If they had been looking for large grants or investors, their recipe was one that had worked in the past. But in the world of crowdfunding, where artists and entrepreneurs can raise money from large group of small donors online, having big names on board wasn’t enough — and therein lies a lesson about the challenges of this new method of financing.
The Weiners, District residents, have been making films for the past 40 years. So far, their environment-focused documentaries have been funded by nonprofits and grants, such as the Science Educational Partnership Award supported by the National Institutes of Health. But a shrinking supply of grants and heightened competition from other filmmakers prompted the Weiners to try crowdfunding for their 256th documentary.
“Funding for PBS has been difficult lately,” Marilyn Weiner said. “Using crowdfunding is an interesting way for producers to get their message out and tell their story.”
“Extreme Realities,” the 13th installment of the Weiners’ PBS series, “Journey to Planet Earth,” connects climate change to political consequences. The Weiners had already secured about $250,000 from various foundations, including the Wallace Genetic Foundation, a District-based nonprofit supporting agricultural research.
But they still needed at least $75,000 more. So last month, they made a page on Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding platform, requesting that amount. Donors would receive perks depending on the size of their donation, such as a script signed by the Weiners for $25, or lunch with the moviemakers and an opportunity to attend the narration session with Damon for $10,000.
Their Kickstarter page featured a six-minute trailer with clips from Damon, Friedman and Krugman, among others, as well as a written appeal for donations. The film, the Weiners wrote, aims to answer questions such as “How soon before severe drought and famine in Africa will cause global food shortages?” and how much of the “$10-20 billion generated each year by illegal poaching can be linked to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda?”
They had 45 days to raise the money — Kickstarter returns funds to donors if the goal isn’t met by the deadline. So they set to work, using Twitter and Facebook to promote the documentary. It wasn’t easy — neither of them were very comfortable using social media, Marilyn Weiner said.
“We’re newbies,” she said. “We’re like the kids that are starting out, which is kind of amusing because here we are with 250 documentaries to our name.”