Thursday, March 11, 2010 — The Biracy Project: Filmmaking as Social Capitalism

Below is an article I wrote for last month, which you can see on Jawbone or download the PDF. The article is based off of an interview I did with David Geertz, which I'll also post in the near future. The interview is just over a half hour long and goes into many details only hinted at in this article.

The Biracy Project: Filmmaking as Social Capitalism

Synopsis: Discussing the Biracy Project and its platform SoKap, which could revolutionize how indie films are produced and distributed. (Guest contribution provided by Ross L. Pruden, filmmaker, blogger and lover of submarines. Find him at

Disclosure: After researching The Biracy Project, the author bought a basic membership.

2007 marked the beginning of the end for the international pre-sales market. At one film market, David Geertz was commiserating with a pre-sales agent about how film piracy was (apparently) gutting pre-sales. The pre-sales agent said, "If you could somehow turn those pirates into buyers..."

"Yeah," said Geertz, "like a birate, or an act of biracy." Then Geertz continued his thought, "But if I can perform an act of biracy, then what do I need you for? Isn't that your job? To perform risk mitigation by attaching pre-sales?"

The agent replied, "But I can't do that anymore."

Which got Geertz thinking... what if you could go straight to the buyers themselves and completely bypass all pre-sales risk mitigation?

Geertz realized that "crowdfunding", as the term is now called, could be just the first step of a more expansive model to entice donating fans to become project collaborators as well, known as "crowdsourcing". By developing a web site to track everyone's activities, and clocking their time in a virtual web site currency called "Krill", members would feel their input hadn't been wasted even if their work didn't get used in the film. Finally, collaborators become the perfect vehicle for promotion since they'd tell their friends and family about their project... from the first day they donated to Biracy until the Biracy film's premiere, and long after.

Three years later, Geertz is finally unveiling the fruits of that fateful conversation—The Biracy Project and its platform SoKap, which could revolutionize how indie films are produced and distributed in the digital age.

Biracy lets users participate in their film by offering membership in four tiers, with increased benefits for progressively higher tiers. A $25 Player membership gets you a pre-purchase of the film's DVD, a $50 Icon membership includes the DVD from the Player membership plus a feature length "making of" documentary, the $100 Mogul membership includes everything from the Player and Icon memberships plus the musical score, and the $200 Titan membership includes a book explaining the upcoming SoKap platform. Members can start at the lowest tier and upgrade to a higher tier whenever they wish. A free membership tier is also in the works.

The beating heart running Biracy is its platform, SoKap ( "We've lost sight of how important it is that artists get paid for their work," Geertz explains, "and that we can make money doing what we love." Early in the process, Geertz realized Biracy was trying to instill in people an act of "social capitalism", thus the origin of the loose acronym.

"The biracy project" Geertz explains, "and the platform it's built on—SoKap—is really just the beta test of all the tools we're actually building. Once we're out of beta, other filmmakers, people in the media, and other entrepreneurs will be able to use the tools we've built for them. You're not entitled to use the tools that we are using on Biracy—it'll be an à la carte thing, use as little or as much as you like."

Because Biracy is using crowdfunding, Geertz has to work extra hard to show how it's all legal—crowdfunding has legal constraints in the U.S. under the SEC's strict regulations. In Spain, fans can invest in film projects for financial gain, as is being done with The Cosmonaut (, but in the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission's "blue sky laws" have clear guidelines for compliance (called being "on-side"): to offer a loan or security investment, the SEC requires you have no more than 35 "unsophisticated investors", meaning someone with a $200,000 annual income, a $300,000 joint annual income, or a net worth exceeding $1 million. Breaking these guidelines puts your company "off-side" and subjects you to civil or criminal penalties.

It's no surprise, then, that Geertz is abundantly clear on this point: "Biracy is not an investment—it's a donation and pre-purchase of a product with benefits." Nevertheless, Geertz says, there are plans in the works to legally define the term "crowdfunding" so companies like Biracy don't get into trouble because of one SEC regulator's overzealous interpretation of the law. With a smile, Geertz adds, "We'd like to see those legal efforts paid for by crowdfunding."

Biracy is a rather appealing model to all sorts of filmmakers. Because of Biracy's ability to efficiently gather funding, build an interconnected fan base, and coordinate the outsourced work from fans, The Biracy Project has a massive potential to finance and streamline many parts of the filmmaking process. To boot, Biracy offers members a 15% referral commission for enlisting other members. Though that's a very clever way to help spread the word, one has to wonder if it undermines the validity of the referral... i.e., are Biracy members enthusiastic about their project because they really believe in it, or because they're getting a kickback?

Like other crowdfunding platforms (Kickstarter, IndieGoGo), Biracy offers the golden ticket to filmmakers in the digital age. Of all entertainment media, films have the highest fixed costs, so funding a film entirely from fan donations—not from financiers expecting to recoup their investment—leaves producers free from worry about piracy gutting their box office revenues. For producers who feel piracy only increases buzz, there's nothing to stop them from releasing their film under a Creative Commons license and leverage P2P networks to drive DVD sales for their "pre-paid" film.

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