Orsai becomes first to crowdfund international film production through thousands of investors: Will La Uruguaya change the industry?

After all our hard work, the film premier proved to be a major triumph, filling more theaters than we dared to dream. The entire thing felt very avant-garde. I locked eyes with my best friend Chiri as the film played and in that silent exchange, the dreams we shared since we were six years old washed over us.

  • 8 months ago
  • October 23, 2023
6 min read
Members of the cast, director, and the creative team celebrate the premiere of La Uruguaya | Photo Courtesy of Orsai Members of the cast, director, and the creative team celebrate the premiere of La Uruguaya | Photo Courtesy of Orsai
Interview Subject

Hernán Casciari, born in 1971 in Mercedes, Buenos Aires, is a luminary in Argentine literary and media circles. He founded Editorial Orsai and Orsai Audiovisuales, and directs the magazines Orsai and Bonsai. His extensive literary works span novels, anthologies, and comics, solidifying him as a versatile storyteller. In 2010, he left major publishers and media outlets to focus on self-managed projects, which gained significant attention from Argentina’s top radio stations and led to television and theater opportunities. Since 2021, Casciari has ventured into collaborative audiovisual projects with the Orsai community, engaging thousands of producer partners. He survived a heart attack in 2015 but continues to be an active and influential figure. After living in Barcelona from 2000, he returned to Buenos Aires in 2016, where he remains a key player in Argentina’s cultural and artistic scene.
Background Context
La Uruguaya is the fourth novel by acclaimed Argentine writer Pedro Mairal, published in 2016. The book not only enjoyed commercial success in Argentina but also garnered international acclaim, being translated into multiple languages. The film adaptation of this bestseller is noteworthy for its self-managed production by Orsai. The funding model for the movie was groundbreaking: the site’s community, which originated as a blog and later diversified its projects, was tapped for financial support. A total of 1,961 members pooled together a sum of $600,000, successfully financing the film’s production. Upon its completion, La Uruguaya made its way to commercial theaters in Argentina and Uruguay. It was later sold to the Star+ platform for the same amount it cost to produce, ensuring the return on investment for each contributing member. What set this project apart was the public, participatory nature of its development. Members were actively involved, voting on casting choices, influencing distribution methods, and contributing to script-related decisions. In certain instances, they even acted in snippets of the film. The entire process showcased an innovative, community-driven approach to filmmaking, making La Uruguaya a unique specimen in literary and cinematic landscapes.

CÓRDOBA, Argentina — As I stepped out of the meeting room with a major streaming platform, my heart pounded with exhilaration. We sold our film La Uruguaya. This would become the first crowdfunded film in history boasting thousands of producing partners, to premier at an international film festival.

Outside, the air felt crisper, and the world looked brighter. I breathed in the victory as my mind buzzed with anticipation. I could not wait to share the news with the 1,961 people who had invested in the film to date, each of whom shared equity in the project. Every fiber of my being hummed with joy.

[Hernán founded the Orsai community as a magazine in 2010. By 2011 it became a publishing house. Dejecting traditional models of distribution, Orsai invited anyone in the world to become a bimonthly distributor. Orsai sells thousands of annual subscriptions in 20 countries, achieving reach not through publicity, but through the power of community. When Hernán and his team ventured into film making, they crowdfunded the entire project. Orsai’s website says, “We make funny books, magazines, movies, series, and projects with no one in between.]

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How a literary magazine paved the way for crowdfunding a film

One evening, with wine glasses in hand, my friends and I faced a hard truth: the challenges that once electrified our life had dulled into a boring routine. It felt like a wake-up call. Our self-managed literary magazine was profitable, but the amusement we once felt had dwindled. I avoid work like cats avoid water and the thrill of taking on a challenge is what motivates me – not a paycheck.  

We felt that thrill in 2010 when we rolled the dice on something daring: a self-managed literary magazine and book publishing project that shunned traditional advertising and distribution models. Becoming profitable felt like a luxurious exception, and we carried on for many years. Now we needed something new and exciting to keep us going.

Sitting together that night, inspiration struck like a bolt of lightning. Could we venture into filmmaking? Despite our shared love for storytelling and media, none of us had ever navigated the cinematic industry. At first, the idea intimidated me, but I quickly felt that familiar surge of adrenaline. It was as if an unexplored island appeared on the horizon, offering the promise of fresh adventure.

With steadfast confidence, I shared the film idea with our ever-supportive Orsai community. They immediately responded with, “How can we help?” Their enthusiasm fueled my motivation.

$600,000 milestone: the weight and thrill of crowdfunding a dream

To navigate Argentina’s volatile financial landscape responsibly, we crafted a sound economic strategy for managing our community’s financial support. The task of raising money and maintaining its value for the year before filming began posed a significant challenge.

Then, one afternoon, I glanced at our bank accounts and saw a staggering $600,000. The momentary weight of responsibility overwhelmed me. “If I screw this up,” I thought, “I’ll have to disappear.” Nevertheless, my hesitation vanished instantly, replaced by a burst of adrenaline. We cleared the hardest hurdle: securing funding. Now, I could concentrate exclusively on making the film.

Orsai remains a family enterprise. My wife is my collaborator, my sister-in-law handles the finances, and my best friend oversees our audiovisual projects. Our united approach and shared passion makes this venture successful. A single doubt on any of their faces may have stopped me in my tracks, but they were all in.

Unconventional approach to filmmaking leads to a triumphant premier

To make the film, we enlisted industry veterans. Our director Ana García Blaya already belonged to the Orsai community as a reader of our magazine. She immediately embraced our unique approach to the film. Yet, when she brought in her team, the dynamic shifted. Accustomed to working unquestioned, her team struggled initially with our constant requests for information. We did not ask questions out of distrust; we simply had a thirst for knowledge.

The team adapted quickly and soon embraced our commitment to transparency. We extended this shared creative process to our whole Orsai community through live streams, podcasts, and emails. This openness made the scriptwriters uneasy at times during live broadcasts. Their palpable but endearing discomfort added an unexpected layer of authenticity to the project.

After all our hard work, the film premier proved to be a major triumph, filling more theaters than we dared to dream. The entire thing felt very avant-garde. I locked eyes with my best friend Chiri as the film played and in that silent exchange, the dreams we shared since we were six years old washed over us.

Our gaze seemed to say, “Look how far we’ve come.” Our younger selves continue to shape every venture we undertake, reminding us that when we chase our dreams relentlessly, they have a magical way of coming true.

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