It seems odd that I’m writing a blog post listing 11 essential tips to consider before launching your own crowdfunding campaign, especially since I, a writer and director, don’t launch our own Kickstarter campaign for our feature film, “The Postwoman,” until November 2012. Yes, our launch date is coming this Fall.
Our feature film, “The Postwoman” is a romantic drama that stars Margaret Kemp (Children of God 2010) as a newly divorced mother of two who struggles to come out to her ex-husband and kids after falling in love with a butch graphic designer she meets in an independent women’s bookstore.
You can view a clip of Margaret Kemp’s acting work by clicking the link below:
Enough about our feature film. If you really wanted to stay abreast of when our Kickstarter campaign launches this Fall, you’d star our romantic drama on Kickstarter. Or click on the Kickstarter link below, right?
I’m a bit of a comedienne, if you didn’t know. I’m also the writer and director of “The Postwoman.”
But I digress. :-) I am writing this blog post because, over the past few months, I have become intrigued witnessing very successful crowdfunding campaigns. I have also felt quite disturbed witnessing crowdfunding campaigns that not only never reach their targeted goal, but also lose everything. Do you hear me, people? Everything!!!
It’s every filmmaker’s crowdfunding nightmare to get so close to reaching their targeted funding goal only to lose everything. But we run that risk because we are not afraid, because we are deeply invested in bringing our precious film (our precious dreams) to a theater near you.
Perhaps we could all benefit if we had a few essential tips to consider before launching a crowdfunding campaign. It is for this reason that I write. Who can remember, for instance, the successful crowdfunding campaign of Ryan Koo (Writer and Director of “Man Child”) and also founder of http://nofilmschool.com whose targeted goal on Kickstarter was $115,000, but he surpassed his goal by raising $125,000?
Or Amanda Palmer whose targeted goal was $100,000, but she also broke records on Kickstarter when she raised a whopping $1,192,793? Palmer is an artist and singer who launched her campaign to help raise funds for her new tour.
Do you remember when Aurora Guerrero raised raised $82,469 of her targeted $80,000 goal for “Mosquita y Mari”?
How about when Issa Rae raised $56,259 of her targeted $30,000 goal for “The Adventures of Awkward Black Girl”?
What about when Dee Rees and Nekisa Cooper raised over $11,000 of their $10,000 goal for “Pariah” to help with post-production (e.g., sound, music clearances, etc) before heading off to Sundance? Do you remember that campaign?
Even Whoopi Goldberg ran a successful campaign for her upcoming documentary about Mom’s Mabley entitled “I Got Somethin to Tell You.” Whoopi’s targeted goal was $65,000 but she raised $75,765.” It might seem surprising that a well known actress like Whoopi, who has received a host of notable awards, including an Emmy, Academy Award, and Golden Globe Award, would launch a Kickstarter campaign, but, let’s face it, all of us can use some help. Filmmaking is an expensive business.
I donated to all of these new voices in independent cinema (including Whoopi’s project) because they were opening new doors for indie filmmakers (women of color, especially), pushing new boundaries, telling heartfelt stories that were infused with hope, culture, and meaning. They were essentially, to quote Julie Dash, “recoding and reframing” the image of marginalized subjects in the mainstream. They were refusing to be silent, giving voice to those who had been absent or misrepresented in Hollywood or the media. I believed not only in their product, but especially in their unique individual stories — as writers, creative artists, and directors.
Audience members are often drawn to universal human stories or film projects that they connect with on a deep personal level. So, yes, filmmaking “is” personal. It is as much a business as it is about creating, nurturing, and sustaining relationships with crew members, actors, casting directors, investors, sponsors, and fans.
I hope these 11 Essential Tips written, primarily, to myself, are helpful. Perhaps they will help no one at all. But the good news is that I wrote it and I shared it. It’s up to you whether or not you will take heed.
1. You’re Screwed
You should go into a crowdfunding launch thinking of all of the possible things that can go wrong to help you better assess possible loopholes and pitfalls to avoid. Here are some things to consider:
- Will your friends be broke that month? Have they just paid the mortgage or rent, or donated to 29 other projects that were launched in the same week?
- Have you forgot to announce your campaign at least one, two, or three months in advance? In fact, was the first time you posted your link to your Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign the exact same day you launched your campaign?
- Did anyone know your campaign was forthcoming? Did they not know that your campaign existed because you only advertised on one social network — at 3am in the morning? How will you ensure that your East Coast, West Coast, or friends abroad in other countries see your crowdfunding post if you are all on different time zones — logging in at different times to catch up? Something to think about.
