A guest post from Lizzie Crouch. Back in December 2012, Writer/Director Dan Clifton sat down with producer Roland Holmes and co-producer Lizzie Crouch to talk about how they might approach a crowdfunding campaign for Dan’s short film, Patient 39. In this article, Lizzie explores the lessons learned from their ultimately successful campaign, raising over $8000 for the film on Indiegogo. Also included are excerpts from the diary Dan kept while fundraising.
Lesson #1 It’s not just about the campaign; it’s about the community
From Dan’s diary:
The first thing is to discuss what to do with the short fundraising appeal film I’ve made… My appeal is under 2 mins and involves me dressing in pyjamas and making a slight fool of myself (a good thing, apparently), although hopefully the tone is appropriately sincere. Thankfully my producers like it.
There’s lot of great advice online about how to build a good crowd funding campaign. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to do thorough research, but don’t be overwhelmed by it either. There is no set way of doing the perfect crowd-funding campaign, each one is unique, so the real trick is working out what’s right for you.
The most important thing is to figure out the target audience for your campaign. For the Patient 39 Indiegogo campaign we identified a number of audiences who might be interested in supporting us, but given the film’s scientific themes, it was a group we called ‘science-y culture-vultures’ – those interested in the crossover between science and art – that we thought had most untapped potential.
Despite this, we knew that other groups would play a part and ultimately become the film’s audience, so we were careful to include a broad range of content about the film to build a larger online community. The content at the heart of the campaign was aimed at short film fans and science culture-vultures, but careful curation of online content allowed a diverse range of audiences to engage with us.
Lesson #2 Building an online community is committing to a long-term relationship
From Dan’s diary:
The evidence from successful campaigns suggests that what people value above all is not material goodies, but a chance to feel involved as part of the team. After much debate we came up with a list of perks that range from Exec Producer credits at the top of the range, to visits to the set and crew T shirts for more modest-level investors.
As Dan identified in his diary, building a community is about making people feel like they are a part of something – and different audiences will respond to different things. Those who want to donate to the campaign may like thoughtful perks while others may simply want to engage with diverse, inspiring content related to the film or to filmmaking.
In recognition of this we set up a website and social media channels to disseminate articles, carefully balancing new content with our call for donations. Spanning science articles on consciousness and the history of medicine, we built our community around themes that would appeal to them; connected with online ‘influencers’ and key contacts; and kept our campaign fresh by updating the video and making announcements about team members that joined us.
But building an online community is like committing to a long-term relationship. Although most people understand who they’re trying to connect with, many don’t realize the amount of work that goes into maintaining it. Never assume a campaign will run itself – sometimes when we weren’t quite as on top of things are we could have been, we saw the consequences.
From Dan’s diary:
What I am learning is that you definitely have to feed the beast. What I mean by that is even though it seems foolish in some ways, like shouting without hearing an echo back, all the content and tweeting etc. does make a difference in reaching potential supporters. I’ve been away for five days on a shoot and consequently not able to be as proactive as I’d have liked, and sure enough we’ve had a noticeable lull in donations.
All this can be hard work, but a well-built community will reward you at every step of the filmmaking process. Don’t assume though that because you’ve finished the film, the community ceases to be – we are still communicating with ours as we build up to an online release in the future!
Lesson #3 Getting to know your community is humbling (and anxiety-inducing)
When you build an online community, you get to know your audience in a whole new way; you learn their names, where they’re from, etc. This is useful not only when it comes to later stages (marketing and distribution), but also for future projects. But it is also a responsibility that you have to carry on your shoulders!
From Dan’s diary:
Four days to go and we have reached our target, a $500 donation late last night lifting us over the line! I feel amazed and humbled by the whole experience. To feel people’s generosity and support in such an immediate way is something I hadn’t expected, but it is wonderful although I feel a great sense of responsibility too. In the last few days we’ve managed to reach out to funders beyond our immediate circle of family and friends, and it’s great to think that our efforts to widen our base of supporter and followers has had some measure of success.
I believe that our campaign was successful to due the hard work of the team to build and maintain an engaged online community, and we are very grateful for the support we received during our campaign.
Sheri Candler November 27th, 2013
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
This post originally ran on Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity’s blog
I am prompted to write this post because I have been hit up many times lately about supporting, advising or donating to various crowdfunding initiatives. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t quite a complaint because I have been known to support many campaigns by doing any one of these things (ask anyone else offering their advice if they have done any of these things by the way, the answer could surprise you). I do get frustrated by the ones who contact me because they have embarked without thinking through the strategy or they are very close to the time limit and very far from their goal. I thought it might be helpful to list out some ways to fail in this endeavor so you can be sure to avoid these mistakes.
1) You do not already a have a support network online. This is a biggie. I know you’re thinking Sheri, how can I already have an audience and supporters of my work when I haven’t raised the money yet to do my work? Do you have a personal identity built up? Does anyone actually know who you are yet? There are many ways to do this, starting with sharing your knowledge and experiences with people and championing others as much or more than you do yourself. This identity building takes time and should be started well in advance of asking for favors. If you don’t have a strong support network of friends, colleagues and people who enjoy the work you do, do not introduce yourself and your project by asking for money.
2) Your goal is unrealistic. At the moment, the highest amount I personally have seen raised is $30K. That was for a feature and mostly used on principal photography. Most of the other projects I have seen find success are raising under $10K. Crowdfunding is meant to get your project started, get your project finished or be used for something clearly defined like a festival run or your own screening tour. It is not going to be your only source of financing for your feature film. In time, as your audience grows, this could change for you. Unless you have the base of fans mentioned in #1, try raising $5k and see how you do.
3) You do not know who your audience is. In addition to that base of supporters, you will also need to reach those most interested in the kind of story you are telling. Many filmmakers just keep their campaigns limited to targeting other filmmakers. Folks, I don’t know any filmmakers NOT looking for money to fund their projects. While they may love and support you, you must venture out of that pool to find alternate sources for donation. I was asked whether I felt that crowfunding had reached its peak yet. Hardly! Ask any average joe on the street what crowdfunding is and you’ll get a blank stare. These are the guys you need to hit up, the ones who aren”t completely burned out by being bombarded by appeals and who might enjoy what you are doing.
4) Your campaign length is too long. Kickstarter has advised that the most successful campaigns are the shortest. Why? Because you and everyone else you know gets exhausted fundraising for 90 days. The campaign starts off strong (you hope) but somewhere around the 30 day mark it wanes big time! The momentum stalls, people get tired of shilling for you, you get tired of shilling too. Set the goal for 30 days maximum and work it nonstop during that time. Hint: that doesn’t mean your only communication is donation appeals. A reminder or two a day will suffice. The rest of the time, tell us about what you have planned for the project, comment on other conversations, share some useful links. Don’t be a complete pest!
5) Just offer tshirts and DVDs as perks. Nothing meaningful or imaginative. While I usually do not donate based on the perks, but on how well I know the people and how much I believe they can carry off the project, many people are all about the perks. If you are offering the same run of the mill stuff that can be purchased way cheaper at Walmart than at your minimum donation level, you need to think from the greedy donor perspective. I can get tshirts for $5 and a DVD of a film I have actually heard of far cheaper than a donation at the $50 mark. Get creative on what you can give donors that they will actually like, need, and most importantly, talk about. Are you a great cook? Can you do cool magic tricks? Are you a poet (I’m looking at you John Trigonis)? What can you offer your donors that is special to them and won’t cost you much if any money to manufacture?
Anyone else have some mistakes to add? Advice from those in the trenches is always appreciated.
Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.
She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.
Orly Ravid October 12th, 2010