With all the buzz about crowdsourcing being one way to save the indie film sector, the International Film Festival Rotterdam this year put the concept to the test – with mixed results.

The new Cinema Reloaded project aimed to have a unique approach to crowd funding – by reaching out not just to some anonymous ‘crowd’ of anyone online, but to the highly knowledgeable filmgoers who are already supportive of IFFR, building on that established ‘brand.’ The aim was to raise up to €60,000 to make new short films, with online donations coming from many ‘co-producers.’

As the two films – Alexis Dos Santos’ Random Strangers and Yuhang Ho’s No One Is Illegal — world premiered at the festival earlier this week, a comprehensive report has been published analysing lessons learned as the programme moves into its second phase.

Rotterdam, known as an envelope-pushing event willing to try new ideas, admitted in the report that this experiment was a tough one – “in many respects the steepest of learning curves.”

One lesson learned is that crowd-sourcing still takes up a lot of old-fashioned time. “The project exposed the essential need for full-time specialist skills focused on the task rather than ad hoc or co-opted support from people with a diverse range of other commitments,” the report concluded.

There were also glitches in setting up a bespoke project website to take payments – which is why most filmmakers will need to go through a more established portal like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.

The fundraising target of between €30,000-€60,000 was sought by only requiring €5 donations that would have taken too many participants. Only about €7,000 Euros was raised by the site, so a private funder stepped in for the rest of the funding (the festival did not reveal the identity of this funder).

That leaves the festival concluding that the €5 price point to become a co-producer was too low, and that people are willing to pay more if they get more in return.

Also, word of mouth and marketing of the plans could improve. The initiative was announced at Toronto in 2009, formally launched at Rotterdam 2010, but still attracting enough attention was difficult. Word of mouth from supporters needed to be greater.

Likewise, social networking is crucial to attract more co-producers but still a challenge will be to go further than just creating a Facebook page. And having Cinema Reloaded be more integrated into the huge IFFR itself could also help raise the profile.

 “Crowd-funding is about getting the most active section of the audience to take the step of moving from spectator to collaborator,” the report noted. “The mass of people will not make that step, so projects must look at maximising the involvement of those who want to contribute.” In this case, incentives were rewards such as updates from filmmakers, a name in the credits, and a chance to attend the world premiere screenings at IFFR (150 co-producers did just that.)

The level of commitment required by the filmmakers wasn’t just the occasional blog to keep in touch with their co-producers.

In fact, scheme participants Pipilotti Rist and Harmony Korine eventually had to drop out of the project because of other work commitments.

Each filmmaker had a different reaction to the experience. Ho said: “The audience left me alone to do my things.”

But Dos Santos began to find more inspiration from his online funders. “I received a lot of videos that people sent to me shot with their webcams and that was more than useful because I really needed them for the actual film. And I received a lot of encouragement after posting a couple of scenes I wrote. It was good to keep me writing.”

Both directors said they would consider giving crowdsourcing another shot in the future.

Film-maker Alexia Anastasio was a film-maker who contributed as a co-producer. She said: “It’s interesting for the festival to try this kind of thing; there is camaraderie in the independent film-making scene, so it’s good to be a part of an initiative like this.” But she did add: “There could have been more – from my experience with Kickstarter – updated emails so that you know what is going on. For my part, I posted the film on my Facebook wall, created a profile, posted comments, that sort of thing. Rewards are a key factor in appeal, you can get cool stuff and it doesn’t have to be physical stuff as long as it’s creative – a phone call, a personal message.”

Another crowd funder, Jorrit Spoelstra, expected more from the experience: “I hope the festival runs the project again, builds on it. But this time with more interaction. Film-makers need to be really willing to make this approach work.”

Rotterdam concluded that the original idea is still relevant as a the indie sector faces tough times ahead, even though there will be growing pains in figuring out how crowdsourcing can work best as technology and the industry evolves.

“We’re thinking about reshaping the platform a little bit and offering it to filmmakers who can’t fall back on traditional funding structures,” IFFR director Rutger Wolfson says. One idea is to work with African filmmakers who don’t have traditional funding bodies to support them.

Crowdsourcing was only one unique funding proposal at this year’s IFFR. At the opening of the festival, The Tiger Film Patrons’ Fund was unveiled, working with The Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds. That will invite private contributions from festival visitors and international film lovers – who are willing to pay at least €300 per year – which will be used to “finance extraordinary film projects.”

Meanwhile, the Cinema Reloaded films are available to Benelux viewers on YouTube through the end of the festival (Feb 6).

Cinema Reloaded’s Top 10 Crowd-Sourcing Tips
1. Know what you want: clarity of objectives are essential
2. Invest time in planning and development
3. Work out the rewards for supporters
4. Understand the underlying costs, in time and manpower as well as finance
5. Set realistic and achievable targets
6. Work to clear deadlines
7. Don’t reinvent the wheel, work with, or learn from, existing platforms
8. Use social networks to increase reach, allowing donors to become advocates
9. Interaction needs to be a fact of life during the project
10. Learn to accept the audience as collaborator