The design of efficient therapies for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is limited by our understanding of the pathogenesis of basal deposits, which form between retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and Bruch's membrane (BrM) early in disease, and involve activation of the complement system. To investigate the roles of BrM, RPE and complement in an AMD, we generated abnormal extracellular matrix (ECM) using CRISPR-edited ARPE-19 cells. We introduced to these cells the p.R345W mutation in EFEMP1, which causes early-onset macular degeneration. The abnormal ECM binds active complement C3 and causes the formation of basal deposits by normal human fetal (hf)RPE cells. Human fetal RPE (hfRPE) cells grown on abnormal ECM or BrM explants from AMD donors show chronic activation of the alternative complement pathway by excessive deposition of C3b. This process is exacerbated by impaired ECM turnover via increased matrix metalloproteinase-2 activity. The local cleavage of C3 via convertase-independent mechanisms can be a new therapeutic target for early AMD.