With the recent announcement of Seed&Spark and Verizon FiOS teaming up to distribute independent films, I had the chance to catch up with Emily Best, founder of Seed&Spark. Below, are our exchanges on indie film, partnerships and shifts in the industry.
Q: Let’s start from the ground floor - what is Seed&Spark?
Seed&Spark is the world’s leading crowdfunding platform made just for independent film. Every time an audience member supports the making of a moving picture project (funding, following, sharing) they earn “Sparks,” which can be redeemed to watch movies on Seed&Spark’s built-in streaming platform. Supporting films lets you watch more films.
It’s, in essence, the new ecosystem for filmmakers and audiences. With the highest crowdfunding success rate in the business (84 percent) and distribution pipelines out to iTunes, Verizon FiOS, and independent cinemas across the U.S., Seed&Spark provides an unprecedented pipeline for independent filmmakers. Seed&Spark also published a semi-annual print magazine for film audiences, Bright Ideas, featuring the new and dangerous voices of truly independent cinema.
Q: Can you lend a bit to the state of indie filmmaking? What challenge and opportunities are new independent filmmakers currently facing?
Even in the very best- case scenario -- a filmmaker makes an exceptional independent film that gets into Sundance and gets picked up by a big traditional distributor -- the deals are such that the filmmaker very rarely makes money. The investors need to get paid back; the distributor recoups marketing plus their percentage; and the exhibitors typically take up to half. That best-case scenario for classic distribution happens for 0.1 percent of independent films made just in the U.S. alone each year.
That said, we all have unprecedented access to the authoring tools available to the most famous people, the biggest brands, the biggest distributors. Beyoncé has Instagram and so do I. POTUS [the president of the United States] makes YouTube videos, and so can you.
Filmmakers no longer have to pray they get into a great festival in order to get a distribution deal and catapult their career forward. They can use crowdfunding not just to fund their films, but also to prove to investors there is demand. They can distribute at very low cost through the kinds of deals we’re building with iTunes, Verizon and Emerging Pictures; control their fate; and participate in the recoupment from dollar one.
Don’t get us wrong. The technology is easy to use but building an audience is a lot of hard work (to say nothing of actually making a great film). The payoff is that you get to create the film you set out to make, the way you wanted to make it—collaborating and shifting along the way as many times as you feel necessary to create the film you want to share.
It's about time we redefined independent filmmaking for the masses: It is not about a budget level. It's about control. Let's say you are making a feature film for $50,000, but in order to get that money you gave away your ownership of the film and control over the final cut, where and how it’s distributed. That's not independent. If you raise $50,000 or $5 million from your supporters because they love what you make and trust you to make the best decisions for the film, then you have independence.
Q: How does this new distribution deal with Verizon FiOS help meet those challenges and opportunities?
Until now, filmmakers have been able to build their audience and crowdfund, even demonstrate tremendous traction, but then still have to hope to be selected by a distributor in order to get access to a platform with a huge audience, like Verizon FiOS. Now the message filmmakers can give to their audiences from the very beginning is: “You’re not only helping get this film made, you’re helping to get it seen by a large audience. In return, you, as the audience are getting the films you’d love to see. A greater diversity of films will become accessible to audiences.”
Q: What types of films will Verizon FIOS subscribers get to see?
Verizon FIOS subscribers now have the opportunity to see some truly independent films. These are stories told straight from the heart of the storytellers and on to your television, with the least interference from third-parties. These films pulse with the spirit of artists who went to tremendous lengths to bring their stories to life.
Q: How will Seed&Spark select the films?
Seed&Spark seeks out and gathers films from independent film festivals, screening series, art houses and galleries. The films selected specifically for Verizon FIOS are those that we feel most accurately portray the spirit of the independent film -- films that push boundaries without compromising integrity and quality.
This is one of the biggest opportunities to keep truly independent filmmakers moving in the right direction, and we're just getting started.
Q. What impact do you hope this partnership will have for Seed&Spark and the state of independent filmmaking?
Verizon provides a huge platform for these filmmakers and their diverse voices to reach people they would never otherwise be able to reach.
Our dream has always been to give rise to a sustaining creative middle class of creative entrepreneurs. In order to do that, we have to not only teach them how to use the tools for audience building (which we do with our nationwide #stayindietour), but we have to provide them with meaningful pipelines to monetize those audiences. And from an audience perspective, we want to deliver the exceptional, diverse voices of these phenomenal independent creators right into people’s homes. We believe this is about expanding empathy. The greater access audiences have to more, different kinds of stories, the better we understand each other over time.