Crowdfunding: Asking the Hard Questions
Today’s guest post is from Seed&Spark’s CMO, Erica Anderson. Seed and Spark is selective crowdfunding platform. Before Seed&Spark will approve a project for the platform, all components for a successful campaign need to be assembled: a strong team; the seed of a great film; and a compelling purpose behind your proposed film.
One of the hardest things to remember when you’re thinking about taking a film from idea to execution is that raising money is not, in fact, the hardest part of filmmaking, though it may be the most uncomfortable. The most difficult task is getting anyone to see it when it’s finished. It’s not only difficult, it can be really expensive. Studios spend 1-10x production budgets on marketing. Indie filmmakers don’t stand a chance in that environment (although, marketing should ALWAYS factor into your budgets). Enter crowdfunding: a way to raise money while marketing your film.
In this light, Seed&Spark would like filmmakers to start viewing crowdfunding not as a necessary evil (or a mark of a film that simply can’t get financing otherwise), but as a key tool to engage their audiences in the filmmaking process and to grow a devoted fan base. The fact that you also get to raise a chunk of change is important, but it’s the short game. (A devoted fan base will make raising equity So. Much. Easier.) The long game is your career and making sure there are people who want to pay to watch your films for as long as you can make them. That means building in to your preproduction an audience-engagement campaign. Every film is different, and there are as many ways to engage your audience as there are filmmakers. That said, we have identified some guidelines and critical questions every filmmaker should consider if they want to crowdfund (With us, and with anyone else.).
Crowdfunding is not an exact science or a paint by numbers affair, but the wheel does not need to be invented with every campaign. Lists are really helpful. Below is a list of criteria that we look for in project submissions that would like to crowdfund with Seed&Spark. These “guidelines” are largely based on the potential for a filmmaker and project to foster a supportive and engaged audience. We work with all our filmmakers to make sure they’re maximally set up for success – a tactic that has led to a 70% crowdfunding success rate (compared to less than 40% on other platforms).
Pitch video:Your pitch video should either make us fall in love with you or give us a great sense of what the finished film will be like. The best pitch videos will do both. Because this is a campaign for a film, the video has to be great and should exemplify your filmmaking abilities and techniques. Remember, people will invest in you andyour storytelling talent, rather than in a “concept.” You have to demonstrate you’re a good editor: people stop watching pitch videos at 90 seconds.
Story: The story of your project is why YOU need to make THIS film NOW. Film and filmmakers are naturally suited to building their audience using Who are YOU? What is THIS project? And WHY does it need to be made? Give me an arc! Give me Drama! Make me care as much as you do! We ask you to tell us about this project. It should be personal. What are you offering to the community such that they should want to get involved with you?
Audience: The easiest way to start telling this story is to think: who is the actual audience for this film? Where do they hang out online? (So I know where to share the campaign?) What speaks to them? If you’re saying to yourself “Well, it’s men between the ages of 18-25,” you’re doing it wrong. Do you have a sense of who your audience really is? What kinds of music, events, things do they like? This is important not just for your pitch video, but also building your wishlist and incentives. They need to be personal and interesting to your crowd.
Team: The scope and budget of the film can be aspirational, but should match your experience, abilities, and stage in the process. If you’re raising $500,000 for a big period drama, you and your team should reflect that capacity. (Also, don’t run a crowdfunding campaign by yourself. Just don’t do that to yourself.)
Outreach: Take a look at your current social media and personal reach. If 6% of those people give $20 bucks, do you reach your goal? No? Then you have to formulate a plan to reach beyond that circle. Regardless of where you are in the filmmaking process, are you already engaging with your potential audience? Examine what gets people excited when you post. Do more of that. Do you have a social media presence on as many outlets as possible? Have you organized your contact lists on email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit etc? Or do you know your audience spends most of their time on just one of these platforms? Focus your efforts on what works, and don’t waste time on what doesn’t. That means you’ll have to run some tests along the way.
A plan for success: Have you thought through how to successfully complete your project and get it to an audience? Your distribution plan could range from “We’re planning to apply to top festivals and get picked up by Magnolia Pictures” to “We’re going to pursue direct-to-audience distribution as soon as the project is complete.” Frankly, since option #1 happens for 0.01% of films, you should probably have a really comprehensive, thoughtful backup distribution plan that involves just as much work as the crowdfunding campaign. Don’t assume you can jump right in to your next project after this one premieres at festivals. 99.9% of the time, you are also responsible for getting that film to market. That is also a plan for success.
Time: Do you have time to run a campaign? Contrary to popular belief, if you just build it, they will NOT come, no matter what platform you use to crowdfund. You will have to capture your audience and then keep engaging them – long after the campaign and film are finished. A crowdfunding campaign should be thought of as time added on to pre- or post- production, not as something that can be run in tandem. In order to maximize the utility of crowdfunding, you’ll want to build in time once or twice a week for your entire career to engage with the folks who have chosen to support you.
While this list is not exhaustive (though possibly exhausting for some), it’s a very good start. These are questions I pose to every filmmaker who is interested in our platform. Submitting a campaign is a process and we don’t expect all of these criteria to be met before accepting a project. However, we find these criteria and questions essential not just to successful campaigns, but successful filmmaking. As our inspiring CEO and my dear friend Emily Best said so eloquently, “Great crowdfunding is the efficient frontier between belief in your idea and the desperation to get it made. If you’re willing to put in the work to make a campaign successful, you’re on your way to a lifetime of truly independent moviemaking.”
Sheri Candler November 25th, 2013
Posted In: crowdfunding