Expert Tips for Crowdfunding Success
COW Library : Indie Film & Documentary : Diana Ward Roark : Expert Tips for Crowdfunding Success
When Kickstarter emerged in 2009, it was like the dawning of the Age of Aquarius for independent filmmakers. Finally there was a way to get your project out into the world and ask people you knew and didn't know to support it financially.
In 2012 crowdfunding raised $2.7 billion around the world. It is estimated that last year it would double to over $5 billion. Although that ranges from producing the Pebble watch, to recording albums, fashion, building classrooms, having a baby, to making a potato salad, $5 billion is nothing to take lightly.
Before you start your own Kickstarter, you should take to time to think about what you are asking for, and what you will deliver in return. The reality is that while there are always exceptions, running a campaign is a lot of work – especially if you then need to go and make your film, and get all your rewards made and mailed, while keeping everyone in the loop and happy they supported you.
Broadly, if you aren't prepared to do the following then crowdfunding is probably not for you:
Doing your research and to being realistic about your goal will put you in good stead to reach your target. Under Kickstarter's Film category, of 37,329 launched projects, 14,650 were successful. The vast majority of these had a modest goal: 70% of the successful projects asked for under $10,000 and 29% under $100,000. Meaning just 1% of projects made more than $100,000 and 0.027% reached that $1 million milestone.
Of the 40.26% of film projects launched on Kickstarter that were successful each also had one or more of these five things going for it:
Projects with videos are twice as likely to be successful than one without, so you should ideally be well into development and have supporting video material for your project, as well as concisely written outlines and photographs. You also need to have a ready network of people to pitch your project to, and a list of media outlets that you think would help push your cause. Having on the ground support from others – especially someone who knows what they are doing, be that one of your team or a consultant – will be a huge help.
Spike Lee's latest "Joint" on Kickstarter, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, was successfully funded at 113%. His movie description reads, "Human beings who are addicted to Blood. Funny, Sexy and Bloody. A new kind of love story (and not a remake of "Blacula")."
WHERE THE BACKING COMES FROM
When you run a campaign, there are a myriad of statistics available to you, including seeing where your backers came from. Through this you can ascertain the effectiveness of media, and social media in particular, in your campaign. These results are incredibly useful guides for future campaigns.
On my first campaign, we raised 10% above its $10,000 the goal. It is estimated that 65% came from people the filmmakers knew, 20% through the social media networks established and 10% from media outlets that covered the campaign and 5% from unconnected strangers.
My second campaign pushed the media angle hard. Thanks to an easy-to-target niche audience of the surfing community and personal letters from the filmmakers to target well-heeled contacts, it reached 124% of its $50,000 goal. Close to 60% came from people known to the filmmakers, about 30% from media coverage, 8% from social media outreach, and 2% through Kickstarter.
While another film about old-school wrestling likewise tapped into its subject's loyal fan base and its local market through Midwestern media, targeted radio, podcast, newspaper and blog coverage helped the project surpass its $30,000 goal. Less than half came from people known to the filmmakers with the majority, about 60%, coming from social networking and media coverage combined.
What all of these documentary campaigns show is that unless you have an awful lot of very generous friends, you need to reach out past your network and work hard to get people to come to you.
I might add that none of these campaigns ran more than 21 days, thus ensuring personal networks only had a few weeks of harassment for donations. It also gave supporters more of a sense of urgency to give immediately. In fact, statistics show that the shorter the campaign, the more likely your campaign will be successful.
MILLION DOLLAR CAMPAIGNS
By 2013 with the merging of the mini-majors and the nail in the studio coffin of the independent film sector, producers started to look for new ways to get their sizable film budgets financed and crowdfunders came to the party.
On Indiegogo, Sci-Fi movie Lazer Team received nearly $2.5 million of its $650,000 goal from 37,492 funders – and they didn't really even know what their film would be about yet. Helping them across the line were ten pledges of $10,000+ in return for Executive Producer credits and swag. A huge 1521 supporters gave at least $300 for their Ultra Sponsor branded swag package.
Behind it was cult production company Rooster Teeth, whose YouTube Channel has over 7 million followers thanks to its gamer community roots, top-rated comedy podcast The RT Podcast along with loyal audiences for its many online series such as anime RWBY, web series Red vs. Blue, and gamer show Achievement Hunter – all of which bring significant followers and a massive support network. Rooster Teeth also runs the RTX online gaming convention in Austin, TX – which they ran their Indiegogo campaign during. Smart people.
Rather than discuss whether people who may otherwise have access to more traditional financing should have the right to use these platforms, think about why these projects were crowdfunded.
Each of these had big names and even bigger companies behind them and for each crowdfunding was about much more than just the money. Everyone was talking about the Veronica Mars and Zach Braff campaigns. Crowdfunding is a great way to grow your network and spread the word of mouth about your project – because whether good or bad, title recognition is often what gets people buying tickets at the cinema or streaming your film on iTunes.
BUILDING A VESTED AUDIENCE
Something you should also be thinking about in the value of crowdfunding your film, webseries or media project – it provides a built in audience with a vested interest in your project and incredibly valuable word of mouth buzz.
Short Documentary Oscar winner Inocente, by previously Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning directors, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix, used Kickstarter as a top-up fund after the film was completed and had already been invited to festivals around the world. According to their campaign, the money was for paying off deferments and creating deliverables. They reached $52,527, exceeding its $50,000 goal in 2012.
Inocente Official Trailer.
While the money came in handy, you can be certain that the industry-reported crowdfunding campaign and corresponding word of mouth of the film helped grow the awareness of Inocente within voting Academy members. Fine and Nix now have a shiny statue, a paid off short film and even more capital to get their next project greenlit.
BEFORE YOU LAUNCH
As you go out there, readying to launch your project here are some questions you should be asking yourself to give yourself the best changes of exceeding your target.
Great! Now go for it – after all, what have you got to lose?