Saturday, March 11, 2017

Indie Film Crowdfunding: 9 Tips to Avoid Abject Failure

Today, more and more filmmakers refuse to let a mere lack of funds kill their idea. Instead, they are turning to the vast expanses of the Internet to find new opportunities to bring their film to life, such as crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have helped people raise money for everything from TV show revivals to litter boxes... and of course, indie films.

While crowdfunding presents filmmakers with a whole new opportunity to see their idea become a reality, it's only that. An opportunity. Success is by no means a guarantee.

Between April of 2009 and October 2015, 47,809 film projects were launched on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter (Source: Stephen Follows).

Of those film projects, less than half were successfully funded.

In other words, while crowdfunding is a viable option for independent filmmakers, it is not easy money.

As more and more filmmakers are finding out, it is all too easy to miserably fail at crowdfunding... even with a great idea. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when you could throw up a few lines about your movie and wake up to tens of thousands of dollars.

Today, crowdfunding a film takes about as much work as actually making a film.

No, really.

To help you avoid the pitfalls of film crowdfunding, we've put together these 9 tips.

Who are we? 

In 2013, Atlas Distribution Company (then Atlas Productions) launched a Kickstarter campaign to secure funding for part 3 of the Atlas Shrugged movie trilogy, Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt?

Using the tips we're about to share with you, we raised $446,907 dollars, which was nearly double our goal of $250,000. 

#1 - Understand if crowdfunding is right for your film. 

Crowdfunding has become the duct tape of the film industry. Everyone with an idea is using it to try to patch something together. However, crowdfunding is not the best option for all projects.

Like social media sites, crowdfunding platforms have their own audience. If your project fits in with that audience, you'll have a much easier time crowdfunding.

Here's a closer look at some crowdfunding demographics (Source: Art of the Kickstart):

  • - 64% of crowdfunding backers are men. 
  • - Millennials (ages 20-36) make up the largest crowdfunding age group.
  • - 53% of crowdfunding backers make less than $50,000 a year. 

If the above stats don't describe your film's target audience it doesn't mean you need to abandon crowdfunding entirely. What it does mean is that you will most likely not be able to rely on the crowdfunding platform's audience to drive your campaign; instead, you will need to rely on your own audience.

The Atlas Shrugged crowd is mostly men ages 35-54... so not the ideal crowdfunding audience going by the stats above. We knew who our audience was going in and leveraged other channels (ex. Facebook) to spread the word instead of relying on Kickstarter to send traffic our way.

#2 - Consider all the crowdfunding options available. 

These are just a few of the crowdfunding platforms that exist today. 

While Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe have name recognition, that doesn't necessarily mean they are they best fit for your film. 

Each platform has its own set of rules, fees, pros, and cons. Before launching your crowdfunding campaign, evaluate each to find which is the best option and best fits your needs. 

#3 - Understand that crowdfunding isn't just about the money.

While the main reason to launch a crowdfunding campaign is to raise money for your indie film, it isn't the only reason. The other (non-monetary) benefits are also important and you should definitely capitalize on them.

Vetting your idea.
"[Crowdfunding] gives them a platform for validating their idea and getting real customer feedback," - Khierstyn Ross (Source: Art of the Kickstart).

Your crowdfunding campaign is a prime opportunity to do market research and collect feedback about your idea. All of this info can be used to not only ensure your film lives up to its full potential but also to market your film down the road. The demographics you obtain from your crowdfunding campaign can help you with targeting Facebook ads or other paid media campaigns later on.

Building a brand. 
Crowdfunding gives you the opportunity to raise awareness for your brand (film) and spread the word. Even if your crowdfunding campaign fails, the name recognition you built during that campaign can be quite valuable.

Wouldn't it be nice to amass a social media army that will help you promote not only this film but future projects?

Forging new partnerships.
You never know who you may encounter during the course of your crowdfunding campaign. You should consider each person you interact with to be a new partner that will either help fund your film, create your film, or distribute/market your film.

Creating customers.
In addition to raising awareness about your film (building a brand), you're getting yourself in front of customers who will buy movie tickets, merchandise, Blu-rays, etc.

Even if your campaign isn't successful, stay in contact with the individuals who donated to or engaged with your campaign. If new life is breathed into your project down the road, you'll already have people who believe in it.

While it was amazing to raise nearly double our goal amount for Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt?, for us, it wasn't about the money. In fact, here's what we wrote in our FAQ section: 
"The movie is actually already funded and is now headed into production this October. All additional funds collected through Kickstarter will be put towards expanding the production, distribution, and marketing budgets. The Atlas Shrugged Movie Kickstarter campaign is not so much about money though as it is about marketing." 
We used Kickstarter as an opportunity to spread the word about the movie and create advocates before filming even started.

