At Sundance this year, the DIY distribution guru Peter Broderick hosted a fast-paced overview of successful crowdfunded projects, sponsored by IndieGoGo. For anyone interested in trying to raise funds in small denominations (i.e. crowdfunding), it was a rapid-fire boot camp of best-practices.
Currently, the two most popular crowdfunding platforms for indie films are IndieGoGo and Kickstarter. IndieGoGo has the benefit of being originally focused on indie films, so it's got movies in their DNA. Regardless, these insights apply to whichever you choose to use.
Your video makes all the difference -- make it personal and high-quality.
Whether you use IndieGoGo, Kickstarter or your own website, you should produce a video to introduce people to your project and ask for donations. Even if you only appeal to friends and family, the immediacy and intimacy of a video make a huge difference in the success of a fundraising campaign.
- The key to your success is to make it personal.
- Put yourself in the video and appeal for people to help you out.
- Don't just post a trailer -- do something special when asking for contributions even if it's just a personal introduction to the trailer!
- Treat the video like a compelling work of art in its own right -- make it clever, engaging, visually stunning and add a soundtrack to affect the viewers' emotions. Basically, make it kick ass so people WANT to watch it and show others.
- Bring on the cast and crew to talk about why they are involved and what the donors' help will mean to them.
Don't recreate the wheel: steal ideas that work
When you're building your crowdfunding campaign, don't do it in a bubble. Study the sites (both IndieGoGo and Kickstarter) and learn.
- Look through IndieGoGo and Kickstarter at the other projects listed -- particularly the successful ones with lots of donors. Learn their tricks (a quick visit to the site came up with this gem immediately: $5 for a Twitter shout-out. Donate $5 and we do a shout-out to you on Twitter. Thank you Pipeline Theater Company's production of the Caucasian Chalk Circle.).
- Set up a wide range of donor levels -- and have fun with the options.
- Study the various videos and see what affects you most as a viewer. Learn what works and what resonates with your personality and the tone of your work. The videos where the filmmakers themselves talk about their projects always seem the most compelling, but if that doesn't work for you, find something that does.
- Sign up for nonprofit fiscal sponsorship of your film, which allows your contributors (in the USA) to get a tax deduction when they give $ to support your film. That might encourage some people who are on the fence to give. IndieGoGo integrates with some of these nonprofit sponsors so it's a seamless experience for your donors. And the sponsoring agencies are often fantastic clearinghouses of info on fundraising and marketing. Examples include the amazing San Francisco Film Society (our fiscal sponsor for our indie sci-fi feature In-World War) and Fractured Atlas, which has a wide array of filmmaker services (including cheap production insurance for indie films).
- Bottom line: Invest the time and careful thinking to do it right.
Create an advisory committee from your target audience
Crowdfunding through your friends and family alone can be quite successful (we've raised about $7,000 in donations without going much beyond people we already know). But the true success for a crowdfunding campaign comes with strangers who you've never met donate to support your film simply because they love what you're doing.
Generally, these types of donors are tough to get, but Peter suggested you build an Advisory Committee for your project of representative individuals and groups from interested communities. Create partnerships with organizations that are a natural fit for the film. Essentially, these are the taste-makers and formal structures in the target audience you're trying to reach. The orgs might include nonprofits, business groups, faith-based organizations, schools, websites, publications or virtually anything that has an audience or mailing list that has excellent crossover with your target audience.
These types of relationships will serve you well during the distribution and marketing of the film, but also during the fundraising stage, they can help as well. By forming an advisory committee of key players you invite them to buy into the project on an emotional level and then you have the basis to ask for a link or shout-out in a newletter or website to support the project through the IndieGoGo page.
Let's be clear: it's very challenging -- if not virtually impossible -- to get strangers to give you money for something that doesn't exist. Even when you're done with the film this can be near impossible to get anyone to pay attention (which is why marketing a film is the hardest part of the filmmaking process).
Generally, only people you know (particularly family and close friends) will donate cash. But by engaging with communities and community leaders in your target audience you're building the audience for the film -- even if it's not finished for years down the line. Eventually, some will end up helping you spread the word, perhaps even co-sponsoring screenings or hosting them outright.
And if you're lucky, you might get some early donors too.
IndieGoGo best practices
One of the IndieGoGo big honchos (didn't write down his name, sorry) shared with the audience the strategies that successful crowdsourcing campaigns have in common (these are the people that make and surpass their $$$ funding goals). If you're considering using IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, use these as your guidelines:
- A length of 50 to 60 days seems to be the sweet spot for successful campaigns.
- Set a reachable financial goal, rather than something too aspirationally high. It's far better to go over (which happens frequently when the goal is reached) than not reach your goal.
- The rate of giving tends to go up as the amount raised approaches the goal. In other words, nothing succeeds like success and more people give the more people have given. (Consider personally asking some close friends and family to be the first few donors to get things moving quickly to show momentum).
- As Captain Picard always said: "Engage." Interacting with your donors and prospective donors makes a huge difference. Keep them posted, solicit suggestions, respond to questions and find ways to engage with them. This doesn't just apply to fundraising, but cultivating an audience in general. Treat your donors like your inner circle.
- And, of course, make a great video asking for contributions and getting them excited about the project.
Now go out there and make your movie.
(And for more thoughts on crowdfunding, see a previous post about Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and buckets of cash.)
This is part of a special report series from DIY Filmmaking Sucks: DIY Secrets of Sundance. The series covers lessons learned at this year's Sundance Film Festival from an assortment of indie distribution and funding panels, in addition to conversations with filmmakers.