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Expert Tips for Crowdfunding Success

CreativeCOW presents Expert Tips for Crowdfunding Success -- Indie Film & Documentary Editorial


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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:

  1. Do you intend to make/complete the project regardless of whether you raise enough money?

  2. Are you prepared to write to each and every person you know to ask for their support and are you prepared for any backlash from people tired of being asked to support crowd funded projects?

  3. Are you willing to maintain regular contact with supporters during, immediately following and throughout the time (sometimes years!) it takes to deliver your project?

I'm going to use Kickstarter's statistics, as it is the longest running of the crowdfunding platforms. They are also impressive, with $1.2 billion donated by 6.6 million people. That's an average of $184 given per person, even more when you consider that most projects don't make their goal and 10% don't even get a single pledge. It's also clear that these 10% had no idea what they were doing.

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:

  1. Famous people were involved

  2. The subject matter has a following or can be clearly communicated to an existing audience outside of crowdfunding

  3. You have a strong, established social media or online presence

  4. There's well thought out game plan for the campaign

  5. It's Sci-Fi!

Film projects are the most unsuccessfully funded projects of any Kickstarter categories and that is for a number of reasons – from communication, to large number of projects to the commonly intangible rewards of supporting a movie.

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.

Spike Lee raised $1.4 million
towards his latest "Joint."
Six film and video projects have broken the million-dollar mark, starting with Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars movie reaching $5.7 million of its $2 million goal with a groundbreaking 91,585 backers. Other famous names followed suit: Zach Braff with raising $3.1 million from 46,520 backers, and this year Spike Lee raising $1.4 million towards his next "Joint."

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.

Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars movie reached $5.7 million of its $2 million goal
Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars
reached $5.7 million of its
$2 million goal
Having a known brand and covetable swag to leverage helps, but so too does participation. Considering the most common pledge is $30, in this case the filmmakers said higher-level supporters would be invited to a conference to help plot out their sci-fi film, something that brought an uncharacteristically high donation average to this project.

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.

  1. Have you done your research to understand how to use the platform? Have you followed other campaigns?

  2. Do you know who your target audience is?

  3. Do you know how to reach your target audience?

  4. Do you have visual media to support your project – be that stills, video or both?

  5. Have you clearly communicated what your project is?

  6. Have you explained what you want the money for and how you intend to use it?

  7. Have you considered stretch goals?

  8. Have you put together a rewards list and costed it out?

  9. Have you included personal, unique or special rewards not available outside your campaign? It helps to be creative here too!

  10. Are the rewards things you would want and at a price point you would be prepared to pay?

  11. Do you have sufficient contacts or an established a network to draw upon – be that an interest group, Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram, Steller, friends, colleagues and others?

  12. Have you pre-warned them that you are launching a crowdfunding campaign and will be asking for their support constantly over the few weeks?

  13. Have you rallied your entire cast, crew and support network to help spread the word?

  14. Have you let them all know when you are launching?

  15. Have you had some trusted people read your draft campaign to see it all makes sense to them?

  16. Have you linked your social media?

  17. Are you excited?

  18. Are you ready for some bloody hard work?

 

Great! Now go for it – after all, what have you got to lose?







Diana Roark Diana Ward Roark is a producer, unit production manager and crowdfunding consultant. A former communications executive and early adapter, she loves finding new avenues to market and engage audiences in her projects.

Comments

Re: Expert Tips for Crowdfunding Success
by Gregory Pearson
Great tips, thank you. We are about to launch a campaign to fund a non-profit project to help the homeless this holiday season - in addition to needing high quality video and clear project layout - we hope that tax write offs and honorable mentions will be sufficient reward for donors. Any suggestions?
Re: Expert Tips for Crowdfunding Success
by Jay Zee
Great piece. covered all the angles. Thank you!
Re: Expert Tips for Crowdfunding Success
by David Roth Weiss
Nice piece! Very helpful insight for those (like myself) who have often wondered how effective crowdfunding REALLY works.

David Roth Weiss
ProMax Systems
Burbank
DRW@ProMax.com

Sales | Integration | Support

David is a Creative COW contributing editor and a forum host of the Apple Final Cut Pro forum.


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