Kickstarter Rewards - Finally!

photo-4 Long overdue, but here nonetheless. For all of you wonderful people who supported BLUMENTHAL on Kickstarter, the merchandise is finally here. Stills, DVDs, and more! Some of you will even be receiving a nifty mug like the one above. As soon as I can cram this stuff into boxes they will be headed your way.  Thank you for being patient!

How to Crowd-Fund a Movie (Continued)

Here is the second part of Alex's take on the whole crowd funding experience and strategy. Enjoy!

4. Recruit Your Audience

One of the most valuable things about crowd funding for a film is that it provides you with a chance to build an audience for a film that doesn’t yet exist. In our case, backers have also been encouraged to follow this blog, which (hopefully) makes them feel  included throughout the whole process. By the time PHB makes it to the big screen, our goal is to have an audience of thousands.

5. Build a Coalition

Before launching our Kickstarter project, we did a lot of research watching other project videos and strategies. We wanted a project video that was short, sweet and to the point. Rather than say, “Please help me” in a pity me sort of way, we wanted a video that said, “We are making this movie, come and join us!” in an inclusive way. It was in this spirit that we conceived of our project video. We wanted to introduce ourselves as a team of people coming together to do something awesome. More importantly, it was a way to instill a sense of ownership in the project across the board. This wasn’t just our writer/director hustling on his own to make this movie by himself. Rather, this was a team of us working for our collective interest to see our film made.

All of this is really about being inclusive and, in keeping with this theme, we chose to set our minimum donation at one dollar because we were thrilled to welcome any backer who was interested in rallying behind us. Had we kept our minimum at something like $50, we would have lost out on a whole group of really helpful, link-sharing, wonderful people that also gave us a few dollars.

Lastly, building a coalition let's you cast a wider net. Many people working for a common cause will get the job done far more efficiently than any single person.

6. Every Dollar Counts

We reached our goal a little early, 5 days actually, but we only ended up about 800 bucks above our goal …  which is further proof that every dollar really does count and, needless to say, we are grateful for every, single last dollar.  It’s incredibly important to thank each and every donor with a personal note as soon as a donation is received -- so on the off chance that your thank you was lost in the shuffle, THANK YOU!

7. You Get One Shot

The bottom line:  securing $50,000 through crowdfunding was a lot of work. Good work, fun work, encouraging work, but work. You are putting yourself out there. It’s risky and it’s probably your one shot for raising funds this way. Your donors are not likely to come back time and time again each time you develop a new script or project, so do it well the first time. Be honest, direct, and efficient. Do your research, know your audience and go out and FUND!

How to Crowd-Fund a Movie

In the wake of our recent Kickstarter campaign, many of you have been interested to know how we managed to reach our ambitious goal so quickly. The short answer is, “You all did it!” The long answer is, well, longer. The next few posts will cover the ins and outs of crowd funding. Here to give a candid look at the whole Kickstarter thing is Producer, Actor, and co-conspirator, Alexander Cendese. Have at it, Alex! Hi Internet! Crowd funding is a relatively new phenomenon whereby a person or group of people use the power of mass communication through the internet to raise as much money as possible from as many people as possible in a limited amount of time by soliciting incentivized donations. If you are thinking about using crowd funding to partially or completely finance your film, here are a few helpful things to keep in mind.

1. Choosing Your Funding Platform

There are many different crowd funding sites that differ slightly in their specifications for the projects they feature. In most cases, the project creator is allowed to choose a fundraising goal and an amount of time within which to reach that goal, usually between one and ninety days. The two most commonly used crowd-funding platforms for film are IndieGoGo.com and Kickstarter.com.

Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com): 

Kickstarter is the daddy of third party crowd funding sites. This was the first site to allow a person to create a profile, set a fundraising goal and then try to reach it by appealing to family, friends, and the broader Internet community.   The project creator creates a profile page with a video representing the project (suggested, but not mandatory) and a list of donation tiers for which rewards will be given to donors (aka “backers”) who donate that amount or more. The website does not charge the creator an up-front fee, but instead takes a percentage of the money raised  - 5% of the total.  Kickstarter is ALL OR NOTHING. This means that each donation made to your project during the funding period is actually a pledge to donate and that no money changes hands unless the fundraising goal is reached by the end of the funding period. If the goal is reached, the credit cards are charged and you get your money, minus the 5% Kickstarter fee. If the goal is not reached, no matter how close you are, no money changes hands and the whole thing goes down the drain. Kaput-ski.  It should also be noted (especially because it’s not exactly highlighted by Kickstarter) that if your project is successful and the pledges are processed, you are also charged for credit card processing fees, meaning there is an additional 2-3.5% reduction to your final pay-out.

