Without a doubt, the buzzword for the film industry for 2012 is going to be ‘crowdfunding’. Not because it hasn’t been around for a while, because it has. But because from the latter half of 2011 to date is probably the time that it has seen its biggest success when it comes to mainstream acceptance.
For those unfamiliar with the term ‘crowdfunding’, the concept was made popular a couple of years back by a website called Kickstarter, which allowed you to post a creative project (film, games, music) with a set budget goal and a set time period and allowed the crowd aka. the audience to make donations towards that budget goal in return for perks and rewards depending on the donation. If the total donations managed to reach the required budget that you posted for the project in the set time period, the campaign is successful and you get paid that money to make your film/game/album. But if it doesn’t, no one gets charged and your campaign has failed. Out of this, Kickstarter takes a small cut off the amount you end up gathering for your project should it be successful.
Now Kickstater may not be the first one to invent the concept of crowdfunding since the idea of online donations existed before, but it was the first platform to fully flesh it out and provide an infrastructure that is accessible to both artists and users as well as gives them something in return for donating towards a project. Every donation level has a perk attached to it that the user will receive, the lowest of which generally include a ‘special thanks’ in the credits or the website, a digital download or a DVD of the film, producer credit, exclusive artwork or merchandise all the way up to set visits and premiere invitations for the film depending on the amount donated. Plus, you know you’re secure because if the project doesn’t end up reaching its goal, no one gets paid and you don’t get charged with the risk that the filmmaker will take whatever incomplete funding he received and do nothing with it.The platform led to some landmark success stories – so many that you wouldn’t believe.
Crowdfunding in UAE
But for Middle East-based filmmakers like me as well as audiences from here, there was a problem. Kickstarter is primarily a US based site and caters only to artists within the United States. There’s hardly any working around it, because they require you to enter a US based credit card to register your project. Though audiences can still fund the projects from around the world, this means that even UAE audiences are stuck supporting projects seven seas apart. Though there have been some landmark projects from the States in the past, it’s much more satisfying and personal to support projects from the region you reside in because you can track the project as well as avail the high-end perks without spending much bank. Indiegogo is a site that actually allows filmmakers from around the world to post a project onto it but it operates with different rules and takes a higher cut of your donations. Not to mention there’s no sort of localisation to begin with.
What’s needed is a platform custom built for regional artists who can post up their projects and directly reach out to their regional audience for support.
I’ve been following Aflamnah since the very beginning that it was announced through a press release. It promises to be the Kickstarter of the Arab world, and it doesn’t need to promise anything more than that because that’s exactly what is needed. It’s filling in a gap and quite a few regional filmmakers are very positively responding to it. As it’s July 1st launch drew closer, I began to do my research on the website and found out that it has great plans for the film industry here among other arts and the founders are really pushing it forward.
But that got me thinking.
In the States, the film industry is quite different. In fact, it’s the biggest in the world. There are hundreds of studios and production companies that make close to thousands of films every year be it big studio pictures or independent low-budget films. It’s a self sustaining industry that has stood the test of time and their independent sector is rising faster than ever.
The UAE film industry however, for the lack of a better word, is in its infancy. Sure, we’ve all seen ‘City of Life’ and ‘Sea Shadow’ (both excellent films on their own right) but one released back in 2009 and the other last year in 2011. One movie every two years does not a film industry make. Even in terms of short films, we have quite a few great ones playing at the Gulf Film Festival every year but that’s pretty much it. For whatever reasons that may be another blog post entirely, our industry has a long way to go in terms of steadily producing content for an audience to consume.
So my question is this.
Will it work?
What are the prospects of crowdfunding in a region where the industry hasn’t really found its footing? Sure, filmmakers can jump the bandwagon and quickly post their projects on the website asking for funds. But is there really an audience that is passionate in funding projects online? Is the mindset of crowdfunding in return of perks lost upon them and they see it as begging or asking for money? Will the audiences be receptive to such a kind of service here in this country considering the host of nationalities and cultures that Middle East holds?
I’m not claiming to have an answer to this question because I’m in the same boat as you guys, but it’s a question worth asking before you jump to put your project online. It’s important for you to know what makes your project unique and what niche does it really target. After that, it’s all upon you and your team to heavily market it and reach that audience that you think will find it personal and will contribute to the project.
