Crowdfunding: What to Keep in Mind When Considering Broadcast on Public Television

By Ines Hofmann Kanna, Production Manager, ITVS
Posted on June 14, 2012

An ITVS Production Manager offers insight on crowdfunding for potential public television broadcasts.

"I worried about asking friends and family for donations," says Alicia Dwyer, director of the ITVS-funded documentary Xmas Without China. "But I came to feel most excited about our crowdfunding as I realized that we do have a base of supporters who want to connect with our creative process, and many folks seemed to enjoy being a part of supporting us during production, however small [...] their contribution."

Many filmmakers have done as Alicia has. They have turned to the not-so-new-anymore phenomenon of finding funds in a large crowd of people -- smaller amounts of money rather than large checks from just a few sponsors.  Alicia's team successfully raised over $15,000 in the allotted time frame and used it to keep their production going.  As grant money and (corporate) sponsorships are harder to secure, this grassroots-level approach has helped many other producers get started, keep afloat, or even finish their films.  ITVS appreciates this resourcefulness of independent filmmakers working today.

But there are a few things to keep in mind as you think about a potential broadcast on public television. There are certain rules in place to assure that all programming on PBS is transparent as far as funding goes. No anonymous donations are allowed for that reason, whether it is $20 or $20,000. Please keep that in mind and disclose this rule when you are building your page on a crowdfunding website. Some people may not want to give you their full name and address, but that's a PBS requirement, so you cannot take their money -- at  least not for the production of your film. But if you also want to raise a separate pot of money for outreach and marketing, or for your festival run and maybe a lavish wrap party, go right ahead! Funds not contributing towards the broadcast version of your film are not subject to this rule. 

Another issue can arise when you promise your crowdfunders Thank You credits in your film. This will be okay for your festival version or the director's cut you might sell later on your website, but this is not allowed for your PBS broadcast. The Thank-You credits are reserved for people and businesses that have contributed in-kind services or have otherwise been crucial in making your film. They should have neither received payment from you nor given you any money towards the broadcast version.  If they have, they are considered donors by PBS definition and must be listed as such. But it is highly unlikely that a crowdfunder's name will show up on-screen for giving you 50 bucks. 

PBS lets you combine all smaller amounts so you will simply say - after first listing all your bigger donors who made your film possible - "...and others. A complete list is available from ITVS." Any viewer who would like to see who contributed to your film has the right to contact us and ask for this list. It will show each contribution, no matter how small, with the correct name and address of the crowdfunder. This can be a fairly time-consuming task, depending on how much money you have raised and from how many people, so it's best to start this process early. 

As of this moment in time, there is no way around it! “Crowdfunding takes significant producing time and for us was not a way to raise a significant portion of our budget, " said Alicia Dwyer, but she adds: "... the boost we got from our crowdfunding effort was in building and discovering a base of supporters who are enthusiastic about the film, and the press that came out of our campaign..." So go ahead, build a dazzling webpage for crowdfunding, employ your best social networking skills and raise the funds you need to get you started or keep you going. Just be aware of the restrictions when it comes to broadcasting content on PBS and don't make promises you can't keep. Good luck and feel free to send me an email if you have any questions.


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