Meet Emily Best, Founder of Seed&Spark

September 4, 2017

Seed&Spark is an online platform combining crowdfunding and subscription streaming. Find out more and subscribe here.

 

What first inspired you to launch Seed&Spark?

Seed&Spark is an entertainment platform built to increase diversity and inclusion. We've combined subscription streaming and crowdfunding so you can find what you want to watch now and fund what you want to watch next. You subscribe for just $8.99 a month, watch unlimited movies and shows (on our Apple TV and Roku apps - soon on Amazon Fire!) and you get to support 12 new crowdfunding projects a year.


It all started in 2010, when was producing a play in New York City in which my friend Caitlin FitzGerald was starring, and I was working with the most magnificent group of women I had ever known. Caitlin's career was at the beginning of its ascent and she was starting to audition for all these major directors and big movies (she had already done Nancy Meyers' It's Complicated with Meryl Streep) so she was coming to rehearsals for the play with portions of scripts for her auditions. Caitlin is one of the smartest, most well read people I know, and the parts she was being asked to audition for were so, so insulting to women. And it's like I woke up all of a sudden and looked around and realized that none of the women I know were being represented on screen - the women on screen were pretty much exclusively looking for a solution to their main problem which was not having a man to complete them. There was no talk of "strong female protagonists" or "complicated women." (This was 2010, so I was a little bit ahead of the curve - but this is something that we now all seem to have recognized.) During the run of the play, Caitlin was also shooting “Newlyweds” with Ed Burns. This was a film that Ed Burns famously shot for $9,000. And quite honestly, it happened like this: It was after a particularly great night of the play. This group of women I mentioned was sitting around at a bar raging about the lack of representation of women like us on screen. And we were just drunk enough to believe her when Caitlin, having this recent experience with Burns, said: “Women! We should a make movie! It’s so easy!” 

 

And to be fair, Ed Burns can talk a starving dog off a meat truck, so when I went and visited their "set" (which was his friend's apartment), he sort of convinced me that this could be true. I watched him organize his two man crew: his cinematographer using a handheld 5D and one sound guy with a boom. They made a theatrically released film for $9,000. That's what technology was making possible in 2010. And that was when I started making films.

 

Then Caitlin and Caroline [von Kuhn], who wrote the script [for “Like the Water”], handed me this slow, contemplative indie drama shot in Maine in the summer, and it was about a young woman grieving the loss of her best childhood friend and sort of being brought back to herself by her community. This is not a film that anybody wanted to finance - they would ask "Who is the audience for this film?" It was not a film that could even be shot on a 5D because of the limitations of the camera at that time. All of the things that I was promised were not true.

 

So all the sudden I was learning to make a feature film. As producer, I had only produced plays and shorts at that time, and it’s not the same. We needed to raise I think $85,000 to shoot on location in Maine for the 21 days plus the preproduction. We had to travel in most of the crew. We had raised some money from friends, family and fools, and we were $20,000 short six weeks before we were going to leave for Maine.
Crowdfunding had sort of just woken everyone up. Our filmmaker friends knew about it, but our friends’ parents didn’t, and those were really who we wanted to reach. So we convened one night and said, “OK, what are we going to do? What is a crowd thing, a funding thing that everyone recognizes?” That’s when we settled on a wedding registry, because everybody’s touched a wedding registry. We made a list of all the things we needed to make our film, and we put it on our WordPress website with a PayPal link, and we sent it to everyone we knew with little more than the promise of your name in the credits.

 

We needed $20,000. We raised $23,000 in cash and hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans and gifts of locations, goods like coffee and picture cars, services, production, tons of extras, people just loading—you know, “Can I spend a day on set and help you move things?” It was really astonishing, and it built this incredibly active community.
Of those almost 700-some people who contributed to that first campaign in some capacity, everywhere the film went on its festival run around the world, somebody who contributed to the campaign or somebody who knew somebody who contributed to the campaign showed up. And when we had screenings in the Northeast, there were lines down the block and around the corner, sitting-room only.

 

That was when we sort of thought, “Wow, maybe we’re on to something.” But it was really talking to financiers and other filmmakers that it started to occur to me that maybe this is something that we should codify and offer. The real catalyzing moment was a moment of profound cognitive dissonance. We had just premiered the film and were traveling to festivals, and women were approaching us to say "thank you, I feel like I've been waiting my whole life to see a movie like this." And then a sales agent said TO MY FACE: "Well, if you could put some lesbian erotica in it, we could sell it." And I thought: this system is broken. That's how it started.

 

What has been your biggest challenge in starting this innovative idea into the market place? 

 

Well, first of all, we're working with undervalued market. Even though underrepresented audiences spend well north of $10B a year online seeking content, we have to convince people this is a big and valuable market. And, we've built a new business model that combines two platforms (crowdfunding and streaming) that have major players in the space. 

 

We stared with crowdfunding, and four years later - in spite of the popularity of other platforms before us - we're the #1 platform in the world for film and video in campaign success rate, project size, and audience per project. We have just launched the streaming product, and we're releasing 12 new titles a month, curating them into playlists that help guide audiences to the most unique new voices in entertainment.

 

How old are your children? 
My son Cody just turned 1.

 

What is the most important thing you want him to learn about women in tech? 
I want him to grow up to be really aware of the forces at work around him. While I would love to think that our activism today will have meaningfully dissolved the structures of privilege by the time he's going to work himself, I know that's probably too ambitious. So I want him to learn to listen and treat all of his peers equally, and to be a person who can hold space for others.

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