Filmmakers have plenty of places to raise money these days, the most popular of which are Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Even prominent writers like Bret Easton Ellis and directors like Hal Hartley use them.
But Aubrey Levy thinks independent television creators need a space of their own. His new website, Mobcaster, helps producers looking to finance and distribute long-form TV — half-hour and hourlong episodic series. Mobcaster is both a crowdfunding site and an indie TV network.
“We are an independent TV channel. We’re just in a crowdfunding phase,” Levy said. “The audience dictates the shows.”
How does it work? A TV creator approaches Mobcaster with a pitch for a TV pilot, or, if they already have a pilot shot, a six-episode season. Audiences have to fund the project in order for it get produced. The creator produces the pilot or season, which is then released on Mobcaster. The creator can go back on the site and fundraise for more production. Mobcaster takes 5% of crowdfunding money and a 50/50 advertising split when the show airs on the network.
The idea behind Mobcaster is to get audiences involved in the development process, destabilizing the power of network heads as creative gatekeepers, while also guaranteeing that crowd-financed projects don’t get lost on the Internet, never to be heard from again. Eventually Mobcaster plans to have a full slate of shows continually funded by users. Some of those might get picked up by television, since all series are long-form (Mobcaster would take a minority share, but creators would retain the intellectual property).
That’s not to say Levy isn’t actively looking for high-quality shows for the site. He discovered Mobcaster’s first and most successful campaign, an Australian comedy of errors called The Weatherman, at last year’s New York Television Festival. “I was incredibly impressed with the show, with the production, the writing, the acting,” he said. “They were looking for an outlet for it.”
Funding independent television is personal for Levy, who started out as an actor and writer. Levy wrote a pilot a few years ago that generated some interest, but the rigorous network development process sent him through tons of revisions, none creatively necessary, only to have the series not make it to air. “We had to please so many constituents just to get it sold to network,” he said. Mobcaster cuts out the middlemen.
At the same time Mobcaster hopes to fill a void for those who want to create long-form television but have found distribution challenging. Independent filmmakers have the festival circuit, and short-form TV producers have YouTube and a slew of web networks. But long-form remains a challenge: aside from on-air, only a few online networks are ordering full-format television, and most are working with established TV producers and personalities. At the same time, successful Mobcaster shows could move to those channels if they build large fan bases. But they don’t have to rely on traditional television.
“It’s a system built around finding one Modern Family or one Lost that pay for the rest,” Levy said. “I see the inefficiency in the system, and we’re trying to bring efficiency to it. We’re trying to disrupt the process without destroying the world.”
A variety of shows are already on Mobcaster, from Back to Your Senses, a docu-series about people who find pleasure from work to Drifter, an ambitious sci-fi series from a number of mainstays from the web series world (whose stars you can see in the picture up top). Levy says he’s in various stages of conversation with over 100 content creators to place projects on the site.