The 401st Blow :: Thoughts On Media

Begging vs. Crowd Sourcing

Posted in Distribution, Financing, Theory by Noah Harlan on January 2, 2010

Brian Chirls tweeted the following a few days ago:

“Just gave a dollar to a Filmmaker crowdfunding on the subway. He sold about a dozen demo dvds and a toy on one car.”

It made me wonder: what is the line between begging and crowd-sourcing?

I have a mental rule about giving money on the street (or on the subway): I don’t give to anyone begging. I never buy anything from someone selling trinkets on a subway car. I will sometimes give to musicians or other entertainers, but only if they haven’t trapped you in a space. For example, I give to a good musician on a subway platform, but I don’t give to someone who leaps onto my subway car and plays between stops. I think the dividing line is whether I can choose to move away if I don’t like the performance: if I can’t then I consider it an invasion of my personal space and it is unwelcome. I would make an exception for spontaneous performance groups like Improv Everywhere as they are there to create and experience and leave, but are not then trying to get money out of you before the doors open.

So what then, is the dividing line between begging and crowd sourcing?

This filmmaker was selling trinkets, thus my ruleset says I should not buy.  However, he is (or is claiming he will be) using the proceeds to make a film, something I tend to support. I did, after all, support the guys making the One Second Film (I’m a “producer”). Despite my thinking that they are probably 99% about getting enough cash to cruise the film festival circuit, they were entertaining and ambitious and I rewarded that.  But what if they had come to me on a subway car, and not in a pavilion at Cannes?  I likely would not have bought in, I suppose, but I have a hard time saying why.  I suppose that context is everything.

I'd probably give him money...

As a filmmaker one part of our job is to find money and, in so doing, we beg. Yes we come up with business plans, financial models, marketing schemes and the like, but we are, in a way, begging. When we turn to our audience and say to them, please finance my work so I can make another we are, in a way, begging.  We are ok with that because the cause is film, it is noble and we feel justified in making that request. Why then would any other type of begging be less noble?  I don’t really have an answer but I’m interested in your thoughts.

What is the difference between being a beggar and being a crowd-sourcer?

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2 Responses

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  1. Jentri said, on January 2, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Good question, Noah. If we are begging, as put, to help create something which we intend to “share” then I think that’s the difference. I suppose it could still be classified as ‘selfish’ since it’s our film, but I’d like to simply think of it as smart. Especially if we are putting it in a place where others don’t feel pressured. It’s like TV, if you don’t like what’s on, change the channel. But the idea is to create an interactive space that others want to return, and want to contribute. 🙂

  2. Noah said, on January 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Good points Jentri. So I’d summarize that down to:

    1. Raising money for something which will return a benefit to the giver.
    2. Raising money in a location where people are not pressured.

    How does that affect the group pitch-type session where you invite a bunch of potential investors to a screening or cocktail to make your pitch. When do we feel that that crosses the line? Does it?


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