- Is the text on your campaign clear? Does it look thought out? Is everything all jumbled together (e.g., videos, links, texts, and images)? Does it look like a professional did it or an amatuer? Is it proofread?
- How far down on your page do we have to scroll to find out where our money is going, what the film is about, or who you really are?
- Does your bio show what you have done previously? Awards received, if any? Don’t be shy. These things help build confidence in your audience as well as awareness.
- Is there a trailer or tiny clip of your debut feature before launching? I know this is not entirely possible without any funding, but every little bit helps. If there is no trailer, is there a link to another short film you did, a link to a feature film your actors did? A demo reel by your cinematographer?
2. Toot Your Own Horn
My background, while saturated in theater and film, is also in journalism. I have an extensive sales and marketing background — mostly as a trade book buyer for independent bookstores and as a Marketing Consultant for a publishing company. Perhaps this gives me some insight into the importance of tooting your own horn. This process should be carefully calculated. You should proceed consciously. You should also be cautious. In other words, don’t spam people. Coax them gently. Invite them to participate in your film’s “event.” Collect emails for a newsletter.
If you’ve launched your crowdfunding campaign, don’t expect to go on vacation and wish that folks will continue donating while you’re tanning on the beach. You have to stay active throughout its entire duration. One tweet on Twitter and one post on Facebook at 6am PST (probably 8am your time) are not enough. You have to build momentum, reminding investors, supporters, fans, family, and friends that this baby is still kicking and their support would be invaluable. But you have to tread lightly. Posting your Kickstarter website or link on friend’s Facebook pages may be desirable but also may seem invasive. Know your audience.
A good idea is to bring those friends and supporters along through a solid grassroots direct marketing or email campaign; the result of signing folks up for your newletter. That way, when they get the announcement about your campaign, it’s because they’ve already invested in your work and have been awaiting such news. They weren’t bombarded with it. So, toot your own horn but remember, audiences are, most likely, interested in you — the creator. So be yourself. Post at your own risk.
3. Connect with Audiences in Advance
Several filmmakers testify to the need of connecting with one’s film base. As the following PDF article, entitled “From Distribution to Audience Engagement: Social Change Through Film” by the Fledgling Fund assures us, connecting with our audience base can consist of any of the following:
Online social networking tools (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube Channel, etc.)
A website dedicated to the film
Radio stories, newspaper articles, magazine or television coverage, blog coverage or other e- communications
Mutually beneficial partnerships with non-profit organizations, corporations, religious bodies or educational institutions
Word of mouth
Public stunts or other creative methods that are focused on making a splash that attracts media and public attention
It’s not enough to try to build an audience base at the launch of your crowdfunding campaign. It is essential that you network early, bringing on supporters and engaging them as early as you can.
4. Diversify Your Portfolio
Perhaps you figure that to really produce an exceptional independent feature film, you need at least $3 million dollars. So you tread in pursuit of a crowdfunding platform that will allow you to do such. You note that supporters not only in the U.S. will be able to contribute to your campaign, but also note that your platform allows for money to be invested from other countries as well to help you reach your targeted goal.
But what we must realize is that there are host of notable independent feature films have been produced for far less than $1 million. A lot of wonderful independent film projects that have gained distribution were produced for under $40,000. And here’s the catch here: one wants to keep their production costs as LOW AS POSSIBLE (regardless of how much you can raise) to ensure that you can not only recoup your expenses, but also provide a generous return to investors.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I really need to raise $3 million in 14 days on one platform?
- Is it logical to have both a Kickstarter campaign and Indiegogo campaign going at at the same time? Audience members tend to get confused. If the filmmaker or producers aren’t solid on the direction of their film, how can they ensure that you will also be as formidable with their cash?
- Some folks are blessed to raise $1 million, as is the case of Amanda Palmer, on one crowdfunding campaign. But she has revealed in countless interviews that she had been nurturing her audience base for years. Her work was visible. It was international. If you happen to be a local independent whose just getting started, maybe you only want to raise funds for development or pre-production and spend the rest of the time meeting investors and potential sponsors face to face. Then, you might consider, once you have an actual trailer to lure more investors and funders to your project, launching another campaign for post. This is a “safe” method but if not too many people know about your project, it may be worth it in the long run. Who wants to lose everything???? Again: ugh!
5. The Rewards Don’t Mean Much
Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to go broke giving away ipads, the new Iphone 5 (you can’t do this anyway), or expensive t-shirts to lure people to donate to your campaign. The rewards don’t matter. People are drawn to a clear execution of goals and the story. They are equally drawn to the writers, producers, and creators behind the project.
Okay, the jag does look cute doesn’t it? :-) Anyway, the point is this: realize that when someone invests in your project, they are investing in your long-term career. They want your debut drama to be a success, but they also want to ensure your longevity in your field because you have proven to them that you are a valuable voice in the community and are needed.
