As far as fundraising for your film goes, we all know that a decade ago you couldn’t reach a woman in Calgary who had some retirement money laying around that she just felt like giving to a struggling artist.

You used to have to go door-to-door and beg money from heart surgeons and dentists. Now that you can reach that widow in Calgary via Kickstarter or IndieGoGo means you can spread out the burden of fundraising across a much wider swath of donors. But at the same time, you can no longer rely on the novelty of crowdfunding to generate interest and money for your project. Now you need a story to sell the story you’re trying to sell and stand above the crowd.

With that in mind, MovieMaker talked to a few filmmakers who reached or surpassed their fundraising goals by using creative and inventive pub-licity strategies to promote their crowd-funding campaigns.

Stay away from: “Please Give Me Some Money”

Jeremy Lalonde, the writer and director of Sex After Kids, which raised $61,000 via IndieGoGo last April (122 percent of its $50,000 goal), did so, in part, by avoiding blatant queries for money.

“It wasn’t about getting people to just return to our campaign page,” Lalonde says. “It was more like, ‘Hey, check out this funny interview.’ And of course at the end of the video there was always a link to our campaign.”

Lalonde released a new video every other week over his six-week campaign. When he was researching successful crowdfunding projects for the month and a half before he launched his own, he found a recurring theme: Even the most successful campaigns had a lag in the middle of their fundraising efforts.

“During that middle stretch,” he recalls, “I made sure to make my videos even more compelling. One of them was me and one of the actresses dressed up as chipmunks and running around a local park. We also had each member of my fairly large ensemble cast fill out a survey related to the film’s subject that we’d release at a rate of one per day, just as a funny little thing that our contributors and potential new donators might find interesting.”

There are instances, though, when it’s warranted to be barefaced about asking for money. Mosquita y Mari, a Kickstarter project that ended up doing well at Sundance last year, needed a big finish to close a $35,000 gap. In the final 48 hours, the campaign reached, then beat, its goal by $2,500—and more than half the backers donated less than $100 each.

“There was a lot at stake during those final hours,” says writer-director Aurora Geurrero. “So our last minute pitches to get people to donate really weighed heavy on this point. When people heard that the film was about to lose it chance to get made and was about to lose the significant amount of money it had already raised, I think that prompted many people come to its rescue.”

International Actors and Niche Issues

Burn, a critically-acclaimed documentary about Detroit—told through the eyes of its firefighters who are tasked with saving a city that many have written off as dead—had topical subject matter on its side. As producers Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez’s Kickstarter campaign built up its following, they began to generate a great deal of media attention, mainly because of the poignant story the film focused on.

“That began to cross over into other groups like Denis Leary fans, firefighters in other countries and people who may not have known about it otherwise,” says Putnam. “We were also a bit unique in that the vast majority of our donors were interested in the fire service rather than documentaries or independent film, so they were first-time Kickstarter users.” And this isn’t a point you should overlook: Artists might be fatigued by crowdfunding requests, but the rest of the world isn’t.

A smaller, but just as successful Kickstarter campaign, was Cash Black and Brett Edwards’ jointly-written “American Cowboys.” Again, because of the uniqueness of the subject—a short film about roping, the only team sport in rodeos—their project gained interest from a niche crowd. Cowboys are a dying breed, but the remaining practitioners and the communities that support them remain passionate. The fact that Black and Edwards are ropers themselves gave the campaign added authenticity.

Their goal was $5,000, but they raised $8,400, with a sizeable chunk of their money coming from people in the trenches of western culture who wanted to see their lifestyle positively portrayed on screen. The Texeiras, an old-time farming family from Santa Maria, CA and distant friends of Edward’s father, gave them their biggest donation. The campaign’s average donation was $106, whereas the Kickstarter mean for film campaigns is $88.

Sex After Kids’ donations came from 26 different countries, mostly from complete strangers. This was due in part to the fact that Lalonde had cast a couple of actors from a popular SyFy show, “Lost Girl.” Their international recognition and fan base helped spread the campaign’s reach even further.
“Our average donation was $120,” says Lalonde. “With 70 percent or more coming from strangers. I had three people give us $5,000 each and I didn’t even know them. One wanted to shadow the process of filmmaking— a sort of cheaper film school, I guess— and one was a software developer with kids who just wanted to give back to the arts community.”

Raising Funds is a Job, Not a Hobby

For Sanchez, Burn’s Kickstarter campaign was a full-time job for at least six weeks. She found that you have to constantly be stoking the fires (pun donated by Putnam) with your audience, feeding them new videos and news about the film to keep them coming back (something Lalonde also did with his IndieGoGo campaign).

“For most potential donors it takes hearing about something at least three times before they pay attention,” says Sanchez. “We also had a theory, which seems to have proven true: It’s not about what we want, it’s about what they want. Our audience wanted to see more of the film and rewards that made sense to them.”

Putnam says their focus was always on what they were giving, not what they needed.

“One thing we did that most other films don’t do was steer clear of offering advance sales of the DVD for the film,” explains Putnam. “That’s allowed us to launch a second Kickstarter campaign where we are offering pre-sales of the DVD so we can raise money to self-distribute the film.”

Compel People to Give Money

Fundraising marketing techniques, whether deliberate or not, can and should be distinct. “American Cowboys” strategy was all about heart—reaching for the heart of the family, the heart of America, the heart of a dying culture. The same thing holds true with Burn, tugging at regular citizens’ heartstrings, making them aware of the horrible conditions in the Detroit fire department.

“Our Kickstarter video was a combination of sizzle reels we had previously posted online, as well as some new footage,” says Putnam. “We wanted to create something exciting that gave people both a taste of the characters and the look of the film. Most crowdfunding videos seem to feature the filmmakers, which is something we steered clear of. Since our Kickstarter audience is people like the firefighters, we tried to keep the look and feel of the videos as close to a commercial trailer as possible.”

Even though Edwards and Black aren’t real-life brothers, they had the idea that their Kickstarter video would incorporate that brotherly banter dynamic that is in the “American Cowboys script.” “If you give Cash a topic,” says Edwards, “he can run wild with it. My job with Kickstarter was to reign him in.”

So, is a successful crowdfunding campaign in the luck of the draw? Is it about having novel subject matter? Or does success hinge on the presentation of that story? The answer is: All of the above. But what all these campaigns have in common is each forms a personal connection with its audience. Never forget that. Your film depends on it! MM