Following “The End” of an indie movie I recently saw, there came the credits for the cast and crew. But then came what might be thought of as “The Beginning”— scores of people whom the filmmaker thanked for making film possible. Perhaps some gave notes on early versions of the script. Others may have offered locations, props, costumes, and food for the crew. While their contributions surely differ, taken together these volunteers formed the Crowd on whom the filmmaker depended.
Crowds like that don’t happen by chance. They result from creative and challenging work without which a film—however brilliant its concept—might never happen.
Just as there’s an art to filmmaking, there’s an art to creating crowds, known as crowdsourcing. Some elements of crowdsourcing are intuitive. These rest on such basic human qualities—such as patience, empathy, and courtesy—one can easily think: “I’ll easily master crowdsourcing on my own.” That was my thought when I launched a crowdsourcing effort a few years ago. It failed. Not knowing why, I blamed the content of the project and—secretly—the lack of generosity of those I turned to.
Now, having read Richard Botto’s Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers, I understand what really went wrong. To put it in the most positive light so as not to wound my thin skin, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Successful crowdsourcing requires three distinct activities: 1) identifying an audience; 2) engaging the audience; and 3) moving the audience. In my ignorance, I had done only #1, and not with any degree of sophistication.
My unhappy experience didn’t have to turn out that way. Like filmmaking, crowdsourcing can be learned. For the sake of efficiency and excellence, the best way to learn it is from people who have gone before and who have mastered the skills. I use the plural “people” intentionally. While Botto is the designated “solo” author of Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers, thanks to a number of case studies, he includes the wisdom of other successful . In a very real sense the book itself is a model of crowdsourcing.
Note that crowdsourcing is not crowdfunding. Crowdfunding can be part of the activity, but crowdsourcing is much more. Defined most simply, it is about assembling a group of people who—while not paid—collaborate on a project in a myriad of ways. They do get rewarded primarily in the feeling that they have helped bring a dream to reality. They “own” it without being financially involved. If you’ve ever participated in the success of a movie—or book or restaurant—by caring about it, telling others about it, and maybe even helping fund it—then you understand the essence of the activity. It is about love and passion rather than cash.
Back to Botto’s book: On the one hand, it is a detailed-rich instruction manual containing all the information and coaching you will need to do crowdsourcing. As far as I can tell—using my own failed experience as a touchstone—the book is complete, even down to the psychological aspects of the work: it’s difficult, time consuming, at times frustrating, and filled with pitfalls—which, of course is no different from any other creative activity. The book is organized in a way that makes it easy for you to return to it when needing to review specific strategies, of which there are many. The author doesn’t promise that crowdsourcing is easy, but he is persuasive that with effort, it’s achievable. Further, when done correctly, it will give you a serious competitive advantage in the marketplace. In short, it is paramount to success in what is increasingly becoming a DIY (do it yourself) world of content creation.
But this is more than a how-to-do-it guide. The book is a thoroughly entertaining read thanks to the author’s snarky wit. Botto’s style reminds me of Bill Bryson’s approach to writing travel books, which beautifully capture fascinating places while making you laugh out loud. In Botto’s book, the laughter isn’t just added on (honey to make the medicine go down). Given the enormous challenges of crowdsourcing plus—of course—actually making the movie—a sense of humor will come in handy.
One final point: While the book focuses on filmmaking—Botto is the founder of Stage 32, a social network devoted to film, TV & theater—the lessons apply perfectly to other forms of creativity. For example, I see applications of Botto’s teaching to an online magazine that I’m working on, and also to a series of YA novels. This shouldn’t be surprising. Look behind almost any complex endeavor—such as writing the U.S. constitution, establishing a political party, inventing a new sport such as surfing—you’ll find a crowd.
Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers: Indie Film and the Power of the Crowd is available in ebook or paperback format through Amazon. You can order your copy here.