Finding cash hard part in movies

Last updated 12:34 16/06/2014
Taika/Jermaine

PUTTING ON THEIR THINKING CAPS: Taika Waititi (left) and Jemaine Clement have much of the funding and distribution of their new film What They Do In The Shadows into their own hands.

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As the pile of hand-painted Crazy Horse helmets piled up beside him, Taika Waititi painstakingly drew personalised portraits for 80 of his biggest fans.

At the time, crowd-funding the US release of his New Zealand box office hit Boy seemed like a good idea. The company hired to promote the film needed more money, so suggested listing the project on the Kickstarter website to raise another $90,000.

"They were like 'We'll give people DVDs and stuff, and can you do some drawings, and I was like 'Yeah it's fine I guess, do whatever'. I was thinking 'Oh yeah, three people will do this'," Waititi says.

"I ended up for six months just drawing pictures for complete strangers, and they got weirder and weirder as I got more annoyed. People would ask me to draw their family, and by the end I was drawing a giant baby holding its parents in its arms and stuff.

"I had to paint 'Shogun' on about 20 helmets, it just got ludicrous."

In an effort to keep profits in their own hands, the majority of Waititi and Jemaine Clement's newest film What We Do in the Shadows is self-funded, with a $250,000 production top-up from the New Zealand Film Commission.

In an industry first, they've partnered with Tuatara brewery to create a beer brewed specifically to help promote the film - and are doing all the distribution themselves.

It's a model that is becoming more common in a cash-strapped industry. While crowdfunding has emerged as valuable leg-up, it does have its downsides - and many film-makers are choosing hard graft to get projects off the ground.

It has been a six-year slog for Auckland filmmakers Anoushka Klaus, Doug Dillaman and Alastair Tye-Samson to make feature film Jake, which premieres in Auckland on June 27. Their sci-fi, black comedy thriller didn't fit into a genre, and they didn't want it to be tied-up in funding red tape or beholden to anyone.

"I think that's the mistake with crowd-funding, it's like 'Oh this free money that falls from the heavens,' but it's not," Dillaman said.

"We could apply for funding and wait for someone to give us permission to make our movie, or we could make it."

They poured all their savings into the film, shooting in friends' flats and begging "more than a million dollars worth of favours," to see it completed.

Once finished, they invited critics to a screening - where it got great reviews - and stayed up until the early hours working on promotion, distribution and marketing.

"There's so much more to making a film than actually making it," Klaus said.

Rather than put out a DVD, they will sell it on one of many video-on- demand sites.

Film Commission chief executive Dave Gibson said crowd-funding can work if done strategically, and the government body encouraged it - particularly for the buzz it created around a film. It would be looking at dishing out at least some of it's $14 million annual kitty by partnering with sites in future.

"I think there's a lot to be said for it because it encourages film-makers to think about their audience. It's broken up the funding model quite a lot, and you don't get money because you're good at filling out applications to Government funding bodies."

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Earlier in the year the commission partnered with NZ On Air and pledgeme.co.nz for initiative Loading Docs, funding 10 documentary-makers $2500 once they had raised $2000 on the site.

While still considered crowdfunding, the Arts Foundation's Boosted site does not offer rewards for donors.

Launched last year, teething problems have meant it's not been as successful as early as hoped - a target of $3m in annual donations has been more like $500,000 - but manager Mark Michel said it is growing every month.

Boosted helps artists plan their campaigns, and encourage its use as a marketing platform.

"It's not just a nameless channel for people to just raise money and disappear. It's about getting them to think strategically about their audience."

Pledge Me founder Anna Guenther said it had helped more than 100 films find around $3000-$5000 in funding each since it started two years ago.

- Sunday Star Times

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