The Importance of Staying "Open" While Crafting a Documentary Film
August 19, 2014
What I’ve Learned: Launching Your Documentary Film Career & Tips from the Field
September 8, 2014
How to Run the Most Successful Film Crowdfunding Campaign Ever!
August 27, 2014
Written by Josh Bell, director of In Between Songs
Kickstarter, Indiegogo and similar crowd funding sites are an invaluable resource for artists, inventors and social entrepreneurs of all kinds. Our Kickstarter campaign for In Between Songs (formerly Why is No One Listening) raised just over $20K, allowing us to get back to Arnhem Land to film the remaining portions of the documentary.
The money raised was not nearly enough to fund us through post, but it got some wind in our sails and allowed us to complete production on the film. As I spent 2 – 3 months crafting my Kickstarter campaign, ran the campaign for 60 days, and am fulfilling the rewards some 3 years later, I learned a tremendous amount in the process. I’ve assembled some tips and tricks based on things we did right, and now understand how we could’ve done it better.
1) Be Realistic
Unless you have an established brand, strong public identity, proven track record, or amazing product/invention, the odds of you raising $100K or more are very slim. Most independent film projects of any length raise less than $50K. Crowd sourcing is generally successful for independent artists or creators who need that extra push to get their “thing” out into the world.
There are projects such as Veronica Mars that raised $5.7 Miliion and Wish I was Here that raised $3.1 Million. But Kristen Bell and Zach Braff are A-List celebrities with huge existing fanbases which cannot be underestimated.
With Kickstarter, unless you hit your intended goal, you will not reap any of the rewards. Indiegogo gives you whatever you raise, but in my opinion, is a slightly less well-known entity and you may get less exposure. It’s a risk either way, so choose a model that you believe works best for your project.
2) Your Pitch
Unless your film or project is very slick, or you are established on some level, the best thing you can do is appeal to people’s creative and artistic sensibilities. You want to appeal to people’s hearts (and wallets) and make them believe that your project is worth supporting.
Humor is always good, but if your project is of a more serious nature, it’s hard to add a quirky personal video tag to the end of your pitch tape. Honest, authentic, genuine campaigns will always shine because people want to connect and support projects they believe in.
3) The Catch-22
I came into my Kickstarter campaign with film material already in the can, and a strong sense of the story. I left my personal appeal towards the written component of the site and generated a 6-minute teaser that traced a rough outline of the final film.
If you are raising money for a film that hasn’t been shot, use what you’ve got at hand. Find stills that represent the film, include a few pages of the script, hire an artist to create storyboards, talk about why you want to make the project – get creative! There is no shortage of ways to sell an idea that doesn’t exist yet and if you can’t figure that out, you might want to rethink both your project and your campaign. The bottom line is to be resourceful!
Currently, most crowd funding campaigns last between 30 and 60 days. The beginning and end of your campaign push will be the most successful, so plan your social media, email blasts accordingly. Come up with timely strategies, fun and different ways to plug the project and be persistent without being annoying. It’s a fine line but use your judgment and convince people why they must support your efforts.
If you spend any less than 4 weeks strategizing your campaign, generating your video, or devising your rewards structure, you will not be maximizing your opportunity to raise funds.
It takes slow careful planning to build any endeavor, so do yourself a favor and study successful campaigns carefully. Analyze what worked for those campaigns, see what rewards people were interested in, and understand what you liked about the campaign so you have a point of reference.
Also understand that the payout from Kickstarter and Amazon takes between 3 – 4 weeks after your campaign ends, so work backwards from there.
5) Finances and Rewards
Kickstarter and Indiegogo take a percentage of your campaign, as does Amazon Payments in the case of Kickstarter, which works out to roughly around 10% of your campaign funds raised. You also need to bear in mind that any funds paid out are taxable income according to the IRS, so you have to factor in another sizable deduction off of the top end. Lastly, you need to set aside costs for you to be able to fulfill your rewards obligations.
As was mentioned above with timeline and strategy, carefully understand what your rewards will cost you. This is crucial! Keep in mind that packages to Iceland, or Australia in my case, are expensive to ship. Hard goods such as DVDs, posters and t-shirts need to be manufactured and sturdy packing material is not cheap. Do a hard cost analysis on a spreadsheet of what it will actually cost you to fulfill your rewards and overestimate the costs.
Hidden costs always exist, so figure out your rewards costs and packaging roughly, take it the post office and get an estimate for someplace on the other side of the world, then work backwards.
If one of your reward’s tier is $50, your net after all of the costs outlined is probably $40 or less. Then, you need money to actually create your project and create your rewards, so you’re potentially at risk of losing money if the rewards you’re providing are too expensive.
It’s hard to generalize, but try to keep your margins as low as possible, so you actually have the resources to achieve your vision.
6) Bringing it all home – parting advice
For In Between Songs, my campaign raised only a small portion of what I actually needed to finish the film. I set the $20K goal as I believed that was a realistic amount to raise for my fairly niche film and I wanted to make it happen.
What I could not foresee completely is the time, energy and resources it would take to the finish the film I wanted to make. At no point during the creation of the film was I not working fulltime to survive. It is incredibly difficult to make a feature (or any polished professional project for that matter) on nights and weekends, but that is effectively what I did.
I dedicated thousands of unpaid hours to the project, so I could realize this film . . . and it took around 12 years of my life start to finish. I did receive some messages from backers who were upset that they had not received their rewards as quickly as they had expected (or as I had promised).
In each case, I took the time to respond to people to let them know that I was working tirelessly to create the film. Additionally, and far too often apologetically, I provided updates to my backers who were keen to hear about the project’s progress. In most cases, my backers were very supportive and appreciative.
I took my obligations and their support of the project very seriously and the slow process of crafting this project was virtually unavoidable. Raising more money would’ve helped some, but there were countless hurdles that I needed to jump during the process.
As I sent out the packages of DVDs, posters and photo books across the world, I was both relieved and exhilarated. I achieved my vision, made a great film that means a tremendous amount to my subjects and my supporters and I learned more than I ever imagined my own creative process.
Being an artist, an inventor, or an entrepreneur takes guts! If you know that your project or idea is worth pursuing then you have no choice but to chase that dream. That said, making smart and calculated decisions about your craft, especially where money and finances are concerned, cannot be overstated.
Be smart, be bold and go for it!
In Between Songs is now available on DVD through Cinema Libre Studio. It is also available on Vimeo platforms and will be coming to Amazon Instant and Hulu shortly. Josh Bell, the film’s director, is an acclaimed photographer and director who strives to create soulful and substantive content.