Frame-by-Frame Funding

In October of 2012, Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach travelled to Kabul thinking they would make a short film about freedom of press (or lack thereof) in Afghanistan.

They were only there for two weeks, but  “The story blew up in our faces,” said Scarpelli. What they saw was an emerging free press in the war-torn country, and a handful of Afghan journalists behind it.

Most of these reporters and photographers are people that trained themselves and learned from the international press corps, explained Scarpelli, but as the troops pull out, so does the international media, and it is up to local journalists to keep coverage of Afghanistan in the press.

Now Scarpelli and Bombach are going back to film Frame by Frame, a feature-length documentary backed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, about the recent revolution in Afghan photojournalism. The film will focus on four photojournalists, each from a different background.

Najibullah Musafer

Photojournalist Najibullah Musafer in a still from the Frame by Frame trailer.


Before trying Kickstarter,  Bombach sold her car, and dipped into her savings to get the money for the trip to film the trailer, which cost  between $12,000 and $15,000. But they could not fund the second production trip on their own. “We wanted to do a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for the film independently, but also to connect with a unique and invested audience; Kickstarter is great for that,” says Scarpelli. “It was simply too much money to fund it ourselves, the fixer fees alone were too expensive.”

Their Kickstarter campaign asked for $40,000, but they received $70,301. Had they not gotten the extra thirty thousand dollars, they would have had to do further fundraising after their return. Instead, they’re in “full production mode.”

The initial asking amount, the first $40,000,  will pay for travel, five weeks in Kabul, equipment, translators and fixers. The extra funds are allowing them to seek legal counsel during production, instead of after the film is done. Looking down the road, it should also be enough for an assistant editor and a sound engineer.

On their return trip to Kabul, they will also take new shooting gear, which is likely to include two Canon 5-D Mark III and accessories. Though the trailer was shot on Canon C300s, the filmmakers decided to go for the DSLRs, which they are more comfortable using and are less expensive.

Farzana Wahidy

Photojournalist Farzana Wahidy in a still from the Frame by Frame trailer.

Scarpelli gave us five tips she says are key when fundraising for your project:
It’s a good exercise in thinking about why you’re doing this to begin with, explains Scarpelli. When you want to justify the fundraising, you have to come up with the nut graph of the story you want to tell.  “I really believe in the story,” says Scarpelli. “I still get shivers when I think about it.”
Send your Kickstarter campaign to blogs and online publications that have an audience for your story. “Pitch all day, every day,” she says.
You have to be persistent, and you have to consistently “push people” before, during, and after the campaign. Scarpelli made it her full time job to reach out to everyone she knew about their project and Kickstarter campaign.
They reached out to specific sites like Media Storm and Upworthy, and requested support for the campaign by asking their audiences and communities to fund their film. You need people to vouch for you. As an example, Brian Storm, the founder and executive producer of MediaStorm, “was very supportive,” explained Scarpelli. There was also a huge push from Upworthy at the very end of the campaign. “By noon the day before it ended, our emails blew up,” says Scarpelli.
When you’re on a long term project there tends to be moments of self doubt, but if you’re asking people for money to fund your work, you have to be convinced that it’s worth it. You can’t be insecure when you ask people for money. “Ask yourself: Why should anyone care?” says Scarpelli. If you’re going to ask for money, you need to “mean business, and you have to love the idea behind your story.”

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