Steven Markovitz is one of Africa’s greatest producers of documentaries, short films and festivals. With over 20 years of experience, Steven is the founder of production company, Big World, and is also the producer of the short film, Inja/Dog which received an Oscar nomination in 2003. Steven’s latest project is Rollaball – a film that focuses on men in Ghana with Polio who play soccer. He recently pitched his project on Kickstarter in the hopes of getting funding to produce the movie. We chat to him about crowdsourcing, funding and why coming from South Africa may be a disadvantage.
How did the idea come about for the movie RollaBall?
Eddie Edwards and I work across Africa in film and television, independently from each other. We are always looking for new stories to tell. When Eddie was in Ghana on a job, he came across these guys and started filming them. When he showed me the footage, we were both convinced that there is a great film to be made.
Why did you choose to use Kickstarter as a platform as opposed to a local platform such as Crowdfunding?
Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. There are others that are also good platforms but Kickstarter has the most prominent brand. When we compared the amounts, and what projects like ours were raising on other platforms, it was clear Kickstarter gave us the best odds of making our target. It also has a rule that if you don’t meet your target you lose everything. While this is nerve-racking, it does create more pressure on the film-maker and the contributors to succeed.
What led you to the decision to use crowdsourcing instead of approaching angel investors?
Running a crowdsourcing campaign has a number of aims. The one is to raise money of course. But equally as important, is to build an audience for your film before you have made it. The campaign allows you to harness communities of interest for your film who will champion your film when it gets released. Essentially, one finds ambassadors for the film. It also brings angel investors out the woodwork.
Do you think that being a South African and having an African project, helped or hindered your response from the community?
Being an African project is a major disadvantage. There is hardly any practice of pledging money online for creative projects in Africa. One has to educate people about it – that it is safe and an acceptable way to support projects. I think it will definitely grow on the continent as the middle class grows and internet speeds up. A big market is Africans in the diaspora. They have an enormous interest in the continent and disposable income. Studies have shown that the geographical location of the team has a big influence on its success. So, projects in San Francisco and New York have a far greater chance of success than say, Cape Town. In those big American cities there are scores of creatives who support each other and who visit Kickstarter regularly, where the website geo-targets nearby projects to its visitors. We are only beginning in South Africa. That being said, we generated a lot of curiosity amongst worldwide media with articles published in Indonesia, Brazil, Poland, Italy and USA. There is an interest in certain kinds of stories from Africa.
What was your experience like using Kickstarter and what do you think were the benefits beyond the funding?
Kickstarter are user-friendly and supportive. They gave us great advice and guided us where we needed help. The benefit, as I said previously, was that we have succeeded in building an audience for the film. I think platforms like Kickstarter are changing the way films get made. The old system gave the power to commissioning editors of TV stations to decide what people get to see. Now audiences are backing films that they want to see. It also brings film-makers closer to their audience and allows us to interact with them from an early stage without going through gatekeepers. Our Kickstarter campaign serves as amazing market research for both us and potential investors going forward.
How does Kickstarter make profit? Do they claim a percentage if you reach your target? What if you don’t?
Kickstarter takes a percentage of your target, between 3 and 5%, plus Amazon payments takes 5%. If you don’t make your target they get nothing. So we are all in it together. They want to see your project succeed. That is why they have a vested interest and will give you great advice.
Congratulations on reaching your goal. Where to from here?
Thank you. Now we will shoot the bulk of the film over the next few months. The money we raised from Kickstarter is not the entire budget for the film. We are continuously applying for funds all over the world and interacting with broadcasters and sales agents about the film. We still have a long road ahead, but the crowdsourcing campaign has created a lot of momentum for the project.
Having gone through this experience, what would be your piece of advice to entrepreneurs that are trying to receive funding?
It is a lot of hard work. It took four or five of us about 4 months of work to get to this point. Don’t wait for people to come to you, get out there and create awareness of your project. It will attract others. Build communities of interest. Think who would really care about your project and go after them. Don’t rely only on family and friends, go far and wide and dream big. Rollaball is about polio survivors who play soccer on skateboards in West Africa. So we targeted people who had an interest in the story. For example, Mia Farrow had polio as a child. We got endorsement from Ghanaian football stars that play for Real Madrid and AC Milan and have big followings. We got endorsements from Disability and Polio survivor organisations with vast international networks.
My other advice is to find events that you can spin the story around. We waited for the Paralympics when there was a lot of awareness about sports people living with disabilities. Find a media angle for your story and work it. The shorter the campaign the better; it is proven that the most successful campaigns are thirty days. The most interest in your project is in the first week and the last week but you have to keep momentum in the middle. The longer the campaign the more work it is but no guarantee of success. The real work is in the planning and pre-production. Be positive and grateful for every contribution. Never be bitter, aggressive or desperate.
Thank you for your great advice, Steven. We wish you well with the Rollaball movie and look forward to seeing the product of a great crowdsourcing initiative. Follow Steven on Twitter here, and find out more about the film here.