Tag Archives: crowdfunding

Goals Versus Commitment in Crowdfunding for Indie Film

The other day, my girlfriend Marinell told me about an interview she read in The New York Times with Hugh Martin on “The Importance of Commitments.” I took a gander at this interview myself, and of course I started thinking about this concept of goals versus commitments and its relationship with crowdfunding for independent film.

A goal of $50,000 would've made this fun campaign for Total Frat Movie more successful than the goal of $300,000.

A goal of $50,000 would’ve made this fun campaign for Total Frat Movie more successful than the goal of $300,000.

Something I see way too frequently as Indiegogo’s manager of film and video is that filmmakers wanting to raise a lot of money. I mean a lot of money. Part of my duty as the guy who literally wrote the book on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers has become talking them down from the ledge of a $1.5 million ask and settle them into a target amount that fits more their lifestyle. This becomes much easier when I frame the discussion in terms of goals and commitment.

A filmmaker may need $250,000 to produce his or her feature-length film, but that goal won’t mean much if the filmmaker can only realistically commit to raising, say, $20,000, based on a variety of factors like the size of one’s current network and the amount of time he or she can devote to running the campaign. Therefore, my question to prospective campaigners isn’t what’s your goal?, but rather how much are you committed to raising?

Now, I’m the kind of person who truly believes that if a filmmaker wants to raise $1.5 Million for a film, he or she certainly can. But a look at some of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns –– Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie, for instance, clocking in at 325,327 before their game was over, and Shemar Moore’s The Bounce Back, bouncing even higher up at $638,483 –– have been triumphant because of certain factors, specifically a passionate core fan base. But even still, angry video game nerd James Rolfe committed to raising $75,000 and was able to double-up that number instead of trying for $500,000 and coming up short at just over $300,000. Now, if we as filmmakers have less of a fan/subscriber base than these heavy hitters, it’s safe to say that $250,000 may be a difficult number to reach. But if we commit ourselves to raising a more reachable amount, then we open wide the possibility of shooting past our own commitment level and surpass even our most ambitious crowdfunding goals.

So before you crowdfund your next indie film, ask yourself not what your goal should be, but what you and your team can commit to raising, and then go on raise it!

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From Auteur to Author, Part 3: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers Comes Full Circle

The circle is now complete –– I’m officially an author!

On Saturday, April 6th, I had my first-ever book signing for Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign, published by Michael Wiese Productions this past March.

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There I am reading to a captive audience at Tachair Bookshoppe, Jersey City.

The combination reading/signing was held in my favorite city in the country –– Jersey City, which also happens to be where I’ve lived for seven years now –– at a quaint little local bookshoppe called Tachair. The evening was special in many ways, mainly because I was surrounded by those who have been most supportive of me and my creative aspirations over the years. In the house was my lovely Lady Marinell, of course, to whom my book is dedicated; my brother Walter and sister-in-law Patti, who nearly made me well up when they told me how proud they were of me; and James Broderick and Vince D’Onofrio (not the actor, the playwright), two great friends, respected mentors, and former colleagues of mine from my days at New Jersey City University, where I’d taught Civilizations courses over the past ten years before trading in my adjunct status for the more reputable title of manager for film, web and video at Indiegogo.

Also in attendance were some exceptional folks whose friendships and support I’ve cherished over years, including Michael Ferrell and Devin Sanchez, two-thirds of the creative team behind the indie film Twenty Million People, which was successfully crowdfunded on Indiegogo between April and June of 2012, raising $13,515 on a $10,000 goal.

Amid a packed audience captivated by my personal stories of how Crowdfunding for Filmmakers came about and the various chapters I chose to read from, the evening was made even more significant simply because it was hosted by Tachair Bookshoppe. See, back in April, 2012, I wrote an article about Jersey City’s lack of a physical bookstore for Jersey City Independent. At that point in time, Tachair was a “roving” bookstore that would set up their tent at all the different markets and festivals in Downtown Jersey City. But partly because of my article and the spirited reception it received online, Aleta Valleau, her son Paul, and her mother Carol set up shop on Newark Avenue where they now sell used books, best-sellers, and books by local authors like me (and I hear those sell better than those best-sellers!)

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A throwback to the Cerise acrostic poem days –– an appropriate thank you to to a bookshoppe dedicated to preserving the written and spoken word.

It has been an amazing journey, and it’s not over yet! From crowdfunding my short film Cerise during the early dawn of crowdfunding for indie filmmakers to writing my first blog post in my “Tao of Crowdfunding” series, which would go on to inspire Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and onto my current calling as one of two film gurus at Indiegogo helping filmmakers to craft successful campaigns, I’m certain none of this would have been possible without the blessings of the crowd –– Not my initial book deal with MWP, not my book being made available on Amazon, and not this book first book signing.

