Written by John Klein
Every indie filmmaker knows the difficulties of making a movie. And I would guess that every single one of those filmmakers would tell you that, unless they funded the film out of their own well-lined pockets, raising money for the film was by far the hardest, most stressful element of the entire process. No one likes to ask for money, and no one likes rejection, especially filmmakers!
Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and other crowdfunding sites aim to take some of that stress out of the equation. It’s no surprise that indie producers latched onto the platform so quickly. However, it’s important to know that the process of crowd-funding is just as much work as approaching investors, and in many ways involves a lot of the same steps: crafting a business plan and a budget, pitching the exciting parts of your project, and making sure those backing you get something out of the deal.
Our production company, Glass City Films, embarked on a Kickstarter campaign to fund our post-apocalyptic zombie film Chrysalis. It was our first foray into crowdfunding, and by our standards, we were incredibly successful, managing to raise over $35,000 through the site and raising nearly 120% of our target. It took us months of planning and work before the site even launched, and running the campaign was like a full-time job for us during the month of August! But we pulled it off. And, given that, we thought we’d share some advice for other filmmakers considering the same platform.
(1.) Get everyone on board early.
Before we launched our Kickstarter campaign, we already had most of the core creative team on board, all of whom were already invested in the campaign’s success. Our goal was to get people on board who were professional, talented, and passionate about both the project and working with us.
(2.) Craft a Kickstarter video that reflects the quality of the final product.
Writer/DP Ben Kurstin and I wrote a short teaser trailer containing iconic imagery and a monologue featured in the actual script, delivered by Penelope (Sara Gorsky). Because we shot it with much of the same equipment, in the same locations, and with the same crew that will shoot the feature, we could easily tell people, “Look at what this group of people can accomplish with no money. Now imagine what we could do with your funding!” Your video is the first thing people will see; if it’s bad, or if it’s unmemorable, you won’t get repeat visitors and no one will share the video with anyone else. Take the time to do it right.
(3.) When it comes to perks and prizes, do your research.
I can’t stress this enough: make sure, whatever cool prizes you want to offer, that you know how much it will cost and how much people might be willing to pay for it. If someone has to pledge $250 before you offer them a DVD of the film, you’re off base; you can find printing companies that can produce high quality, full-color DVDs for as little as $1.50/disc. Likewise, don’t promise a behind-the-scenes photo book to all your $10 backers without knowing that it’ll probably cost you triple that just to make the book! Think of free or cheap prizes to offer. Digital versions of the soundtrack, tickets to the premiere, credits on IMDb… They’re free for you and exciting for backers. Remember: Shipping is expensive. Credits are not. Likewise, don’t offer more than ten pledge levels; you’ll confuse people. Think of it like cable: if you’ve got 300 channels, is there ever anything good on?
(4.) Choose a reasonable target amount.
When you budget your film, include the cost of creating and shipping prizes. Also, remember that Kickstarter takes anywhere from 8-10% of the money you raise. Plan accordingly. And, lastly, feel free to shoot for the moon, but only if you think you’ve got the crowd and the resources to make it happen. If you’re a two-person crew planning to raise $100,000, and you’ve only got about 200 friends on Facebook between the two of you, I would politely consider growing that base a bit more and adding some heft to your project before your campaign.
(5.) Don’t overstay your welcome.
You can choose a time frame for your campaign ranging from 1-60 days. We chose 30 days, starting August 1 and ending August 31. Any more time than that, and I guarantee we would have lost momentum throughout the month.
(6.) Social media is your friend.
For the couple of weeks before the campaign and especially throughout, we were a constant presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, and message boards. We allied with other Kickstarter campaigns and had live chats. It’s an integral part of a crowdfunding campaign: create the crowd online, where it can spread with a single well-timed update. (And if you don’t think timing your posts is important, consider this: people on average check Facebook and Twitter more often at the beginning of every hour than at the end. You could make more money simply by posting at 11:05am instead of 10:55am. True fact.)
(7.) Update consistently and distinctly. Don’t spam!
We always put up newcontent, ranging from pictures fromWizard World ComicCon to postersto our favorite apocalyptic quotes andzombie memes. However, we neverwanted to seem like bots spammingeveryone with the same “Give usmoney!” update. We like our movie,and we want other people to like itfor all the cool things about it. Thenwe want them to fund us. It’s not theother way around.
(8.) Have promotions and giveaways.
One of our biggest days was August 13, which also was the 13th day of our campaign. As a promotion, we offered copies of our short horror films for anyone who pledged or re-upped their current pledge by at least $13. We had close to 30 backers on that one day. We also had raffle drawings throughout the campaign that offered prizes for anyone who backed on certain days or got us to certain dollar amounts. Translation: always do something to keep people excited and to keep them coming back to the Kickstarter page!
(9.) Find ways to expand your project’s network.
Thanks to our prior films, we had an established fan base, but that will only get you so far. Our chosen genre provided ample opportunity to break into a new market through events like Wizard World and through zombie blogs, websites, and writers. Everyone on board also brought his or her own social network to the Chrysalis bandwagon. Themore people who see your site, thebetter. Know your genre, know youraudience, and pursue them!
(10.) Communication is key.
Reply to every message, comment, and tweet people send you – yes, even the spam ones. Update frequently – by our Kickstarter’s end, we had posted one update almost every day, sometimes talking about the project itself, sometimes advertising a new contest, and other times simply offering new information about the campaign. At the end of the day, the goal is to forge a personal connection and relationship with every backer and potential backer and person of interest out there.
(11.) Be grateful.
Every night before going to bed, I would check our list of new backers and send each of them a thank-you message. Nothing fancy, but always different – remember, don’t spam – and often personalized. I’d also encourage them to tweet, blog, and post about the campaign – every little bit helps. Put it this way: every backer now has a vested interest in making sure your campaign succeeds. Make sure they know that, and make sure they do something about it. And, every chance you get, make sure you thank them for it, because without them, your project wouldn’t happen. Remember that, every day. Inevitably, you’ll have ups and downs during the campaign. There were days when we only raised about $50, and others where we raised over $3,000. But it’s all worth it to see that final stamp: “Your project was successfully funded!” And now you’ve got a whole fan base eagerly waiting to see your film before you’ve shot a single frame. Go show them what you’ve got.
John Klein (www.windycitycamera.com) is a director, cinematographer, and producer in Chicago. His directorial work includes the award-winning short horror film, “Cry It Out,” and the feature films, “Happily After” and “Chrysalis”, and he’s lensed projects of all shapes and sizes, from the micro-budget web series, “Young Couple” to the Lifetime movie, “Nightlights”. He also teaches film production at DePaul University and Flashpoint Chicago.