Crowdfunding 201: A New Model From Seed & Spark

By Lucas McNelly

It’s a familiar scene to many filmmakers: they budget out their film, calling in favors left and right, then they launch their crowdfunding campaign and someone sends them an email that says, “Hey, I don’t have any money to give, but I’d love to help.” Invariably, that help can lower the budget. Maybe they have a location you can use for free. Or extra lenses they can loan you. Or they can edit the film for you. Suddenly, you don’t need $X.

Only, you still do.

Kickstarter doesn’t care that you suddenly found an editor that can knock a chunk off your budget. The target goal won’t change.

Enter Seed & Spark, a (very) new entrant in the crowdfunding space. I met up with them at Sundance, via mutual friends.
Probably the best way to think of what Seed & Spark (twitter) is doing is to think of a wedding registry. It looks like this:
This film needs gels and diffusion, just like everyone does. You know what? I have some gels. Chances are they’ll be sitting in a box while these people are making their movie. I could easily loan them my gels. Just like that, that gets added to the amount they’ve “raised”, even though no money has changed hands. This could be even more helpful in a hub like New York or LA or Austin, where there’s lots of filmmakers. I imagine it’ll be less helpful in Montana.

But even if you don’t have the gear, you can buy them the gear. So you could be responsible for the gels, or a day of camera rental. Or all the coffee on set. Film budgets are made up of lots of little things that add up to big things. For some people, renting the dolly tracks to make that one cool shot possible may be more appealing than just forking over some cash. Or, if you want to fork over cash, you can do that too.

The model is “most or nothing”, instead of “all or nothing”, meaning you have to raise 80% before you get what they’re calling the Green Light. The reasoning? They want your goal to be “aspirational”. Fair enough.

That’s the basis of the “Seed”, so what about the “Spark”? A spark is the reward unit of the site. You can get sparks for giving money or loaning items or sharing campaigns, really anything that’s beneficial for the filmmakers. Accumulate enough of them and you can use them to watch films on the site (50 sparks for a short, 250 for a feature).

So say you wanted to watch Peter McLarnan’s The Sound of Small Things, which played Slamdance last year. You could rent it for 3 days for either $2.99 (which is standard) or 250 sparks. As far as the filmmakers are concerned, it doesn’t matter. A “spark view” counts the same as a rental, which is nice.

Seed&Spark is attempting to be a big tent under which filmmakers can do a lot of different things. Will it catch on? Time will tell. I think the wish list aspect by itself is incredibly valuable and I like the idea of being able to turn my sharing into something tangible. Can they get traction? It’s hard to say. They’ve only been live a short time and it’s a crowded ecosystem. If they could tap into one of the bigger communities of filmmakers, it’d go a long way toward building a base, and the site seems geared toward that with the loaning function.

A widget for posting on websites (like, for example, this one) would be incredibly helpful, but I hesitate to get too picky with a site that’s still in Beta and is clearly pretty new. They’ve clearly thought through a lot of issues here and in talking to them, they seem like they’ve got a good handle on what they’re doing. I’m rooting for them. Would I run a campaign there? Maybe, and that’s a lot more than I can say for virtually every one of their competitors.

Lucas McNelly is the filmmaker behind A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. He consults on Kickstarter campaigns for a living. He hasn’t lived anywhere in a long time.

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