Make no mistake: It’s because of all of you terrific folks who’ve entered into my life, and who have allowed me to enter into yours, that I continue to receive such humbling triumphs and rewards, and I’ll pay it forward in helping our community make their independent filmmaking dreams come true, one campaign at a time.

That, and making a few more of my own come true, too. Stay tuned for more on that!

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Five Too Few: Dynamo 5 and the Legacy in Need of a Renaissance

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved superhero comics. And yes, I’m talking mostly about the mainstreamers –– Batman and Robin, Green Arrow, Superman, and Wonder Woman. I also have a pretty strong affinity to many of the underdog champions, like Metamorpho, Elongated Man, and Black Lightning, who aren’t as well known by the masses. And I don’t mean for this opening paragraph to be so DC-centric, but I don’t marvel as much at Stan Lee’s breed the way I used to in the ’90s; back then, you couldn’t tear me away from any stories starring the amazing Spider-man, uncanny X-Men, or my personal favorite Marvel misfit of the time, Ghost Rider.

One thing I’ve always been skeptical about as a somewhat closed-minded teenager reading comics in between classic works of literature was any superhero from some other universe outside the main solar systems of DC and Marvel. I certainly tried a few titles: Valiant’s Ninjak, Dark Horse’s Hellboy, and Image’s WildC.A.T.s and Cyberforce. They all seemed to center around pale imitations of A-listers and popular superteams, with the exception of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, of course, which was badass in story, art, and originality.

It wasn’t until many years later that I opened my mind to the idea that cool heroes could exist outside the worlds of DC and Marvel. After joining the Broken Frontier staff, I conducted and wrote up an interview with comics and TV writer Jay Faerber, who was penning a crime series I enjoyed immensely called Near Death, that I found out about two other superhero-oriented series he worked on from 2002 to 2009 –– Noble Causes and Dynamo 5.

Dynamo 5 –– an original superhero team with unique abilities and real world problems.

Dynamo 5 –– an original superhero team with unique abilities and real world problems.

Even though I’m only two trades into the Noble Causes franchise, I’m already hooked, although not nearly as much as when I started reading Dynamo 5. I’ve read all five trade paperbacks, all in the course of a couple of months. See, after I met Jay at NYCC and had him sign my copy of Near Death #1, I snatched up a copy of Dynamo 5, Volume One: Post-Nuclear Family and turned it over to read the back cover, and I was immediately intrigued by the story’s originality:

He was the world’s greatest hero, but Captain Dynamo was not a faithful husband. Now he’s dead and his family is trying to piece their lives together. As his enemies descend on his unprotected city, Captain Dynamo’s widow rounds up his five illegitimate children, each of whom have inherited one of their father’s super-powers. Can these total strangers come to terms with their powers, their father’s legacy and each other as total chaos erupts?

With Noble Causes, Jay blends the superhero mythos with soap opera sentimentality, which all other action/adventure books of the superhero sort steer clear of. But by embracing it the way he does, Jay allows us into the everyday lives of this highly unlikeable but strangely fascinating family; plus, we see it all through the unbiased eyes of Liz Donnelly, the widow of the late Race Noble, much the way readers view the world of The Great Gatsby though the eyes of Nick Carraway. What Jay does best in Dynamo 5, however, is shift the focus onto five young strangers-turned-family members trying to cope with the knowledge that their father was Captain Dynamo, a Superman with somewhat less of a moral code when it came to extramarital affairs, and that they have now collectively inherited his role as the defenders of Tower City since his death.

When I had picked up this first volume of Dynamo 5, I honestly wasn’t in the mood for another superhero title; I’d been trying to round out my comics knowledge with indie titles, ones funded through crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, and old crime and horror comics as research for my own upcoming series Siren’s Calling. But when I opened that gorgeous cover by Mahmud A. Asrar, I got through Post-Nuclear Family in a single sitting. As a matter of fact, I made it through each of the other four volumes in the same manner –– one shot, one after another. I was that engrossed in the lives of these teens-turned-teammates in this fresh take on the Teen Titans. This was not your typical superhero story, but rather something fiercely different and very similar to the graphic literature I’d been consuming. It fit right in with my research, and every book gave me tons of enjoyment, too.

And then I reached the end of Dynamo 5, Volume 5: Sins of the Father, and saw that the series had come to an end.

Victor pushes the limits of his newfound strength battling against aliens in Dynamo 5, Volume 5.

Hector pushes the limits of his newfound strength battling against aliens in Dynamo 5, Volume 5.

But the story wasn’t over.

