After 7 years making films about sustainability and resilience, we’re working out how to build both of those into Happen Films itself.
We have a dream for HF: to shift to a funding model that reflects our values, to remove all ads from our YouTube channel, and to operate within the values of the Gift Economy.
This is a big goal to undertake – YouTube ad revenue is an important income source for us and enables the day-to-day running of Happen Films. And the Gift Economy, which we believe is necessary for a viable future for humanity, is not yet widely practised.
But it’s a step closer to the world we want to see, and it feels necessary.
So, we want to share a concept with you (that we just made up 😄) called Community Supported Filmmaking that will help us achieve our filmmaking goals. And officially launch our campaign to be fully community supported by the end of 2024.
If you’d prefer to watch a 5-minute video about this, check out Jordan’s video above. Otherwise, read on for the full details!
So many free films. How do you make any money?
We get asked this a lot! In our first years we really were operating on the smell of an oily rag. We made the films with whatever we could scrape together from other work, and eventually from our slowly increasing YouTube ad revenue (which, as you’ve guessed, has never sat easily with us – more on that below).
Early on we also started receiving donations, small and not so small, mostly from complete strangers and from all corners of the world. This was a huge motivation for us because we took it to mean we were on the right track. We also started our profile on Patreon, where our awesome Patrons send us $1 to $50 a month. Some have done so for nearly six years now.
We’ve also been fortunate to receive generous philanthropic donations. This support has enabled us to make our higher budget films, Living the Change (NZ$28,000 towards post-production), Fools & Dreamers (NZ$40,000 full funding – we spent a bit more from our own funds as we weren’t good at creating budgets in those days!), and Together We Grow (NZ$68,000 full funding – and we had $48 left over 🙂). The philanthropy behind those three films was generous not just financially but because in each case it was given in the spirit of the gift.
Making films this way has been a huge blessing. It’s given us the time to make the best possible films we can, the freedom to tell the stories we’re inspired by, and the space to put living a simpler life into practice ourselves. Yet it also has its downsides.
Is this sustainable?
The ad hoc nature of how we’re currently funded isn’t predictable, it can’t be relied upon, and it puts us at the mercy of platforms like YouTube. When funds are short and it’s just the two of us doing everything – planning, shooting, editing, promoting, distributing, support – it leaves us depleted, with little left to build our own life or feel creative and inspired for the next film.
For us, that’s not sustainable. And it undermines the resilience of Happen Films.
In contrast, when we’ve received large project-specific donations, we’ve been able to bring on additional crew. It’s allowed us to tell more complex stories, to tell them better, and with a higher production value (we think Together We Grow is a good example of this!). It’s been possible to pay our crew industry rates, which feels important to us.
But we can’t operate on a project-by-project funding basis alone because it doesn’t cover general running costs. At present, these costs are mostly covered by YouTube ad revenue, but it’s inconsistent and could dry up at any time. And as we inferred earlier, we don’t like earning YouTube ad revenue. We have no control over the kind of advertising that appears on our films and is forced in front of our audience – the ads are often in conflict with the values and kinds of business we personally support. Advertising also creates a barrier to viewing and reduces engagement, both of which lower the reach and impact of our films. We’re here to inspire change, not to sell advertising space!
We’ve considered traditional film funding models – a bureaucratic nightmare! – and even had offers of investment in Happen Films. At first this was pretty appealing – a large investment to enable us to ‘grow’ the business, make heaps more films, take on full-time staff. But when we thought it through we realised we don’t want to grow so big we’re spending all our time managing staff and finances. Also, of course, we hated the thought of losing creative control over our films, and we love making films at a pace and cost that feels creatively right in the moment, and then making them free to view.
A better way to fund our filmmaking
We’re convinced there’s a better way of doing things. We want to build upon the essence of the gift economy in which we’ve been operating, and take it a step further.
What does this look like? A source of income that is reliable, in line with our ethics, and builds resilience into the core of Happen Films. Sufficient funds to bring on extra crew when needed and pay them – and ourselves – a fair and reasonable rate. Being supported to continue making films that come from a place of inspired, energetic creativity and joy.
