"Crap—I need to raise $5,000 really fast." That's not something one often hears from a woman immersed in the world of debutantes. But Maria White wasn't making a documentary about typical southern belles. White's film, The Debutante Hunters, follows a wild-hog-huntin' gang of high-society ladies. When her grant money ran low, she turned to Kickstarter, the online crowd-funding site, to help her pay for equipment and postproduction (and bug spray). "Kickstarter is perfect for that," says White, who raised $5,250 in 30 days.
The Debutante Hunters is one of an astonishing 17 films that screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January and used Kickstarter to help net funding.
The platform soared in 2011: In less than six months, creators raised $50 million, equal to the sum raised on Kickstarter in the previous two years—combined. Independent filmmaking may be where Kickstarter shines brightest, perhaps because each campaign must include an explanatory video. "This is the medium we're really good at," says Lisanne Pajot, codirector of Indie Game: The Movie, which follows indie video-game developers and is another Sundance indie (how meta). Pajot and her partner, James Swirsky, did two Kickstarter campaigns to pay for the movie. More important, Kickstarter stimulates a conversation between viewer and filmmaker and creates a presold audience—something most movies covet. "Not only do these people know about our film, but they're invested in it," Swirsky says of his film's 1,600-plus donors, who have contributed almost $95,000. Trilogy, anyone?
Illustration by Timothy Goodman