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Crowdfunding and business smarts could have saved Gringo film from piracy losses

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The Gringo executive producer, Enock Chihoombori, on set filming the movie
The Gringo executive producer, Enock Chihombori, on set filming the movie. Credit: Gringo FB fan page

So the Gringo investors are yet to recoup their $50 000 because of piracy. Well, if they had stopped to consider all options before releasing their film perhaps they would have made a profit before production started.

We have something called crowdfunding these days. If the Gringo Team had appealed to members of the Zimbabwean public to support the production of the Gringo movie by sending even as little as $1 using EcoCash, no doubt they would have covered their entire budget, or even exceeded it. And if not, they would at least have subsidized their budget.

The beauty of crowdfunding is that you get people to even sample your product by way of a trailer. Honestly, if they posted a trailer on YouTube, even the newspapers would probably have picked it up. They would even make it to 1st TV reaching an international audience of Zimbabweans in the diaspora who can send money home via Western Union to fund the Gringo movie.

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Crowdfunding locally

Zimbabwe has a beast called EcoCash. It has over 2 million users and growing, all of which most definitely know about Gringo.

Let’s dream. If 2 million EcoCash users had supported Gringo with $1 each, Gringo would have grossed $2 million on a $50 000 budget, making it one of the most profitable movies in the world.

If the Gringo team had accepted donations via EcoCash, no doubt with the kind of popularity Gringo has, they would have raised $50 000 in no time, or even exceeded that amount in which case they would make a profit before they had even started filming.

They would then even have bought equipment rather than hire it, equipment they could use to film a sequel and even to expand their business, crowdfunding successfully locally than on international platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGogo, which are rather expensive and cumbersome.

Marketing the crowdfunding campaign

Any news on Gringo is newsworthy and the newspapers want it, so Gringo could have used PR to get the word of their crowdfunding initiative out. They could even have posted a crowdfunding “trailer and appeal” on YouTube.

SMS marketing is also cheap, going for as little as $0.02 per SMS.

So the Gringo Team could easily have got $1000 in cash from a corporate sponsor on the back of the Gringo brand alone, and then used that $1000 to send 50 000 SMS to members of the public asking them to support the production of the Gringo movie with EcoCash, in which case they would not have used $1000 of investor funds. Remember, the Gringo series had sponsors so sponsorship would really not been a problem. Even targeting Harare alone they would not fail to get support from members of the public. If people have money to vote with SMS on Big Brother, what more Gringo, a household name?! People would even be motivated to support Gringo in Gringo.

Poor business; Wrong methods for the wrong market

The Gringo Team shot themselves in the foot by trying to be Hollywood in Zimbabwe. They should have thought local like Nigerians who sell Nigerian movies on CDs and DVDs. Very few Zimbabweans have the kind of internet to watch movies on the internet. Again, very very few Zimbabweans have MasterCards etc and PayPal with which to pay to watch the Gringo movie online, let alone the computers, and that go on the net. And why would a Zimbabwean pay $3.50 to watch a family movie on a computer? On top of that, getting a modem and buying bandwidth to watch a 1GB movie?

(Ever watched those circulating rings of a YouTube movie that would still be loading? How cool is that in the middle of Gringo doing something funny?)

People watched Gringo as a family on a shared TV, laughing as a family. They would call each other to come watch Gringo. People would discussGringo at school and at work. Gringo was not, and is not adult content which perhaps requires some secret viewing. A family movie has to be packaged for family viewing and a computer hardly is it.

On top of that the price was just too much at $3.50 just to watch the movie only once in a market used to $1 DVDs they can watch a million times until they scratch and then resurface if its worth it.

The Gringo team needed to first study how people watched its and others’ series and movies, and how people buy and watch films in their category. It would have helped.

As it is, I can buy an original Macheso CD for $1, original copy not pirate copy. If I had no option but to be on the internet to listen to Macheso, would I not be tempted to actually pay cold hard cash for a pirate DVD that has DRM-free MP3s I can transfer to my phone and other devices and listen to anytime I want?

$3,50 for an internet show is just too much in Zimbabwe. That’s a half-bread and 3 seasons of 24.

Online store versus crowdfunding

Naturally when you suggest selling anything via the internet, an online store is what quickly comes to the minds of many. However, there are many different ways of selling over the internet. Crowdfunding is actually one of them and it works wonders for easy to copy or easy to pirate products. Instead of selling single copies that can be pirated, you can crowdfund a lumpsum before selling single copies. I am not saying they are mutually exclusive. You can crowdfund first, and then sell at an online store.