How could it be over? One of the characters I’d seen mature from a visor-wearing Cyclops to an Incredible Hulk (sans the skin tone and Rob Liefeldian muscles) lies on the ledge of the dark side and I needed to know what was going to happen to him. But there was nothing more to the story except a holiday special. No Volume Six. No closure. Nothing.

I’m not sure why Dynamo 5 ceased its run after its fifth volume. There had been talk of another miniseries called Certain Death,” but the last anyone heard of that was from Jay’s old blog back in May, 2011 and a few pages illustrated by “Sins of the Father” artist Julio Brilho that’s posted on Jay’s Facebook page. Aside from that, the series seems to have remained “aborted.”

Until now, perhaps?

Recently, some smaller press publishers have reinstated lots of b-side superheroes like X-O Manowar for active duty. I gave some of them the benefit of a read, and none of them resonated with me the way Bridget, Hector, Gage, Olivia, Spencer, and even Maddie, the widow of Captain Dynamo, had. Don’t get me wrong, Valiant’s Harbinger, Dark Horse’s Ghost, and even DC’s Swamp Thing and Animal Man are all great action/adventure stories, but that’s where it stops for each of them. The kind of substance and humanity that Jay penned into every issue of Dynamo 5 is what’s lacking in just about every superhero story today. Now maybe substance and humanity don’t sell many books today, but perhaps what’s more important is having an audience that cares enough to help Bridget here lift Dynamo 5 to new heights and finally resurrect it from “Certain Death”.

Can we be like Briget and resurrect Dynamo 5 from "Certain Death"?

It’s kinda funny, but when I left Jay’s setup at the Image Comics booth at NYCC, I handed him a calling card for my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers and said something along the lines of “if you ever want to crowdfund another few issues of Near Death, let me know and I’ll help you do it through the crowd.” But while his tale of Markham, the hit man who has a near death experience and vows to save a life for every one he’s taken, was compelling from first issue to final, the ending in Near Death #11 felt finished and complete. Markham lives in my head, and I know exactly what he’s doing, and where he’s doing it, too. But the kids from Dynamo 5? They’re in a limbo of my mind, an unfinished chapter that’s perhaps yet to be written that the fans would love to read in a single sitting, and once again become further invested in a superhero story with more substance and humanity than any other currently on the racks.

Or am I the only one who thinks this way?

I can’t be the only one.

Can I?

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C’mon, Dynamo 5 fans, speak up in the Comments below and let me know your thoughts, and whether or not you’d love to see a Volume 6 hit the comic shelves from Image soon.

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CrowdRaiser: How a Video Game Taught Me All I Know About Belief

One of my all-time favorite video games as a kid was ActRaiser for Super Nintendo, though I wasn’t fully aware of it until a couple weeks ago. The story revolves around The Master, who, having been defeated by The Evil One and his Guardians, returns to the shattered world he left behind to eradicate the evil Tanzra and rebuild civilization from the ashes of a hundred years of wickedness.

Master versus Manticore in ActRaiser.

Master versus Manticore in Bloodpool, Act One.

The most interesting thing about this game released by Square Enix back in 1991 is that it’s both a side-scrolling action/adventure and a city-building simulation. After battling some classic mythological beasts as a statue imbued with the spirit of The Master, you must then successfully rebuild the societies of Fillmore, Bloodpool, Kasandora, Aitos, Marahna, and Northwall by listening to the prayers of your people and answering them by way of miracles before you can start swinging sword and killing hordes of baddies and bosses that remain in a second action-packed act per realm.

Although I loved the action sequences in all their 16-bit awesomeness, it was really the SimCity aspect of ActRaiser I took to most, whereas others might have considered it slow-moving; as a matter of fact, ActRaiser 2 was released in 1993, which was strictly action-oriented and much less successful than its predecessor. Alongside taking and using offerings and working miracles to ensure the prosperity of the people, there is some arrow-shooting action from your Angel, whose main focus is to help each broken culture resurrect itself by unloading his quiver on all the napper bats and blue dragons that try to stump the progress of this brave new world.

The Angel does The Master's bidding and helps rebuild the society of Fillmore.

The Angel does The Master’s bidding and helps rebuild the society of Fillmore.

So I got to thinking recently how similar ActRaiser is to audience building. The game’s primary theme is belief. According to the user manual (remember when video games came with those?), the people ceased belief in The Master since he had fled a hundred years earlier. Once he reappears and defeats the creatures and the Centaur in Fillmore’s first act, the society’s Adam and Eve are created and show their appreciation for The Master in the form of prayers and offerings.

