The Tao of Crowdfunding: Three Ps for a Successful Indie Film Campaign
UPDATED: 2/18/13 –– Same three Ps. Even more recent examples!
Long before I worked at Indiegogo, I was given the opportunity to step in for the company’s co-founder Slava Rubin for a presentation on crowdfunding sponsored by New York Women In Film and Television (NYWIFT). Though the seminar was primarily focused around grant writing and more traditional ways of getting money for films, more of the attendees seemed ready to merge onto the more active freeway of crowdfunding rather than take the passive back roads of grant writing.
Although crowdfunding has been around for years now, it’s still the big buzz word amongst the indie community. Indiegogo and Kickstarter have become household names, with other platforms rising to the challenge but falling short of the kind of success maintained by these luminaries. The only real issue I find with crowdfunding is that many people jump into a campaign without proper knowledge of how it all works and without a carefully planned outline. Specifically, there are things that every filmmaker should be aware of before embarking on a campaign, things that have been proven to work not just for my short film Cerise, but for many other, more recent projects as well.
That said, there are three aspects of crowdfunding that should be thoroughly sketched out before your campaign goes live: pitch, perks, and promotion, or what I call my Three Ps of Crowdfunding.)
Pitch: Because First Impressions are Everything
Your pitch is the single most important part of your campaign because it’s the one and only chance you have to sell yourself and not necessarily your project. Talk to your potential contributors. Tell them about yourself (the introduction), then tell them why you want to make this film and why they should help (the pitch). Keep in mind the “they” –– we may think that crowdfunding is about us, but the word “I” isn’t a part of this neologism; it’s all about the crowd, so make it about them. Finally, show them that you’re not a newb when it comes to filmmaking by displaying some of your prior film work (the showcase).
A mistake that many crowdfunders make is not appearing in their pitch video. The truth is YOU MUST APPEAR IN YOUR PITCH. Not many people will give money to a photograph or a movie trailer. People give to other people. No one likes to ask for money, it’s true, but the least you can do is ask your potential contributors as personally as possible, and in this case, your pitch is as personal as it gets.
Many of you have probably seen my pitch video for Cerise, which got the attention of Indiegogo’s other co-founder Danae Ringelmann, and in turn she gave me the additional, last-minute confidence I needed to actually go live with my campaign. If you haven’t seen it, check it out below:
Granted, I went the extra yard with this pitch video and actually shot short scenes to further illustrate my perk levels, but not all pitch videos have to be this detailed. An excellent example of a simpler one that worked wonders is filmmaker Jeanie Finlay’s pitch for Sound It Out, a documentary about the last record shop in Teesside.
I’d originally made her acquaintance when she asked if I’d give her some feedback on her Indiegogo campaign. I watched her pitch video, which was really just the trailer for the film. I told her she needs to be in that video and ask people for money directly rather than having them read her written pitch below the trailer. She kept it as is and launched the project.
A few weeks later I received a Tweet from Jeanie with a link. Jeanie had not been raising much money, so she decided to rerecord an actual pitch video with her in it, and practically overnight she saw a huge difference. Funds started coming in (through much promotion on her part, as well), and when all was said and done, she’d overshot her goal of $3,000 by $1,468! Now Sound It Out has screened at film festivals all over the world, including Sheffield Doc Fest, Silverdocs and Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Take a look at Jeanie’s second pitch video (that’s her in the foreground again!) when she launched another successful campaign for $5,000 to get her and her team to the über prestigious SXSW Film Festival where Sound It Out had its world premiere:
Your pitch can be as straight-forward as Jeanie’s, or you can have a bit more fun with it and still be gearing it towards your potential contributors, the way Lauren Mora did in her pitch video for Misdirected, which certainly helped her raise $1,000 over her initial goal of $5,000.
The more creative you can get with your pitch video, the better! Just check out this amazing pitch video for Kenny Gee’s Singaporean short film The Body, which not only pitches the campaign in a fun and unique way, but also showcases the filmmaker’s talent.
Perks: Because This Isn’t About You
This is really the basis of crowdfunding –– you give me money, you get something in return. While there’s nothing wrong with offering what I’ve come to call standard definition (sd) perks like social media shout outs, tee-shirts, and DVD and Blu-ray copies, signed posters and scripts, and more High Def (HD) perks such as associate and executive producer credit and dinner or a Skype call with the director, it’s much better to think outside the money box and GET PERSONAL WITH YOUR PERKS. A strong example of what I now call the 3-D! perk is the acrostic poem perk from my campaign for Cerise. Originally, at the $10 perk level, I offered a shout out on Facebook and Twitter. Then my girlfriend and marketing mage Marinell suggested I write each funder a poem. I’m a poet, yes, and Cerise is a film about words, yes, but like Dudley Randall once wrote, a poet is not a jukebox! My biggest concern was “what if I have to write, like, fifty poems?!” Well, I ended up writing over 100 poems, which Marinell beautifully formatted and posted on our funders’ Facebook walls to their surprise and delight.
