Nearly a year after actor-turned-filmmaker Colin Hanks funded a documentary about the demise of legendary retailer Tower Records through creative financing website Kickstarter, the director of another indie film chronicling Los Angeles' reissue label Rhino Records launched his own Kickstarter campaign to raise $22,000 in "finishing funds."
The big difference between Keith Shapiro's "Rhino Resurrected" and Hanks' Tower project is that "Rhino" has already played a handful of film festivals and won the best documentary prize at February's Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi. Meanwhile, "All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records" has only occasionally released information about its production progress via Twitter, recently noting that editing sessions took place in June and interviews with Tower founder Russ Solomon were filmed in March.
Still, despite the fact it had never been publicly screened, the Tower documentary raised a whopping $92,025 in Kickstarter funds after Hanks' superstar father Tom Hanks tweeted about it. Once word got out about Hanks fils and pére both taking to the Internet for contributions, there was some backlash about the audacity behind people of means using a community funding site to raise cash for a vanity project.
But the Tower film's fund-raising success demonstrates that music projects definitely strike a nerve with Kickstarter contributors. Another documentary, "Music Man Murray," about an 88-year-old man and his massive Los Angeles record store, brought in more than $3,000, even though director Richard Parks had only hoped to raise $1,000. The finished film aired on the Documentary Channel during Record Store Day in April and screened again a month later. It has also been streamed on NPR.org.
Amid other recently funded films on Kickstarter are documentaries about elderly Lithuanian folk singers, the Swedish drummer Morgan ågren and the Bronx punk-funk band ESG, as well as other docs about a big band trumpeter, a Cleveland street musician, a woman with a rare skin disease who works the merch table at her father's gigs and the legendary new wave group Devo.
While "Rhino Resurrected," "Merch Girl" and "Pauly Cohen, Trumpeter" were all singled out as "staff picks" by Kickstarter employees, it was actually "Are We Not Men? The Devo Documentary" that received full funding on the website, with pledges of more than twice the requested $25,000 coming in nearly a month before the solicitation deadline. The Devo doc's director, Tony Pemberton, intends to use the excess funds to secure clips of early band performances on "Saturday Night Live" and various talk shows. The goal is to submit the finished documentary-in development for three years-to the Sundance Film Festival so it can have its world premiere at the event in January.
"Rhino Resurrected" director Shapiro says that, in hindsight, financing his film entirely through Kickstarter rather than merely requesting finishing funds might have been a more prudent move. "I resisted because I wanted to do the whole thing behind the scenes," Shapiro says. "But as I spoke with respected documentarians, it kept coming back to me that Kickstarter is really working for a lot of people."
Shapiro already has parties interested in digital distribution and a limited-edition DVD package for the Rhino documentary, and suggests that special event screenings-along with eventual availability via iTunes, Netflix and on-demand services-may provide the means for his film to ultimately reach audiences. "Kickstarter has been a great way to spread the word," Shapiro concludes. "It's been a pleasant, but nerve-racking, experience."
(Full disclosure: I am among the music industry sources and journalists interviewed in "Rhino Resurrected.")
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