“We pretty much called in every favour we had,” the Granger brothers say of their film, which they describe as a "live-action Muppet Show done in the way of South Park.”

Online crowd funding site brings Vancouver indie filmmakers’ dreams to life.

So you want to make a film – and why not? Equipment is better and cheaper than ever, decent editing programs are practically free and there’s no shortage of actors willing to exchange personal time for screen time. But still, no matter how much you beg, borrow and steal, at some point you’re going to have to shell out some actual cash. And for that, a growing number of independent filmmakers are turning to the social web.

Consider North Vancouver brothers Matt and Mikey Granger. After nearly a decade working on big-name films including X-Men and Good Luck Chuck and winning a short-film contest judged by Quentin Tarantino, the brothers, aged 37 and 29 respectively, figured they’d accrued some good karma that would help them produce their long-planned TV pilot, The Charlie da Clown Show.

“We pretty much called in every favour we had,” the older brother says of the project, described by the younger as “a live-action Muppet Show done in the way of South Park.” Their network didn’t let them down. The brothers estimate they wrangled $60,000 to $70,000 worth of talent, equipment and production skills free of charge for their shoot, which as this issue went to press was scheduled for August. Yet the pair still needed another $6,000 in cash to cover location fees and insurance, not to mention to feed all those people willing to work without pay. 

The solution came via one of their 550 Facebook fans, who suggested they set up an account on San Francisco-based crowd-funding website IndieGoGo​.com. Established in 2008, the site allows anyone to make financial contributions to creative projects, such as films, books and live performances, in exchange for perks such as production credit, free DVDs or homemade art. The site takes a nine per cent cut of funds raised if the campaign doesn’t meet its goal and only four per cent if the project does meet its goal. (The Grangers surpassed their goal handily, raising $7,335 by the end of June.) 

IndieGoGo has also proved handy for Port Coquitlam-based filmmaker Timo Puolitaipale, 37, who raised $1,000, 10 per cent of the budget, for his short film Death Wish through the site. He went back seeking another $5,000 for a second film, Monster, winner of the 2010 Hot Shot Shorts short film contest organized by Vancouver’s Celluloid Social Club. Though crowd funding has paid off for him, it’s not for the lazy, Puolitaipale cautions. “The question isn’t, Why are people doing it? but, Are they doing it right?” he says, noting it takes a lot of hours on Facebook and Twitter and even pounding the pavement to direct traffic toward project accounts – some of which never see a dime.

Nor is online crowd-funding ideal for raising very large sums, such as the $250,000 Puolitaipale hopes to garner for his next project, a feature documentary entitled Old Bikes, New Journeys about a humanitarian organization sending bicycles to Namibia. “We can’t expect that kind of money from IndieGoGo,” he says. But that won’t stop him from soliciting at least a few dollars on the site as every little bit helps.

As an added plus, with a direct line to a built-in fan base, raising money this way beats filling out grant applications and stalking studio execs any day, says Puolitaipale. “It’s more fun, and everyone’s getting a lot out of it.”