Peter Storey, the man behind Greenlit, a new crowdfunding platform designed specifically with filmmakers in mind, talks to us about the roots of the platform, what makes it different from the established players out there, and a special offer just for Exit 6 readers.
What is Greenlit? What motivated you to launch it?
Greenlit is a new crowdfunding platform dedicated to supporting film projects - and only film projects. It’s my belief that crowdfunding is an incredibly powerful tool, not just for raising money, but for finding audiences and communities. I come from a filmmaking background, and I’ve always felt an affinity with the collaborative nature of film and, of course, the people. After a stint working in technology and finance, it was kind of a homecoming to start putting it together.
What makes Greenlit different from other crowdfunding platforms?
When I was originally writing the business plan, I spoke to dozens of producers who’d done campaigns with the other platforms, and looked very closely at how those platforms functioned. The fundamental problem with them is that, in their eyes, you and your project are just commodities. They don’t really care whether your individual project succeeds or not; they deal in volume, with a one-size-fits-all approach, whether you’re a short film or a taco truck. There’s also very little support – sure you can read a blog post or watch some videos, but largely you’re on your own as a producer. What we do is help with the planning, the strategy and the delivery of the campaign, we have training and tools available, and those are evolving all the time.
We’re also trying to build a proper community, of both filmmakers and supporters. If we can share knowledge and resources, then it makes all of us stronger. Specialising in film allows us to do that in a way that the generic crowdfunding platforms can’t – there’s no love of the craft, or of the people that are out there making films. We’re also distinctly British – which gives us a very strong local perspective, although I’m pleasantly surprised that we have projects coming up from British-based producers shooting in the USA, Canada and across Europe.
The final insight is that the relationship between filmmaker and backer is not just the former trying to get the latter to open their wallets. It’s about a proper relationship and community. If you treat your backers and prospective backers the right way, and understand their needs, then you can turn them in your audience, your advocates, your superfans - and not just for this film, but the next one, and through your career.
A campaign for a feature film of the story of Boudica is now live on the site. Can you tell us about this, and how it became Greenlit’s first project?
I was very lucky to get Boudica as our first project. The director Giles Alderson is a friend of mine, and as well as being a very experienced filmmaker, he knows crowdfunding. In fact he’s just raised £75k for his documentary Food For Thought – for which we helped with the campaign but our platform wasn’t quite live in time to host it. He’s also known for The Filmmakers Podcast and has been a big supporter of Greenlit as we were pulling things together.
Giles then introduced me to the writer-producer, Anna Ruben, a talented and very highly motivated individual. She had real passion for the project and the story, and we worked on putting the campaign together. That’s now live on Greenlit, so please check it out and support the team. There are also some seriously good rewards to be had
What are the fees for using the platform?
We’ve kept the fees for the platform the same as Kickstarter or Indiegogo at 5% or the target amount, plus the credit card costs, which generally are 1.4%. The difference is that we want to try and earn our money, by helping filmmakers both with the campaign and production.
We’ve also got a hand-picked group of partners offering services that producers may also need – legal and financial services, script consultancy, kit, social media management, and we’re adding to the list all the time. They’ll be happy to advise, and can offer discounted rates if you continue using their services.
What kind of projects are you looking to support?
We’re completely agnostic when it comes to genre, length, stage of production or subject matter. Some things, like documentaries or horror, lend themselves to crowdfunding, while other projects may need a bit more work. We’re happy to advise and help tailor a campaign.
We do expect producers to be committed, though. We also have a growing community of backers and supporters to look out for, so we need to be confident that the filmmakers are going to deliver what they say they will, broadly on time and on budget. Our approach is probably not right for complete first-timers without a decent reel. Crowdfunding, done right, is also a lot of work, so we need producers to understand and be prepared for that.
You also host a series of workshops and events about crowdfunding. Can you tell us more about those?
One of the things I found out early on is that many producers are unprepared to run a crowdfunding campaign. Those who have come from a production management or creative role have no grasp on marketing, and indeed often think of it as almost being a dirty word, something tacked on to their vision, like the old Orange Film Board adverts.