As artists, entrepreneurs, and creators of various kind, it’s important that we show people we’re worth believing in, that they can take a chance on us and what we’re looking to accomplish with our projects and not be disappointed. This begins with an innovative idea for a film, a product, or business, and from there we build up a core audience around the initial belief that the end result will make their lives better, easier, or more enjoyable. But we also have to evangelize our project, the same way the Angel in ActRaiser flutters two and fro carrying out The Master’s bidding and firing arrows at any agents of darkness that seek to keep our ideas in the dark.

We also have to drop a little miracle or two on our audience from the Sky Palaces where all our work is done. Use our lightning to clear a smooth path between our product and our crowd, then shower them with praise and updates on what’s up and what’s next; shine a little light on ourselves when times are slow or uneventful; strive to constantly blow away any demons of doubt in our crowd and ourselves and shake up the very nature of our respective industries with a well-placed earthquake. In the beginning, we may start with as little as two astute members of our audience, but ultimately, belief will spread, much how it does in each and every realm of ActRaiser’s world –– from the temperate green hills of Fillmore to the scorching Saharan desert of Kasandora. And to your very own living room.

Angry Video Game Nerd James Rolfe knows all about building audience. And being angry.

Angry Video Game Nerd James Rolfe knows all about building audience. And being angry.

I see a lot of crowdfunding campaigns, more now than ever before since I started working at Indiegogo, and I find the most successful campaigners nurture this sense of belief in their project early on and are more easily able to convert that belief into action in the form of contributions. Campaigners like James Rolfe (Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie) and Hannah Hart (Hello, Harto!) understand this very well and have spent lots of time building up their fan bases on YouTube (968,851 and 476,350 subscribers, respectively, and counting), so it’s no wonder they were able to turn their fan’s dedication into dollars to help yield two of Indiegogo’s biggest film/web campaigns to date.

The most important thing to remember is that as creators, we are not The Masters, but rather the Angels serving the highest power –– our creations. Whether it’s the crowd from which we’re looking to pool funds to make a project happen or those we hope will use our latest gadget, or the ones who’ll be amongst the first to watch our latest film or video or buy our book –– and even those good-hearted folks who help by spreading our word –– we have to always listen to them to better serve their best interests. Less people in any given circle means less belief in our Masters, so that the statues of our ideas may forever remain unmoved and frozen in stone.

After all, what good would even that statue serve if there were no one there to see it?

ActRaiser_Master

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What video games, old or new school, have taught you something about everyday life? Share your thoughts below –– I’d love to hear about it!

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From Auteur to Author, Part 2: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers Arrives on Amazon

After six months of writing like a rock star, including one complete rewrite and two full revisions, plus another two rounds of copyediting with an editor, and most recently an in-depth review of its first galley proof, my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign is yet another step closer to your bookshelves.

In fact, my (not-so-)little 255-page tome of crowdfunding tidbits and tactics is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

I’m still hard at work with my amazing editor, Gary Sunshine, and our layout editor, Gina Mansfield, to make Crowdfunding for Filmmakers read smoothly and look snazzy, keeping in the vein of the blog posts that inspired it (“Three Ps for a Successful Film Campaign” and “A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette,” as well as “Twitter Tips for Crowdfunders,” featured on Ted Hope’s Indiewire blog). I’m very honored to have this book added to the Michael Wiese Productions catalog alongside other best-selling books like Save the Cat! By Blake Snyder, Directing Actors by Judith Weston, Film Directing: Shot by Shot by Steven D. Katz, and many others covering topics ranging from screenwriting to film editing and beyond.

For now, set your sights on what these awesome indie film and crowdfunding folks are already saying about Crowdfunding for Filmmakers:

“John has been a practitioner and teacher when it comes to crowdfunding. This book helps anyone learn from his experience. Readers will be empowered to turn their ideas into action and action into money and success.” –– Slava Rubin, Founder & CEO, Indiegogo

“There is actually a science to the new zeitgeist for artists known as crowdfunding and John Trigonis’ Crowdfunding for Filmmakers contextualizes the history as well as outlines a step by step method to a successful crowdfunding campaign in an easy and enjoyable read indispensable to any and all future crowdfunders.” –– Filmmakers Jayce Bartok (The Cake Eaters, blogger MovieMaker) and Tiffany Bartok (Tiny Dancer)

“What do ancient Eastern philosophy and crowdfunding have in common? John knows and illustrates this connection wonderfully in Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, a very thorough look at not only crowdfunding, but social media, promotion, sales tactics, and so much more.” –– Daniel Sisson, Daily Crowdsource

“Chock-full of fantastic funding tips for your next movie by a filmmaker who has been through the process firsthand.”  –– Brian Meece, CEO of RocketHub, The World’s Funding Machine

Crowdfunding for Filmmakers is scheduled for a February 2013 release, which means my 35th birthday will be extra special this year, as this book marks my first step into a larger frontier –– that of a published author and crowdfunding consultant. And I couldn’t have achieved any of it without the help of my community, my ultra supportive family and friends, the generous funders behind my short film Cerise, who helped pave the road toward the brave new realm of crowdfunding and book publishing, and especially my girlfriend Marinell, who pointed out this road to me, revved me on to write the proposal for this book that I hope will instruct not only filmmakers, but creative artists of all sorts, in the art of successfully crowdfunding their next projects.

There’ll be more to come in the months ahead, so stay tuned to Hat & Soul for the latest on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers. In the meantime, click here and order a copy today (and tap that “Like” button, too!)

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Tao Te Trig: The Flow, the Muse and the Working Writer’s World

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 marks the day I started writing my very first book, The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, for Michael Wiese Productions. Thirty days later, I’m about a hundred pages into my 200-page guide focused on helping indie filmmakers raise funds for their films on IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding platforms.

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Checking off chapters and counting pages on my table of contents.

So what have I learned so far traversing this uncharted terrain of my personal writer’s journey? First and foremost, writing is hard! It’s funny because that’s usually the first thing I tell my writing students at each of the universities where I teach, but I never fully understood how true a statement it is. As a poet for most of my writing life, I’d become very used to waiting for inspiration to strike, for my faithful muse’s hand to brush the back of my neck, the way Doris Dowling’s does to Ray Milland’s in The Lost Weekend, and leave behind a fresh idea in the airy form of a mysterious scent that lingers long after her touch.

But once you get to writing an actual book, whether it’s nonfiction like mine or the great American novel or even a feature-length screenplay, you really can’t sit up waiting for inspiration to come strolling in any ol’ time she likes; you have to inspire yourself, and that’s been the single most challenging part for me while writing The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers so far. Writing about a topic like this, and in such a short span of time as six short months, I’ve been relying heavily on myself, not my muse, to conjure up the magic words necessary to concoct an informative, entertaining and inspiring bit of literary thaumaturgy.

And I have been fortunate so far. I’m working my way through these white unlined trenches because I’m writing about my own crowdfunding success with Cerise on IndieGoGo, as well as detailing the success stories of many other campaigns as examples to further illustrate my points. Plus, I’m incorporating a bit of the Tao Te Ching into each chunk I churn out, and this reinvigorates me whenever I fall into a spell of writing very straightforward, factual information, since it’s a philosophy I subscribe to in every aspect of my life. After all, when you write what you know, you’re able to flow.

Doris Dowling, muse to Ray Milland's tormented writer in The Lost Weekend.

Then, something wonderful happens. Once I work myself into that “Zone,” at about an hour or so into the key tap and space bar hustle, my muse will occasionally sneak over to my writing desk and massage my creased temples, help me find a way to elevate a rather insipid concept of crowdfunding up into the ranks of the almost poetic. The other day, for instance, I waxed metaphoric my concept of eliciting versus soliciting funds which I first brought up in my second Tao of Crowdfunding post “A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette” by comparing it to a steak dinner:

Here’s the difference in a more practical setting: You see your friend going to town on a piece of steak, cooked just the way you like it. It’s dripping with juices and smells unbearably delicious. So you ask him, “Can I have a piece of your steak?” to which your friend now has the option to say yay or nay. They have the power over you. Now, if you look at that steak and salivate over it –– well, that won’t work either ‘cause that’s just sad. But if you look up from that magnificent bit of medium well goodness and say to your friend something along the lines of “Man, that steak looks and smells delicious!” as a statement, you will elicit a reaction from your friend, which will most likely be “It is… (wait for it) “…Do you want to try a piece?” Now you’ve got the power and soon after, a tasty piece of steak.

I was in “The Zone” and then this chunk of elaboration flowed seamlessly out of my fingertips. It was inspiration’s finger sliding across the back of my neck; all I had to do was keep up with the flow of words flooding into my mind and write.

It took me a full three weeks to build up the discipline and get into the swing of what it means to be an actual working writer (and receiving my first check in the mail from MWP made that realization all the more solid, of course). To be perfectly honest, being a writer is something I didn’t really think I could do. I realized that I had too many misconceptions about it, all of them fabrications with no real footing in the real world. For years I believed that if I wrote something that wasn’t necessarily as creative as my poetry or as high concept as my screenplays, I simply wouldn’t enjoy it, and in turn, it would become the worst thing writing could ever become to me: A job.

Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do symbol, reflecting the everlasting flow of yin and yang.

My over thinking this for all these years has worked against what the universe had written down in the penmanship of the stars as in my best interest, and I know as well as anyone that when you work with the universe, all is right. Taoist sage Lao Tzu calls this wei wu wei, or “doing without doing.” By not over thinking something, everything gets done. In that way, The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers is meant to be written, and I’m the one who’s meant to write it.

