“Flip-thinking” movie production: engage the fans, build the funds

I’m watching and participating in a fascinating experiment unfold in the movie industry. The main character in this case is Donald Miller, author of a number of best-selling books on life and nontraditional Christian faith.

The first book I read by Miller was Blue Like Jazz. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it. BLJ instantly hooked me on his take of the modern church and his journey of faith. In a series of essays, Miller discusses events from his life and how they impacted, or were impacted by, his faith and involvement with church. His journey is, at times, thoughtful, funny, sad, and inspiring. Occasionally, all at the same time.

But this story is about more than just a great book being transformed into a movie. It’s about witnessing what might be the next major shift in the film industry. A shift that includes putting fans back at the center of the process and flipping the way they interact with films.

Around 2006, after the smashing success of BLJ (published in 2003), Miller and some colleagues began writing a screenplay to bring the book to the silver screen. In his own words, “it’s not the typical story arc of a “Christian” movie…this movie is a movie for people who identify with the faith of the church, but our questions and our journey doesn’t seem as clean or neat.”

It’s not terribly surprising, then, that securing funding proved to be difficult. And, after four years of trying, Miller announced on September 16th of this year that the project was officially “dead.” But the story had only just begun…

Disappointed but refusing to give up hope, two fans of Miller’s movie idea decided to take matters into their own hands. Leveraging the site Kickstarter, they began a campaign to raise the remaining capital from other fans of the BLJ movie.

Which brings us to today. In just a few days, they surpassed the $100K mark! Today, Miller announced on his website that the project had succeeded (as of right now the total amount donated is $140!!!). In a previous post, Miller stated that if the project succeeded, it would be the largest crowd-sourced project ever (financially speaking, I presume). And wow, they did it!

I find this initiative fascinating from a couple of aspects. For one, fans are engaging other fans in support of the movie and Don Miller. Instead of funding (yet another) movie that might very well fall flat, fans are showing their support with their wallets.

What’s more, by pledging even a modest amount of money ($10), contributors get a movie package that includes a digital download of the movie itself. Larger pledges include bonuses such as a movie poster and t-shirt.

Talk about flipping the movie industry model upside-down! Instead of hoping for box-office sales to be high enough to cover the cost of production, Miller will essentially have garnered financial support from potential moviegoers before the movie is even released. As a reward, those who show their support are rewarded with exclusive memorabilia. Everyone wins!

Granted, the movie will need to live up to the expectations of the fans in order to ultimately have an impact. But with Miller’s track record as a superb storyteller, I don’t think this will be a problem.

I’m excited to see the final chapter of this story unfold and to see the finished movie. If you’re interested in getting involved, visit the Kickstarter project page to learn more. I also highly recommend subscribing to Don Miller’s blog which is filled with stories of real life and real faith. And, when the movie is released (and I get my digital copy), I’ll be sure and leave a review here.

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