CROWDFUNDING FOR FILMMAKERS: Tips for success
According to Funding LaunchPad, crowdfunding has grown around 420% in just three years. Names like Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and Pozible in Australia have become familiar to anyone who’s ever thought of funding a film project via the online crowd. Of course it’s not just film projects, but Pozible’s Rick Chen says FILM is one of the most popular categories on the site.
Clearly it works. Just explore these websites for successful projects as proof. But what we don’t often hear is the huge effort required to make it a success.
This post is a mixed bag, starting with the personal. I don’t REALLY want to go there, but I think it might serve as a helpful warning to others thinking about crowdfunding. Then we get to the good stuff — some insights from a few of the successful filmmakers. I hope it’s helpful.
OUR CRACK AT CROWDFUNDING
Things were especially tight in the lead-up to the Campfire Film Festival in May this year. We held a special meeting, some months before with plenty of brainstorming options for getting some extra money. I’m not sure who suggested it, but I was definitely right behind it from the start.
“Hey, I know! Let’s run a crowdfunding campaign!”
There were about 7 of us in the meeting. Some were in favour, some not, and others didn’t really have an opinion.
Me: “I can produce a half-reasonable promo video — then we just let it fly!”
We took the plunge.
It was not long after posting the video online and setting up our Pozible page, the grim reality sunk in — THIS, was going to be a lot of work. No.
A LOT of work.
A LOT of time.
A LOT of hassling, bugging, contacting, “friending”, scraping, begging… yes,
A LOT more than we had to give at that particular time of our year.
THIS was a job all on its own.
We got a few pledged amounts, but ultimately ran out of time for it & abandoned it.
Crowdfunding is a BIG job.
So I was keen to hear from those who were successful. What did they do right, and what advice did they have for others thinking about crowdfunding?
STORIES FROM THOSE WHO ‘MADE IT’
Key campaigner: Gillian Leahy
Amount raised: $7,189 (goal $5000)
We set a reasonable target, had a good cause, and an experienced filmmaker. Also we had the whole permaculture scene internationally as possible donors.
Advice to others?
Be fearless about going to friend networks first but make sure they feel if they can’t contribute they can ‘like’ or pass it on. Set up your Facebook and twitter lists first so they are as big and relevant as possible. Then use them repeatedly. Set a reasonable target. Describe your project in an exciting enthusiastic way!
FILM: Enemy Aliens
Key campaigner: Daniel Tenni
Amount raised: $10,185
We should declare an interest here. Enemy Aliens is a larger project working towards feature production that began as a student film in WA. The short version is already available for distribution into schools via us at Campfire, where it has its own page for teachers to download or stream, and is currently viewable online in full for another week on our highlights of the festival page. The short version (under 11mins), entitled Restare Uniti, has had a great deal of interest from teachers around the country because it relates closely to the study of English and history, exploring the deep issues of conflict and racism. We believe this further helped its exposure and crowdfunding efforts. It is not a trailer, but a completely self-contained short film, which is what teachers look for.
The last few days were full-on. We worked right around the clock, 24hours tag-teaming each other… emailing and contacting everyone we knew, with a team of up to about 10 online, and we were getting donations from overseas, like in Denmark where Julian, our director, had plenty of contacts. Every time someone donated — even $10 — we made a big deal about it, put them on our Facebook page, and made it really exciting. It was almost like a game, watching the dollars meter going up, and we’d cheer each other on, saying “we can do it!”
Advice to others?
Definitely don’t underestimate the amount of work you put into it. It’s something that you need to have set up already — you need to have a big network of people ready to go, you can’t just think that you’re going to build it at the same time, because it’s going to take too long. We started with almost 1000 followers on our Facebook page, which took us about a year to build up.
I think a key thing is, too, when you write a post, remember to say “share this onwards”, because that’s how you go viral.
FILM: Nancy Pansy Hairy Mary
Key campaigner: Bartholomew Sammut
Amount raised: $11,811
We worked for 2 months before hand on the campaign we were going to run, took 4 weeks to shoot our trailer and our promo video, get all of our contacts lined up and were constantly researching more press contacts that could help us in spreading the word about our film and its fundraising campaign.
We also did a day-to-day plan of what goals we would like to reach and how we would try and reach them, as well as listing who to contact on which day, who to chase and who to follow up on. Then, when we launched the campaign, we worked on it everyday, constantly writing personal emails to our friends, family, colleagues and other contacts, directly asking if they were able to spare some pennies, and if not, if there was any way they could also help in promoting the campaign.
I think it was because of our personal approach to our contacts that we were able to reach our goal, that and the press we managed to gather also brought in some donations.
Advice to others?
Be prepared to live and breathe this campaign. The old saying is true, you only get out what you put in and we put in all we had to this campaign. Since it finished, we’ve found it weird not to be constantly updating the campaign, to not be constantly facebooking it or twittering it, or begging people to mention it on their website. If you are like us and have a full time job or any other job that you live by, and making film is your passion, then be prepared to work overtime, doing your normal day job in the day, then work another 8 hours every night on raising the funds to make your film.
As much work as this may seem, if you have an idea that people believe in, it is worth it to go this route, as you are also building a pre-existing audience, one that will stand by you and be there to support the film when it is finished. This is invaluable marketing for a low budget film that may not have enough money to run a great marketing campaign. Plus, through our campaign we were able to attract investors as well as secure some pre-sales in other territories, which also helped make up our budget.
It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one that should be explored by everyone, even if it is just for a learning exercise in discipline and focus. I say once-in-a-lifetime because I think after running one campaign, I do not think I could go back and do a second, unless I have built through this project a larger fan base that would come on board and support another project.
As first timers, we relied heavily on family and friends, like the old days when you would go around, door to door and ask people for donations so you could make your first short film, and I don’t believe we could ask them a second time round. But I do believe the experience you get from the crowdfunding you can take with you into other aspects of raising a film’s finance.
FILM: Wastelander Panda
Key campaigner: Kirsty Stark
Amount raised: $25,225
I think we were successful for a few reasons…
Engaging content that
a) appealed to multiple niche audiences (science-fiction fans, post-apocalypse fans, filmmakers and panda fans)
b) was of high enough quality for people to trust us with their money
c) was entertaining
Rewards that appealed to fans at a price range where they felt good about donating but also getting something in return
We set mini targets along the way e.g. $7k, $10k, $20k and dates to hit them by - people love a deadline, and this helped us to keep the project on track rather than getting near the end and not having enough money donated for people to feel confident it would get there
We held a lot of online & offline events & promotional activities throughout the campaign (e.g. public appearances by the panda, web chats with fans, staying up for 24 hours straight). These not only increased our media appeal and allowed us to interact with our fans, but showed that we were willing to put ourselves out there and dedicate ourselves to the project
Advice to others?
Research past successful projects to get ideas about donation levels, wording, how to make your video, etc. Learn from other people’s successes.
Don’t just put up your page and expect people to find it. Be prepared to work every day during your campaign to get the word out in different areas - social media, in person, in newspapers, on radio, etc.
Target different people at different stages of the campaign. Plan to start with close family and friends so that the project has some initial success (nobody wants to back something that doesn’t have many donations to start with) and then expand from there to your niche target audience, wider target audience, general media etc.
Finally, crowdfunding is half about the project itself and half about who you are and why you’re doing it. Give people a compelling reason to back your project. If they can hear / feel your passion and know a little bit about you they will be much more likely to donate.
Thanks to everyone who contributed their stories. All the best from here!
Any other stories of experience from the world of crowdfunding filmmakers?