When you are developing a documentary there are many things to consider: access, narrative arc (is there an unfolding story, sufficient jeopardy and conflict to make commissioning editors take notice?) and creative approach. One thing that many filmmakers avoid thinking about – often until too late – is who the potential audience is and how to find the money needed to get the film not only into production, but finished. But these two things should be integral to the development process as they are invariably intertwined: a broadcaster or online platform is not going to fund a film that doesn’t directly appeal to its core audience.
Filmmakers who have more of an independent streak, who feel that they must operate outside of the mainstream – for idealistic reasons as much as necessity – are sometimes tempted to think that the normal rules of funding don’t apply to them. They think if they film it, the audience will come. But they won’t. In order for a film to be successful it needs fans (funders in the first instance, and audiences later on), not just at the point of release but right from the start of the process. No-one knows this better than Dunstan Bruce, a vocalist with the anarchist band Chumbawamba for 23 years.
The band’s unconventional route to stardom started with 15 years of squat gigs, transit van tours, sleeping on people’s floors, bad haircuts, communal living and communal underpants whilst arguing the toss about syndicalism and class war. It was 15 years of fiercely preserving their independence, relying heavily on their fan base that they spent years nurturing. But it was only after signing to EMI in 1997 that their single Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down) became a worldwide hit. The combination of an existing fanbase and a global platform brought them success on a scale they were unable to achieve on their own. They hoped that this success could help them change the world for the better, so instead of spending the money they made on fast cars or country piles, they started to funnel it from major licensing deals into causes they supported: striking dockers, anarchist radio stations, European community centres…whilst hoping they’d find a bit of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll along the way.
Dunstan has now teamed up with filmmaker Sophie Robinson to direct I Get Knocked Down, a warts-and-all feature documentary of the true story behind 90s anarcho-pop anthem. They hope to harness the power of Chumbawamba’s fan base and combine it with the global reach of a crowdfunding platform to raise funding for production. But it is a strategy that is not without risk. Funding on Kickstarter – their chosen platform – is an all-or-nothing gamble; 13% of projects never receive a single pledge. More happily the two categories most often successful in their crowdfunding campaigns are those for film and music projects, so a documentary that combines both should have a good chance of success. Even more happily, 70% of those projects that manage to raise more than 20% of their goal go on to be fully funded (at the time of posting the project is 34% funded).
This is a project that has ‘good bones’ for crowdfunding with its inbuilt fan base. But equally – or perhaps more – importantly, crowdfunding sits well ideologically with the filmmaker who wants to make this film in the true spirit of the band and their philosophy. Crowdfunding allows filmmakers to steer clear of the conservative commercial concerns of traditional broadcasters, and therefore seems like the perfect way to raise money for a film about a band who always maintained a fierce independence and control of what they did. But taking this route could also lead to an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu.
The story they want to tell is an unlikely one. In the 1990s, Brit Pop’s Cool Britannia was in full swing, the Oasis vs. Blur rivalry was simmering, people were using Friends Reunited to connect and the Nokia 3210 was the must-have tech gadget. And then ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again‘ burst onto the scene: it was either the ultimate anthem of working-class perseverance or a deeply annoying novelty song, brought to you by a group of anarcho-punks living in a squat in Leeds. The band experienced a backlash. They were deafened by shouts of “Sell out!’ from their previously loyal fans who deserted them in their droves until in 1999 when the release of What You See is What You Get hastened their return to obscurity, emptied their wallets and left them with virtually nothing. (Maybe that’s what you get for trying to crack America with an anti-American album.) The filmmakers are hoping that history does not repeat itself, because this is a film that demands a collaborative approach and they need the fans fans to jump on board and become part of the project.
If successfully funded, the film will be Dunstan Bruce’s account of the rollercoaster ride that took them from DIY squat gigs to Madison Square Gardens and back again. Chumbawamba will be reunited and reveal for the first time the hilarious and surprising story behind their meteoric rise to fame, including their infamous John Prescott moment at the Brits in ’98, and how their legacy was reduced to a dancing gorilla sold by Walmart. It is both a personal journey and a cautionary tale, which explores what happens when a political pop band accidentally have a worldwide smash hit.
Dunstan is asking people to submit their memories of the band, to send in their personal films, photos and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. Selected submissions will feature in the documentary alongside 90s archive footage and interviews with the band and their contemporaries today.
To see how the crowdfunding campaign plays out visit the Kickstarter website: