Zero Charisma races towards SXSW, crowdfunding its finish


In the last few years, crowdfunding has become a big thing. A really, really big thing. Although our game-loving readers probably pay more attention to the awesome-looking games that are constantly being Kickstarted and Indiegogo’d and whatever, there are all kinds of things that people are putting out there. For my part, I’ve helped fund everything from camera straps to fancy marshmallows

But this isn’t about all that. It’s about movies, and one movie in particular: Zero Charisma, which will be world premiering on March 11th at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival. It’s been a long road for filmmakers Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews, but it’s almost over. In ten days, Zero Charisma‘s second (and final) Indiegogo campaign will end. The pair is looking for finishing funds to get everything to look and sound pretty for the big show. With the clock ticking down, I got a chance to ask the filmmakers a few questions about the campaign and about crowdfunding in general.

Above is a six-second teaser of Zero Charisma posted in April 2011 to coincide with the launch of the first Indiegogo campaign. Unfortunately, the original page has been taken down, so it loses some of its context, but the video remains. Anyways, I like it. Graham and Matthews have worked together on two documentaries. They were director of photography  and editor respectively on Best Worst Movie (about the wonderful film Troll 2) and The American Scream. The pair wanted to collaborate on their first narrative film, and they turned to crowdfunding to make that a reality. They asked for $15,000 in pre-production funding to get the ball rolling, and the campaign closed with $25,150. You should check out the film’s Facebook timeline and go back to then. It’s cute to watch how the number of exclamation points/caps-locked words in each status update correlates to the funding they had received up to that point.

After receiving a $5,000 grant from the Texas Filmmakers’s Production Fund courtesy of The Austin Film Society, Graham and Matthews were well on their way to making the film, a comedy about a tabletop RPG Game Master whose world is turned upside down by a know-it-all hipster. There’s probably some obnoxious joke about ironic villainy in there, but I’m not clever enough to make it.

Fast forward to now: the film is (mostly) done. Everything was shot and edited last year, and now it’s down to the final sprint. Above is the new trailer for Zero Charisma, and you know what? It looks pretty good. But there are still a few things that need to be done. According to Graham, “The money we’ve already raised has gone to a color correct session, music licensing, and a portion of our music composition,” but there’s still plenty left do do. Graham and Matthews still need money for a proper sound mix, which is oh do important and oh so difficult, and then there are all of those costs that you don’t really think about: “poster design, legal costs, insurance, marketing, and PR.” I should add that it’s because of those PR dollars that I learned about Zero Charisma‘s existence. Money well spent. Maybe.

To be perfectly honest, this thing you’re reading is free publicity for the film, and so are the myriad stories relating to this and other projects featured elsewhere. Many people heard about Zero Charisma back when it was just a concept, and that was because of stories like these. It gets people interested, intrigued, and possibly willing to open their wallets. That’s a big part of why Graham and Matthews decided to crowdfund in the first place. Sure, a relatively wealthy private investor can give you the money to make a movie, but having that money come from hundreds of people is far more invigorating.

It boils down to two concepts: “exposure and confidence,” says Matthews. “Not only is that fantastic public awareness for a film this small, but it’s a tremendous boost to our confidence that we have something on our hands that a lot of people, at least in theory, will want to see. In some ways, that’s worth more than money.”

Zero Charisma

It seems that crowdfunding sites are the proper place to go for a film like Zero Charisma. Movies about, for lack of a better term, nerds tend to be niche at best. When the primary pastime of said nerds is playing tabletop RPGs, that audience shrinks even further. Crowdfunding platforms attract creative types, as well as those of us who spend far too much time on the internet. Both of those groups are likely to be more interested in a film like Zero Charisma than a random sample from the general population.

But when I think of crowdfunding sites, I think of Kickstarter. Indiegogo is a thing that I’m aware of, but it’s not something I check with any regularity. Kickstarter just seems to be more popular, at least in the United States. (Kickstarter campaigns can only be made from the US or UK; Indiegogo campaigns have been made in over 200 countries/regions).

But there is one key difference between Kickstarter and Indiegogo that I was unaware of. The all-or-nothing “Fixed Funding” approach of Kickstarter means that getting the final few dollars can be incredibly nerve-racking. On Kickstarter, a $30,000 campaign like Zero Charisma will only get funded if the goal is met. There have been issues with pledges being pulled at the last minute which have caused otherwise-successful campaigns to fail. With Indiegogo, “Flexible Funding” options are available.

Indie film

Like Kickstarter, Indiegogo does have a “Fixed Funding” system, where money will only be dispensed if the goal is met. This makes sense in cases where not hitting the funding goal could actually backfire, for example where a project creator might be unable to afford production requirements. In the case of other projects, “Flexible Funding” means that campaign starters will get their money regardless of the final amount raised. There is a caveat, however: Indiegogo’s cut of the pledges more than doubles (9% versus 4%) for campaigns that don’t hit their goal.

Zero Charisma is flexibly funded, because when the finish line is so close, not meeting the goal is unfortunate, but getting nothing would be much worse. It’s not just about the money, though; there’s also the feeling of connection. “We had such a successful campaign in 2011, it would have felt wrong to go with another crowdfunding website,” Graham said.

Zero Charisma film

But crowdfunding isn’t as easy as just having an idea, writing a compelling pitch, and then sitting back and watching the cash roll in. When asked about the unforeseen challenges of making things work, Matthews said, “Managing a successful crowdfunding campaign can sometimes feel like a full-time job, and if you’re the kind of person who can hire people to do that work for you, you probably don’t need to crowdfund in the first place!”

He also had some advice to filmmakers who might turn to crowdfunding in the future: “It’s important to know what you’re getting into, especially if you plan on managing the campaign while working on the film, which can quickly turn into a multitasking nightmare. Also, if you’re the kind of filmmaker that likes to keep your cards close to your chest, it might feel uncomfortable. There’s just no way you can get support from strangers without sharing a lot of details about your project and your process.”

Zero Charisma film

Right now, Graham and Matthews are slightly more than one-third of the way towards their goal. A lot can happen in ten days, and hopefully the funding goal will be met. I mean, who doesn’t love an indie success story. But in the unfortunate event that Indiegogo takes 9% from their earnings rather than 4%, it won’t be the end of the world.

When asked about that possibility, Graham said, “We’ll think of something! Being resourceful is part of filmmaking. I’m crossing my fingers it won’t come to that.”

If you want to help get Zero Charisma meets its goal, head on over to the film’s Indiegogo page. I wish them the best of luck.