Great crowdfunding is the efficient frontier between belief in your idea and the desperation to get it made. If you’re willing to put in the work to make a campaign successful, you’re on your way to a lifetime of truly independent moviemaking. I believe in this premise enough that I built a company on it. It’s a lofty ideal, but the instruments at the disposal of today’s independent moviemakers support the thesis that you can earn a living making films on your terms. The question is: Will you use the tools available to you?
Most people hear one half of the compound word “crowdfunding” louder than the other. Yes, this is a method of funding. But gathering the crowd is the much more important benefit for your film. Crowdfunding is not actually about seeing how many people will shower you with money. Instead, it’s about getting as many people as possible to care about what you’re making. Because if you think raising money for a film is hard, try getting anyone to see it when it’s finished.
A great crowdfunding campaign connects the ideas of the project with the people to whom those ideas matter. This is your audience! And every movie—every moviemaker—must construct and maintain this audience. Statistics say that 60-80 percent of the money going into film campaigns still comes from friends and family of the moviemaking team (who would see your movie anyway). So, if you want to reach out beyond those people, you have to offer something so compelling that a total stranger would want to get involved with you. Then you have to set about reaching that stranger.
If you’ll be fundraising for 30 days, set aside six weeks for campaign prep and execution. That means two full weeks of designing your crowdfunding game plan, and a month of implementation. And think of your campaign as a full-time job. Don’t start pre-production on your movie at the same time you’re raising your funds. If you tackle both simultaneously, you could end up with a poorly-prepped film and no money to make it.
Of all the elements of successful crowdfunding pre-production, your pitch video is undoubtedly the most important. This is how both friends and strangers learn precisely what you intend to make, but more importantly, who you are and who’s making it with you. Crowdfunding is selling yourself as much as it is selling your film, so your pitch video must convey the WHO, WHAT, and WHY of the project.
WHO is your team? Do they match the scope of the proposed project? Your collaborators should appear in the pitch video. Strangers will want to see the faces their money is supporting. If this sounds like self-promotion, you’re right: It is. To crowdfund successfully you have to sell yourself. Your team is the primary product—not the film.
WHAT can your audience expect the film to look like? You’re a filmmaker, so the pitch video should match the tone of the project—and it obviously can’t be terrible. If you’re raising funds for a comedy, for instance, it should be funny! If it’s going to be a beautifully-shot character study, show us some of your gorgeous images.
WHY are you making the project? Answering this question well is incredibly important because it’s the expression of your proposed film’s idealism. The WHY is what gets people emotionally invested. During crowdfunding pre-production, take a moment (or a lot of moments) to express, concisely and sincerely, why you have to make this film, why it matters to you, and what led you to want to make it. This is how your future patrons will determine if your dreams matter to them. If you can really translate your deepest desires to the heart of a stranger, you have that fan for life.
The “rule of three” states that an idea must cross someone’s eye-line three times before he or she will be moved to action. You need to apply this same psychology to crowdfunding. How? By using three different tools to reach your audience: social media, campaign updates, and direct outreach.
1. Social Media
Making indie films always means calling in all the favors you can. Let’s be honest, part of the reason you helped your cinematographer friend move, and why you AD’d that school classmate’s feature pro bono, was so you could count on their help when you really needed it. Helping others is the best way of building social capital, so apply the same approach to your social media tactics.
To increase your social capital on Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, to cultivate a community that reaches far beyond your immediate friends and family, you need to function like a resource. If people aren’t gaining value in their lives from what you’re reading, thinking, and creating—and therefore posting—you won’t attract many followers, and you’ll have a tough time converting the ones who do into monetary supporters of a crowdfunding campaign. This may sound a little more daunting, but it isn’t rocket science. Engaging your community really just means posting compelling articles on Facebook and Twitter, commenting thoughtfully on other people’s stuff, and sharing your creative process so people can get deeply involved.
The reason Zach Braff’s Kickstarter campaign was so wildly successful is that since the inception of Twitter, he’s been connecting directly with his fans, who now feel like they have a personal relationship with him. When he launched his campaign, he offered to pull back the curtains on a Hollywood production for them, and that access mattered enough to 46,000 people that they collectively ponied up $3 million. It took him years to build up that kind of social capital. Ask Melissa Joan Hart or James Franco if it was easy for them to crowdfund just because they’re celebrities.
The golden rule (I have heard) is 4 to 1: Four posts of other people’s content for every one self-promotional post. That means as much as three quarters of your crowdfunding campaign is engaging in/sharing other people’s stuff. This may seem like it distracts from the core mission of bringing attention to your film, but it’s actually just the opposite. If all you do is tell people about what you’re doing, you aren’t a helpful resource to the community (unless you’re Beyoncé). Help others while you’re asking people to help you and your returns will be measurably greater.
2. Project Updates
If you want to reach out beyond just your friends and family, you have to give them a reason to spread the word. Every crowdfunding platform has tools to post campaign or project updates for a reason: People like to know that what they’re supporting is building momentum. Updates can take any number of forms—from interviews with the cast and crew, extra teaser materials, storyboards, behind-the-scenes footage, to exciting news or new leverage built over the course of the campaign. Funny plays best in these updates, no matter the tone of the project. Think: “If I were The Onion, how would I write this headline?” Remember, you want to create something shareable that someone totally unfamiliar with your project might find compelling.
3. Direct Outreach
If social media marketing and project updates fall under general promotion, direct outreach is specific. This is where you personally write to people and ask them to help you. You’re calling in all your favors, cashing in on your karma, and spending your social capital. This liquidation of your assets takes the form of direct mailings to your friends and family, but also to bloggers and social affinity groups who might blog or Tweet about you, or include you in their newsletters. Draft your outreach emails in advance and share the language with your team. Find your voice as a campaign, then personalize each email for the recipient. And don’t forget about that last clause. Direct outreach is efficacious because it focuses specifically on the person receiving the email. Sending out a mass email invites inaction. But if you personally implore someone for help, she’s much less likely to ignore you.
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