Ireland has developed a reputation worldwide for producing amazing musicians, writers and film-makers, but creative projects cost money, and there isn't a lot of that around these days.
For example, funding for the Arts Council for 2013 stands at €60.7m, down from €80.2m in 2007. We may be harbouring the next U2, James Joyce or Neil Jordan in our midst, but we have no money to nurture and develop them.Lack of arts funding is not just an Irish phenomenon, though.
Last week, it was announced that a movie version of the US TV series Veronica Mars will go ahead because 33,000 fans raised over $3m for the project on the Kickstarter website, an international funding platform for creative projects. Over here, we have Fund it, a 'crowd-funding' website.
The way it works is that the artist sets a fundraising target that has to be achieved within an allotted time, and then friends and supporters pledge an amount towards it. A range of enticing rewards is promised in exchange for the amounts pledged, but the rub is that if the target is not achieved, the funder doesn't receive any funding at all.
Aoife Scott (30) is a talented singer-songwriter who is raising funds for her debut album through www.fundit.ie.
Aoife has been gaining a stellar reputation in recent years. As the daughter of Frances Black, she was immersed in the world of music from an early age. Her exquisite vocal talents were featured heavily in the IFTA award-winning TV series 1916 Seachtar na Casca and she beat over a thousand artists to win a support slot to Bob Dylan and Van Morrison at the London Feis.
Aoife also won first prize at the Ballyshannon Folk Festival Showcase in August 2011. She is aiming to raise €7,500 through Fund it for her debut album, which will be released later this year. See www.fundit.ie/ project/aoife-scott–-debut-album
It was seeing artists such as The Walls and Julie Feeney successfully raising money through crowd-funding campaigns that inspired Aoife to start her Fund it campaign. With straitened record companies slow to invest in emerging artists, particularly in the area of folk and traditional music, the charming singer from Dublin 8 knew that it was up to her to self-finance her debut album.
"It has always been my dream to be able to hold that bit of plastic in my hand and say, 'This is my album'," she says. "I don't think I've ever wanted anything more in my entire life, but I procrastinated for about six months because of the fear of it not working out, and putting my fate in the hands of people who believe in me."
As a former film editor and producer, Aoife was well-versed in the area of budgeting, but chose to pitch her campaign amount lower than the final figure required.
"I will need to borrow the rest to make up the difference, but, thankfully, it's not too much," she laughs. "I worked out studio costs, musician costs, album duplication, printing and artwork, and budgeted it from there.
"You want your first album to be the best that it can possibly be, but being a production manager in a past career life made me want to immediately cut corners everywhere."
Apart from the regular rewards of concert tickets and signed albums for pledging small amounts, Aoife's research suggested to her that people were motivated to get involved by the more interesting and unusual incentives. So she is offering the likes of a cycling tour of Dublin, singing a harmony part on the album, or having a song written about you.
"I love cycling, and I love Dublin, so for a few bob pledged I will bring people on a cycling tour of the city," she says.
"For me, it would be a joy to bring someone out to show them two of my passions, but they'll have to listen to me waffling on about the 1916 Easter Rising.
"Other rewards are that myself and my songwriting partner, Enda Reilly, will find out a bit about you by Skype, and then we'll write a song about you. I think doing it this way is a brilliant way of getting fans more involved, because once they've funded it, they are constantly kept in the loop as to how the project is going and are hugely involved with the whole process."
Aoife believes that crowd-funding is a fantastic idea in a recession, when money is tight for everyone, particularly for those in creative industries.
"I really feel that it's like a beacon of light for the arts industry in Ireland, in what is a very dark and scary time for everyone," she says. "I feel very lucky to be a part of something that is so positive. I am three-quarters of the way there with the funding and have two weeks left, so hopefully I will reach my target and make this album. But people's generosity has been so amazingly heart-warming, that even if I'd be so disappointed if I don't make the target, I'm already delighted with the support I've been given so far. I have learned so much about feeling the fear of going out on your own and jumping in the deep end, but the thing is that you've got all these amazing people trying to keep you afloat by supporting your campaign."
Kevin de la Isla O'Neill (34), is an acclaimed film-maker who successfully raised enough money last year to make his debut feature film.
O'Neill is half-Irish, half-Mexican, and grew up in Mexico City. He moved to Dublin in 1996, and has worked as a director, camera operator, editor and assistant producer for Ned Kelly Pictures, Telwell, RTE, TV3, Setanta and on various film and music video productions. He successfully raised the money for his debut feature film, The Hit Producer, through Fund it in 2012, and it is now in post-production.
See www.twitter.com/hitproducerfilm for further information. As director of the Irish crime thriller, award-winning Kevin was very grateful to the 198 funders who gave €20,121 last year to enable him to shoot his film.
Describing it as a crime thriller with a comedic undertone, Kevin developed the story over three years with screenwriter Niall Queenan. It centres around struggling movie producer Katelin Ballantyne, played by TV presenter and DJ Michelle Doherty, who is forced to commit murder after witnessing an attempted hit in Dublin's underbelly. After being blackmailed, an error of judgment sees her becoming the target, putting her family in the line of fire.
"We asked for €18,000, which seemed to be a very high amount to get in two months," says Kevin, "but, thankfully, we proved successful and also covered the 8pc commission that Fund it takes. It was tough coming towards the last week, and I would recommend to others to get their fanbase on Facebook and Twitter together before they start their campaign."
Wanting the rewards to be original, Kevin and his team sat down and thought about what would appeal to people who like films.
So, they offered funders the rewards of going on set, meeting the cast and crew, and getting limited edition goods, such as caps or shot glasses emblazoned with the logo of the film. And then, for people willing to commit a bit more money, they offered rewards including a book of director's notes, story boards and stills. And for committed fans, tickets to the wrap party would be a huge draw.
"We managed to secure a very strong cast on a very small budget," says Kevin.
"I met Michelle Doherty when I was directing a play in 2008, and approached her for a test screening in 2010. We liked the way the role was coming to life, so the feature script was born with Michelle attached. Other cast members include Neill Fleming, Fergus Kealy, Susan Barrett, Karl Shiels and Rory Mullen."
For Kevin, advantages to not being attached to a big production company include not being restricted in what he can and can't do. The disadvantages include having to be very open to changes in shooting times, as unlike a full, budgeted production, he had to work with the cast and crew's availability, which sometimes clashed.
Now that the film has been shot and is currently in the post-production phase, Kevin is in talks with private investors to help cover some of the future costs.
"Fingers crossed, we will be starting the festival circuit this May in Cannes and from then on to other festivals," he explains. "We're hoping for a general release by the end of this year. We have been lucky enough to have a number of distribution companies express an interest in the film, so hopefully this will materialise in the best possible way for all of us."
As the movie wouldn't have happened without the initial funders, it is important to the team to release a film to which they will be proud to have their names attached.
"In the end, we hope to not only satisfy our backers but also entertain them and a much wider audience," says Kevin.
"My advice to independent film-makers who are considering the crowd-funding route, is that if you want their support, show them you believe in what you're doing and present them with an opportunity to be part of something unique. Or else make them an offer they can't refuse..."