As for myself, I’m really interested to see how this turns out and the projects that have currently launched on the site certainly are appealing and high-profile ones are present as well. I’m not going to post a project in the very near future on the platform, because most of the scripts that I have in development are very genre films that have an element of secrecy and mystery around them which I think doesn’t work that well when you try to crowdfund them since you have to lay your project bare and let your audience know what they’re putting their money into. I have particular scripts in the works that can greatly benefit from a platform like Aflamnah so we’ll see how that works out. So make sure that the project you put up there is best suited for the concept of crowdfunding.
But instead of speculating on my own, I decided to directly reach out to the guys at Aflamnah with some of the burning questions I had about the service and they were kind enough to reply. Read their thoughts about the prospects of crowdfunding, the UAE film industry and more below.
An Interview with Aflamnah
Can you introduce us to Aflamnah and what it offers to artists in the region?
Aflamnah is a digital platform which helps independent filmmakers, artists, scientists, students, innovators, entrepreneurs, thinkers and more to raise funds for their ideas by getting people excited enough to support them by giving money online so that the project can actually happen.
Who is Aflamnah for?
Anyone who is thinking of doing something related to the Arab region or aimed at the Arab world and who wants to raise funding for their idea. It is also for anybody who would like to support these ideas because they fall in love with an idea, they just want to give something back to the community or they are helping someone they know.
Why the name Aflamnah?
Aflamnah means “our films” when literally translated but it also has a broader connotation in colloquial Arabic, meaning more of a collective of stories. It is this latter meaning that we want to capture. We want Aflamnah to eventually encapsulate the meaning of a collective helping each other bring worthy ideas to life.
What are your thoughts on crowdfunding in general? How do you think it has evolved over the years?
It’s an interesting, alternative way of doing things but it also complements existing sources of funding which appeals to all parties. While I use the word alternative, in many parts of the world it has become mainstream. 10% of the films at Sundance and Cannes this year had benefitted from crowdfunding to some extent. The internet and social connectivity has made it a much easier way of reaching out and getting people behind your idea if they like it.
As a filmmaker myself, I’m interested to know your thoughts on the UAE film industry. And do you think crowdfunding will bolster it in any way?
The UAE’s film industry has grown phenomenally in the past five years but there is still plenty of room for growth in terms of numbers of films being produced per year and the number of newcomers that enter the field. We hope crowdfunding will make a difference across the Arab world – what I hope it will do is provide an additional way of getting a film made and where funding is tight, a way to get the money needed to enhance the quality of the finished product.
Why do you think artists and filmmakers should embrace this method of funding as opposed to traditional ones?
I think both types of funding should be pursued and it really is not a case of either traditional or crowdfunding. What crowdfunding does offer is an ability to market your idea before it even gets made and garner a following who will be willing you to succeed. What’s more, they will either buy your product or watch your movie and will help you spread the word and create hype if the owner of the idea develops a carefully planned dialogue with the audience. It is also a great feedback tool – you can ask for feedback, engage people and give them reasons to talk about you.
Crowdfunding has seen major success recently with websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but those are primarily US based sites. What does Aflamnah do differently in the region?
We provide the right context. People visiting Aflamnah are predisposed to our culture and language and stories. They will not be looking at things that they do not relate to which has perhaps been the largest challenge when Arab artists have used international crowdfunding sites. We also have an Arabic version of the site planned.
The success of a crowdfunding platform very much depends on how willing people of the region are on funding creative endeavors over the internet this way since they have to shed their inhibitions of sending money online. We’ve seen this working very well internationally, but do you think UAE audiences are also just as likely to embrace and participate in crowdfunding?
Aflamnah is open to the world so it is not just about whether UAE audiences are willing to take the plunge or not. And the challenges in other parts of the Arab world are even greater than those faced in the UAE. This will be an education process and we are delighted to be the first initiative to give it a go. Ecommerce in this part of the world is growing quickly and people’s confidence and ability to buy online is probably on the brink of a huge growth burst and we hope that Aflamnah will give people yet another reason to find ways to get involved in the world of e-commerce.
