HomeMoviesWilliam Shatner’s Doc You Can Call Me Bill raised $750,000 in funding the other day
William Shatner’s Doc You Can Call Me Bill raised $750,000 in funding the other day
March 16, 2023
SXSW: Legion M’s documentary ‘You Can Call Me Bill’ raised over $750,000 in just four days with profit share pledges.
It’s clear that audiences want to see William Shatner’s documentary You Can Call Me Bill so much that a good number of them were willing to pay to see it in the first place.
“You Can Call Me Bill” premieres at SXSW on Thursday, and Shatner himself is set to hold a keynote at the festival alongside the doc’s debut. However, the film came about through an attempt at capital investment by the film’s producers, Legion M. The production company’s principals, Paul Scanlen and Jeff Annison, told IndieWire that “You Can Call Me Bill” managed to raise more than $750,000 in just four days. That number easily exceeded the film’s meager budget and helped launch and promote it at SXSW this week.
While crowdfunding itself isn’t new, fundraising for “You Can Call Me Bill” isn’t a Kickstarter or a donation; it’s an investment that allows the company and Shatner’s fans to invest directly in the film’s success — or lack thereof. Legion M hopes that, if all goes well, it will be a vehicle for the company to fund future projects or acquisitions.
“We’ve been really encouraged by the response,” Scanlen told IndieWire. “Now we have the ability and the skills and that’s a muscle we’re going to continue to develop.”
Legion M calls itself a “fan-owned” company, with individual movie fans being equity investors and shareholders in the still-private company (Legion M currently has roughly 40,000 investors). With their investment, they gain voting rights for the filmmakers with whom the company partners, the projects they want to finance or films in which they want to see Legion M partner as a distributor.
It’s a model that’s worked for movies like “Colossal,” “Mandy” and “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.” However, “You Can Call Me Bill” marks the first time Legion M has allowed fans to directly invest in a project.
Legion M announced at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con that it would be financing the Shatner doc with its own capital, and the plan was to first have a group of Legion M shareholders reserve seats to attend the initial funding round. The funding window will then be opened to anyone who is part of the larger Legion M fan community and eventually to the general public.
“You can call me Bill”
Courtesy of Legion M
The producers have set a funding goal of $600,000, which would include a production budget of $561,000 with additional contingencies. But the demand was so great that crowdfunding never made it past the first round. Of the 3,000 investors who booked a seat, just under 1,500 made more than $750,000 in four days, some with huge investments and others with at least $100. Legion M ended up capping the amount raised at $750,000 – but they could have easily kept going.
“It is an investment; it is not a donation in any way. And if you raise more money than you need, it just makes it harder for everyone to come back,” Annison said.
As for the backstory, Legion M says the financing deal is structured so that if the film gets its money back, fans will get their full investment before Scanlen, Annison and Shatner, who is an executive producer, see it. everything returns itself. The profits are then divided equally three ways between the fan community of investors, the producers and Shatner. And those who have contributed $5,000, for example, will receive a higher income than a backer who only contributed the minimum $100.
“One of the attributes of ‘Fan-First Financing’ that we wanted to do was to do simple, straightforward deals. Part of the reason Hollywood has such a bad reputation is that accounting is inherently very complex,” Annison said. “Bill had a say in it. We looked at funding this traditional versus fan funding, and Bill said, “Let’s raise the money from the fans.” We told him, “Well, Bill, if we’re going to raise this money from the fans, we’ve got to put the fans first. There’s no world in which it’s good that you’ve made money from a project and the fans who invested in it don’t.”
While Legion M could very easily have gone the traditional funding route, a William Shatner documentary seemed like a good, low-risk and inexpensive way to test the model. If it succeeds, they can once again count on fans to fund other future narrative projects with bigger budgets. And given how quickly they were able to raise funds this time, they wonder if such a model might one day allow them to make a competitive bid to buy a film at a festival like SXSW.
Of course, this all depends on whether “You Can Call Me Bill” actually makes money. The documentary is coming to SXSW undistributed, with XYZ Films handling sales. The film has already been shown to the press and industry, and according to Scanlen, early discussions about distribution are already underway. Even if they do go on strike, the backup plan might be to tour the film with Shatner and hold events around the country to recoup the costs.
In the meantime, Legion M is rolling out the red carpet at SXSW for those who made this film possible, offering a few hundred investors tickets to the premiere and to meet Shatner at an after-party event. If they end up being happy mini-producers, hopefully this won’t be the last film they help finance.
“We want everyone to be on the same page,” Annison said. “Wherever possible, we want to set things up so that we’re all aligned. We can all join hands and try to conquer the world together.”
“You Can Call Me Bill” will premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.