Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Equity Crowdfunding of Film—Now Playing at a Computer near You *

Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Equity Crowdfunding of Film—Now Playing at a Computer near You *

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

In 1999, The Blair Witch Project shocked Hollywood and the entire filmgoing world.1 The film portrays the alleged "found footage" of a documentary made by three film students who ventured into woods believed to be haunted by the ghost of an eighteenth-century witch.2 While there are elements of the plot and premise that are undoubtedly shocking and startling, the real surprise was the film's enormous commercial success despite filming on such a limited budget.3 Reportedly made on a production budget of just $30,000,4 the film grossed an astonishing $248,639,099 at the worldwide box office.5 Focusing on these numbers, a hypothetical $1,000 investment in The Blair Witch Project would bring the investor a return of over $4 million. Of course, determining a movie's profits involves considerably more than simply subtracting the production budget from the box office returns.6 Yet, the numbers illustrate the point that movies made on small budgets have the potential to bring huge returns on relatively small investments.

While these high returns may attract any person with a disposable income looking to invest, film finance has traditionally been an activity reserved for only the wealthiest Americans.7 Until recently, if unknown filmmakers wanted to break into the industry, getting their movie produced often meant courting the friendship of rich individuals in the hopes that they would invest.8 Some people have even suggested that the influence these wealthy benefactors wield by backing movies contributes to Hollywood's lack of diversity, which shrouded the 2016 Academy Awards in controversy.9 With the advent of the Internet and the rise of social media, a new method of funding films not requiring a filmmaker to pander to wealthy individuals is becoming increasingly popular: crowdfunding.10

Crowdfunding, as its name would suggest, refers to the raising of capital through "relatively small contributions from a large number of people."11 The concept of crowdfunding is not technically new, as charities, politicians, and nonprofits have employed this method for years.12 The concept really exploded in popularity, though, when websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo gave aspiring inventers, entrepreneurs, and artists an open forum to pitch their ideas to the world in the hopes of receiving funding.13 A "creator," be it in connection with a film, an invention, art, or any number of other projects that require raising capital, generates a listing that describes her project to potential "backers" browsing the site.14 The creator sets a fundraising goal and backers can pledge money to her project.15 The backer is only charged the amount of her promised contribution if and when the project reaches its fundraising goal.16 The vast majority of pledges on these sites are relatively small; the median pledge on Kickstarter is only $25.17 As of February 2017, Kickstarter, founded in 2009, has successfully funded over 117,000 projects with over $2.8 billion pledged to these projects.18

Film projects already make up a substantial number of the projects on these sites. In 2014, 3,846 film and video projects were successfully funded on Kickstarter, second only to music projects.19 It is not just small-time filmmakers using these sites to fund low-budget projects. Over 90,000 fans of the TV show Veronica Mars gave $5.7 million to fund a movie based on the show, which was taken off the air seven years earlier.20 Additionally, since 2011, at least one Kickstarter film has been nominated for an Academy Award each year, with three crowdfunded projects nominated in 2016.21 While these sites allow fans and film buffs to give money to fund projects, they do not allow the backer to actually invest in the project and share in any profits the movies might have.22 Rather, in exchange for the donation, the filmmaker usually offers the backer some sort of reward.23 For the Veronica Mars movie, for example, rewards ranged from a PDF of the movie script for a $10 donation to a speaking part in the film in exchange for a $10,000 pledge. …

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