I’m going with the flow now, like a stream flowing in one direction: forward. When a stone stands in my way, I simply stream around it and discover new ways to say something on my own because when you’re a working writer, you can’t wait for your muse to saunter in at whatever hour of the day or night she pleases (deadlines be damned!) to inspire every sentence you write. You must rely on your own flow, and trust that your own words will be the right words.

But, of course, it doesn’t hurt to leave the porch light on, too.

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The Tao of Crowdfunding: A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette

So you now know some of the keys of a successful campaign from reading the first post in my Tao of Crowdfunding series, but that’s only part of the ongoing battle to find alternative sources for financing our creative projects. Based on the incredible response “The Three Ps for a Successful Film Campaign” received from the indie film community and beyond, I’ve decided to soldier on and address a topic which some of my closest friends have cited as a bit of a concern––Crowdfunder Etiquette.

Like hat tipping, crowdfunding comes with its own etiquette.

Like hat tipping, crowdfunding comes with its own etiquette.

Some of you might be thinking to yourselves I didn’t know such a thing existed! It does or doesn’t, based on your own experiences crowdfunding. But I prefer to call it by its more common name: Good Manners. Whether your crowdfunding platform is Indiegogo, Kickstarter or any of the myriad others out there, here are five basic tenets every campaigner should follow:

1. “I’m Not Only the Campaigner, I’m Also a Funder!”
Some of you may remember that 1980s TV commercial for The Hair Club for Men and Cy Sperling’s famous concluding statement “I’m not only the Hair Club president, but I’m also a client.”

Similarly, you should be more than just the filmmaker, musician or entrepreneur by having something more tangible than time invested in your project. Surprisingly, this is something crowdfunders rarely do. Let’s be honest––if you are not willing to put your money into your own campaign, how can you ask any of your friends to contribute, let alone a perfect stranger? Whether it’s $5 or $5,000, you should be the one to jump-start your own campaign either by setting aside your own cash and raising additional funds, or by contributing to your own campaign via Indiegogo or Kickstarter. With Cerise, for instance, I opted for the first choice, saving up $10,000 and crowdfunding for $5,000 more. And, of course, I let my potential funders know that within the first thirty seconds of my pitch video. If you opt for the second choice, your name should appear (as opposed to being listed as “Anonymous”) in your “Funders” tab so that others know you’re not only the campaigner, but your also a contributor. This kind of transparency is absolutely vital to the integrity and ultimately the success of your campaign.

2. Saying Please and Thank You
Remember “The Please and Thank You Song” from Barney and Friends? (Fear not! I won’t salt the wound this reference may have opened by posting the video here.) These “magic words” run marathons in all circles. So when you promote your campaign on Twitter or Facebook, whenever possible include a simple “please” (or its abbreviation when it comes to character limits) in each one.

Travis Legge Tweets “Please” for Poetic on Indiegogo.

More importantly, whenever you receive a contribution, the absolute least you can do is thank that person. Sending an email, message on Facebook and/or Direct Message on Twitter is fine, too, but in today’s multifaceted social media stew, the more out in the open a “Thank You” is, the better.

The Red Scare Team humorously thanks a new contributor, keeping with their 1950s “Red Scare” motif.

Apart from thanking contributors to your campaign, it’s equally important to thank any- and everybody who retweets your Tweets about your project or shares your link on Google+ and Facebook. It’s polite and shows that you appreciate their part in getting the word out about your campaign.

Writer/Producer Sam Platizky thanks yours truly for tweeting about his latest zombie comedy.

Another, more general thank you, but just as strong and just as personal.

It’s about making people feel appreciated by publicly acknowledging them for all the good things they’re doing on your behalf.

3. Send Contributors Something N0w And Later
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” And so do your funders. You should give them something more immediate than a signed copy of your new album when it’s finished several months after your campaign has ended. It can be something personalized for the funder at one of the lower perk levels, and somehow related to the project you’re campaigning for, like these awesome perks from Sync:

I love the smell of nostalgia in the morning!

When I contributed to Brendon Fogle’s short film, I received my perks––a pair of records from Brendon’s personal collection and two Sync stickers––a few short weeks after clicking “Contribute Now” on Indiegogo. Now I’ve got a constant reminder of Sync until the film’s finished up and I can get my DVD in the future.

A sound designer named Christopher Postill recently got in touch with me about a campaign for his project Sounds Like an Earful, a pod cast about rethinking the sounds we’re surrounded by on a daily basis. Seeing the usual suspects of perks, I suggested he make them more personalized for his potential funders. When I saw his Indiegogo page next, I saw he had added a perk in which he’d create a sound specifically for the funder. Another perk higher up the ladder lends itself to Christopher creating a piece of music that a funder can gift to a friend or family member or keep for him- or herself.