We want to produce ever higher quality films about the most important issues of our time that have the greatest possible reach to support huge positive change in the world!
“Many of us no longer aspire to financial independence, the state in which we have so much money we needn’t depend on anyone for anything. Today, increasingly, we yearn instead for community. We don’t want to live in a commodity world, where everything we have exists for the primary goal of profit. We want things created for love and beauty, things that connect us more deeply to the people around us.” – Charles Eisenstein
While the awesome support we receive on Patreon and from private donations is invaluable and will remain available as a way to support our work, we’re now creating a space alongside those that enables us to move closer towards living our values, creating a stronger community, and increasing the impact of our films out in the world.
A brilliant tool to make that happen: Open Collective
It’s important to us that we’re transparent about how we collect and spend donations. So when we came across Open Collective, an online platform for receiving and distributing collective funding, it felt like a natural fit as the basis for a new, sustainable way to fund Happen Films.
Open Collective allows us to:
- move toward that gift economy model of funding,
- more directly connect with our community of supporters,
- create transparency, so that you can see exactly how we spend our funds,
- offer tax-deductible donations in some cases, as we’re verified with charity status,
- bring you along for the journey by sharing more about our work-in-progress and providing the space to comment and contribute ideas and suggestions,
- offer flexibility in how donations are made – they can be one-off, regular, very small, or very large, or anything in between.
You can pop into Open Collective right now and see how we spent every cent of the philanthropic donation that funded Together We Grow. It’s pretty cool, right?
Community Supported Filmmaking
In Community Supported Agriculture, members pay in advance each season or year so that the farmers can sow seeds with confidence that there’ll be plenty to harvest for members and that their costs will be covered. It’s a beautiful and logical system of reciprocity that also invites transparency and community.
Based on that idea, we’re launching Community Supported Filmmaking for Happen Films!
We’re increasingly convinced about the crucial role storytelling has to play in helping us navigate the global challenges we’re facing and to build a more beautiful world. And we feel as inspired as ever to continue this work.
Our aim is to enter each year knowing we can sow the seeds for high-quality, high-impact, inspirational films for a better world. Knowing that we have access to the resources we need as they take shape. Knowing we have the opportunity to also live the life we promote in our films.
Our dream for Happen Films is that by the end of 2024:
- every new film entering production is fully audience-funded before production begins;
- day-to-day running costs are funded in advance for the coming year, so we know our costs to bring new films through concept, development, and into production are covered;
- we’ve removed the ads from all Happen Films YouTube videos.
We’ve detailed the costs we’ll need to cover on the Support page so you can see what it’ll take to achieve these goals.
If you visit the “Happen Funds” page on Open Collective you’ll see that we received a super generous gift from Namaste Foundation this year. Namaste have been amazing supporters of HF, particularly in this, their final round of funding. Some of those funds have gone into the projects we have underway and some has stayed in Happen Funds to call on when needed if a project doesn’t get over the line or for costs outside of the project budgets. Why not use it to fully fund this year’s films? Because we would then be back where we started by the end of the year. Our intention is to use those funds as a sort of runway to carry us through till Community Supported Filmmaking is a functioning thing, and our hope is to raise the rest of the funds for the projects currently underway via this campaign.
Help us build a resilient future for Happen Films
Please join our new community of supporters using Open Collective to learn about the films we have in production. And if you can, donate a sum that for you reflects both the value you get from the our films and your ability to pay – a key part of the gift economy is that those who can afford more pay more, so that those who can’t are free to give less or nothing at all.
With your help, we can build a strong future for Happen Films, one that we can all be proud to be part of and that reflects how we want the world to be.
- Find out more about our current projects at Happen Films Open Collective.
- Find out more about our approach to filmmaking and film funding on the About and How is Happen Films Funded? pages of our website.
- Find out about our charitable status as part of the Gift Collective, and learn more about tax deductible donations, by contacting us.
- Watch Jordan’s video on our YouTube channel talking about our move to Open Collective.
Antoinette & Jordan