#4 - Establish an audience before crowdfunding. 

If you build it, they will come... right? Wrong!

Really, really wrong.

In an ideal world, you'll get some traffic from your crowdfunding platform, but to ensure you hit your goal, you're going to need to have your own audience before you launch your campaign.

Successful crowdfunder Ariel Hyatt sums it up well (Source: Art of the Kickstart):

"Do you have your arms around your crowd? How many people are on your mailing list? How many people are in your inbox that should be on your mailing list? How many people are your VIPs? … How is your Facebook game? Do you actually know how to boost posts? Do you understand how to use advertising because you’re going to need it? If you just post native on Facebook, as we know, people won’t see stuff. Do you understand who’s following you on what platform? How do you get their attention? No crowd, no crowdfunding.

Keep in mind that unless you have a lot of money to spend or a truly newsworthy film it will take time to build an audience. You won't be able to start the process 1 week before your crowdfunding campaign is due to launch.

How can you build an audience? Two ways to get started are to build a website (just avoid these 11 film website mistakes) and take to social media.

In addition to a website, the Atlas Shrugged movie Trilogy had a Facebook page, Twitter account, online store, community (Galt's Gulch Online), and newsletter in place before launching its crowdfunding campaign. All of these channels were well established (had large audiences).

#5 - Soft launch your film's crowdfunding campaign.

Soft launching your campaign is just letting your audience know that you're going to be doing a crowdfunding campaign before you actually launch that campaign. The goal with a soft launch is to to prime the pump (get people ready to give) so that when the crowdfunding campaign does go live you have people backing it immediately.

A crowdfunding campaign with a lot of initial success can have a positive psychological effect on other potential backers. They see how quickly the campaign is amassing funds and think, "There's something here... I've got to get in on this."

Having an audience before you start crowdfunding (see #4) will make soft launching fairly easy. You just need to get the word out by writing a blog post, sending an email, posting on social media, or all of the above.

Another great way to soft launch your crowdfunding campaign is to connect with influencers in your industry or genre and get them to spread the word. For instance, for our Kickstarter campaign we tapped influencers like Ron Paul and Glenn Beck. 

#6 - Get organized, and be as prepared as possible. 

Launching your crowdfunding campaign is not that dissimilar from launching a military campaign. You need to mobilize the troops (your audience), plan for contingencies (ex. a drop in donations), motivate the troops to keep momentum up (ex. adding new rewards), and know what the goal is at each step of the campaign.

You need to know how you will do all of this before your film's crowdfunding campaign goes live.

Why is this so important? Great question. Indiegogo evaluated 22,000 film projects and found that 42.8% of all funds were raised during the first 3 and last 3 days of the campaign.

So you need to have a plan to start and finish strong.

Questions you'll want to answer include:

  • - What are my daily goals? 
  • - How long will my campaign run?
  • - What perks will I launch with?
  • - When will I launch new perks? 
  • - When will I provide updates?
  • - What form will those updates take (ex. a video vs. text)? 
  • - What is my budget to promote the campaign? 
  • - What makes my project stand out / what makes it newsworthy? 
  • - How will I spread the word prior to and during the campaign? 
  • - Will there be any backlash / is my campaign controversial? 

The Atlas Shrugged Kickstarter campaign is a great example of a controversial project. Due to misconceptions about Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, many thought we should not be asking for "donations" for the project. We were prepared for this line of thinking and addressed it in our FAQs from the start. 
In addition to answering those questions, you'll also need to crunch the numbers. You need to know: 

  • - How much you need to make your film.
  • - How much rewards will cost you (don't forget shipping).
  • - What (if any) credit card processing fees you'll be charged. 
  • - How much you can spend on marketing / advertising.
  • - How much the platform (ex. Kickstarter) will charge you or take from the funds raised. 

If you don't understand these numbers going into the crowdfunding campaign, you're probably going to get a nasty sticker shock surprise at the end. 

Plan the entire campaign out day by day so you know exactly where you should be (in terms of funds) and what you need to do. Have contingency plans for worst case scenarios.

The Atlas Shrugged Kickstarter campaign was in the works for months before it was actually launched. The number of Google docs created and team meetings held to make sure we were prepared were many. All of this planning kept us on track and ensured our project was successful on multiple fronts. 

#7 - Mobilize a team.

According to data from Indiegogo, if you have 4 or more people working alongside you on your film's crowdfunding campaign you will raise 70% more money (versus running the campaign alone).

