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...