Funding film the alternative way

For Halifax film producers, looking to the government for funding isn’t always going to get the film made. Turns out there are other ways to balance the budget.

Connie Littlefield raised money for her documentary on
Connie Littlefield raised money for her documentary on
Laura Dawe---local filmmaker and artist---scurries between tables at a north end cafe where she's a server. Multi-tasking is as automatic as breathing for Dawe, who always has a few projects on the go. Last fall her first feature film, Light is the Day, debuted at the Atlantic Film Festival, and she's about to head to Toronto to study at the Canadian Film Institute.

A history and creative writing student at Dalhousie, Dawe wasn't eligible for Telefilm or Film Nova Scotia funding. So, she raised the money herself.

She threw a party, auctioned some paintings and raised $2,000. "Great, I've funded my movie," she laughs, "...not true." It took a few more house shows and many auctioned paintings over the course of a year. She estimates the movie cost $15,000.

"At the time it didn't strike me as alternative funding, but as the only type of funding that I could think of, which was just to get the money."

Though Dawe relied solely on fundraising, other local filmmakers have used fundraising to supplement other sources. Halifax comedy troupe Picnicface started an online campaign for its feature, Roller Town, which they filmed last year. Picnicface's "popularity is all about the internet," says Jay Dahl, one of the movie's producers. It was only natural they try to raise money where their fans are---online.

Of the film's $900,000 budget, Telefilm accounted for about half and Film NS about one-third, says Dahl. With Picnicface's fans giving them a leg up, they fundraised the rest of the money from July through September 2010. Donations were rewarded---for $50, Cheryl Hann and Mark Little wrote and performed an original rap. Dozens of them are now available to be seen on YouTube. The group managed its own campaign, earning a total of about $22,000, says Dahl.

Picnicface's set-up is similar to the many "crowd funding" websites that are growing in and being two of the bigger names.

Walter Forsyth, who's been in film production for more than a decade, raised $20,000 on Kickstarter for Leone Stars, a documentary about an amputee soccer team in Sierra Leone, Africa.

"It's still like a bottle drive, but social media allows you to do it from your desk," says Forsyth.

Successful Kickstarter campaigns tap into a niche that's interested in the project, or a pre-existing fanbase. People donate money, and in return, the campaign gives creative rewards depending on how much money is given. Forsyth's campaign is mailing Leone Stars t-shirts to those who gave $50.

"It's a brilliant idea, but I can't see it being a model to last a long time," says Forsyth, who thinks people will grow weary of requests for cash.

Connie Littlefield is another story of Kickstarter triumph ---her campaign for Better Living Through Chemistry, the story of LSD makers of the 1960s, raised $15,000.

She notified fans of her 2002 documentary on a similar topic, Hoffman's Potion, about her campaign. Instead of posting a video asking for money---the common route---Littlefield used a clip of her work. Unlike most Kickstarter campaigns, which offer incentives for as little as a dollar, she set the bar high: donate $250 and get a DVD of the final film.

"I didn't expect it to succeed," admits Littlefield. "It's evidence that there's support for this in the real world."

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