Why Crowd-fund a film? Taking the Plunge.
Financing an indie film is not always easy. In our case, even with two features under our belt, we struggled to find traditional investors willing to take a risk on a movie. We needed to decrease the amount of equity at risk either by decreasing the budget or by finding money from a non-equity source.
In the end, we did both. We kept the budget low by creating a cast-crew-owned business model, and we turned to Kickstarter to raise a portion of the funding.
We decided to reduce investor risk by about $40K and added a stipulation to the contracts that we had to raise the money within six months. This accomplished two things:
- Crowd-sourcing reduced investor risk.
- Crowd-sourcing proved that we had the ability to market the film to a large group through social media.
After making the decision to crowd-fund a portion of the budget, the fundraising from investors became much easier. Per one investor, we had “decreased the risk to such an extent that he could overlook the other concerns around indie film investment.”
It still took another two months to get up our nerve to write, edit and launch the campaign. Neither of us were excited to ask friends and family for money.
Our first task was to reach out to our team and build a campaign plan. I made lists, created tasks, set dates, and poured over statistics from past Kickstarter campaigns.
We set the goal at $44K to account for about 9% in Kickstarter fees as we had committed to investors that $40K would be put towards the film’s budget.
In the end, while there were several things I would have done differently (be more organized and prepared), we did many things correctly and ran a successful campaign thanks to the help and support of our team, our family and friends, and a network of supporters.
- Build a Team. Assemble 5-10 people who are willing to help and send emails to their friends and family.
- Find Key Backers. Know who will give in the first few days to get the campaign off to a great start.
- Carefully choose your goal. Over 90% of funds will likely come from people you know. Campaigns rarely go viral.
- Track your curve. Use a program like Kicktraq to see how closely you are tracking to other successful campaigns. Any time you get off track, make a big push for more backers.
- Make a campaign schedule. Plan out a schedule for press, backer updates, and social media posts.
- Create content in advance. Write posts, email templates, and press articles, and create update videos before starting the campaign.
- Consolidate email lists. Get all of your contact data organized. I wish I would have done this before the campaign started. You won’t have time during the campaign.
- Post new content daily & make it valuable. Post videos, cast / crew bios, and interesting information related to your topic.
- Create matching days. Ask a local business or friend to sponsor a matching day. For example: “Business X will match up to $500 of all backer donations today.”
- Create interim goals. If you need a big push in the middle of the campaign, set a goal — “reach 50 backers by end of week”, “reach 30% funded by today”, “reach $2,000 by Friday”, etc…
- Post to social media daily. Post at least 1-3 times per day throughout the campaign. In the last week, post every hour. Write your posts once a day, and use a post-scheduling program to automate the posting.
- Send individual emails or Facebook messages. Our success rate increased from 10% to 90% when sending individual emails to friends with a specific request (“Help us meet our goals today.”)
- Thank backers as they donate. Thank you notes provide additional social media content and give deserved shout-outs to friends. Combine with a photo. We also created an interactive thank you web page: http://thanks.blackroadmovie.com
- Back early. If you are backing someone else’s project, be one of the first backers. They’ll love you forever!
Before the Campaign
Once the campaign starts, time becomes a blur of social media posts, email supplications, and incessant checking of your pledge page.
In the dizzying whirl of campaign craziness, there is little time for organizing or creating new content.
Do as much as possible in advance. You’ll thank yourself.
Build a Team
We set our funding goal knowing our cast and crew would help with outreach. We couldn’t have completed the campaign without their extensive work and commitment. Friends and family of our team contributed about half of the campaign total.
Recruit 5-10 team members, ideally cast and crew.
Aim for 10 team members who are willing to reach out to their friends and family for funds. Of these a few will be highly engaged. The others will be peripherally engaged.
When assembling the team, think about which team members have the most interest in seeing the film succeed. Some team members may go to the ends of the earth for the fundraising, some may only send one email. Don’t place any expectations on your team. This is really hard work. Take their personalities into consideration as well. Some people like this. For others, each post or re-share is soul-sucking.
Think about your team’s networks. Some have friends and family who are committed to giving, some don’t. When deciding on your goal target, consider how many friends-of-friends may give. Who is on your team will directly affect how much can be raised. Knowing their networks in advance and their commitment level to the project will help set a realistic goal.
Make sure the team has a vested interest in the success of the campaign.
In order to be successful, the team must have a real and vested interest in seeing the film succeed. For most people, it’s really hard to ask for money. If they don’t have a good reason to be involved in this process, it’s not fair to ask them to do so – unless they are that rare person who loves this and just wants to help. They do exist!
We’ve worked with our crew for over ten years, and before Black Road, we had already made two features together. The team was excited to start on the next project but knew how difficult it was to raise money from investors.
We decided to make Black Road as a cast-and-crew-owned movie. Everyone owns a piece in any profits from the film. This gave the crew more ownership over the success of the film and a greater desire to participate in the process and see the film get made.
