The Creative Download: Trends in Film

Reflecting on 2023 and Anticipating 2024's Breakthroughs in Film

The Creative Download: Trends in Film

Over the past year we've seen filmmakers navigating the shifting sands of production, distribution, and audience engagement. As the Head of Film at Kickstarter, I've had a front row seat to these shifts and how they're impacting the people who make the work that entertains us. From the unprecedented WGA and SAG strikes to the large-scale corporate consolidation, the landscape for independent filmmakers wanting to get their work funded, distributed, and seen, is incredibly challenging. Still, the ever-resilient creators in this category are setting new benchmarks for what's possible in independent cinema. 

From groundbreaking narratives to innovative distribution strategies, the flexibility and ingenuity of the film community has never been more evident. As we reflect on the year's achievements and look ahead to 2024, let's explore the trends that are shaping the future of film, driven by a spirit of collaboration, a shared passion for storytelling, and the grit and determination to overcome significant challenges.

2023 By The Numbers

What we’re seeing from these top projects is that backers are eager to show up for Genre projects, especially Horror and Animation. Secondly, we’re seeing a theme where creators like those behind Christspiracy, Godspeed, and Project Fear are coming to Kickstarter in order to maintain creative and financial independence from larger entities that required editorial sign-off on their projects, or removed projects from streaming platforms entirely, locking up their intellectual property. 

We love to see repeat creators like indie auteur Hal Hartley and the RiffTrax team returning to Kickstarter and making it into this top ten. It’s a testament to the fact that Kickstarter delivers on its promise to bring creative projects to life and our creator community trusts us enough to come back for future projects.

And finally, we’re also really excited that creators like martial arts legend Cynthia Rothrock and the international studio of animators behind The Lovers are bringing their fanbase over here for the first time to support new work. 

Spooky Season

In 2023, there were a number of projects of note across horror, comedy, and sci-fi. In fact, over the last four years, our Horror subcategory has grown significantly, achieving the second-highest success rate in 2023 compared to all other film subcategories. Last year, Horror was also the fourth most pledged subcategory, its highest ranking to date. It also had the fourth-largest number of successful projects and consistently raised more money in 2022 and 2023 than in any previous year. 

See the trend in action: Deathgasm: Goremageddon || Turn Back: A Folk Horror Film Told in Reverse

Animation Amps Up

Last year, we welcomed to the platform some brilliant animation projects from both emerging and established talents alike. 

While animation has consistently been one of the most popular subcategories on Kickstarter over the last 10 years, 2023 was a standout year for the sub-category, clocking up a larger number of successful projects on the platform than any previous year.

Speaking to animation industry insiders, we can attribute this in part to a sudden drop-off in the volume of animation projects being greenlit by streamers, as well as a number of existing and dearly-loved projects being permanently taken offline following the consolidation of several streaming services, including the Warner Bros. Discover merger, which now owns Cartoon Network. We’ve met with many talented animators who – though frustrated by the barriers they’re meeting within the industry – have the energy and audiences to power their own projects outside those systems. 

See the trend in action: Godspeed: The Series || The Lovers 

DIY Distribution

In 2023 we had many conversations about projects seeking funding to support self-distribution. This trend could continue to take hold in 2024, as a new wave of films finishes production and faces challenges in securing traditional distribution channels. 

Aware of the distribution struggles, several voices in the industry have recommended that documentary projects build money for distribution into their budgets from the beginning of production. This is because acquisition of independent titles, both documentaries and narratives, have seen a significant decline over the last 18 months.

According to the Filmmaker Magazine article "Hits & Misses: How Six Sundance 2023 Titles Performed in Distribution," Oscar-winning doc producer Diane Becker (Navalny), who worked on the Sundance documentary King Coal, believes that filmmakers need to "reset and redirect their expectations" and raise funds for distribution early in their financing plans. "We all need to start thinking more outside the box and understand who our primary audience is and figure out meaningful and new ways to engage with them," she said.

Distribution thought leader Brian Newman echoed this sentiment in his Sub-Genre newsletter from April 2023: "The only realistic option in today's marketplace is to budget for your distribution, so you have the ability to bring your film to an audience, control the way it's released, and have some chance of having both an impact…and a possible return on investment. Whether you are a smaller indie, a brand-funded film, or a social-impact documentary…you need to budget for the release of your film.”

