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The story behind a successful Kickstarter film project
TANUL THAKUR  19th Apr 2014

A screengrab from The World Before Her’s Kickstarter campaign

hen Nisha Pahuja's documentary, The World Before Her, was doing the rounds of film festivals around the world in late-2012, she was content with the film only releasing in the US and Canada. She didn't plan on releasing the film in India as it involved too much time and money. "I was tired of the process and wanted to move onto new stories, new ideas," says Pahuja. The World Before Her profiles two women who come from markedly different backgrounds — one training to become Miss India and the other training with a militant Hindu nationalist group, Durga Vahini. The documentary closely examines the lives of these women and what liberation means to them. "During the film's festival run, I got a call from someone established in the documentary film community saying I should release the film," says Pahuja. "And then, in December 2012, the Delhi rape case happened. I realised that I had a responsibility as a filmmaker. I felt that my film needed to reach a lot more people."

The next step was to procure funds for the film's distribution and outreach. Pahuja turned to Kickstarter — an online crowd-funded platform, which allows artists to solicit funds from people — to raise money for her film. Kickstarter has only been around for less than five years but it has already seen some impressive successes. Innocente, a documentary that won the Academy Award for the best short documentary in 2013, was funded on Kickstarter. More recently, the makers of Veronica Mars raised more than $5,70,000, which enabled its theatrical release. However, a lot of film projects on the website also sink without a trace. And since Kickstarter operates on an "all-or-nothing" model, it's far from the panacea it's often purported to be. In fact, less than 44% of the projects get completely funded, and a cursory glance at the "films and video from India" section on the website shows that only around 40% of films are fully funded.

Nervous but hopeful, in September 2013, Pahuja planned to float an ambitious Kickstarter campaign to raise CAD $ 50,000 for her film. She was unaware how certain decisions would have a bearing on the campaign's journey. "I wanted to get in touch with Anurag [Kashyap] and make him see the film but it wasn't that easy," says Pahuja. "But The Guardian had done a piece on the film, where it had put up some video clips that went viral. Anurag had seen some of those clips; he then saw the film and agreed to come on board as the presenter. This happened sometime in February." The campaign went live on 5 March 2014. The campaign was backed not only by Kashyap, but also by other acclaimed filmmakers and actors such as Deepa Mehta, Shimit Amin, Nandita Das.

On 22 December 2010, Sushrut Jain, a documentary filmmaker, floated a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for his cricket World Cup documentary, Beyond All Boundaries. To avoid Kickstarter's 5% fee, he switched to Indiegogo. But, without a known backer, both his campaigns failed to fulfil their respective targets. Two years later, Kunal Nayyar (Raj Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory) came on board as the presenter of the film. A new Kickstarter campaign was launched, and it successfully ended up raising more than $45,000. "The 'celebrity factor' can be very helpful in getting a campaign the visibility it needs," says Jain. "There's too much stuff on the web competing for your attention. If your campaign is going to be successful then you better already have a strong social media presence or find a supporter such as a celebrity who does."

But the composition of a successful Kickstarter campaign cannot entirely rely on known names. Pahuja and Mariam Zaidi (a Canadian documentary filmmaker who was instrumental in this Kickstarter campaign) wanted their campaign to have a "clear narrative". They also extensively researched the Kickstarter campaigns of two films — My Reincarnation, which raised more than $1,50,000, and Detropia, which fulfilled its target in just two weeks. Besides, they partnered with organisations such as Breakthrough, CARE, and Women Make Movies to tap into their resources. "What worked for us was that we created a well thought, well-organised page with just the right amount of information and, more importantly, a powerful and well-made pitch video," says Zaidi. "We were constantly analysing who was responding to what and where and we constantly re-strategised based on that to appeal to our audience."

Pahuja's Kickstarter campaign concluded on 14 April 2014. She ended up raising CAD $57,290, thereby easily eclipsing the target amount. Looking back, Pahuja is pleasantly surprised by the outcome: "This campaign made me realise that people are so generous. The experience was both humbling and beautiful at the same time. There are so many people out there who want to help your film, most of them without even having seen it."

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