IndieGoGo (www.indiegogo.com): 

IndieGoGo is similar to Kickstarter, with the key difference being that with IndieGoGo you get to keep the money you raise no matter what. So, if you start a project that seeks to raise $1,000 in ten days but you only raise $40, you get to keep your  40 bucks. The kicker here, however, is that even though you get to keep whatever you raise, IndieGoGo charges a 9% fee for unfunded projects and a 4% fee for funded projects. Obviously this is meant to incentivize the project creator into getting the word out.  As with Kickstarter, IndieGoGo also charges the credit card processing fee of 2-3.5%.

2. Why We Chose Kickstarter

We used Kickstarter.com to crowd fund for two reasons. The first was that we liked the urgency of the ALL or NOTHING approach. The hard thing with IndieGoGo is that if you use the example I set above ($1000 goal but only $40 is raised) you know the amount of money that is needed to complete the project but where does the money they actually raised go? Does the project creator go out to dinner with it? The ALL or NOTHING approach says you’re serious and we were attracted to that. (Also, for above 10k fundraising, the statistics for success with Kickstarter are just plain better.)

Kickstarter is also selective about their projects. They have specific guidelines. IndieGoGo has projects raising money for film projects, but also for things like ‘Help me Pave my Garden Path’ and ‘Josie Needs a New Roof.’ We felt that Kickstarter suited our project’s vibe a little better, and added to its legitimacy and viability as a real project.

Now that we’ve gone through the Kickstarter process from beginning to end, we can tell you candidly that it provides a crowd-funding platform and not much more. The rest is up to you. Being featured on Kickstarter’s blog or “Featured” or “Recommended” pages can help provide a big bump, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a strategy in how to land yourself there.  At one point during our funding process, we wrote the Kickstarter team and asked what we needed to do to be featured on their homepage, and they sent us a cut and paste auto response saying to do “compelling videos” and that they like “fun projects”.  In the end, they never did feature us, even though our amount raised was high enough to get us onto the Kickstarter Hall of Fame page (obviously, not too much value since the pledging window is closed at that point, but at least it’s something).  It is also worth noting that the day we originally intended to launch, the entire Kickstarter site went down for a day. That would have really, really hurt us. To their credit, they did give everyone extra time on their funding period and we had no further trouble, but they did flub some other pledges for us that we had to contact them to fix.

3. Get the Word Out

Crowd funding only works if a crowd knows about it. Simple as that. We were able to raise $50,000 by working around the clock sending personal emails, Tweeting, Facebooking, can-and-string communicating, you name it. Our goal was to personally connect with people.

At its core, Kickstarter is a digital way to “pass the hat” around the Internet to family and friends. (Believe me, you have more friends than you realize.) But you can’t meet such an ambitious goal unless you are incredibly diligent. People will poke around and even give a Facebook “like” to your project without donating. To date, 472 Facebook users have “liked” our project, yet only 183 people actually donated. This is not because people weren’t interested in supporting, they were just busy or never got around to it. Our job was to remind them.

We sent initial personal emails and then followed up with a mass email every other day or so (towards the end daily.) If someone donated, they were taken off the mass email list. The people who continued to get the mass email were actually receiving a thank you for a donation that they had not yet given. I know, it’s about as charming as thanking someone for buying you dinner before the waiter even drops the check and is a little pushy and annoying, but surprisingly, we found that most people really appreciated the reminder.

It’s also important to let potential backers know that small donations are a key to your success because those are the people that get your number of backers up and help get the word out. Interestingly, a big key to our success came from our smaller donors -- people we hadn’t talked to for years but who were so excited for us that they often reposted the links to our Kickstarter page for us on their personal pages. Because these were people that we had been in less contact  with, they were more likely to have a pool of ‘internet’ friends different from our own, meaning that if one of these old friends reposted the link on their Facebook page, our audience was exponentially broadened. 

