Crowdfunding independent television
If you’d suggested a few years ago that I’d be trying to raise the funds to independently produce a TV series through crowd-funding and social media, I’d have thought you mad. TV is a notoriously expensive medium and traditionally, if you don’t have a distributor, you don’t have a show. But a chance meeting in New York last year opened our minds up to this still very new and largely untested idea of online engagement to fund content. Let’s go back a bit.
My creative partner Tim Nash and I went to high school together. He went on to study Law at the University of Melbourne and I went to the Australian Defence Force Academy to become an Army Officer. Two years in and both of us realised we weren’t where we wanted to be, and recalled fondly the days of our creative exploits at school. Never really certain we could actually make a living from something we found so fun, we decided to take a chance and set up a production company. Our first short film, Black Button (made for $200), was tentatively placed on YouTube in 2007 where it somehow found an audience and in a little less than a month we had over 1,000,000 views. This brought us great exposure and lead to other opportunities, but in and of itself online viewership simply wasn’t enough. So we worked in TV as producers, cinematographers and editors on shows like Top Gear Australia and Freshwater Blue, all the while focusing on our ultimate goal of making our own content.
Fast-forward to 2011 and we’d made a pilot for a comedy called The Weatherman for about $4,000 and a lot of favours. We’d previously won the award for Best Writing at the New York Television Festival in 2008 with one of our other projects, so we decided we’d send The Weatherman there once more and were fortunate enough to be made an Official Selection for a second time. There at the screening, we met the team at Mobcaster – a newly-developed online platform similar to Kickstarter but unique in its goal to produce original TV content through the power of crowd funding; turning pitches into pilots and pilots into seasons.
Their motto is simple – Find It. Fund It. View It. At first we were hesitant; we’d always released our content online for free and felt this kind of approach was a kind of ‘cyber-begging’, but Mobcaster founder Aubrey Levy, who had worked as an Executive at HBO, pointed out that traditional TV models for development are not a flawless process. Many times, he observed, good quality pilots never become series because they end up in an unfortunate time-slot up against a popular sporting match, or hit the wrong demographic. Even classic shows like Seinfeld and Family Guy were nearly cancelled or were cancelled altogether for similar reasons. Shows tend to change and grow a great deal from the pilot episode, if they are given the chance, but getting that chance is dependent on a whole host of factors outside of the control of the creators. So the idea behind Mobcaster was simple – let the audience decide if they’d like to see more.
We knew going in this wasn’t going to be easy. Mobcaster was a new platform in its Beta phase and did not have an existing audience base. We were asking for US$72,500 to make the season which, though very low by TV budget standards, is an awful lot to generate through crowd-funding alone. And we were in strange new territory, being the first (as far as we know at least) TV show in the world to seek production from pilot to series from crowd-funding alone.
Something like this can only be achieved through the use of social media and online promotion. People can’t decide if they like something and want to fund it if they aren’t first presented the opportunity to see it. It may sound obvious but this is by far the hardest hurdle to overcome. Our strategy, co-ordinated with the Mobcaster team in New York, has been focused on a number of fronts. The primary ones are the obvious; Facebook (with a fan and group page and regular updates), Twitter and even less well-known social media sites like Holland’s Hives, where our lead actor Robert Grubb is still fondly remembered for his role as Dr Geoffrey Standish in The Flying Doctors, which remains incredibly popular in Holland specifically. We’ve also used social linking sites like Reddit to promote the show and directly engage with people , answering their questions about the show and the platform.
Traditional media, like this article in The Australian has also been important, particularly in legitimising the project. All contributions we receive are related to ‘rewards’ depending on the size of the contribution, ranging from a ‘Thank You’ in the credits of a particular episode, to appearing in the show itself, all the way to receiving full and verified Executive Producer status on the show. We’ve been amazed by people’s generosity thus far, with some contributors individually kicking in $5,000 to the campaign.
The most exciting part is what happens if we are lucky enough to hit our target – we will be able to produce the show entirely for the audience that helped fund it and it will be released on Mobcaster TV. We’ve had the time now to work on the next five episode scripts and believe the show will improve a great deal from the pilot.
You can see the pilot and contribute here. As of writing this, we have reached 40% of our goal with 15 days remaining so it is by no means assured, but if you can help us by contributing and sharing the link around, we may just make it!