Forest Whitaker-Backed JuntoBox Films Challenges Crowdfunding Models

Actor Forest Whitaker debuted his new company JuntoBox Films at SXSW in Austin, which combines traditional film production, financing and distribution with a social platform. The collaborative film platform allows filmmakers to submit their projects, the community to vote, and ultimately the company to fund five films per year. Whitaker, who is acting as both co-chairman and director, and founder Philippe Caland also announced the first film they’re funding through the platform, Passenger.

Caland started the company to give filmmakers the opportunity to make their films without going through the studio system in Los Angeles, which he says has become too difficult to access (he is a writer, director and actor). “Technology has made film-making more accessible to the masses. It’s become a bit of a commodity – anybody and his brother could go out and make a film, but that doesn’t really interest the studio system, but yet those films are all legitimate. Those people need to be given a venue through which they can really rise to the top, get their projects made and seen,” Caland said in an interview.

Passenger, the first film being produced, was chosen by Whitaker out of three finalists. He’s mentoring the creators through his production company, Significant Productions. “We trust that he’s got a good sense of those projects that are interesting, that reflect on authenticity, on creativity and on talent. There couldn’t be a better individual to turn to for this project than Forest,” Caland said. Not all creators will be directors, and JuntoBox’s VP of Digital Rachel McLean says if the creator is a writer or product who needs a director, they are hoping people will use the platform and their network to find a director. Along with Whitaker’s Significant Productions, they have industry partners including WME and Brillstein Entertainment Partners. McLean said they seek all avenues of distribution including “traditional models of theatrical, platform, film festival promotions and digital options.” She said each film will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

While existing crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter allow filmmakers to list and fund their projects, they don’t have any hand in producing or distributing the films. JuntoBox on the other hand isn’t a crowdfunding platform, rather it allows the community to contribute and rate movies, and leaves the selection process and funding up to the founders. “Instead of monetary support, we look for the community to help by building a film’s profile through fan participation and completion of various tasks,” McLean said. The ultimate goal is to produce low-budget films, five this year with budgets of $250,000 to $2.5 million. Caland said they hope to make one film per month in 2013, and said they won’t be limited to being produced in the U.S. “We don’t need to exclusively commit to making those in the U.S. In the very beginning naturally we’ll do the U.S., but we hope that the platform spreads out internationally and that we’ll have partners worldwide who will be making those movies with us.”

Users create a profile, and can then upload projects, and get community feedback to refine the idea. Each project can collect followers and positive ratings from others in the community, and the most popular are eligible for development. There are five levels for creators, starting with uploading a brief summary, and going all the way through to uploading a script. Each level involves getting a certain number of followers and attention for the project. After going through all five steps, JuntoBox will assess five of the top-rated completed projects, and Whitaker selects once to produce. The chosen films are then funded, produced and distributed, and the company maintains that the creator will always remain involved in the process. “Once they trickle up to the top, and they’ve brought themselves to a place where their project has become noticed, then we can bring them into an infrastructure, support their work, and get it made,” Caland said.

While JuntoBox has the connections filmmakers need, only a select few get chosen annually, and filmmakers can’t raise any money for the projects themselves. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo provide an alternative that provides a way to get funded, but doesn’t come with the production and distribution help associated with JuntoBox. Launched in 2008, IndieGoGo originally focused on filmmakers, and the site has now funded everyone from a cheese shop to tech gadgets. Listing a campaign is free, and if it’s successfully funded the company takes four percent fo the total raised. Kickstarter operates on a similar model, though while IndieGoGo lets creators keep any money raised even if they don’t hit their goal (they take a nine percent cut vs. four percent if the goal is met), Kickstarter requires all projects to reach 100% of their goal in order for the creator to receive the funding. The company’s Film and Video department accounts for $45 million of the $125 million pledges the company has seen over the past two years, and 17 Kickstarter-funded full-length feature films were sent to this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Filmmaker Anna Stuart chose to raise funding for her film The Long Road Home on IndieGoGo. She said they listed the project there to give friends and family an easy way to donate, but it was a laborious process to raise the money they needed. “We spent three straight months posting our campaign to Facebook and Twitter as well as adding widgets to emails as well as our websites,” she said in an interview. The film began production in August 2011, and they raised over $10,000 of the $15,000 goal. They’ve started holding test screenings and submitting to festivals, and are looking to start distribution and commercial exhibition by the end of 2012. “What we realized, over all other benefits, IndieGoGo creates awareness for your film,” she said. “Which, in the end, is the most important for any film.” That awareness was created by Stuart and her team, and the active community. She said JuntoBox’s connections could be the biggest selling point, but they’ll need to replicate the active community of IndieGoGo and Kickstarter. “If JuntoBox can harness that kind of traffic it could be very useful,” she said.

The crowdfunding model is clearly working, and so now it’s a question of whether JuntoBox’s model, which relies more on Hollywood connections than indie clout, will succeed.



Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin Bury is a Co-founder and CEO at Willful, an online estate planning platform. Also a former Managing Director at Eighty-Eight, a creative communications agency based in Toronto. She was formerly the Managing Editor at BetaKit. Follow her on Twitter at @erinbury.

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