The film needs to feel like your team’s film, not just your film.
When reaching out to your team’s network, it needs to feel like the film belongs to the team and not only to the director.
Find a way to give visibility to your team during the campaign. Their friends and family will want to know that their support will directly impact their friend, not just the director.
Profile team members during the campaign.
During our campaign, we posted video profiles of our team members each week. They were able to use these videos when they reached out to their family. This also gave us an opportunity to show off our extraordinarily talented team who works so hard behind the scenes on all of our projects.
To profile your team, you can use videos, interviews, or text bios. You can also include their bios in the main text of your campaign page. We used the team bios and videos as content for our overall campaign schedule.
If possible, film the profile videos before starting the campaign and then post them once a week.
Get input from the team on the campaign content and strategy.
Engage your team as early as possible to discuss the campaign strategy and overall schedule. Once you’ve created the draft campaign page, ask your team to read it for typos and clarity. Enlist individual team members according to their skills. For example, one of our team members offered to create an infographic comparing our list of rewards.
Keep the team engaged and updated throughout the campaign.
I created a master task-list on WorkFlowy and shared it with the team. This gave an overview of the strategy for each week, the planned content, articles and videos, and our overall goals for the campaign.
At least once a week, I sent an update to the team with updated info on the campaign, an analysis of how we were tracking to a successful campaign curve, a list of next steps, and some encouragement to keep going. I prepped them on any upcoming interim goals and provided new content templates for email and social media.
Make it easy for the team to help.
Whenever sending updates to the team, provide them with email and social media templates to make it easy for them to copy & paste, post and re-share.
Ask and enlist help, but don’t put unrealistic expectations on the team.
No matter how engaged the team is, you still have to drive every piece of the campaign. Give them suggestions, but don’t make them do the work. There’s a good chance they could be struggling with their own issues asking for money. Just be thankful for anything your team does.
Our team came up with some large donations and ultimately met almost half of our funding goal, but in sheer numbers of backers, it was a lower percentage. The team’s backers gave a higher average dollar amount per pledge, but of the 365 backers, Gary and I knew most of them directly.
Thank the team!
Filmmaking is collaborative, and one of the main joys is working with a talented group of friends. If the campaign is successful with the help of your team, you get to make a movie together. That’s motivation!
Thank you to our fabulous team for all of their efforts. There is no way we could have done it without them.
First & Key Backers
Find key backers who will champion you
Which of your friends are good cheerleaders or promoters? Most of us have a couple friends who are so good at this. They are brave and willing to post every day. You can’t always assign this person before-hand, but often someone comes out of the woodwork to be this for you. We had a few people re-sharing all of our posts and also posting reminders to their friends to give. They helped to create a sense of urgency and credibility.
These folks caught us by surprise, and we did not actually plan for them in advance. One key backer set a specific goal to raise X amount of money through their sources. Another key backer was an acquaintance and fellow filmmaker who out-of-the-blue started posting about the campaign every few days.
It gets old to keep posting about yourself.
“This campaign is so great. Give asap and help meet the goal!”
It can be painful or downright impossible to write these words over and over about yourself. But they sound perfect coming from your champion, someone who believes in you and is willing to shout it out. Hopefully you can find a few of these wonderfully talented and brave friends.
Ask close friends to give in the first few days
The first days of the campaign are so important. On a standard campaign curve, it’s normal for there to be a large spike in the first week due to the initial excitement about the project.
Set a goal to reach at least 10% in the first 2-3 days. This gives credibility to the project and encourages other people to jump on board.
In the week before we started the campaign, we posted information about the project on social media. Two days before launch, we held a kick-off party. Both of these efforts raised awareness and garnered “first backers”.
We reached 16% of the goal from 31 backers in the first 3 days. After that, pledges significantly dropped off until the final week.
Create a list of close friends who may be able to give, and then reach out to them individually during the first two days asking them to be one of your first supporters.
In the future, try to be this person on your friends’ campaigns! You’ll remember the value of those first few backers.
Click here for Part 2: “Creating the Campaign Page: Setting the Funding Goal“
- The first few days were great.
- Then we leveled off and had no pledges if we didn’t actively push or have a big incentive.
- The last few days were great.
- We followed the average curve for successful campaigns pretty closely. If we got off track, we’d make a big push, even in the middle weeks.
- I used this site to track my curve and research other films’ curves: http://www.kicktraq.com/
- Our number of backers (365) seems to be on the high side, but I had originally thought we’d have more.
- We averaged about $125 per backer which is above the Kickstarter average for films.
Interesting stats from Kickstarter
- Wednesday was the most popular day to pledge.
- Most pledges happen in early afternoon
- Film & Video success rate has gone down. I seem to remember it was over 40%. Now it is 37%.
- But if you reach 20% of your goal, you have an 80% chance of success. At 40% of your goal, the success rate is 90%. I lived by those numbers. And kept hope.