Now this is an immediate perk that packs a personal punch!

Not only are these new perks innovative and personal, but they’re also immediate; once they’re created, they can be posted on the funder’s Facebook wall, tweeted, or emailed.

4. Constantly Keep Your Funders Updated
So you spent three intense months crowdfunding like a rockstar. You thanked all your funders. You mailed them their perks. And at the end of the campaign trail you became another crowdfunding success story! Feels good to be done, right?

Even after all that, you’re only now seeing the finish line, but you’ve still got a ways to go. Just as it’s important to keep your funders updated throughout your campaign, it’s just as important to maintain a steady stream of updates about the progress of your project even after the campaign has ended. Your funders have contributed to your campaign for various reasons, whether it’s because of your personalized pitch, your cool perks, or because they’re family and have to, but they’re also giving something more than money to you and your campaign, so the least you can do is make them feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.

Perhaps Cerise funder Andrew Bichler said it best in this quick video about why he contributed to my short film:


You heard it right from a proud funder’s mouth: “What really turned me on [was] the fact that I, as an everyday guy, could get involved in funding and supporting the arts…” As such, it’s gratifying to be kept in the loop about what’s going on regarding a project you’ve become a part of; I receive regular updates with behind the scenes footage, post-production notes and other status updates from many of the projects I’ve contributed to like Red Scare, Tilt and How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song. If you don’t update your audience, they may start to think all kinds of outrageous things, the worst of which quite possibly being “Well, I won’t support that person’s campaigns any more!” Again, it’s all about appreciation, so treat your funders with the same respect that you’d show an investor, whether they’re contributing at the $1 rung or closer to the top of the ladder.

5. When Engaging Your Community, Don’t Solicit, Elicit
Perhaps the greatest aspect of the indie community is that in most cases it will come to bat for you during your crowdfunding campaign. The most recent account is probably the come-from-behind victory of Lucas McNelly’s A Year Without Rent, which had been stagnant for the long haul of the campaign. But in its final days and hours, this video project was pulled from the Sarlacc pit of unfunded dreams by the entire indie film community. This is an exceptional case, of course (I don’t recommend starting a campaign without plenty of preparation and a solid plan of action plotted out beforehand), but the lesson is pretty much standard: If you show passion for your project and drive it forward, your community will come to your aid.

Every time I tweet about my current 3rd Crusade for Cerise––in which I seek  film festival submission funds from friends and followers so I can continue submitting my short film to festivals––I make sure each one is unique and clever, and sure enough, my followers retweet it to their followers. I haven’t had to ask anyone to “please RT” anything in over a year because I’ve built up some credibility by showing them that I take pride not only in my film, but also in every minute detail that makes up the whole of Cerise.

If it happens to be a holiday, I make my tweets about that holiday.

If the project you’re campaigning for centers around certain subject matter, keep that subject in play.

As crowdfunders, we might try to elicit help from our respective communities and solicit less simply by showing them how truly important our campaigns are to us and how imperative their support can be in helping us reach our crowdfunding goals.

BONUS: Promotion, Not Spamotion!
There are many ways to get people not to contribute to your campaign or help you with promoting it, but by far the most sure-fire method is by coming across in your promotion as a spam artist. And I’m not just talking about sending the exact same tweet five times a day; other ways include linking your personal and project’s Twitter accounts so that those same five Tweets per day are now ten Tweets (but more on that in my Tao of Crowdfunding post “Twitter Tips for Crowdfunders“) and even appending your campaign’s information as a comment onto another campaign’s page! This unscrupulous practice is actually such a problem that Kickstarter needed to mention it as one of their “Community Guidelines” on their FAQ page:

You’d think some things still fall into the realm of common sense. Not so much…

Be a pro when planning out the promotion tactics for your campaign. Even when I would promote my Indiegogo campaign for Cerise directly on my friends’ Facebook walls, it was always personalized enough that I was able to avoid the pitfalls of those annoying “Need Cash Now?” advertisements texted to people’s phones. So be personable when publicizing your campaign to steer clear of the “unfriend” and “block” features that occur with social networking and you’ll soon see that the personal touch leads to the Midas touch.

In Short…
My Dad always used to tell me “by nice ways you’ll accomplish everything.” A lot of this may seem like common sense to some of us, but it’s this kind of sense seems less and less common. As crowdfunders, we’re asking people for money, and when we ask for anything and get it, the least we can do is show our gratitude to those who gave it. By treating your funders and supporters properly, you’re not only gathering money for this one project, you’re also forging a stronger network, and at times friendships, that will stand by your side long after your first campaign has ended. And when you start another campaign for your next project, those same people will be ready to show their support once again to back a rising star and a real mensch!

