Documentary moves from theaters to TV with crowdfunding

Bill W.
A shot from the production of “Bill W.”

 

Every home in America with a TV and an antenna has PBS, which is why Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino of Page 124 Productions raised over $75,000 dollars on Kickstarter to have their documentary featured on the channel.

After a limited theatrical release, the first-time filmmakers sought an opportunity to reach a larger audience for their 2012 documentary profiling Bill Wilson, a co-founder of Alcoholic Anonymous. But in order to get “Bill W.” on PBS they were faced with a tough choice: Add 15 minutes or cut 15 minutes from the documentary to meet standard a broadcast timeslot.

They chose to make the film longer, but with that choice came more challenges. The two filmmakers jointly answered questions from Through the Cracks via email.

“It’s definitely the more expensive route, but we both felt strongly that the story couldn’t be told right if we cut so much from it,” the filmmakers said. “We realized, ‘Hey, getting a chance to be on PBS is great. But this is going to take a lot of work and a lot of money.’”

Hanlon and Carracino self-funded the production of the film, saving money for more than 20 years to do so, but their funds where exhausted by the time they had the opportunity to air on PBS. So the two turned to Kickstarter, where 471 backers pledged $76,455 to help re-cut the film.

“The vast majority of our support came from people who had really caught fire about the film in 2012 and since – people who had helped us get the word out about it during the theatrical release, and who continue to help us get the word out,” they said. “We also learned – as is probably not all that surprising – that it can be very difficult to raise money for any endeavor, no matter how worthy or good it may seem. For example, we have over 50,000 likes on our Facebook page, and we were hoping for a one percent participation rate, but only about 1/10 of one percent of those people participated.”

The two liked using Kickstarter as a way to raise funds, saying it’s much nicer to have nearly 500 people contribute money instead of one or two people. And they have some good advice for those looking to crowdfund their projects.

“In particular, [Kickstarter’s] model for having a goal that must be met before any funds are received creates a very positive energy for the campaign, especially towards the end. It also creates a lot of stress during the campaign,” they said. “Believe us, when you hit the saddle in the middle and money seems to dry up, you’ll definitely have your doubts about whether or not the campaign will be a successful one. Just keep plugging away.”

You can learn more about “Bill W.” on Page 124’s website.

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Joe Proudman
Joe is a filmmaker and multimedia journalist based in Davis, Calif.

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