Up next: Part 2 - Strategies for success and lessons learned...

The Crowd is Funding, but We're Still Working!

We've had a terrific start for our Kickstarter page with an impressive 8% of our goal pledged in the first 24 hours! This is an extremely exciting time for all of us working on Passing Harold Blumenthal and it's incredibly encouraging to have our audience lining up to see this film made. We are beyond grateful for your support, and continue to encourage everyone to share our Kickstarter link with friends. Enemies will work fine, too. Fundraising aside, my production team and I are pounding away at the creative and logistical aspects of the film. This week has already landed us two key actors for the film, and I couldn't be more anxious to share their names with you. More on that once everything is official. Beyond that, there is location scouting, number crunching, design ruminating, and crew hiring.

I'm learning that for one to be successful in filmmaking (or in anything really), one must surround themselves with good people. That might seem fairly obvious to most, but I would caution that defining "good" can be dangerously arbitrary. The "good" that I believe in and have been seeking out is the kind that challenges you. While I stand by my philosophy on avoiding/managing Naysayers, it is also no help being surrounded by Yes Men who mindlessly do your bidding.

In a recent conversation with my Production Designer, Marie, I found myself being challenged in just that kind of positive way. We were discussing the particulars of locations  appearing in the film, and I told her what I had in mind for one apartment in particular. She was into my idea, but followed it with a question. Not a naysaying kind of, "Well, Seth, we can do that but it's going to be a headache and it'll be expensive" kind of question. Rather, it was a question about the characters who live in this apartment and their history together and their relationship (e.g., How long have they been married? Who owned the apartment first?, etc.).  The rest of our conversation had me revisiting things I was wrestling with back in November when I wrote the script! While some of these "character history" details may not be explicit in the script, the environment they will live in on-screen will most certainly be explicit with what it tells the audience. That is precisely why we have a Production Designer! Thanks, Marie.

While low-budget filmmaking often means we are slaves to whatever is available or whatever is cheapest, it is important to at least address the specifics of what you are going for. It's fine to start with an ideal, even if that ideal is not an option. From there, the creative team can hopefully translate that to our scale of production and achieve the desired effect in the film. My feeling is that my creative team and I will be at our best only if we push one another and let ourselves expand our imagination and ingenuity. That, my internet peoples, is collaboration.

Watch Me Fund a Movie!

From its inception, this blog has been geared towards the group effort and collective investment required to make a movie. It seems only appropriate that Passing Harold Blumenthal be financed in that same spirit. After months of research on budgets, project scaling, people, and resources, we have decided to raise the budget for Passing Harold Blumenthal through its already budding audience.

I've been a fan of crowd funding for some time now, and I believe it will be a viable model for independent filmmakers for years to come. To that end, we are utilizing the premiere crowd funding platform, Kickstarter. We have exactly 30 days to get it done, so cross your fingers and tell your friends.

The project page is up and running, so if you want there to be a movie to watch me make, then please donate! Every dollar counts and spreading the word about the project will stretch those dollars even further! Click on the Kickstarter logo above to watch our sweet little video pitch. *Special thanks to Andrew Muscato and all those who helped out!

Accomplishment Day

Since I first set out on this journey to make my movie,  I've begun every week by looking at my upcoming schedule.  There is always so much to do and the looming tasks always seem daunting. But if I look too far ahead, I'll start focusing on too many different things and nothing will get done. While it can sometimes be tough to prioritize, it's essential that I at least isolate and organize. My daily workload tends to be some varying cocktail of meetings, practical planning, emailing the world, and personal life. Each day has at least one objective, but usually more. One day could be geared towards securing a certain key position on the production team, while another could be crunching numbers on the budget and hatching out a shooting schedule. Whatever it is, things can get blurred. I sometimes finish my day and I feel like rather than having accomplished one significant thing, I've merely made baby-steps on multiple things. Things could a generally forward momentum, but I don't always have something substantial to show for it. Instead, I'll have a whole new crop of tasks ahead of me, or new avenues to pursue old ones. I'm starting to accept this as an acceptable means of progress. After all, one step never feels like a big deal until you turn around and look at how many steps you've taken overall and ultimately, how far you've come.

