This is the amazing story of how one filmmaker financed, shot, and got distribution for her feature-length documentary.
Alexandra Liss loved hosting guests in her house via the site Couchsurfing.com. She believes in the “sharing economy,” where instead of hotels and car rentals, people travel the world and live their lives by sharing what they have with others, often complete strangers. In 2007, she decided that a movie about this “needed to exist.”
A friend told her about crowd funding, and she raised $8,000 on Kickstarter to create her film, One Couch at a Time. “The most beautiful thing about crowd funding,” Alexandra says, “was that couchsurfers really wanted this film to exist.”
At the time, Couchsurfing.com had less than one million members, and some had tried to create a film or web series, but it’s hard to bring a crew with you when you couch surf. “Then DSLRs happened, and we had cheap cameras that made beautiful footage and weren’t very intrusive.”
Alexandra decided to go to wherever the crowd had responded to her request — wherever couchsurfers had volunteered to be part of her film. She traveled to Bankok, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brazil, Africa….
About three months into the trip she was in Zimbabwe. She had spent the $8,000 from Kickstarter, and she had spent the $6,000 in her own bank account. She was prepared to finish the film by going into credit card debt. But just then she got an email from a stranger…Dan “Danger” Derbinsky, a member of Couchsurfing.com from Sacramento who said that couch surfing had changed his life, and that he wanted to help fund her film. He gave her another $8,000 so that she could continue on her travels and finish the film.
“At the end of the day,” Alexandra says, I probably had $90,000 in donations to the making of this film — $22,000 in capital and the rest in other donations — sound mixing, animations, creating the website, etc.”
Alexandra knows how to move a crowd — and this paid off after the film was finished. They submitted the film to SXSW, but were not accepted. She and her crew went there anyway and organized a guerilla screening. They passed out fliers and organized the local couchsurfers in Austin, TX. The couchsurfers brought their couches to a park where they showed the film, and it turned out that someone from Devolver Digital Films attended the screening. After seeing the film and the turnout, Devolver signed on to distribute One Couch at a Time.
“Creating One Couch at a Time was the smartest thing I could have done — it’s my business card. The investment was totally worth it, hard work, but it’s paying off.”