Your film idea is your baby. We get it. You're super protective. That's understandable, but remember the saying "it takes a village."

There's going to be a ton of work to do on your film's crowdfunding campaign on a daily basis. Even if you can devote yourself to the effort full time, it may not be enough.

Gathering a team to help you doesn't necessarily mean hiring people (although it might). You can ask friends, family members, coworkers, etc. for help. You can also look for volunteers among your audience. A lot of people would love the opportunity to help you make your film idea a reality (especially fans). Another option may be an unpaid intern. You can contact local colleges to explore the possibilities.

Tip: Make a list of all the stuff that needs to be done during your crowdfunding campaign and what skills those tasks require. Then think about your own skills. Reasonably, what can you do? Look for team members that can fill your skill gaps.

#8 - Do it right.

When it comes to actually putting the campaign up on a crowdfunding platform, give it your all. Don't half-ass it. Seriously.

This includes:

  • - Having a video.
  • - Telling a story.
  • - Getting creative with rewards.

Have a video.
Campaigns without videos succeed only 20.8% of the time whereas campaigns with videos succeed 42.5% of the time (Source: Stephen Follows). 

With numbers like those, are you willing to risk not including a video with your crowdfunding campaign? 

You're a filmmaker (or at least you want to be), so creating a video for your crowdfunding campaign shouldn't be too far outside of your realm of expertise. However, if you're going to outsource this task, don't cheap out. Get a professional, high quality video made.

The same goes for graphics. Any images you use, both on the crowdfunding platform and on social media channels to promote your film's campaign, should be of the highest possible quality.

Tell a story.
When describing your project, really paint a picture. Evoke the emotions of the readers. Make it so they can't wait to buy a ticket to see your film. Obviously, don't pen a novel, but give people enough info to feel invested in the success of this film. 

Get creative with rewards.
When it comes to deciding what perks or rewards your film's crowdfunding campaign should include there are a few different angles to look at. 

  • - What perks will you offer?
  • - How many overall perks will you offer?
  • - What will the price points be? 

When deciding what rewards to offer, consider what the cost will be to you (including shipping) and how creative the perk is. To get a little inspiration, look at other film crowdfunding projects and see what they've offered backers. While you can borrow from other projects, you also want to stand out so try to put a spin on their rewards. Try to create unique experiences that a backer can't get anywhere else like saying a line in the film or helping to craft a scene in the screenplay. 

You may be tempted to keep the overall number of rewards to a minimum for simplicity but that's a mistake. Film projects (at least on Kickstarter) that offer more rewards are more likely to succeed. The average success rate for a film project is 42.6% yet when 20 rewards are offered the success rate climbs to 59.9% and when 30 rewards are offered it rises to 63.9%; yet, 95% of film projects offer under 17 rewards (Source: Stephen Follows). 

In addition to figuring out how many perks to offer, you have to decide on the different price points. Recall from earlier in this article that most crowdfunding contributors make under $50,000 a year so you'll want to ensure you have reward levels that appeal to them as well as higher end perks for VIPs.

In fact, to make everyone feel important and included in your film, set at least one perk at a very low level. You want your potential backers to know that no amount of money is too little.

We offered rewards starting at just $1. In addition, we took advantage of "free" digital rewards such as thanking people from the official Atlas Shrugged movie Twitter account. This cost us nothing but presented real value to potential backers.

#9 - Don't check out; you're not done after launch.

Unfortunately, many filmmakers think that once you launch a campaign, that's it. You just sit back and let the world turn. 

They're very (very) wrong. 

Launching a crowdfunding campaign is just the beginning. 

"… the truth is crowdfunding is hard. It takes effort and planning and timing and strategy. I think a lot of people just think, ‘Oh, if I just post a few things on Facebook and tweet and send out an email, I’m going to get my goal,’ which is not the case. It does take a lot of effort and energy, and you might not have it for all 30 days,” - Ariel Hyatt (Source: Art of the Kick Start). 

During the campaign, you're going to need to do marketing to build awareness for your film, engage with audience members who have questions, add rewards, do updates, and much more. (This is where having a plan before launch really comes in handy.)

Recall that in the 22,000 film projects evaluated by Indiegogo, 42.8% of funds were raised in the first 3 and the last 3 days. 

A crowdfunding campaign typically lasts 30 days... you need to keep momentum strong throughout that time frame. 

In conclusion...

Launching a film crowdfunding campaign can be a brilliant way to raise the necessary funds for a film, build awareness, and get feedback all at once. However, it isn't a unique idea. Film crowdfunding projects are launched on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding platforms daily (if not hourly). Increase your chances for success by implementing these 9 tips into your film crowdfunding campaign.