At the end of a week, one gets slightly more perspective. Suddenly, you can't even remember the massive to-do list you had the week prior. All you can think about it the stress inducing tasks before you. But, we need to look back for minute. Accomplishment is sometimes gradual, and progress is accomplishment in and of itself. The recipe is simple: One day at a time. Push yourself. Pat yourself on the back. And do it again tomorrow. Before you know it, you'll be watching your movie.

I'm zonked. Good night.

Watch Me Now

The past week has ended up being less about Passing Harold Blumenthal and more about Watch Me Make a Movie. As major pieces of the movie-making puzzle fall into place, discussions have already begun as to how this simple blog may grow into something more than just one personal account. While I'm not exactly sure what new form the blog will take or what it may look like, I'm now collaborating with a couple other individuals who will help to steer it as we move forward.

As the film itself progresses, so will Watch Me Make a Movie. So, the more I accomplish as a filmmaker, the more there will be to read about and even watch on this site. It's  sort of a Bastien/Atreyu relationship, if you will. If no one watches me make this movie, no movie will be made! More details to come on that front...

Big Budget Blues

In planning a film shoot, many filmmakers will ask themselves, "What's the right way to do this?". Whether determining the size of the crew or scheduling the shooting days, we tend to find ourselves looking for a standard to draw from. A production template, if you will. The only problem is that the only real standard of doing things is predicated upon having a massive budget. I had a chance to observe and reflect upon this "standard" last week while I was out of town shooting a TV commercial. As surprising as it may be, most television commercials have huge budgets. How huge? Well, for a thirty-second spot, many commercial productions will spend anywhere from $1-3 million. And that's only for a day or two of shooting!

As I was acting in this commercial, I was afforded a terrific vantage to observe the workings of the set from minute to minute. You'd think that because I'm trying to make my own movie, that I'd be drooling over all of the luxuries afforded on such a set: Comfortable transportation and lodging, large wardrobe selection, thorough props and art direction, a sexy camera, HUGE lights, and a massive support crew for every department. Surprisingly, all this made for little more than a lesson in inefficiency.

To my eye, the problem begins with too many people. While it's fair to say that delegating is the key to managing any large operation, it can also increase the likelihood of miscommunication. Too often it ends up being a game of telephone where people are relaying unimportant information and confirming nothing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PP_pDXBOSBI&feature=related

Time is money, and when it takes ten different people's approval to move forward on anything, a simple task can turn into a huge obstacle. I also noticed that the further removed a crew member was from the creative heads, the more complacent and lazy they would be about any and every task. Ultimately, I was working for two and a half days on location for about twenty takes of ONE shot. Most of that time was spent trying on different outfits that either no one liked or no one could find someone to sign-off on. I'd seen this sort of thing before on other commercial shoots, so I started analyze further...What does this mean for me?

My limitations become my liberation. The bare-bones crew that I'll be working with on Passing Harold Blumenthal might make some things difficult in that there will be fewer hands. But the way I see it, having fewer hands may help to yield fewer problems. If I only have a First Assistant Director, for instance, then I don't have to worry that what I tell them won't make it's way to the Second AD, and then to the Second Second, and then to the actor waiting to go on set. If I can't afford HUGE lights, I don't have to worry about paying and feeding and communicating with three gaffers. The more gear, the more people. The more people, the more time. The more time, the more money. The more money, the more stress. The more stress, the less room for creativity.

My crew shall be lean and mean. Departments will have delegated responsibilities, but not to the point of redundancy. I'll have all the necessary equipment to do the job, but nothing that might slow us down. Although it is a necessary reality, I don't want to rely on money to solve creative problems. If my recent TV commercial proves anything, it's that no matter how many people or toys you have on-set, the only thing that'll make the product great is the content and the skill with which it's captured and presented. If the creativity can't make it onto film, then it's all for naught.

The filmmaking standard of large budget productions does not help the lone filmmaker. I'd like to discover/develop a new standard of filmmaking for independents. There's got to be a recipe of the essentials that utilize all the necessary departments of a crew, but without clogging the pipes. As I move forward with pre-production, I'll try and look at how my choices made along the way might be more universally applied to other filmmaker's endeavors.