Kickstarter: The Indie Filmmaker's New Best Friend

By Lucas Shaw, The Wrap

When Matthew Lillard needed a distributor for his directorial debut, "Fat Kid Rules the World," he knew he had an alternative to the traditional Hollywood studio: Kickstarter.

"Mainstream Hollywood doesn't know how to make money on a movie like this," he wrote on the crowdfunding website. "They don't believe that there is an audience, and we mean to prove them wrong."

As studios become more risk-averse, filmmakers of all stripes are turning to Kickstarter, as well as other online crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo, to fund production, marketing and, in some cases, distribution. 

That includes everyone from "Raging Bull" screenwriter Paul Schrader to a relative unknown like Rob Hugel.

Sundance hosted 17 premieres for films funded at least in part by Kickstarter. At South by Southwest, 33 funded films screened. At Tribeca, there were 12.

Even Cannes, the province of luminaries like Roman Polanski and Michael Haneke, has a film that got help from those on Kickstarter.

And earlier this month, Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis announced they would use Kickstarter for their next project, "The Canyons." It has already raised almost $80,000.

According to Braxton Pope, a friend and collaborator of Ellis' who is producing the film, the group wanted the artistic freedom using Kickstarter funding would provide.

On top of that, they wanted to be sure they could see something from the back end. Too often when selling a project to a distributor, they did not get a share -- or only a small portion -- of the movie's profits.

Even HBO has gotten into the game, purchasing "Me @ the Zoo," a documentary partially funded on Kickstarter, that will premiere June 25.

Launched in 2009, Kickstarter has broken new ground in areas other than film over the past few months.

In February, the Elevation Dock, a docking station for iPhones, became the first project to pass the $1 million mark. Since then the Pebble, a customizable watch, set a new standard, captivating many by surpassing $10 million in funding.

No movie has neared that level, but more than $60 million has been pledged to film and video projects on Kickstarter, making it the single largest category on the site.

Crowdfunding is an increasingly popular and viable avenue for independent filmmakers -- and Kickstarter has taken the lead among other outlets.

"It's been happening on a really grass-roots level for a long time," Lillard told TheWrap, "but I never thought about putting it together to use on a completed project for [print and advertising] funding. That was part of the awakening at South by Southwest."

It was at the Austin-based festival that Lillard's film about a hefty teen who discovers punk rock earned the Audience Award, as well as a series of positive reviews.