The Sound of Crowdfunding
This past Tuesday Sound of Freedom, an independent film almost fully void of mainstream media coverage until it started racketing up millions in presale tickets, outperformed Disney’s 5th Indiana Jones movie in almost half as many theaters to win the July 4th box office.
The film comes from Utah-based distributor Angel Studios whose focus on a crowdfunding model and “faith-friendly” content reminds us of a profit formula that’s existed long before The Passion of the Christ (another Jim Caviezel-starring film) dominated the box office almost 20 years ago: find an underserved demographic and let them know you’ve got something for them. Hollywood—and by extension agencies like ours—now begins the ritual of revisiting whether crowdfunding is a viable marketing recommendation across the board or if, when it comes to funding and promoting movies, it’s a once-in-a-blue moon apples and oranges footnote.
It can’t be ignored that Sound of Freedom benefits from being the true story of Tim Ballard, a former government agent who quit his job to go overseas on a rescue mission to save children from human traffickers, and perhaps benefits even more from its “QAnon appeal” – having been adopted and touted by political conspiracy theory influencers who promote the film’s shelving by Disney in 2018 as some sort of grand coverup rather than unease over the film’s unproven claims.
Still, Angel Studios was smart about the delicacy with which they combined establishing why this story needs to be told with an altruistic approach to why each consumer’s dollar also contributes to a greater good and wrapping that in a package that could be easily digested and shared on social media. The film’s live ticketing tracker lets you contribute to and follow their goal of selling #2MillionFor2Million, representing the number of children ostensibly lost to human trafficking.
So is crowdfunding back with a vengeance or is Sound of Freedom 2023’s great box office anomaly? It’s worth noting that that the most successful crowdfunded projects have all either benefitted from knows IPs (Veronica Mars, Super Troopers) or known filmmakers (Zach Braff, Charlie Kaufman), so while we can’t say it’s right for just any project, it’s a good reminder that if you’re making something for an underserved market it pays off to bring your audience into the process as early as possible. Making your film feel not like something you’re giving to them but something you’re all giving to the world can be the difference between someone buying their ticket 10 days out and walking past an empty theater asking what a dial of destiny is.