Crowdsourcing Drives Product Development for a Film Project

jdesormej    May 29, 2017

Social Media may be employed to advance product development in novel, innovative ways and it is this potential that will inevitably integrate the social media world into the entertainment and communications business. This applies very much in the motion picture industry.

As competition and the speed of the commercial world increases, film makers, like many industries, must adapt their traditional product development practices to meet this challenge.

Product development is the creation of new products or services and the improvement of existing products or services. This is an essential element of corporate success. Product development defines the brand of innovative companies, and therefore their inherent potential and ultimate value to consumers and to shareholders. One has only to look at Google or Apple to appreciate this thought.

Product development is also very risky, expensive and a time-consuming process. Yet the corporation or, this case study, the creative teams that do not explore this process, are doomed to stagnation and eventual demise. Even mega giant organizations such as MicroSoft, who have the resources to wait, then acquire the result of other start up’s development processes need methodologies and metrics to justify their acquisition, and diminish the risk of selecting one new idea or start up over another. A relatively interesting Canadian example can be found in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business issue entitled “Fall Guy”, where Christine Dobby in her study of Rogers recent business strategies suggests uncertainty amongst senior executives on Rogers controversial acquisition of the Vice brand of media properties.

Traditional Industry Development

A number of particular elements influence product development in the motion picture industry. Themes, ideas, story designed for specialized audiences drive motion picture product creation. Evolving social media platform technologies also define the shape and size of given product.

Each product created, by its very nature, is a customized work or series of work, each project uniquely designed with singular content for a specifically defined market. Unlike Nike, who sells a singular shoe product, redesigned from year to year, but essentially the same shoe, motion picture content creators are obliged to create entirely original content with each product development cycle. This process of creating “customized one offs” unlike that Nike shoe, is then by necessity, expensive and time consuming. Combine this with a rejection rate of motion picture content and we find risk in the development phase to be unusually high. Very often smart creative developers are forced to seek out and partner with the very media distribution stakeholders they are attempting to sell to, in order to fund this expensive and risky process. Issues of artistic integrity and control result.

Creativity and unique story attracts the audience so Art must speak! But an audience must hear and pay for the speech! So commercial practices usually govern the end product design.which leads to other challenges of art over commerce, design control, product approvals and resource allocation.

The artist is limited somewhat in access to critical financial resources to complete product development.  An elaborate development and production funding system predicated on commercial and market choice of the distributors rather than the creativity of the content developers ultimately drives the bulk of most motion picture development practices, leaving many a product development creator overly dependent upon many outside stakeholder decisions and sensibilities. Pitching an idea is driven as much by market consideration than ideation considerations. When economics drive all matters, funding drops off and the film maker must find new ways to develop their projects. This has been the case in the area of documentary film making in recent years.

Can Social Media Make a difference, perhaps re-balance the Product Development order of things?







Introduction of Case Study

Social media may be a strength or may in fact cause weaknesses in organizational process.My Crowdsourcing case study, My Enemy, My Brother is one of those  Peter Sims Little Bets” examples that that I hope both illustrates possibilities of relief and highlights some of the risks in Social Media.

My Enemy, My Brother

Zahed and Najah are two former enemies from the Iran-Iraq War who become blood brothers for life. 25 years after one saves the other’s life on the battlefield, they journey back into the heart of a region ravaged by war and ISIS. Producer Fathom Film Group.

Story Evolution and Success is all about Transmedia

This story is certainly an example of Transmedia “multiple media expansion”, having first evolved from a an article titled Blood Brothers published in Vancouver Magazine written by Vancouver journalist, Timothy Taylor, then developed by CBC radio’s prestigious Ideas series , – later inspiring documentary film maker Ann Shin to approach the two subjects about producing a short film on their story.

For more on the story of Zahed and Najah, including videos and photos, go to the Maclean`s article His Brother’s Keeper

The film was extremely well received, and eventually integrated into the New York Times prestigious Op Ed stream.  

The short was also accepted into leading film festivals such as Hot Docs in Toronto to great acclaim . My Enemy, My Brother was eventually nominated for an emmy award, the leading acknowledgement of great quality in American television a media story teller can receive today.

Despite of this success of the original short film, the film maker’s desire to develop and expand this film work into a much larger feature length product faced numerous problems. The feature theme was rediscovery, the film makers’ plan was to follow, after so many years, the two subjects back to their “home” countries of Iran and Iraq to determine what had happened to their families and the neighborhoods in which they had grown up.

There were numerous upfront dangers and commercial risks for the team to face.

  • Political risks of irritating authorities in these countries
  • Risk of traveling in “dangerous” war torn countries
  • End result of the story itself was not yet known and here were no ways to beta test potential outcomes
  • Quality control was indeterminate.
  • Moving from a short film format to the much more challenging long film format
  • Markets and audiences might be different
  • Exhibition venues would be different
  • What is the political and commercial climate for such a film ?
  • And so on…

One also notes the traditional industry Product Development parallel product development challenges of:

  • Market Research Costs
  • Uncertain Audience appeal

Production costs would be much larger and now, with the size of the required investment, creative and production control would become an issue. Fortunately new methods of financing have recently involved involving exploitation of multi-platform media.

