City Wild – Adventures in Crowdfunding Documentary


Leticia Agudo reveals her adventures in how to get a short film made using crowdfunding.

It all started with a fascination with the Phoenix Park and a nosy curiosity – not a useless trait for documentary filmmaking: who lives in those quaint lodges inside the park? What must it be like to have it as your back garden; to have the deer and the Sunday picnic makers for neighbours; to have wilderness in the middle of the city?

And so we started: to research, to ask, to build the stories in our heads. We had it, the idea, simple and rounded: a film about the Phoenix Park’s most unusual inhabitants: the keepers.

Hang on, ‘this would be great for that funding award’; and onto the application writing, which gets faster and easier the more you do it. And not a P.F.O. letter or even a P.F.O. meeting this time, but a place in a tight shortlist. Mmmm… and the hopes go up, and the plans, and the relief of thinking “maybe we won’t have to struggle to fund this one.’

But no… it just wasn’t … what was it? Never mind.

Sometimes a ‘no’ spurs you up ten times more than a ‘yes’, particularly when you know you’ve got something good –and if you get a kick out of proving someone wrong. We had the permission, promising contributors and … it’s the Phoenix Park, it was right there!

We wanted to go a step bigger than before, in production, finishing and distribution, and we needed the extra funds for it, and so we started to look into the new financing buzz word: crowdfunding (don’t correct me spell checker, it has become one word, keep up, will you!). Research was fundamental. Co-director and fellow Whackala founder, Paul McGrath, started looking into it last autumn, reading about the ones that put a blurred picture up and a convoluted description and ask for 50 grand and get 0, and the ones that seem to attract all the attention with a cute and quirky pitch.

We thought, ‘we’ll build a following and a buzz about the film before we launch the funding campaign, and, as soon as we do, all those fans in Facebook will contribute’ –this is us dreaming, you’ve got to understand, we can’t help getting an idea and seeing how it’ll become an unquestionable success. ‘No expectations,’ someone advised me once. How the hell do you make yourself not expect?

We weren’t all together wrong, people seemed to like the idea; it is a unique and fascinating park, at the end of the day. Next step was a good write-up, attractive perks – it’s not charity, it’s not charity! – an international outlook – not just because of family, friends and colleagues from everywhere else, but because the documentaries I love are those that can be about the most local subject, made relevant to the whole world – and, fundamentally, we needed a good pitch video. We were exhausted from building the website, the Facebook page, photos, campaign write-ups, coming up with attractive names for the perks… let’s just get in front of the camera and sell it with our natural charm!

One call cold morning Paul, Andrey Andonov, our camera operator, and I filmed ourselves trying to just talk engagingly about it and we ended up going on about the park, the rangers, ‘experimenting with our bodies’ – you’ll have to wait for the extras to know what that one’s about – and everything else. We had a laugh but we weren’t selling the idea or the campaign, so it was back to the drawing board for a script and structure of how to tell it engagingly using our skills: talking –that’s mine- images, characters and animation. You can see the result here:

City Wild behind the scenes by Andrey Andonov

Picture: Andrey Andonov

So now we’ve just passed the middle point of our campaign and we’ve raised almost half of our $7000 target, firstly, as all crowdfunding advice tells you, from our direct contacts: family, friends, colleagues, contacts in whom we left a memorable impression, or whom we know where they live…

Some moving surprises have happened, like one of our film’s ‘stars’, retired ranger and park resident Brendan Costello, becoming so engaged with the project that not only did he contribute himself, he’s campaigning and collecting through everyone he knows; like friends and colleagues who have responsibilities and aren’t swimmin’ in it, giving generously and gladly; contacts that we met once, giving blindly and without asking for a perk in return.

So what do you do when most of the people you knew you could count on have contributed? You have your most difficult task: to get out to the general public in this busy, noisy online age where millions of people try to get your attention each hour for everything from a cup cake making party to a change-the-world enterprise.

Most crowdfunding platforms will have their ‘featured’, ‘popular’, projects of the day or week selection, but in the large international ones, like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, the competition is staggering; and, by leaving the nest, you’re not being nurtured as an Irish project but as one more in a pool of many, so the press aren’t just going to pick up on it. You have to attract their attention.

Highlights so far: meeting some new fantastic people and a project that could just be something special; being moved by people’s generosity and willingness to help. Low points: having to ask people for money!

So let’s get back to work. If I’ve met you and I have your email, you’ll be hearing from me.

Leticia Agudo
We Make Films


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