Fellow Filmmakers. I haven’t written much on this blog for a while. This case study is about what I have been up to for the past 18 months and my learnings about crowdfunding documentaries and self-distribution in the process. Here is all the data in great detail. This article also explains how my film ended up being the most pirated documentary on the Internet.

The Idea:
– Experience of working with filmmakers and factual content for about 5 years.
– Indirectly or directly involved with hundreds of documentaries.
– I am passionate about Technology and have a strong interest in Finance (I wrote a paper about alternative currencies during my MBA program).
– When Bitcoin came along it seemed like a good topic for a documentary. It’s too complex to explain in an article or a 3 minute conversation.
– Controversial topic. Some hailing it as “the biggest thing since the Internet” while others claim that it’s “a Ponzi scheme”.
– Very passionate community. Clearly defined target audience: 90% Male. Age 20-35. Tech savvy.
– Additional to myself, the team included Michael Watchulonis (an award-winning filmmaker and director who helped me with all technical aspects as well as with the writing and all of the editing) and an industry expert who is very well connected in the Bitcoin and FinTech space.
– Chose a provocative title which raises questions/curiosity: “Bitcoin: The End Of Money As We Know It”

Crowdfunding Campaign:
– Produced a number of interviews and a “punchy” trailer prior to the campaign
– Chose Kickstarter. Click here to see the campaign.
– Campaigning is a full-time job for 6-8 weeks.
– Understood that crowdfunding is less about the actual money but about gathering a community and a base of loyal fans.
– Asked for a relatively small amount of $10,000. Never intended to cover all production costs. 
– Reached the goal early and 174% in total. That’s about $15,500 after fees and commission.

Screenshot 2015-08-20 at 17.03.09


– Most popular rewards were the lower tiers

Screenshot 2015-08-20 at 17.04.11




– Mid-tier rewards included a clever giveaways like authentic 10 Trillion Dollar banknotes from Zimbabwe
– The rest of the budget (approx. 70%) was self-funded
– Campaigning was largely done via social media and within the existing Bitcoin community
– Campaign success also functioned as ‘proof of concept’.

Documentary Production:
– Produced the film in standard High Definition. Recorded interviews in 6 cities on 3 continents.
– Licensed hundreds of clips for B-Roll (tracking down, licensing, obtaining, monitoring it would turn out to be a major time and cost factor). Used footage services and existing network of friends in the industry. Many Bitcoin users and companies provided useful footage for free.
– To save costs, we used royalty free music and kept custom animations limited
– Delivered film behind schedule and above initial budget (just like every first time filmmaker)
– Post-production milestones were submission dates for film festivals

Pre-Release Activities
– Crowdsourced the design of our poster/key art via 99Designs. 125 designs were submitted. See all variations here. Polled our fanbase for their favorite design and decided on this one:

Bitcoin FINAL 1400x1600









– Built a strong following on Twitter

Screenshot 2015-08-20 at 17.42.50






– Released a new trailer on YouTube. About 20,000 views pre-release (51,000 views as of today)
Screenshot 2015-08-20 at 16.48.51




– Mistake: not clearly communicating a definite launch date
– Built a strong presence on Reddit. 1,500 Upvotes and 500 comments
– Won three awards at festivals in Amsterdam and Las Vegas
– Handling film festivals via services such as withoutabox or filmfreeway is efficient but investment in time and money is high. We stopped after a few months.

Screenshot 2015-08-03 at 15.29.24








Self Distribution Results (First Month): 
– Launchdate July 15th. 80% of transaction in the first 5 days.
Screenshot 2015-08-20 at 17.57.44

– Activity on social media way up
Screenshot 2015-08-03 at 15.18.49Screenshot 2015-08-03 at 15.02.27










Facebook Page starts to get traction (1,500 fans as of today)

Screenshot 2015-08-20 at 16.54.17








– Best performing Transactional VOD platform is Vimeo where the social media statistics are very strong compared to almost any other film on their service

Screenshot 2015-08-20 at 16.47.43





– Innovative download package as BitTorrent Bundle generated a lot of traffic but not many transactions
– Great results on small platform that offers pay-with-Bitcoin option
– Reddit was a strong traffic driver
– Interviews and appearances on many many many radio shows and podcasts. Activated 20 promotion codes which (only) yielded 130 transactions (usually 20% off).
– Getting rated and reviewed on imdb is very difficult. Should have encouraged audience earlier. Score started around 9.0 and then made a sudden drop to 7.1 where it is now ‘locked’.













– Upon closer inspection, it is a few bad ratings that pull the weighted average down. The “mean” is still 8.0 and the “Median” 9.
Screenshot 2015-08-20 at 16.51.35








– This is the rating after a few months.








I now understand why almost any film ends up in the 6-7 point range.

– Made the mistake of not launching on iTunes and Amazon at the same time (It takes much longer to onboard on these platforms). Launch date on iTunes (USA) in early August and Amazon Instant Video in mid August. Getting reviews in order to “kickstart” the algorithms there is difficult.

– Local screenings all over the world at community events (Sydney, Santiago de Chile), meetup groups, conferences (London, Amsterdam), and even in traditional movie theatres (Scandinavia, Israel). The free Sydney screening generated 120$ in donations. We are looking for people who want to organize more screenings now.
– Interestingly, more than 20 subtitled versions (Russian, Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish) have appeared on the Internet. Unauthorized but highly appreciated.


