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Crowd-Sourcing a Film's Budget Takes a Charitable Spin

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Independent filmmakers have done everything from maxing out their credit cards to forming limited partnerships, creating hedge-fund tax shelters, squeezing relatives and friends and crowd-sourcing through websites like Kickstarter.com. But it gets increasingly challenging and they have to be ever more innovative about finding the money to make their movies.

So now, a new approach: the tax-deductible donation.

That's the idea that writer-actor Jayce Bartok has hit upon for his new film, Tiny Dancer, a drama about a former ballerina contending with her post-career life. Bartok, who wrote and acted in The Cake Eaters, the 2007 directorial debut for Mary Stuart Masterson that starred Kristen Stewart, has come up with a plan through which benefactors can contribute to the film's budget - and receive a tax deduction as a charitable donation.

It's being done through The Independent Collective, which Bartok and his wife and partner, Tiffany, have created. They've affiliated the organization with the New York Foundation for the Arts, which serves as TIC's fiscal sponsor.

"I started writing this four years ago," Bartok, 36, says over coffee. "Originally, it was meant to be a documentary about Gelsey Kirkland; she was interested and then she got cold feet. So I wrote a narrative about a ballerina struggling with issues of fame, dance and identity."

Bartok went the usual route: trying to find a bankable star to attach herself to the project, in order to attract producers or investors. He spent nine months waiting to hear that Charlize Theron wasn't interested: "Really, it was probably that it took nine months for her management to get around to looking at it and saying it wasn't for her," he says.

He has been able to attract a few names - Elizabeth Berkley, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Josh Hamilton - and held a reading of the screenplay at Playwrights Horizons: "We had all these producers come up to us afterward and we thought, 'Great,'" Bartok says. "But each of them said, 'Well, I'm not producing anything right now, but if you're looking to hire a line producer...'"

So Bartok began to look into the idea of crowd-sourcing. But, after studying the Kickstarter model - which gives participants 30 days to collect enough money for a project - he decided to try something new, with an eye toward collecting between $200,000-$300,000 to "make a real movie-movie."

Each donation is funneled to NYFA, which then disperses funds to The Independent Collective, minus a small percentage as an administrative fee. Donors won't get a piece of any profits that may eventually accrue - but they will get a tax deduction for a charitable gift.

"We're taking this thing two steps outside the independent model we're familiar with," he says. "We're going back to the '80s model, when films were made outside the system. The precedent is there."

Starting with friends and acquaintances, Bartok has slowly spread the word "and we've already raised a couple of thousand since we launched last week. It feels like we're climbing a giant mountain. But if we get caught up in the numbers and the idea that, 'Gee, the economy is so bad right now,' we'll never get anywhere. We just have to empower ourselves."

Daphne Rubin-Vega will host a launch party for The Independent Collective to raise money for Tiny Dancer on Thursday, Oct. 28, from 7-11 p.m. at Lolita, 266 Broome St., in Manhattan. Admission is by $25 tax-deductible donation (or more), with a raffle for prizes including a free night at W Times Square. For more information, go to www.theindependentcollective.com.