By Mike Berlin
Michael Stabile is trying to make a film about a gay porn mogul. But Seed Money, his documentary-in-progress detailing the life of late Falcon Studios founder and political philanthropist Chuck Holmes, was, like many independent films, continually mired in financial uncertainly. He’d worked on the project without funding for four years, filming and interviewing porn stars, friends, politicians, and celebrities, such as John Waters. By the fall of 2011, the film was indefinitely stalled, as Stabile faced a chunk of post-production costs he couldn’t cover.
By December 19 -- six weeks after launching an online fundraising campaign through the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter -- Stabile had $28,430 in the bank, a little over half of what he needed to complete Seed Money, and a new private investor backing the film.
“The reason that we turned to Kickstarter,” says the director, “is because there wasn’t another way of getting this story told.”
This do-or-die imperative is what drives many directors to the three-year-old Kickstarter, a portal that harnesses the power of social media to support creative projects that need cash to flourish. The site connects two groups: creators, who present ideas both miniscule and grandiose, and backers, who, with as little as $1, decide which projects get made.
Traditionally, indie filmmakers like Stabile have begged and pleaded with private investors, producers, distributors, arts institutions, and friends and family for every dime on their budgets. But with an overly cautious industry unwilling to back anything short of the next Michael Bay CGI robot orgy, investors are hard to come by.
Queer films are especially agita-inducing endeavors for any producer looking for a return on investment, even if the film itself is strong. Stabile ran into this problem when pitching his doc to HBO, which couldn’t find a niche for it to fill. He recalls, “They were like, ‘Well, we have two markets: one that likes T&A and one that likes serious documentaries. Our programmers wouldn’t know what to do with this.’ ”