The dirty secret about crowdfunding is that there are zero guarantees that the project you're buying into will ever actually exist. It's at the point now where each December, tech outlets can collect the year's worst scams and failures for a year-end recap. And until yesterday, the 2014 Indiegogo-funded movie It's All Good, from FND Films, appeared to be among them.
The Chicago-based production company, which built its following making funny YouTube videos, tapped its 170,000 subscribers for an Indiegogo campaign that sought $75,000 for their first feature—an extremely vague idea called It's All Good—with perks to donors including posters, "executive producer" credits, and props. At the end of the campaign, which went up to the wire, they accumulated $77,900—and then they disappeared.
We did it everyone! Thank you for all your contributions and support. We are thrilled to have the funds for our first feature film. And it wouldn't have been possible without you. Also, we've been accepted in the Forever Funding pilot program on Indiegogo which means even though the campaign is over, we can still accept donations to help us through post production! Thank you everyone again, now let's make a movie!
They continued making videos at first, and shared photos of themselves on Instagram enjoying cigars, popping champagne, and otherwise enjoying themselves, even as they gave vague answers to questions about the film. Then, they stopped responding to those questions entirely. Finally, on September 13—almost two years after they posted their "thank you" message on the campaign, they uploaded a video explaining that, alas, they were joining the list of projects that wouldn't come to fruition.
Fans were livid. The comments on the video collected outraged comments, some threatened to sue, and news outlets quickly added them to the list of crowdfunding scammers. And they let the furor stew for two weeks until yesterday, when they revealed that the entire thing is a long-con troll job, and unveiled the trailer for the film—which, naturally, is about a group of filmmakers who successfully raise $78K from a crowdfunding campaign to make a movie, then run off with it.
"It was incredibly hard," director Aaron Fronk says of putting the people who care enough about his company to give him $78,000 through a hoax like this. "I can't even tell you the stress of the last two and a half years. The one thing keeping it going is like, 'Okay, after this whole crazy thing, we will still have a movie to show people.' We put every ounce of effort and time into this thing, our own money, it's really, truly been a passion project for us. So I think at the end of the day, we're happy that even though who had to do this whole stunt, and had to lie to people, and they were going to get very angry, there would be a film at the end of it that would make it up to people."
The response since FND unveiled the scam-within-the-scam has been almost universally positive. People who posted irate comments on YouTube returned to celebrate the announcement, and the long tail of the con just made the whole thing more impressive to the people who paid into it.
"Almost nobody is still holding a grudge or anything, it's actually the total opposite," Fronk says. "They're almost more excited because they were so mad. It's better than if they had just bought the explanation, like, 'Oh, yeah, things happen . . .'—for them to get really mad at it, and really hate you, and then realize that you played them all along, I think that almost added to it."
Being involved and becoming a participant in the project is part of the appeal of crowdfunding films in the first place, but most projects do that via walk-on roles or set photos. Here, they had almost two years in limbo before two weeks between the disappointed announcement that the project wasn't happening and the release of the trailer to participate in a unique way.
Fronk describes those two weeks as "hell," where they waited to see how much negative press they could stir up before they felt like it had peaked, so they could release the trailer at the exact right moment. That was important, because all of the things that people do to get fans excited about their movie—trailers, photos, updates, etc—wasn't possible for a film built around this kind of stunt.
"We knew that that was going to be our marketing push too," Fronk says. It's a tight turnaround—the movie releases on October 21 through VHX, with Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes to follow—but that's very intentional. "There were a lot of options on how to distribute the film, but we kind of had to self-distribute, because we knew we couldn't go the festival route. You can't do that—get everybody hyped about it, and then be like, 'See the movie . . . next year . . . sometime . . .' So we knew we needed to capitalize on that momentum."