thousands of films get their funding on Kickstarter, but so far in the site’s history, only three have made their way to the Academy Awards. February 24, that number will double, when documentary shorts Kings Point and Inocente and live action short Buzkashi Boys arrive at the ceremony.
Buzkashi Boys is a production of the Afghan Film Project, an NGO based in Kabul that conducts two-week workshops with promising local filmmakers to bolster the native Afghan film industry. The film was a natural fit for Kickstarter, striking as it does the twin bells of social good and entertainment—but it wasn’t what they went for first says the film’s producer Ariel Nasr. No two films funded through Kickstarter are alike, but Nasr’s experience with Buzkashi Boys contains a handful of important things for filmmakers to keep in mind.
When Nasr and his team were starting to raise money in late 2009 and early 2010, Kickstarter "seemed a bit like a fringe way to raise money," he says. "Frankly, we just didn’t know." But by early 2012, when they found themselves out of funds, Kickstarter had matured. "We underestimated it, so we put our focus on other things," Nasr explains. "We didn’t have any idea how powerful it was."
The film raised more than $27,000 on the site, more than Nasr had either asked for or anticipated getting, but in the end, only a small portion of Buzkashi Boys’ budget. "That was one of the reasons why it felt right," he explains. "We had brought it up to this point. It was 90% done, and we just needed to get the last 10%." And further: "We just wanted to make sure that people felt that they were getting the film made. Finished."
Crowdfunding through Kickstarter can be easier and more direct than courting temperamental donors or applying for millions of grants, but only if you go about it smartly. "You need to design it so that your rewards are not going to become too heavy of a burden compared to the amount of money that you’re making," says Nasr. The Buzkashi Boys team wound up bringing some rewards back from Afghanistan, but only for the high-level donors, which made the time investment involved worthwhile.
"People sometimes feel shy to ask for help with a project. It’s a natural feeling, and to some extent, makes sense," Nasr says. But he learned quickly to fight that feeling. "When people help you, it’s like they’ve become part of the project, and when they see something happening with that project, they spread the news. It’s not just something that they heard about. It’s like part of them. You get their buy-in on an emotional level."
Kickstarter worked great this time, but it’s not something Nasr is going to rely on. "I don’t want ever for people in my network to be getting more than one [request]]in the space of a year and a half," he says. You don’t want to annoy people. "If you are asking people for their money then I think you have to take it seriously." But, he continues, "that’s a testament to how powerful a tool it is. I don’t want to use it now on this smaller project when I may need it for this larger project. I am starting to think of it as a go-to tool, right there among all of the other tools like grants, state funding, private organizations, and everything else."