Inocente Becomes the First Kickstarter Film to Win an Oscar: Now All We Need is Easy Distribution

A story from the Academy Awards that's far more interesting to me than what various stars were wearing is that Inocente, a project that was partially funded on Kickstarter, took home the Oscar for best short documentary. It's the first crowd-funded film to win an Oscar. It surely won't be the last.

If you haven't seen the trailer, the filmmaking team describes it as "an intensely personal and vibrant coming of age documentary about a young artist’s fierce determination to never surrender to the bleakness of her surroundings." So far, I have only watched the trailer and the crowd-funding pitch, but I look forward to downloading it on iTunes.

The great news is that Inocente wasn't alone. Kings Point was nominated in the same category (this makes 2 of the 5 nominees), and Buzkashi Boys, a favourite of Roger Ebert was nominated for best live-action short. In the past, three other films have been nominated for Academy Awards.

It's not just the Academy that's sat up and noticed Kickstarter. At Sundance, 17 Kickstarter funded films were featured, five of the films won awards, and four were acquired for 2013 distribution. It's safe to say that Kickstarter is a pretty major force in independent film when Kickstarter funded projects accounted for 10% of the Sundance slate.

How much of a force? According to Kickstarter, $100 million has been pledged to over 20,000 film projects over the last three-years. Film is the second largest funding category on Kickstarter. Over 5,000 feature length films and 3,000 short films have been successfully funded. For a company that's only been around for 3-years, the impact on film has been pretty substantial.

Is Kickstarter disrupting the Hollywood system? Nope. At least not the popcorn movies that capture a lot of popular attention. With the average Hollywood feature's production budget probably north of $100 million, Kickstarter isn't going to be replacing big studios anytime soon. Creating feature length movies is expensive.

In fact, it's worth noting that none of the Academy Awards nominees funded their entire project on Kickstarter. The crowd-funding platform was used to raise money for post production and distribution rather than earlier on in the production.

  • Inocente had completed production and editing, but raised $53,000 to pay "pay deferred costs and to complete final deliverables (creating HDCam tapes, Digibeta tapes, Blu-rays, and DVDs in the correct formats) for TV and community film screenings."

  • Kings Point raised $10,000 to hire an editor to complete the film.

  • Buzkashi Boys was produced through a non-profit film project. It had funding to shoot and edit, but required $27,000 to cover the final stages of post, such as "color grading, visual effects, mastering the film, and publicity."

Using Kickstarter to supplement other forms of funding (and build awareness just prior to release) would explain the relatively paltry sums that most of the productions raise through Kickstarter. If we take the number of film projects funded and total funding in each area, here is what you get as an average per project:

Kickstarter Funding

Even the most resourceful indy filmmaker would have a hard time putting together a documentary on $1,781. I know these are averages and that they are probably heavily skewed by a large number of very low budget projects, but I do think the numbers highlight that Kickstarter isn't the sole source of funding for many productions.

Nevertheless, for ambitious projects it's an important part of the funding strategy. Sean Fine, part of the husband and wife directing team behind Inocente, had this to say to The Wall Street Journal:

“It really helped galvanize the community and get the word out about the film, and it … kept us going basically through the post production process,” Fine said, adding that he thinks Kickstarter a “great new outlet” for films, in particular documentaries.

Anyway, whether the Kickstarter disrupts Hollywood or whether films raise all of their funding through Kickstarter isn't all that important. The point is that Kickstarter is helping films that may not otherwise have seen the light of day get produced. It provides another avenue for people to fund and produce projects that they are passionate about. Anything that helps people succeed at this this is a great thing!

The one thing that I think these Kickstarter projects are missing is an easy self-distribution and publishing model. Producers have shown that they can generate buzz, awareness, and an advance audience, but theatrical distribution is out of reach of most of the projects. Of the 8,000 films produced, only 100 of them have seen a theatrical release. Publishing DVDs is not an efficient alternative in this day and age.

Hopefully, Vimeo's launch of a paywall service that manages payments and lets filmmakers charge to rent their films online, will fill a missing distribution link for indy filmmakers. It seems to me that there should be an opportunity here for Netflix or Amazon to tap into a long-tail distribution opportunity as well, now that both are increasingly focused on streaming services rather than DVDs.

SXSW is about to get started soon and I'm sure we'll see a steady parade of Kickstarter projects generate significant buzz. I suspect that it won't be long before a Kickstarter funded project generates "surprise" box office success. Who knows, maybe it won't be long before the big studios, desperate for something other than comic book sequels, start mining Kickstarter projects for ideas on what films to remake. I wonder who will play the part of Inocente?