Last night around midnight, on Tugg.com, something marvelous happened.
Somewhere in the greater Milwaukee area, one lucky guest became the owner of ticket #92 for an independently-organized screening of Radio Free Albemuth, the new independent adaptation of Philip K Dick’s most prophetic, and last published, science fiction thriller.
This might not seem like a very huge event. Except that the buying of that ticket confirmed the theater booking for all 91 of the other ticket holders. And means that a fantastic independent film—which would otherwise not play Milwaukee at all—will be feted on the big screen at the historic Downer Theater.
I got up this morning to find the news on my phone. It sure did make getting out of bed at 4:30 AM a lot more doable. And it reminded me once again of why—despite all of its negative attention and naysayers—I still love crowdfunding.
Over the last three years, I’ve been an avid participant and user of crowdfunding. I’ve backed projects for people I know well and people I don’t. (Melody & Sneha’s fantastic Maker’s Alphabet being one of the most recent.) In 2012 I banded together with a group of other filmmakers to crowdsource the production of a film that I had written, which also featured a car explosion. Then, just 18 days ago, my writing partner at City Beast Studio, Terry Reed, approached me with the opportunity to help bring Radio Free Albemuth to Milwaukee’s big screen.
It turns out that Terry is good friends with the producer, Elizabeth Karr, who also happens to be originally from the Milwaukee area. Even though the deadline was tight (essentially two weeks to find the 92 people needed to book the Downer Theater) I agreed enthusiastically that City Beast should be involved with a group of others who were helping promote the film. In my experience, Milwaukee has the heart and passion big enough to band together and get things done. I’ve seen it time and time again.
As of today, I can say for sure, Radio Free Albemuth is no exception. (And it turns out Milwaukeeans are in good company, by the way, because critics are raving about the film, including Philip K Dick’s former wife Tessa Dick and numerous scholars of Dick’s groundbreaking work.)
Along the way, people have asked me why I’m so passionate about crowdfunding. Here are a few of my top reasons:
It’s one thing to gripe about the movie-mill content that fills our theaters today. It’s a whole other thing to do something about it. Platforms like Tugg.com allow filmmakers and film fans to band together to tell theaters what they want to see—and back up their voices by filling up seats. Sure, it’s a heck of a lot more work. But the sense of satisfaction and the pride of community are second to none as we come together to celebrate a piece of art that we brought to our city. Ourselves.
Eighteen days ago, I didn’t know Terry’s friend, producer Elizabeth Karr, or the film’s director John Alan Simon. Now I’m looking forward to meeting them in person as if we were old friends. There’s something amazing about working together for a common cause with people you’ve never “met” before. You become connected over social media, and then the digital world extends into the real. For my part, that’s absolutely how social media works best: when it serves up authentic connection both on- and offline.
I admit it. There’s nothing like a crowdfunding campaign to get your pulse up as you work frantically against the clock to get the word out. Every campaign has its highs and lows. Often in the early weeks the ticket or donation numbers barely tick down while the hours you’re spending on the phone, email and social media quickly tick up. But as the deadline approaches, and people get excited about making something really happen, that’s when the real magic kicks in.
Ultimately, the goal of crowdfunding is to band together to bring to life something that could not have existed before. Often this is because large organizations—publishers, studios, etc.—wouldn’t take a chance on a project due to its novel approach or experimental form. Other times, as in the case of Radio Free Albemuth, it’s because the creators have a passion for the material and for bringing it to screen in a way that’s true to their vision (and in this case, to Philip K Dick’s). Every project funded is one more brushstroke on the new landscape of creative autonomy.
When you buy a ticket to a mainstream film, of which you had no part in making or bringing to your city, it can certainly be fun. But when you buy a ticket, pass the word, write a letter of petition, or otherwise take part in crowdfunding a project’s delivery . . . you have become part of that film’s story. As a creator, and as a supporter of other creatives, I have seen few things more beautiful than that sense of shared ownership as audiences and creators become partners together in this thing we call art.
Thank you, Milwaukee, for stepping up and sharing our dream to see Radio Free Albemuth on the historic Downer Theater screen. I’m looking forward to seeing you on July 14th. Oh, and in the mean time, there are still 80 seats available in the house. If you’re in the area, grab your ticket and join us.
And then, start thinking about how you might crowdfund your own project.
Because the best thing about having a dream is sharing it with others.