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Online harambee: How we’re raising money to shoot expensive movie

Saturday July 27 2019

Betty Kathungu-Furet

Betty Kathungu-Furet is a film, documentary and TV producer. She is also a director, screenwriter and the owner of Furet Films with her partner Simiyu Barasa. PHOTO| FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KAREN  MURIUKI
By KAREN MURIUKI
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Betty Kathungu-Furet is a film, documentary and TV producer. She is also a director, screenwriter and the owner of Furet Films with her partner Simiyu Barasa. Since inception three years ago, Furet Films has done indie documentaries, films and TV shows, meaning Betty and Barasa do it independently and without funding or backing from major film studios or entertainment companies.

SELLING TICKETS

Together, they have done a number of productions by themselves, including the award-winning feature film Kizingo. But getting finances has never been an easy task for her as a producer.

“Financing has always been a struggle for me and my partner. Getting funding from financial institutions like banks, and especially for the art scene in Kenya, is almost impossible. The vetting process is very rigorous,” Betty said.

This is why she decided to take on crowdfunding for her newest film, Family Meeting, to be produced and released in August and December respectively.

“This is the first time we’re trying out crowdfunding. It is a big thing in the United States, and not necessarily for film purposes only. There is crowdfunding for entrepreneurs, start-ups and even businesses. We decided to give it a shot.”

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“We thought about crowdfunding without necessarily asking for donations, and had the idea of pre-selling the tickets for the film before producing it,” she said.

And with that, Betty and Barasa settled on rewards-based crowdfunding. The script for Family Meeting was written four years ago. It is a 75-minute drama/comedy film that casts only six people, who are award-winning actors and actresses — Raymond Ofula, Abubakar Muindi, Florence Nduta, Maureen Koech, Gitura Kamau and Akinyi Oluoch.

“Barasa and I decided to approach only the people we know. We went through our contact lists and started pitching the idea. These were people we knew understand our work and our product and are willing to trust us with their money.”

BUILD TRUST

The duo’s plan was to raise Sh1.9 million, their entire production budget, before August 5, when shooting the film would begin.

And, as Betty says, the reception and success of the crowdfunding has been overwhelming for her and her entire team.

“We still have not reached our target of Sh1.9 million in cash, but we’re close,” said Betty. “We have made over 600 ticket sales so far, and are at around Sh1.2 million. We are entirely grateful.”

The tickets are divided into several categories, each with a different benefit, reward or service. A gold member pays Sh10,000; silver Sh5,000; bronze Sh2,000; and regular member Sh1,000.

Production means a whole lot of money: paying the team and the cast, transportation, meals for the team, wardrobe and many more expenses. With that in mind, Betty decided to mitigate some costs by asking partners to come on board.

“We exchange products for exposure and placements in the film. It’s a win-win situation. At the moment, meals and wardrobe have been covered. We are currently working on transportation, whose budget is currently at Sh102,000.”

She added, “Out of the 600 people we had on the list, only six could not purchase their tickets for the simple reason that they were unable to do so at this time.”

The only challenge Betty has faced with the crowdfunding is that she did not anticipate the amount of time it would take to reach out and share their ideas with people. Her core mission was to build trust, which she believes is the most important thing.

“All in all, I have never had it this easy and I’m just so grateful. I have found a way of financing my films. This way, I can … make a film every 18 months. I hope that my colleagues in the production industry can take it up as well.”

SOLID PROOF

Betty has been transparent since initiating the process. She made the budget public and broke it down cost after cost. The crew makes the funding public every Friday, and as she says, she hopes to even share the box office’s success or failure with the public.

“Just as it is in Hollywood, I want to share how much each cast member earns and how much every expense cost us. This way, I can approach investors in future with solid proof that they can trust us.”

The film will be released from December 6 to 13 at all the Anga cinemas in Nairobi. Betty hopes to have sold 21,000 tickets by then.

"We also want to have screenings in Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru. We have an affinity for Nakuru, having worked with them in a film earlier this year. The filmmakers from there have a surreal artsy side.

“I want people to enjoy the film and know that the film is as serious as any other business. I also want them to know that I acknowledge my mistakes, with the first being with marketing. Because of that, I’ll be announcing my next film in October this year,” she concluded.

Crowdfunding has been on the rise across the world of late. It is a way of raising money through the collective efforts of friends, family, customers and individual investors.

According to Fundable, this approach happens primarily online through social media and crowdfunding platforms.

In Kenyan terms, crowdfunding is basically an online harambee, which has a wider reach.

33,000 FUNDRAISERS

There are a number of crowdfunding platforms in use right now, such as M-Changa, GoFundMe, Indiegogo and Kickstarter.

M-Changa, for example, has helped more than 33,000 fundraisers since its inception. Furthermore, the platform has over 400,000 supporters. The site enables people to see a breakdown of all the stories posted and how much has been raised so far on each plea. Well-wishers have options on how they can help — through partnerships with services like Airtel Money, PayPal, Visa and M-Pesa.

Crowdfunding is clearly a trend that is taking over the traditional harambee, which mostly involved invitations and contributions by known well-wishers.

On the other hand, using crowdfunding platforms enables one to have access to thousands of accredited investors who can see, interact with and share your fundraising campaign. It is greatly efficient and gives one an excellent opportunity to validate and refine their offerings and services.

Just like there are many different kinds of capital fundraisers for businesses in all stages of growth, there are a three main crowdfunding types, according to Fundable.

Donation-based crowdfunding means that there is no financial return to the investors or contributors. This is mostly used to fundraise for disaster relief, charities and medical bills.

Equity-based crowdfunding allows contributors to become part-owners of your company by trading capital for equity shares. This means that as equity owners, contributors receive a financial return on their investment and ultimately receive a share of the profits as a dividend or distribution.

Lastly, rewards-based crowdfunding involves individuals contributing to your business in exchange for a “reward”, typically a form of the product or service your company offers. It has no financial or equity return.

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