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What are YOUR thoughts about crowdfunder etiquette? FUNDERS: Any props or pet peeves YOU’d like to share about crowdfunders you’ve encountered? Fill up the section below with your comments, questions or concerns!

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The Tao of Crowdfunding: Three Ps for a Successful Indie Film Campaign

UPDATED: WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 2014 –– Same three Ps. Fresh new examples!

Long before I became Indiegogo‘s head campaign specialist for film, I was given multiple opportunities to step in for the company’s CEO and co-founder Slava Rubin and give 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.

Vinegar tasters

If a Buddhist, a Confucian, and a Taoist each tried to crowdfund an indie film, which would be most successful?

Although crowdfunding has been around for years now, it’s still the buzz word amongst the indie film community. The only real issue I find with crowdfunding is that far too many people jump headfirst into a campaign without the proper knowledge of how it all works and without a carefully plotted outline. Specifically, there are things that every filmmaker should be aware of before embarking on a crowdfunding campaign, things that have been proven to work, not only 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: a proper pitch, personalized perks, and plenty of promotion –– what I call the “Three Ps” of crowdfunding.

A PROPER 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:

Back then, crowdfunding was young, and my pitch for Cerise was cited as a model of what a solid pitch video should be. Compared to the ones I’d researched back then, you could say that I went the extra yard with my video, actually shooting short scenes to illustrate my perk levels and such. Today, though, filmmakers need to up their game

Here’s a more recent pitch video for a Canadian indie film called The Etiquette of Sexting, and when I first saw it, I started laughing immediately, not only because it’s a hilarious comedy about a guy’s first tryst with sexting after a bad breakup, but because the video followed the four basic elements of a pitch:

  1. The Introduction: an short intro into who the filmmaker is, starting with her or his name, of course.
  2. The Pitch: a short description of the film (logline) and why the filmmaker’s coming to the crowd (purpose) and what he or she has on offer (perk mention)
  3. The Showcase: proof that the filmmaker is, in fact, a filmmaker
  4. The Call to Action: The moment when the filmmaker tells us what we need to do to help out.

See for yourself how the filmmakers put together this stellar pitch:

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.

As crowdfunding evolves, the more creative you can get with your pitch video, the better. Just check out this amazing pitch 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.

PERSONALIZED PERKS: BECAUSE CROWDFUNDING ISN’T ABOUT YOU

This is really the basis of crowdfunding –– you give me money, you get something in return, and the way I see it, there are three types of perks you can offer up for your indie film’s crowdfunding campaign:

  1. standard definition (sd): what I call “The Mandatories” –– digital download, DVD/Blu-ray copies, social media shout outs,
  2. High Definition (HD or Hi-Def): Experiential perks, such as producer credits, special thanks, dinner with directors, Skypes with actors, Instagram and vine videos, invitations to the premieres, and VHX streaming
  3. Three-Dimensional (3-D!): Personalized perks, which I define as any perk that seeks to bring contributors to the campaign deeper into the world of the film, must the way 3-D movies brings us into the film

Now while there’s nothing wrong with offering sd and HD perks, it’s much more meaningful to funders when campaigners think outside the money box and GET PERSONAL WITH THE PERKS on offer. A strong example of a 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 at the time (fiancée now) 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.

My acrostic poem for Cerise funder Giselle Del Oro.

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:

Kudos for upping the nostalgia factor with “Trapper Keeper”!

Yet 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.”

Here’s a photo of me that Brendon gave “The Blue Note Treatment” as a test, and boy do I dig it, daddy-O!

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.

The Kickstarter campaign for Hybrid Vigor, which raised $57,237 of its $50,000 goal, offered up one of the most personalized perks I’ve ever seen, one that not only ties into the film itself, but ties the contributor almost literally to a piece of the movie: For only $1, your face would become part of the official “photomosaic” movie poster for Hybrid Vigor:

You’d expect to contribute at least $25 for this perk. Nope. Just a buck!

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.

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 4.01.13 PM

Hannah’s certificate of e-polygamy and some of her other highly personal perks.

The list goes, so I’ll end this section with one of my all time favorite perks that I’ve ever received, which is this ukulele song by Tim Sparks when he was crowdfunding his short film Around Here on Indiegogo. I mean, it really doesn’t get much more personalized that a song about the funder. And for $20?! Easy money!

PLENTY OF PROMOTION: BECAUSE CROWDFUNDING IS 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:

These “Famous Kickstarter Quotes” keep Steve’s crowdfunding fresh and fun with every tweet.

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, NOT 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 or my “Crowd Reign” blog over at Indie Reign.

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