Case Study

The Virtuous Circle

The micro-major: how indie producers can use the web to get the power of a global studio.


Scottish Documentary Institute, Creative Scotland


April 2011 - December 2013


  • Concept & fundraising
  • Web design & CRM integration
  • Consultant & blogger


A network of dedicated feature film websites...

And a web of social media activity, events, screenings and emails...

  • Future My Love Twitter
  • Pablo's Winter Facebook
  • Time Trial Twitter
  • I am Breathing Facebook

Feeding into a single Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system...

The Virtuous Circle

Wired magazine cover

In 1997, Kevin Kelly in Wired Magazine set out twelve rules for the new economy. Rule five was the 'Law of Increasing Returns: Make Virtuous Circles – the idea that you could create positive ripples that self-sustain themselves: as a networked platform becomes useful, it gets users, therefore is more useful, so gets more users.

The Scottish Documentary Institutue had three feature films in various stage of completion, as well as a programme of events, an open shorts programme and strong links with the University of Edinburgh, seated in their College of Art campus. As with all independent producers there was an onvoing challenge to raise money and find audiences.

Their work seemed an ideal space to explore Kelly's Virtuous Circle, updated for the social web of 2011. We wanted to model a toolset that could support a small group of creative filmmakers to build an audience throughout the filmmaking process, and do so in ways that were mutually supporting. So if you could keep a film's audience with you through the development, fundraising, production and release of your film, could you carry them with you to your next film? They are, perhaps, the most likely people to help crowd-fund.

Creative Scotland made a grant of £100,000 and a process was begun to look at tools and recruit a Producer of Marketing and Distribution: who would be a full time employee embedded at SDI with the job of building the CRM, handling all digital and most distribution activities: crowdfunding, email blasts, websites, social media, mailing lists, deals with VOD platforms, and so on. After a long internal debate, Nation Builder was chosen over CiviCRM as the CRM, because of advantages when working between multipple websites.

The first film to be released: Stem Cells Revolution, sold well in schools and universities. Future My Love was released online and with a beautiful collector's art piece DVD edition. Appropriately for a film discussing a world without money when the machines do all the work, NESTA provided follow-up funding to build a Pay It Forward (PFVoD) player where people could watch the film for free and if they liked it pay it forward for the next visitor at the site to watch it.

The big success in the project was I Am Breathing — a beautiful, rightfully acclaimed, bittersweet tale of a blogger dying of Motor Neurone Disease (MND/ALS). Here PMD Ben Kempas and producer Sonja Henrici, mobilised a partnership with the Motor Neurone Disease Association to fund a full billboard campaign for the film. Using a crowd-screening tool that was designed and created with a Distrify player (a paywall wrapper for an embedable video player), anyone in the world on MND day could host a screening, after selecting screen size and buying an appropriate license, with half the money going to the MND Association. Dozens of screenings were organised around the world, signing up through the website, and raising ALS/MND awareness.

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