Jeff Steele on Huffington Post wrote this amazing article about a new trend in film financing using the internet. He does a terrific job covering the ins and outs of Tribe Financing.
It’s a brave new tactic that promises to change who and what gets independently financed in the near future.
In reality internet film financing is really hampered compared to other forms of internet funding. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama rocked the political landscape with a grassroots, internet-funded campaign that seemed like it could fund the next "Avatar" movie.
As Steele points out, movie financing is severely limited by the SEC, so while any yahoo can apparently trade a security backed by predatory mortgages, movie people still have to stick to “Friends and Friends of Friends” for their initial financing.
Perhaps Steele is correct and the new internet model will replace F and FoF. Tribe Financing is cropping up more and more. Several of my Twitter buddies including @NoRestrictions, @FilmTiki and @TravisLegge have used or are using some form of Tribe Financing for their projects. I imagine it will be quite a boon to indie artists like Jim Jarmusch and John Sayles. It’s really a pity Robert Altman didn’t live longer. He would have loved this.
But there’s one group above all others that can really take advantage of Tribe Financing. Enter the Geeks!
Back in 2002, actress Amber Benson from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" partially financed her indie film "Chance" with help from her fans. Mea culpa, at the time I heard about her financing strategy I thought it was a mistake. At that time I was hanging around a lot of people who were in the middle of financing their indie projects the “correct” way.
I heard about DVD and foreign pre-sales. I attended a friend’s script reading pitch to a group of friends. That, I thought, was how you do it. But lo and behold it’s eight years later, DVD and foreign pre-sales are nowhere to be found and Ms. Benson can claim to be a bona fide pioneer of Swag and Tribe Financing. (She should think about hitting the lecture circuit!)
I’m sure it wasn’t her goal to be a groundbreaker and that it was simply done out of necessity. But while it may not have been intentional, it was no accident either. Ms. Benson was able to finance her film because her fans were geeks.
You hear business people lamenting all the time that internet interest doesn’t equal financial commitment. People look but they don’t buy.
But geeks buy all the time. That’s how comics and collectible stores stay open. A geek is basically a fan who takes action. He or she doesn’t just sit back passively enjoy but rather must take part in the adventure somehow. Fan-produced websites and Youtube videos, Fan Fic, comic tie-ins, action figures, resin maquettes -- all these products are made because there are geeks to buy them. And if they’re willing to shell out money for a scale model bust, they’re probably willing to shell out seed money for a project.
Granted, this sense of ownership does go way too far and results in the scary fan. But who said life was perfect?
So what does this mean for film financing? It means actors who have strong geek followings are in good position to take advantage of Tribe Financing.
Jensen Ackles and David Tennant might not be considered A-listers by studios. The foreign financiers may prefer Christian Slater or Wesley Snipes. But because of their shows they have a base to draw on, as long as the SEC rules are followed, and can probably raise the first 20 percent to get them started and maybe more than that.
This applies to properties as well. The graphic novel "Chew" or Anthony David Durham’s "War With the Mein" for example, have a better chance of getting Tribe Financed through their fans than may the survive the torturous development process that is Hollywood.
The difference is in the kind of fan an actor or a property has. "How I Met Your Mother" is an amazing sitcom, but nobody’s made a resin maquette of Barney. Though it would be awesome if they did.