Crowdfunding film projects can help 'drive diversity in entertainment,' Seed&Spark CEO says

Filmmaker Mark Duplass and Seed&Spark CEO Emily Best join Yahoo Finance Live to discuss their initiative in providing a platform for new creators to collaborate their work that represents a new diverse film industry.

Video Transcript


EMILY MCCORMICK: Creating a film, whether a short series or blockbuster feature, is no easy feat. And financing can often be a major hurdle to overcome. The film crowdfunding platform Seed&Spark aims to remove these barriers for emerging storytellers. Yahoo Finance's Alexandra Canal has a discussion with two individuals leading Seed&Spark's latest initiative. Allie, I'll let you take it from here.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: Thanks so much, Emily. Very excited to be joined by Mark Duplass, a filmmaker and actor, along with Emily Best, Seed&Spark CEO. And guys, Seed&Spark has a new initiative, the Patron Circle Program, which invites established filmmakers and industry leaders to directly support stories from up and coming creators within the Seed&Spark community. Mark, you were among the initial wave of patrons, but what's cool here is that you get to choose who to support. What made you want to be involved with this? And what's going to be your criteria when it comes to finding the stories that you want to help bring to life?

MARK DUPLASS: It's a good question. I mean, I've been working with Emily and Steven Spark for a long time now, and they have a deep history of sort of championing unsung perspectives in front of and behind the camera. And I think that relates to not only the kinds of people that are telling these stories, but where do they live. You know, there's no secret that there are gatekeepers in New York and LA, and these are the kinds of stories that are told from those perspectives. And unless we do something different, we're going to get those same stories over and over again.

So for me, my priority is using whatever influence I have, a little bit of cash, and some mentoring, honestly, and trying to find a place like Seed&Spark, who, they have access to these incredible creators from all over the country, and those people with the democratized filmmaking tools, you know, how cheap it is to shoot something with your iPhone now. And they can really do something if you just give them a little bit of cash and a little bit of support. So that's really what brought me to it.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And Emily, the platform, this new program, it's so helpful to creators. We know the pandemic has been devastating to the creator economy at large. How have you seen Hollywood adapt over these past 2 and 1/2 years? And has crowdfunding become more difficult in this environment? Or are you seeing people that really want to help out right now?

EMILY BEST: Yeah, I mean, I think at the top of the pandemic, everything contracted very, very quickly. And it was really difficult for creators to understand in this vast landscape of need, where to locate their need to tell stories and the need for communities to have responsible, representative stories told, like, where that sat in the larger picture. And what we saw in 2020 was a great contraction and creators really going back to the drawing board and figuring out, what is the format that I can use right now? What is the story that absolutely must be told right now?

And then in 2021, we saw an almost complete recovery to pre-2020 numbers and what's come out of the gate in 2022 absolutely swinging. So I think creators do what creators do, which is they use their creativity inside whatever constraints they're given. What we did see by the end of 2021 was creators were-- they felt beaten down. They felt tired. They felt like they were carrying it all on their own. And the patrons program was really one in a number of initiatives certainly that we're taking, but that we see across the industry to really support and inspire the creators who've actually been the ones driving the innovation in the first place.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: Hey, Emily, I want to follow up on that point because we have TikTok, YouTube, social media. The accessibility for creators to create right now is astounding, but that also means more competition. So how has technology played a role within this new wave of Hollywood? And how do you advise creators on how to navigate that side of things? Because it's a lot different now than it was 10 years ago.

EMILY BEST: Yeah, so around 2018, our creators started to come to us and say, we have a problem. We're getting locked in an echo chamber. And as much as there are these great tools for democratization, those tools are tailored for shareholder value and advertiser value. They are not tailored for creative impact value. So a creator can make something, but then the algorithm decides what happens next.

And what our creators were coming to us and saying was we are being delivered like a heat-seeking missile to people who already look like us and already agree with us. And that is not why we make work. So actually, in 2020, we launched a product at Seed&Spark called Film Forward that delivers the films of our creators into organizations for education, employee engagement, diversity, equity, and inclusion training, leadership training, all sorts of different ways that organizations can leverage film to serve their needs. And that circumvents a lot of these sort of algorithmic blockades that the filmmakers were finding.

So I think technology has been a huge boon because anybody from their living room anywhere can, like, reach an audience. The truth is the relationship with that audience is intermediated on those platforms in ways it simply isn't through crowdfunding. Through crowdfunding, you build a direct relationship that you own, and you own the rules for that relationship for the rest of your career.

And that's why we like-- we've been doing this for a decade, and we will do it for a decade more, because it actually gives creators the tools that they need to drive sustainability, which is, ultimately, what will drive diversity in entertainment at the end of the day, is if creators get to decide what the rules are for how they reach audiences, not platforms.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: Right, and with the rise of technology, we've seen the rise of streaming. Mark, you star in "The Morning Show." We love you there. Your character especially is a favorite of mine. But this was an out of the gate experiment for Apple TV+. Brand new streaming service at the time of the premiere, and since then, we've seen so many new platforms come to market. As an actor and as a creator yourself, what did you notice when it comes to the streaming evolution and how that's impacted the industry at large?

MARK DUPLASS: How many hours do you have to talk? I mean, I could go on forever. I think the long and the short of it is, it's certainly creating a lot of opportunities. And the streamers, I think, are trying to do their part to tell different kinds of stories. But at the end of the day, they have to respond to their shareholders. And that does mean that there is a certain kind of story that is told because it's safer to be told, it reaches the target audience that they want to reach.

And listen, I came up making movies with my brother for $3 in my kitchen in the suburbs in New Orleans. That's who I am at my core. And that's why I ultimately find my way to partners like Emily and Steven Spark because what they are essentially doing is putting the power in the hands of the filmmaker to tell whatever kind of story they want to tell. And when you have a platform like Seed&Spark that I love so much, you build that community there and you start to build your whole ecosystem so that you can become sustainable in there.

And so I'm really lucky and really happy that I get to act on a show like "The Morning Show" and be on Apple TV and make that cash. I mean, it's great. But ultimately at the end of the day, I'm happiest when I'm scrapping with my friends, making a $15,000 movie like I came up. So that's kind of why I wanted to do this Patron Circle is to pay that back into it and also be a part of that. And we're hoping a lot of other people will kind of jump on with this.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And Mark, we only have about 30 seconds, but can you give us a little teaser for season 3? I mean, we have some other scandals in the news with Jeff Zucker, CNN, the Chris Cuomo drama. We know you guys like to rip headlines. So what do you think?

MARK DUPLASS: Yeah, I think if I said anything about what happens in season 3, Apple has a technology that would literally, like, zap me right now and just, like, poof me into thin air. So I'll be quiet. But, you know, I will be back. And the crew will be back. And we're psyched to see what goes down.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: All right, fair enough. Mark Duplass, filmmaker and actor, along with Emily Best, Seed&Spark CEO, thank you both so much for joining us. Back to you, Emily.