Aligning goals with funding targets

Before you make a movie, it is important to set a realistic goal where you can say I want to make at least so much amount of money. Naturally you cannot gross US$200 million in Zimbabwe from a Shona movie (subtitles considered), and if you can find a pirate copy of Leonard Zhakata on the streets, then you must expect your copy on the streets too. The best way to avoid piracy is abstinence, produce nothing. If you are going to produce something, then expect some piracy.

So in the case of the Gringo team they could have said we need $50 000 to cover the cost of filming the movie, or $150 000 in revenues, or $100 000 in profit, or any other target/method and then used their desired target amount as the crowdfunding minimum target, which if achieved they would feel ok.

If their goal was to fight piracy, they would crowdfund at least $150 000 to release the film and if they get that, then even if there is piracy they wouldn’t care because at least they would have made a 300% return on their production costs, production costs they did not pay with their own money.

If their goal was just to make a movie, $50 000 would have been enough.

50 cent Gringo DVDs

For the Gringo DVD to be affordable, it could be sold for $1 or less.

So how can a Gringo DVD be sold for 50c? Well, first of all, if through crowdfunding they raise $150 000, or more than $50 000, they would have made a profit. At a price of 50c, Gringo DVDs would be cheaper than those of pirates.

At a price of $1, the Gringo DVDs will be selling at the same price as pirates sell their DVDs, which means pirates will not make a profit selling theGringo DVD at $1. So, to make a profit, the pirates will sell the Gringo DVD at $2, making $1 in profit per Gringo DVD. When the Gringoteam sees pirates making $1 profit selling Gingo DVDs for $2, they will get angry and jealous and think they should sell then at $2, and when they raise the price of the Gringo DVD to $2, pirates will pirate the DVD and sell it for $1. This is why I said you must have realistic objectives and targets.

Anyway, it is possible for a Gringo DVD to be sold at 50c locally, with the movie making a profit. How? That”s what I am about to talk about.

How to raise $50 000 for Gringo

Gringo could get corporate sponsorship just like Hollywood does it. They could even write the script to accommodate sponsors like when Optimus Prime mentioned eBay in Transformers. From this they could get as much as $2000 per advertiser.

Through crowdfunding, they would get money from supporters and no doubt they could raise $50 000 from fans scattered all over the country who can contribute a dollar here and a dollar there.

The Gringo team, for example, could have offered the following rewards to supporters:

For $20 you appear in the movie as an extra.

For $1000, you are mentioned as a producer and you appear in the movie.

For $2000, a corporate sponsor is mentioned in the movie and its products are visibly used in the movie for up to 1 minute. The sponsor is also mentioned at the end of the movie, and can even have a full 1 minute ad at the end of the movie.

For $5000, you are mentioned as a producer and you also direct the film and you appear in the movie.

Naturally there are people who will support with EcoCash without expecting to be part of the movie, who would just want the movie to be out. TheGringo team could easily have raised their $50 000 from supporters via EcoCash. Even in the event that they failed to raise $50 000, they would at least have subsidized their movie.

The good thing about crowdfunding is that it has no formula, you just use every method to make the most money out of it; what works for you.

Distributing the movie

At 50c per DVD pirates will flock to buy the Gringo DVD and sell it on the streets, distributing the movie. And how would 50c have been achieved? Through in-movie advertising and crowdfunded funds. The low price will serve as an incentive for pirates to buy and distribute the original movie. It’s just like a newspaper which sells for less than the cost of printing it thanks to advertising.

Distribution was one of the killers of the Gringo movie. First there is the payment method, then there is accessibility, then competition. I have already discussed the payment method. Accessibility for the Gringo movie via computers through pay per view does not work, which leads to the competition, pirate copies.

Every pavement in Zimbabwe has pirate DVD vendors. The Gringo team had a choice either to work with pirates or fight them. (I would choose to work with them, or rather, use them.)The Gringo Team needed to find out what makes pirated DVDs a success (price and accessibility). If they brought out a DVD that cost $1 or even less, they could have beat pirates and won them over as distribution partners.

Come on, the Gringo Team knew this. How many times have you bought a DVD and then seen silhouettes moving in front of the pictures because someone was choosing a seat in the cinema. People have phones to record any movie that is in demand and in “induced” short supply. And to add insult to injury, the cinema-route they chose substituted their DVD sales through giving pirates a platform to record the movie.

Anyway, the Gringo Team should simply have chosen a distribution system with wider reach like pirates. There is nothing wrong with using pirates to sell your legitimate DVDs. That is how the economy will be revived and improved. I remember original copies of Lobola selling on the streets by choice of the producers. Most pirates are people who are trying to make an honest living and want to make an honest living given the chance. In my view the whole business plan of the Gringo film was not well thought out.