However new methods of financing might be available to the producers with the exploitation of Trans-Social Media applications



The producers chose to create a crowdsourcing campaign, with the goal of raising necessary resources and establishing a strong following for the product in development, the long form feature film in question.






Crowdsourcing: “the practice of engaging a ‘crowd’ or group for a common goal – often innovation, problem solving, or efficiency.  Crowdsourcing can take place on many different levels and across various industries. Thanks to our growing connectivity, it is now easier than ever for individuals to collectively contribute – whether with ideas, time, expertise, or funds – to a project or cause.

The Social Media campaign was driven through the IndieGoGo system, which provides film makers with a step by step system to create an effective campaign.  h

The campaign was incredibly effective, moving into stretch campaign mode as targets were hit and new goals were set.

Crowdfunding is defined in the following manner.

Traditionally, crowdfunding is used to raise money to fund the development of a well defined singular project (another key characteristic is that it is an ex ante form of financing – meaning sponsors, backers, customers or investors finance a project that is still in the development stage) It is the raising of funds through the collection of small contributions from the general public using the internet or social media. The social networking aspect of crowdfunding is the primary driving force behind its success.

Success is based upon touching the shared values and relationships built between those seeking support and donors, often resulting in repeat donations.

These crowdsourcing relationships are often then strengthened through increased engagement and constant gratification via social media, as opposed to the limitations of one way messaging with broadcast media and direct mail.

Crowdfunding also permits project creators to engage more closely with those audiences and ambassadors.  A convergence and democratization between producer, investor and consumer occurs and it is critical that the producers maintain higher levels of transparency and accountability in their practices.

Equity crowdfunding is now becoming possible in Canada and indeed is being promoted as a significant financial arm to be exploited in the media community.

So we see that there are the perceived financial benefits to crowdfunding. Equally important is the loyalty created for the project itself, influencers, audience.

This audience reach changes the risk dynamics for future investors and distributors, the analytics of the system permitting Broadcasters to take a leap of faith in project and the analytics the film version of Moneyball.

Apparently nothing is more important than the relationship between the creative and audiences, the creative and data.

Numerous commentators and business interests now believe that the second component of the crowdsourcing effect, the creation of the influencer cohort, the loyal followers who engage with the creators and the project itself, is perhaps even more important to the success of the given project.

The recent Playback Marketing Conference where marketers and film makers spoke about the power of followers and brand recognition generated as a result of these loyalists driven by the power of social media into the marketing of films confirms the point. The focus was upon reaching audiences, creating Brandscapes to audience interest and loyalty.

Lessons for Others

The Producers of My Enemy, My Brother exploited a vast array of social media engines to sell the long form feature film dream they wished to develop.

Youtube, facebook, websites, media linkages attesting to the reach of the product, its quality and future potential, in addition to employing the IndieGoGo crowdfunding strategies.

Social Media may be employed to advance product development in novel, innovative ways. Ideas can be generated and discussed. Information can be used to grow concepts. Social media can be applied to evaluate the ideas being developed and market strategies can be designed from the information assessed at this moment. Organizational structure and resource allocation will then also be affected by the commercial choices made as a result of the research findings.

Crowdsourcing permits followers to participate in the development and ultimate creation of the product speeding up the process and honing the final product for a specified interest group. This engagement ensures the dialogue and the beta testing is held to a proper course.

By engaging with influencers – networkers, interested followers – conversationalists & critics, collectors and joiners, an interactive flow is generated and interest grows.

Followers of all kinds express their preferences and interests allowing the producers to learn new facets of the product and mine insight from the dialogue and hone the discourse to enhance viewer expectations. Concerns are responded to enhancing audience loyalties.

It is this potential that will inevitably fully integrate the social media world into the entertainment and communications business.

Media creation always carries the conflict between art and commerce. Inevitably one side requires the other to exist and thrive. Content integrity is critical to the artist. Audience engagement and commitment is critical to the commercial side of the project.

Crowdsourcing is an application that permits each side to beta test the ideas and approaches for their project.

The My Enemy, My Brother crowdfunding campaign was successful in permitting the film makers to speak to their potential audience, set out their goals and ideas for product expansion, and receive tangible evidence in the form of finance, that the risk was merited.

The ultimate learning gleaned here is that social media can give creators a degree of control and continuing creativity provided they accept the responsibility of speaking to a community prepared to embrace their ideas, themes and stories.

Organization: Fathom Film Group Website: http://fathomfilmgroup.
Industry: Documentary Motion Picture Production
Name of Organization Contact: TBA

Authored by: Jean Desormeaux

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Fathom Film Group Website:

CBC’s Ideas:  –

Short Movie: .

McLean’s Magazine:

New York Times Op Ed :

Hot Docs :

Emmy Award Nomination :



Canada Council

Canada Media Fund

CMF Crowdfunding

Doc Canada Impact Producing

Indie GoGo Campaign

Indie GoGo Film Handbook


Business of Culture

Little Bets Peter Sims

Playback Marketing Summit