– This is a film about a peer-to-peer technology, so the fact that it would get pirated so much is not surprising
– Estimate: About 200,000 illegal (torrent) downloads, making it one of the most popular documentary among pirates in 2015. These are two google alerts from January (seven months after initial release).
illegal downloadsillegal downloads2









– We have seen about 120,000 illegal video streams, mostly on YouTube. Take-down process takes several days. Some of the uploaders are ‘hiding’ the film under a different name which makes it very difficult to detect.
– It is impossible to estimate whether any of these illegal viewers (streamed or downloaded) would have paid for the film. There is some evidence from Hollywood blockbusters that there is little overlap and cannibalisation i.e. pirates do not hurt the legal distribution and might actually help it.
– We estimate that there are also numerous unauthorized public screenings of the film (see USAMexico and Indonesia below). I encourage free screenings as it increases the overall popularity of the film and it translates into more imdb ratings, reviews and maybe some legal downloads. However, most of these venues never contacted us in the first place.

Screenshot 2015-08-07 at 11.40.58
















Distribution results after 6 months

– Vimeo remains the best platform for us, but after the first weeks the revenue is only at a minimum base level. iTunes was only strong for the first two weeks. Amazon Instant Video is constant/slightly growing.
– On vimeo 15,000 trailer plays resulted in 1,000 transactions. 40% came from the USA. 8% from the UK, and 7% each from Germany and Australia
– On iTunes (USA) 47% of all transactions are rentals, 53% are purchases. 67% are HD transactions which are 1-2$ more expensive than SD
– Weekends are strongest on both vimeo and iTunes. Price promotions or coupon codes have little impact. Bitcoin press coverage in mainstream media (scandals, big investments, price swings) translate into more views.
– Ratio of about 300’000 pirated views to 2’000 paid transactions means that I monetize less than 1% of all views
– Small extra income with screening fees or bulk DVD orders
– 30 donations to our Bitcoin wallet address totalling about 250$
– Some TV channels and film festivals have contacted us; I assume some of them due to the ‘popularity’ of the pirated versions
– We are now starting to place the film for in-flight entertainment (business/finance documentaries perform well in this market) and are actively seeking international sales agents for television.


– Using cheap sources of B-roll and other footage as well as royalty-free music is crucial unless you have tons of other people’s money to spend
– We need to deliver from idea to finished film much faster and at lower cost
– Narration based docs are less popular with the main buyers (broadcasters); we will consider stronger characters or ‘hosted’ stories in the future
– Self-distribution (B2C) is very difficult and time consuming even if your film is popular and ‘goes viral’; a coordinated big global launch is important (we missed an opportunity)
– We don’t have an indication whether (costly) other language versions would have helped with distribution
– You cannot fight piracy, don’t even try it. Instead, try to use it to your advantage
– Traditional B2B (licensing) distribution is still where most of the revenues are
– We are not convinced that the awards at smaller festivals helped us with distribution. However, we think it’s advisable to submit to festivals that match your core audience in order to gain “street cred” (e.g. we won an award at a Libertarian festival)
– For our next production we would chose a topic that has an equally enthusiastic following and community behind it; it is a good idea to cover topics that are about to become trends
– We will not self-fund another production again and instead rely on traditional funding sources (pre-sales, broadcasters, incentive programs) and substitute this with a crowdfunding campaign

Lovetheframe‘s Manuel Benito de Valle talks about his latest 4k film Welcome to the Cave of Wonders and his experience with HDR. Check out his short video, too.

Q1: Please tell us a bit more about yourself and your company. How did you get started with filmmaking?

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to make films. I guess I couldn´t stop myself from trying to make my own. So I first started to storyboard them and then, when I was like eight years old, I laid my hands on my Mom´s friend´s video camera and shot my own star-wars film (with actual Star-Wars action figures) From that on, I´ve never really stopped making lousy films. Only they eventually got better! My company Lovetheframe is just another step on this very same road. I´m especially proud of a heartbreaking documentary I shot in Cuba called Knockoutkuba. 

Q2: What was the response to your 4k film Cave of Wonders? Why did you decide to make a longer version now?

4k Film in HDR

Poster Into the Cave of Wonders

The shortfilm was a great fun in terms of experimentation. Our aim was making a short doc so visually powerful that words would get in the way. Like the “no comment” section we used to watch on the News. You did not wholly understand them but you felt them even more because of that. Apparently we succeeded because it won many international awards and got great reviews and recognition. But I say apparently because by succeeding, we paradoxically built an audience that wanted to know and learn more about the Cave of Wonders. And so we had to face a new challenge: Make it longer and narrated without losing any visual power. I would like to believe that we did it again. Time will tell.




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3D Gif of the Week


I came across this great article on Medium and the authors have kindly allowed me to re-post parts of it here.

Lessons from a nonprofit that is building a successful media program from scratch

Over the past several years, documentary films have made an explosive comeback. There are lots of reasons for this, but two of the big ones worth noting are:

  1. The continued emergence of the millennial generation and our keen interest in contributing to something bigger than ourselves.
  2. Substantially lowered costs via technological innovations in consumer-level videography equipment.

Just because more nonprofits and individuals are pursuing documentary filmmaking does not mean it is effortless though. Documentary filmmaking for the modern nonprofit is just one part of having a solid media program, while owning your own small studio as an individual still isn’t super cheap.

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Just go here and be stunned: http://www.odeith.com/anamorphic/