Another example is the short film Sync, which found success on Indiegogo through a masterfully executed campaign spearheaded by filmmaker Brendon Fogle. He started out with one of the typical perks –– stickers (very cool ones at that), but went the extra mile in his perk descriptions (it’s okay to get creative when asking for money, trust me!) Here’s an example:
Another of his perks was titled “33 1/3 RPMazing: $33” and this was where we got a glimpse into Brendon’s world, because at this level he sends you a record from his personal collection! I’m actually a very proud backer of Sync, and I was originally going to contribute at the $12 level so I’d have some money left over to finally join Pearl Jam’s Ten Club. Then I saw the $33 perk in all its coolness, and I just had to click “Contribute Now.” (Sorry, Eddie! Next year, perhaps.)
But Brendon didn’t stop there. Keeping with the theme of vinyl (the story of Sync revolves around a grandfather trying to connect with his MP3ed-in grandson through the gift of records), my favorite of his perks turns a photo of one of his mild-mannered funders into a super hip album cover from the 1960s using a process he calls “The Blue Note Treatment.”
From perks that hearken back to the old days to perk dollar amounts that reflect record RPMs, it’s that fine attention to detail that funders want to see. So go the distance and make every aspect of your perks count for something special.
An even more recent project making headlines across the Internet is the Kickstarter campaign for Hybrid Vigor, which raised $57,237 of its $50,000 goal. Their most personalized perk, which is also their most modestly-priced perk, not only ties into the film itself, but it ties the contributor almost literally to a part of the movie: For only $1, your face can be part of the official “photomosaic” movie poster for Hybrid Vigor:
And most recently there was the Indiegogo campaign for HELLO, HARTO!, in which YouTube star Hannah Hart decided to crowdfund so she could take her hit show “My Drunk Kitchen” on the road. Because Hannah had gotten proposed to numerous times in the comments section of her YouTube channel, she decided to offer e-certificates of polygamous marriage to anyone willing to contribute $25 to her campaign. $223,007 later on her humble $50,000 (which she reached within the first six hours of her launch) and she’ll be coming to a kitchen near you.
Plenty of Promotion: Because Crowdfunding’s Just Another Word for Marketing
I’ve said it at the Apple Store in SoHo, I said it again to the packed house of the NYWIFT event, and I’ve written it down in my very first crowdfunding-related post “Read Me Up Before You (Indie)GoGo!” and numerous times in my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers –– CROWDFUNDING IS A FULL-TIME JOB. Anyone who tells you otherwise must not have had a very successful campaign.
A successful crowdfunding campaign demands around-the-clock promotion. In today’s technocracy, that translates to constant tweets, relentless Facebook status updates, email blasts up the wazoo, sleep strikes, the occasional hunger strike, and any other means by which to keep your project on the minds of your friends, family, and supporters. It also means having some fun with your promotion, keeping your audience engaged with things like contests, giveaways, fun videos, and the like. Brendon sure had fun with his video updates for Sync:
I’m sure many people worry about the rejection that may result from a campaign with a strong social media presence. But really, it all depends on how you tackle your promotion. If that’s all you’re updating your status with and you’re not having any conversations on Twitter other than ones with #MyProject appended to them, then yes, you’ll most likely lose followers and friends very quickly, and rightly so –– there’s a fine line between promotion and spamotion. Don’t cross it.
Or, if you do cross it, do it with tact. For instance, with Cerise, I took a chance that I was sure would end badly. When I wasn’t getting enough “Likes” and “Comments” (and, by extension, not enough contributions) from my friends on Facebook by simply posting the link to our Indiegogo page on my wall, I started to post the link directly on my friends’ walls with a bit of small talk and a humble request for their support. To my surprise, I received plenty of contributions using this tactic, and only lost one friend and, ironically enough, gained over 300 more by the end of the campaign. It all depends on how you come across in your promotion, like a company or like a person.
Take Steve Anderson’s ingenious (and fun) promotion for his Kickstarter project This Last Lonely Place. In between more standard promotional tweets, Steve infuses famous movie lines with a “Kickstarter” flare:
In fact, it was these “Famous Kickstarter Quotes” that helped Steve attract the attention of one very influential supporter –– The Humphrey Bogart Estate –– which not only contributed a substantial amount of money and support to the campaign for This Last Lonely Place, but also matched every contribution to the campaign itself up to its $75,000 goal.
Personalization: Because People Give to People, No to Projects
And this brings me to the final P of crowdfunding (I know, I said there were only three, but only because this last aspect of crowdfunding was woven through each of the others I mentioned) –– Personalization. That’s perhaps the biggest difference between traditional ways of funding a film and crowdfunding; investors invest in projects, while people invest in people. That’s probably the most important thing to walk away from after reading this blog post aside from a few helpful tips that have been proven to work from a handful of victorious projects: PERSONALIZE EVERYTHING IN YOUR CAMPAIGN. The spirit of your pitch, your perks, and your promotion should be YOU as a person; give to your potential contributors a piece of you, and they’ll give you more than just a part of their paycheck. They’ll give you the power you need to really succeed!
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Any crowdfunding stories or tips YOU’d like to share? Write them up in the “Comments” section below and perhaps I’ll be able to work them into future guest posts for the Indiegogo Blog and Daily Crowdsource.