Emily Best, founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, explains why crowdfunding is more about the crowd than the funding, especially if you want to build a moviemaking career – with a strategy timeline for a successful campaign. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s 2014 Guide to Making Movies, on stands now.
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
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.
Before, During, and After Your Campaign
Every phase of your crowdfunding crusade requires a slightly different approach. With that in mind, I’ve put together a really actionable list that breaks your marketing plan into before, during, and after your campaign.
Crowd-funding requires pre-production—just like movies do. That means the old adage “It’s all in the planning” also applies here.
Social Media: Turn your social media on long before you launch. Who’s going to follow a Twitter handle whose sole purpose is to ask for stuff? There are some basic platform-specific tips and tricks like how to use hashtags well, how to tag Vimeo videos, etc, which are covered in tutorials all over the internet.
Direct Outreach: All the members of your team should go through their email lists and divide them up between who to contact with a personal email and who to put on an email blast.
Let your core group of supporters know in advance what you’re about to do and line them up to contribute during the first seven days. Remember: Not everyone knows what crowdfunding is. Explain it simply.
Spend at least a week researching the bloggers who are writing about anything related to your campaign. Reach out to them and let them know what you are doing. Do not ask. Offer! Show them what you’re working on, offer them an exclusive opportunity to view footage or meet with your team. These folks have deeply engaged followings. If they get behind you on Twitter, the sky is the limit.
Project Outreach: Make a plan to release two to three pieces of sharable visual content every week during your campaign. Short videos are ideal. It helps to record this stuff in advance (like while you’re shooting your pitch video, for example— outtakes from that can be great) because you’ll be really busy with the other two during the campaign.
Kickstarter released an amazing statistic that 80 percent of projects that reached 20 percent of their funding goals in the first seven days hit their target eventually. The first seven days, therefore, are key.
Then THERE WILL BE A LULL. No matter who you are, the middle two weeks of your campaign will be really scary. That’s when you try new things!
Social Media: Look through the trades, read the critics, peruse Vimeo and YouTube, and share what’s interesting to you. Then, respond to everyone who tweets at you. Just do it.
During the lull, offer short-term, personalized incentives that you can share on Facebook and that your supporters will want to share with one another (e.g. “We’ll photoshop you into one of our locations”).
Direct Outreach: You will get out of this what you put in. The more emails you send and the less time you spend worrying if people will be annoyed with you, the greater your chances of success will be. Set a goal for yourself, like “10 emails per day.” Just do it.
In your emails, be sure to include sample tweets and Facebook posts with the links clearly displayed to make it as easy as possible for people to take action. Plan to send a weekly update to your mailing lists.
Pursue the bloggers on their Facebook pages, through Twitter, and by commenting on blogs they’re posting. Engage them and they will engage you.
Project Updates: Keep them coming! If you have exciting news about the project or anyone on the team, that should go in the update. The purpose of these updates is twofold: To demonstrate the value of getting involved with you as creators (building your audience); and to give your growing community of supporters lots of ways to share/brag about the project they’re involved in.
It’s super easy to sit down in front of your computer and record a personal thank you video for your supporters. Just do it.
The campaign is over, but your job isn’t done!
Social Media: You have probably built a big(ger) following by the end of your campaign. Do not let this go. These are the people who will amplify your message, not just during your campaign, but throughout your career—because you’ve taken the time to develop a relationship with them. Don’t let that go.
Direct Outreach: Your mailing list is bigger now. Thank these people meticulously and send them what you promised them when you promised it. Yes, that means you have to set aside time to fulfill these incentives. With that in mind, as much as you can, offer things like behind-the-scenes videos you can record while on set (that you may need for your press kit later anyway!). Avoid offer rewards that are expensive or time-consuming to make.
Project Updates: Use the tools available on your platform to bring your new community with you on the journey of making the film. Share the triumphs and tribulations. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good—just let them know how your project is progressing. Once a week is enough. Always include a sharable photo or video to make it easy for your supporters to continue to spread the word. If you go radio silent, you may lose them forever.
Crowdfunding is a lot more than just convincing people to give you money. Implemented correctly, your campaign can be the first step in building an audience that outlasts the life cycle of your film’s funding and production. Get people emotionally invested in you as an artist, and when it comes time to exhibit your film—at festivals, online, in theaters—you’ll have a troupe of supporters who feel like they made the film with you, and who will work hard to help you get the project out into the world. And if you really win them over, they’ll support you in your next endeavor. You’ll have a sustainable career as a moviemaker before you know it! MM
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