See the trend in action: Plan C || Someone's Daughter, Someone's Son

A Look Into 2024

2024 will see further reshaping of the cinematic landscape, driven by the mergers, the ripple effects of the WGA and SAG strikes, and innovative audience engagement strategies. This coming year promises to bring a fresh wave of creativity and disruption, challenging traditional paradigms and opening new avenues for storytelling. Let’s delve into the trends that could define the film sector for Kickstarter in 2024, from the resurgence of beloved franchises to the continued ascendance of genres that resonate deeply with today’s viewers.

Mergers make way for reboots 

It is expected that there will be further mergers in 2024. After the HBO Max and Discovery+ merger in 2023, it’s very possible that WarnerBrothers-Discovery will merge with Paramount+, which has in turn already acquired Showtime. This would make the conglomerate a competitor for Disney+, which has a majority stake in Hulu, and Netflix. As an outgrowth of this industry consolidation, many properties are being canceled or taken offline, with more to continue. As a result, I think we could see several projects come to Kickstarter for a reboot or to make a further or final series.

I think Animation is likely to be prominent among these projects, similar to what we saw with Godspeed. Adult Swim canceled the Final Space series after three seasons due to the proposed merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery announced that year. In September 2022, Olan Rogers, the project’s creator, stated on Twitter that the series would be canceled and become a tax write-off for the network who owned it, after Netflix’s license to air the show expired. With the copyright still owned by Adult Swim, the creator was unable to make another series of Final Space. Instead, he made a "spiritual sequel" set in a parallel universe with different characters but voiced by the same actors, called Godspeed. He followed up his first campaign for a one-off Godspeed special in 2022 with a second campaign in 2023 to begin work on a series. 

I predict we’ll see more stories like Olan’s this year.

Film goes personalized & immersive

In 2024, we’re going to see advancements in technology continue to push the boundaries of storytelling in both immersive and personalized ways.

Immersive storytelling, where filmmakers use various technologies, such as VR, AR, and 360-degree cameras, creates interactive narratives that enable the audience to shape the story's outcome through their choices. Going beyond traditional filmmaking, immersive storytelling dissolves the boundaries between reality and fiction, immersing and deeply engaging the audience in the narrative.

With personalized storytelling, filmmakers tailor the narrative based on the viewer's preferences, choices, and characteristics. By leveraging data on the viewer's interests and past viewing habits, filmmakers can produce tailored versions of their films, providing a unique experience for each viewer. 

At Sundance Film Festival 2024, Kickstarter alumni Gary Hustwit presented his new film, ENO, about music legend and super-producer, Brian Eno. Hustwit’s film employs groundbreaking technology to accomplish something that’s never been done before: a feature film that’s never the same twice. Each screening of Eno is unique, presenting different scenes, order, music, and meant to be experienced live. The generative and infinitely iterative quality of Eno poetically resonates with the artist's own creative practice, his methods of using technology to compose music, and his endless deep dive into the mercurial essence of creativity.

Upcoming Kickstarter project Plan C for Civilization will weave an immersive narrative into the film for viewers, called The Ring. Within The Ring, the climate emergency is made tangible and experiential via floor-to-ceiling projections that visually transform 360 degrees of environmental immersion. Through immersive and interactive techniques, The Ring will reveal the immense stakes of the climate crisis, and the complex decisions we all must make.

We’re excited to see how this future vision of filmmaking develops in 2024, and the many innovative applications of these technologies that will find a home and an audience on Kickstarter.

Closing Thoughts

While many will be happy to close the door on 2023, with its extended strikes across vast swaths of the industry, one thing it did show us is the power of the collective when united in a shared mission. Just as the Writers Guild and the Actors Guild achieved significant wins for their members when they operated as a unit, so too did we see big wins for creators who mobilized the commitment of their community.

We’ve seen time and again that, whether it’s short films or features, horror or animation, documentary or comedy, projects on Kickstarter perform best when they engage us with the story-beyond-the-story — of the resilience and determination of their makers, of the vision they had before they let anyone in on the secret. 

We can be confident that 2024 will present plenty of fresh new challenges to independent filmmakers, but I think we can be just as confident that that spirit of independence, when unleashed on the Kickstarter community, will be rewarded many times over. 

With tens of thousands of creative projects launched on Kickstarter every year, this platform is a thermometer for the trends bubbling up across the creative community. Kickstarter's Creative Download is an editorial series where our category experts share the trends they saw from the previous year and give us a peek at what they think is on the horizon.