6. Are Your Friends Broke?
The sad reality is that the economy is unstable. People are struggling. Some are robbing Peter to pay Paul (this is the first time I used that phrase in a sentence). Hopefully, you are robbing no one but rather thinking carefully about how to invest your funds. Imagine if “you” are struggling. If you are struggling then your broke friends might be too. Your rich friends may also be cautious about their investments. Why? It’s too risky.
There’s too many other important projects on the line. For some, investing in your project means supporting your campaign vs. paying the mortgage or rent vs. buying groceries vs. filling up the tank (you know the gas is high, right?) vs. paying off another bill. Who hast time to invest in a luxury item produced by an unknown that may never exist?
I’ve said this before, but maybe you’re launching a campaign at a time when your friends just donated to 29 other crowdfunding campaigns in the past week. We certainly can’t cripple the urban poor or middle class poor either. Maybe the peeps you want to market to just paid for their child’s college tuition. School is starting again soon — after all.
Your friends may simply LOVE what you are doing but can’t afford to support you right now. That’s why you should have options for them to contribute towards your campaign even if they can’t donate now:
- Perhaps they can give a sistah a RT.
- Can they write a review or blog post about your debut film?
- Can they share your film on their social networks?
- What if they got aboard your marketing team? Yeah, for free. :-)
- Do you have a paypal link? Maybe they can donate when they get paid.
7. Set Clear Goals
Be sure your audience knows the direction and course of your crowdfunding project. What should they expect a month from now, three months from now, a year after the film is launched? How will funds be allocated? Be up front. Be clear.
8. Trailer’s Work
This may seem cliche’ but trailers that are embedded within your crowdfunding page really do work. Perhaps the reason why you’re launching the campaign in the first place is because you NEED the expenses to get the contracts signed, music releases cleared, hair and make up department on board, locations in place so that you can shoot the trailer in the first place. Trust me, I know. We all do.
If you can afford to insert a short trailer or even a clip from the crowdfunding project (any sample), you will entice your audience. If you can’t afford it, then consider inserting your DP or Cinematographer’s reel, your lead actor’s video of her most recent production, a previous short film or IMDb link to a feature you did. Filmmaking is a visual medium. Don’t leave audience members who want to invest in your feature film saturated with Gawd awful text. (Quite like this long post. I did say I’m a writer, right?)
If you’re able, weave your trailer or clip into your main crowdfunding video, as Dee Rees and Nekisa Cooper do above for their Kickstarter campaign, produced in advance of their Sundace premiere. Remember, folks are investing in you as much as they are in your project. Just believe.
9. Do You Link Back to your Film’s Website?
It sounds simple doesn’t it, but is there even a link on your crowdfunding page back to your film’s website? Where can folks go to find out more? Are you on IMDb? Did you win an award? Did you screen at another festival? Is there a place where audiences can read a complete list of screenings? All of these things are helpful.
10. How is the Timing of Your Launch?
It takes guts to launch a crowdfunding campaign. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. Plan your launch carefully. Hopefully, you have done this after engaging an audience, after building a solid film base, after carefully calculating your expenses, and separating your wants from needs.
What other campaigns have been launched since yours have? Will you launch simultaneously with the launch of other friend’s projects? Will you launch during a topical event, in the midst of a crisis? I’m not saying do so. I’m saying assess what you have. Then, go forth and brave the new terrain. If you don’t reach your targeted goal, there’s always tomorrow and good reputable producers who are willing to help.
11. Are You Likable?
Whew. We’ve finally reached 11 and I’ve certainly got to get back to our feature script for our upcoming romantic drama “The Postwoman.” One question that new audience members want to know is who are you? Yes. Who are you? Are you a new filmmaker? If you are, what other relevant work have you done? What makes you likeable? Reliable? Credible? How are your social skills? Are you approachable? Friendly? Easy to collaborate with?
JD Walker, Writer/Director, “The Postwoman”
This might seem like something small but everyone knows in Hollywood and in independent filmmaking that if you are terrible to work with, you might not get very far. :-( Ouch. Hurts. Doesn’t it?
Do you have a personality? Do you have any human soul at all? :-) The point is this (and this may seem redundant), your supporters will donate because they LIKE YOU because you have proven to them that YOU are a worthy investment. So, believe in your project, rally people to your cause, and get to filmmaking.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
JD Walker is the writer and director of the upcoming romantic drama, “The Postwoman.” A Kickstarter campaign for the debut feature launches this Fall. Star the project now on Kickstarter by clicking on the following link:
Follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/PostwomanMovie