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Filmmakers brace for benefits and challenges of using Kickstarter Canada

David Bitton raised $35,000 for his documentary 'Chess Boxing' via Kickstarter. Anonymous Pineapple Productions

TORONTO — The September launch of Kickstarter Canada comes as welcome news to independent filmmakers who see crowdfunding as an effective way to get their projects off the ground.

The popular service has raised over $150 million for more than 10,000 film and video projects since its launch south of the border in 2009. Canada is the second country, after the U.K., to get its own Kickstarter.

Canadian projects have always been able to use the New York-based crowdfunding network by designating an individual or company in the U.S. to collect the funds. As of Sept. 9, though, backers will be able to enter their payment information directly — it will be routed through a third-party processor — rather than going through Amazon Payments and Kickstarter says Canadian projects will be listed in Canadian dollars.

The changes mean more Canadian artists, musicians and filmmakers are expected to jump on board.

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And why not? A movie based on the Veronica Mars TV series made Kickstarter history in April for the number of backers (91,585) and collected $5.7 million.

Zach Braff, hoping to make a movie called Wish I Was Here, surpassed his $2 million goal on Kickstarter in May by more than $1.1 million.

Director Spike Lee turned to Kickstarter in July to raise $1.2 million for a film about blood addiction. With nine days to go before the Aug. 21 deadline, he’s raised $831,489.

According to the National Crowdfunding Association of Canada, there are currently 64 portals and nine providers across the country, include several targeting homegrown arts and entertainment — from IOU Music in Nova Scotia to SoKap in British Columbia.

But many creative types in Canada relish the power of high-profile Kickstarter.

Canadian filmmaker David Bitton used Kickstarter this summer to finance a feature-length documentary about the hybrid sport of chess boxing.

His one-month campaign surpassed its $35,000 goal thanks to more than 260 backers.

But, Bitton described the experience as “stressful” and “crazy.”

It took him several months of planning to get the campaign going and a lot of his time to see it through.

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“I was figuring out how to do marketing when I’m a filmmaker,” he explained. “It’s not my skill set.”

Bitton agonized over what goal to set — the funds can’t be claimed unless the goal is reached — and what rewards to offer. He also needed someone in the U.S. to collect the funds on his behalf, an arrangement that required the services of a lawyer.

After all the fees and expenses, Bitton expects to net between $25,000 and $27,000.

“It was worth it,” he admitted, “but I would have done things differently.”

Will he use Kickstarter again?

“Not anytime soon,” said Bitton. “My girlfriend forbad me.”

His advice to filmmakers considering crowdfunding?

“Get help,” Bitton said. “Enlist people to help you out and manage it so you can do more things at once.”

Lisa Fitzgibbons, executive director of the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC), welcomes Kickstarter Canada.

“It’s going to make it easier and not as costly,” she said. “Administratively, it’s going to make it a lot simpler.”

But, Fitzgibbons warned, governments and broadcasters need to get with the program.

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The Canada Revenue Agency, she explained, views crowdfunding revenue as donations.

“We’ve been of the view that it is not a donation, it’s an investment,” said Fitzgibbons, adding the policy reduces the amount of lucrative tax credits producers can claim.

“It’s sad because here’s a new tool but it has a negative impact for producers.”

Fitzgibbons also said broadcasters are not yet completely comfortable acquiring documentaries that have been crowdfunded.

“They are nervous about who are the people supporting the projects,” she explained. “Advocacy groups might be supporting documentaries that would contravene [broadcasters’] code of ethics.”

Fitzgibbons said while some of DOC’s members are hesitant to take on the workload of a crowdfunding campaign, most embrace the concept.

“Some filmmakers really love the immediacy,” she said. “You can test your ideas and get feedback. Is it the right project for this kind of tool? Do you have your eyes wide open?”

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While she doubts it will fully replace traditional financing, Fitzgibbons said tools like Kickstarter Canada make possible film projects that might not otherwise see the light of day.

“For some films it is definitely the way to go,” she said. “This is definitely the option that has got the most people excited and hopeful.”

David Bitton considers himself one of these people — but he wonders how many times a filmmaker can turn to strangers online seeking cash.

“There’s a limit how far you can go,” he said. “You’re constantly pestering people.”