If you can’t beat them

A pirate can be your friend. Pirates are normally thought of as enemies, but you can turn them into friends. As a content developer, you just have not option but to be a little more aggressive and think outside the box. Everything I have just said applies even to an app developer or software developer, anybody in the intellectual property business and creative media industries.

The Gringo Team should have known their film will be pirated. And if they did, they would have included a message in the video, and not on the DVD, that says “You can support the Gringo team via EcoCash by sending EcoCash to XYZ” at the end of the film. Those who watch the piratedGringo film and laugh would then see it and then pay the Gringo Team for the pirated service they received and be forgiven of their sins. This way, the Gringo Team uses pirates indirectly to advance their cause, without even going through the expense of pressing DVDs and packaging expenses. Pirates would definitely help because downloading a movie is also expensive. It’s cheaper to sell the DVD. The Gringo team could also have said (in the DVD), “If you want an original copy of this DVD, please call XYZ or visit WEBSITE GRO etc.” so no matter what pirates do, they would carry the message to the viewers.

Using EcoCash

The Gringo team could therefore have done the same and got the same benefits. I find it very silly that some DVDs say if you find a pirate DVD phone so and so on number 12345 or visit our offices in Harare. Why not just say if you loved the video send EcoCash to 12345 or EcoCash Merchant 12345? (“Sow a seed in this ministry” “plant as seed” as televangelists say). By not mentioning EcoCash, they leave money under the table. But then again, maybe that’s what they want, that’s their business model.

Someone may not want to go through the hassle of buying a DVD from you or may have bought a pirate copy, but would have loved the show, so should that person buy your expensive DVD as a thank you, paying $5 for postage, $5 which could actually go to you?

In the same vein, after successfully crowdfunding, the Gringo movie could then be screened on ZTV and 1st TV for free viewing countrywide (even on Christmas) avoiding DVD distribution. Those in areas without DVD pirates will be motivated to support the production of Gringo via EcoCash than travel to Harare to buy a copy, or pay $5 for postage.

It may be more beneficial to the Gringo team for me to buy a pirate copy in Rutenga for $1, and send them $9 via EcoCash, than for me to buy their original copy for $3,50 and pay $5 for shipping to me.

And when Gringo is screened, at the end of the film viewers will be told how to support Gringo production by sending EcoCash to EcoCash Merchant number 12M45. Which means Gringo will make money before production, when Gringo is screened on ZTV and 1st TV, and when original and pirate copies surface. It’s all about strategic marketing. You don’t just film a movie and sell DVDs as though they are tomatoes like theGringo team did with its movie. You first study the market, think and strategize, and then you execute. You don’t execute, then think and strategize and study the market.

No website development necessary. Even Gringo can do it.

And you don’t really need to build a crowdfunding website from scratch or join Kickstarter or IndieGogo to crowdfund for your project. EvenGringo can do it. You can use your own WordPress blog, embed a YouTube “trailer” of your project “Kickstarter-style,” with a write up and rewards to boot, accepting payments via EcoCash.

Crowdfunding does not exactly have to be like Kickstarter or IndieGogo. It’s nice to study or copy Kickstarter and IndieGogo but you can come up with your own model that works and is suitable for your market. You don’t have to exactly copy them.

Finally

The Gringo team ought to have acquainted themselves with technological trends and their market. The Gringo team could be crying piracy when the real cause of their failure to recoup their investment is more about poor business methods than piracy. It’s not uncommon for good artistes to be bad in business.

This guest article was authored by Prosper Chikomo, the author of Turning Iron into Gold: Golden Opportunities: How to Spot Them, Create Them, Make Money from Them, and How Not to Miss Them.


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20 thoughts on “Crowdfunding and business smarts could have saved Gringo film from piracy losses

  1. Crowd funding is one of the options for funding ideas and start ups but I do not think in light the Gringo movie it would have made things any better. The outcry was always there from Enock as he made an anologue of progress on the production of the movie to someone travelling from Bulawayo to Harare. There were many stops and delays because of funds, appeals where made but only little came through. If the system really works we will see as no one has closed door on using crowdfunding to fund a start ups. This is advise to other movie makers, e.g Vharazipi, am sure this advise will get to them soon and we await success

  2. Was the main issue funding or piracy. If I am no mistaken, production was covered so crowd funding wouldnt have solved piracy issues. Crowdfunding would be ok, pre-production if they had problems getting funding for making the movie.

    What would have helped them would be content distribution through target networks. Most reactions from people in the diaspora are those of willingness to buy to support these guys, not forgetting that most of us all like Gringo.