What we help people understand is that their brand, and their marketing, is the same message that they want to express and communicate as a filmmaker. Most creators go through the hell of getting stuff made because they have a burning need to tell stories, to say something about the world. Greenlit’s strategy is to help you understand how to communicate that in different ways, in different media. It’s a powerful insight, and one that’s essential for crowdfunding.
We also deal with the practical elements of a campaign – who does what, how you share information, how you schedule and manage individual tasks. We also cover aspects such as how to construct a social media campaign and how to deal with press. There are plenty of resources out there, but a lot of them are missing really fundamental things a producer needs to know, and we’ve had a really good response from producers.
I run courses out of City University in London, and have also taught at film schools and post-graduate institutions up and down the country. I’m running the class again over 2 sessions, on the 24th April and 1st May. Anyone reading this can use the code EXIT650 to get tickets half-price, for £40, and if you then go on to run a successful campaign for your film on Greenlit, we’ll refund all your training costs. Can’t say fairer than that!
Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your experience in the industry?
When I was at drama school back in the 90s, I found a bit of a niche for myself doing stage lighting. After I graduated, I started working as a gaffer on a few student films – interestingly with a bunch of people who are now some of the biggest names in the industry. I worked my way up through the ranks onto bigger and better productions, but what never left me was my love of the business – the collaborative nature, a bunch of people with hugely different skills and trades coming together like the Seven Samurai to create this vision out of nothing.
Fun as that was, I always had an entrepreneurial itch, so I hung up my gloves and did an MBA in Finance. Not a completely traditional career path, but engineering and spreadsheets are not exactly miles apart. I then worked in film finance, organising co-productions across Europe, with Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia. It was an interesting time in the 00s, because the whole film industry was propped up by tax breaks for rich people. It was like Mel Brooks and The Producers – the worst possible outcome was a modestly profitable film. It either had to smash it out of the park, or be buried at the bottom of the garden.
Of course, that all came to an end, and the repercussions are still rumbling on, but at the time I found it really frustrating as nobody was backing film without some ulterior motive. I always felt that there could be an honest system where filmmakers and backers can talk to one another, that the risks are understood, and that people could go on this crazy journey of making a film.
What is it that excites you most about Greenlit?
I think filmmaking is in my blood, I’d been away from the industry for a while, but never lost my enthusiasm for the passionate, sincere people who are out there hustling, baring their souls to get their stuff made. To use the things that I do well, finance and technology, to help those guys and girls is a complete buzz for me.
I’m also excited about hearing some new voices and driving proper diversity. The public-sector institutions that have had an outsize influence on the film business are conservative places. There are some great people there, but the organisations themselves, and their schemes and initiatives are all pretty unimaginative. If you’re a filmmaker with a bit of entrepreneurial spirit, then I’d like to help you build some opportunities for yourself, not have to wait for someone else’s permissions or patronage.
What’s your long term goal for the platform?
So we’re starting out as a rewards-based platform, the same as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Producers post their projects and reward backers with swag or experiences. This is the simplest form of crowdfunding, and it’s a well-proven model, everyone pretty much understands that.
By the end of summer, we intend to start offering equity investments in films, where backers can actually participate and gain a share of the (potential) profits. This is a very heavily regulated activity, so we’re investing quite a lot to be able to deliver this. It’s also an area of finance that has had problems, there have been a lot of unscrupulous producers taking backing and not spending the money on what was promised. So we have the challenge of educating people on how film really works as an investment, and providing the reassurance that we’re also looking out for investors as well as the filmmakers.
Crowdfunding often has a bit of an image problem – it’s what you do if you can’t raise the money elsewhere. My real goal Is to smash that prejudice and convince the industry of its effectiveness as a marketing and audience development tool. We want to work with the grassroots, and also engage more prestigious, bigger-budgeted projects as well.
You can follow Peter on Twitter: @Storey7
You can follow Greenlit on Twitter: @GreenlitFund
Visit the Greenlit website for more information.