Can you tell me what kind of localization will we see with Aflamnah which will make it convenient and accessible for artists and users in the region?
It will be available in Arabic as soon after launch as humanly possible. That’s a big thing for us. It will also be searchable by countries of interest to you in the region. Many of the ideas owners will be of Arab origin and if they are not they will either be resident here or demonstrate a keen interest in our culture and world. So all in all, the entire site will be relevant.
Can you briefly explain the rules and process of a crowd-funding campaign on Aflamnah for those unfamiliar with how this usually works?
People who want to raise money for their idea need to share the idea by giving us information in the form of a video and some written information about their project: essentially they pitch! They will share the idea, the story, the why and what for, the budget, how much money they need (they set themselves a target) and what for (what are they going to do with this money?).They also have to create rewards associated with their project. The minimum reward is a thank you on the Aflamnah website. Rewards are a hugely important part of any crowdfunding campaign. People can and should get creative with these: if you have an end product such as a game or a DVD of the film or a piece of clothing or jewellery, this is an excellent route to presales and campaigns can exceed their targets substantially as a result. Of course the idea owner must ensure they can deliver the end product as obviously there are costs involved in shipping etc. Other types of rewards that are also popular are the kind that you cannot normally buy such as a day on a movie set, a walk on part, a skype call with an actor or director or artist, a credit on a film or music video etc… the options are endless.
Once they are happy with their pitch and their rewards, they submit their idea and we ensure they are eligible and then it is up to them to go live. They have 28 days to run their campaign and they will have to spend time every day spreading the word, encouraging people, inviting heir friends to take part, generating some PR – and encouraging people to take part . They need to activate their networks through all the avenues available to them: social networks, colleagues, friends, family, local press and radio and any which way they can to get people to find out more and support them.
At the end of the 28 days, they will get whatever money they have raised.
What kind of payment options do people have when funding a project? And what kind of fees will Aflamnah take when a project is completed?
There will be a number of options including credit card and also money transfer options and as we progress more options will be added.
Can you talk about some of the projects that will be featured on Aflamnah as it launches on July 1st?
You can see them all online now. Three of the projects that were announced in Cannes are as follows but we launched with 6 ideas on day one and enquiries every day and more ideas being worked on.
These include we announced were Annemarie Jacir’s “When I Saw You” which will be raising funds for distribution and marketing. Annemarie Jacir’s When I Saw You http://www.philistinefilms.org/resume.htmlhttp://www.whenisawyou.com/index.html The film is complete. Annemarie’s award winning first film Salt of this Sea was in Cannes Un Certain Regard in 2008 http://www.festival-cannes.fr/en/archives/ficheFilm/id/10771496/year/2008.html For awards see this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_of_this_Sea
Dima Hamdan’s The Kidnap – in final stages of development. Raising money for production http://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/film/film-award-is-divided-between-two-writers; http://www.varietyarabia.com/Docs.Viewer/e6e1c5f8-a451-42c4-bca0-2a5cf34ce689/default.aspxhttps://www.facebook.com/TheKidnap
Amar Chebib and Dima Alansari – Wajd:Music, Politics and Ecstacy – in post production and will be raising money to complete post. Documentary about the history of Arab music http://www.doxafestival.ca/festival/films/just-beyond-hope The film is produced by Dima Alansari of Salam Filmshttp://www.salamfilms.com/https://www.facebook.com/salamfilms?ref=ts
Lastly, do you have any success tips for filmmakers and artists that are considering doing a crowdfunding campaign on Aflamnah?
Plan, plan, plan and be creative. At launch I would recommend that anyone considering joining us should go through the Aflamnah Academy which is full of helpful advice on how to make the most of the opportunity of crowdfunding. And if people need help, want to ask questions, want to bounce around their ideas, the Aflamnah team is ready and willing to engage with them.
Best of luck with your platform!
Thanks for your support too. We are very excited too.
So there you have it. I tend to agree with most of the things they said, especially the fact that e-commerce sites and their rise in the region recently will definitely make audiences more comfortable with making a transaction online. And their advice to filmmakers thinking of launching a campaign is gold, because planning is everything.
The website can be accessed here. Check it out and see the kind of platform that it is and the kind of projects that are there at the moment.
Until next time.