    So an alternative wouldve been an outward approach for a Zimbabwean audience that WILL pay. Marketing to that audience, recouping production costs, then making profits, after which they could bring it to Zim with the expectation that it may/will be pirated.

    They blundered in their release plan, not production. If productions costs were covered, crowdfunding would be meaningless as it is a pre-implementation exercise.

  3. Great idea. What of pre-selling it to the public by realeasing a teaser, then create a sales website where the public can buy it before releasing, and then courier it to t

    1. which public? because currently the most cost effective way to sell music/movies in Zim is street corner vending/marketing. reason being: selling by website, cost of 700megabytes to download one movie is roughly 25/30us.

      1. I actually meant, website where one would pre-buy (before release), then they will actually get a hard copy couriered to them on the release date

  4. “Zimbabwe has a beast called EcoCash. It has over 2 million users and growing, all of which most definitely know about Gringo.

    Let’s dream. If 2 million EcoCash users had supported Gringo with $1 each, Gringo would have grossed $2 million on a $50 000 budget, making it one of the most profitable movies in the world.”

    Blaz imimi mune funnies akawanda kudarika a GRINGO wacho! Ndaseka stereki.

  5. In theory, what you are saying is good. In practice, Zimbabweans are nowhere near that generous. I have tried the crowd-funding route with an opt-in audience of over 3 000 members on my mailing lists, for a cause that would actually benefit the participants in that list, once implemented. What I got was the princely sum of $15.20 and several promises to pay later, which needless to say never materialised.

    1. Do you mind shedding more light on the failed project? I’m always curious about these things.

      1. Something was not clear on that deal mr mutambanengwe, to me it sounded like a pyramid scheme or like one of those Nigerian scams. Well I remember you saying, we need to raise something like 3k or so as 30 percent of a facility where the donor will then give us the rest. As you are aware even in the press or online such deals are awash and the moment the donor asks you to deposit the 20 percent into their account then money is lost. For me i did not ecocash because of that…would rather take my time but apply due dilliegency with the little I get until I make it.

        1. We just needed to raise $1 125 which was 25% of the amount required for a feasibility study. I was asking for a dollar from each person. This was to people on my list, not just a general message sent out to people who don’t know what we do. People understood it, because when I then subsequently asked for people who wanted to take up the distributorship, I got over 30 responses each saying they had varying level of capital (up to $20 000) to put towards starting! So people were not willing to contribute even a dollar towards the set-up, but would be eager to invest once it is done for them. You could say it’s exercising caution, but for that same reason, that Gringo project would still not have been crowd-funded. Zimbabweans just aren’t wired that way.

        2. Donor is a well-known local one, and we have a signed MOU for the project, so it’s not an online scam at all..unless you think the SME Association is the online scam?

          1. I participate and attend your activities but what you where asking for is a line that Zimbabweans who have been swindled are well familiar with. People have been swindled even by their trusted pastors and relatives into investment schemes to say the least. Mcdowell, Paramount etc are examples

            1. The point remains. People will not participate in crowd-funding schemes. Whether it’s because they fear “being swindled” as you put it above or anything else.

  6. Their many issues here that you have pointed out to why they have or are failing to gross revenue after production, and you are quick to dish solutions which arent really solutions but extra marketing, research and publicity strategies which any serious filmmaker should consider before production.

    The “BIGGEST” problem is piracy. How do we stop this monster? Policy change, Law enforcers and public assistance. Then maybe even with the funding which was done for this production and future productions can make a living from entertaining the nation

  7. I think some commentators did not understand what the writer was putting across. Firstly Crowd funding in its basic format is for funding start ups or your project ideas etc i.e. raising capital for a project. But here the writer was intelligent enough to consider it for things like fighting piracy by even selling the movie (in-demand product) before it is released. Fighting piracy by lowering the official selling price to that of pirates. Secondly a lot of people can donate to a widely known production or cause, sorry for those that are not very popular.
    Thirdly i still think its possible to do the crowd funding for this project. Chihombori and crew are well known Zimbos and i believe a lot of people feel for them when they learn that they are still to meet their initial costs. I for one do. I wanted to buy the movie but i couldn’t get one or rather i don’t know where the official ones are sold from.

    Way forward for them: Talk to Econet to help you raise the money through one EcoCash and two distribution of the movie through Econet shops. On your FB page just ask people to EcoCash you say $2 or $3 and get the OG high quality movie from any Econet shop. Publish your campaign through various print & social media and agree with Econet that at the end of it all they donate “something” to you from the money they would have raised from transactions made. I believe through this you will make it eventually.

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