Crowd funding is an Internet phenomenon that has steadily been growing over the past few years. For the uninitiated, crowd funding is a process of creating online groups, consisting of people who network and pool their money and other resources together to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. Crowd funding has been successfully used to fund a number of projects, from disaster relief to book publishing to developing new software. In fact, crowd funding is being used to fund every manner of project (check out the recent Wired article "The five weirdest crowdfunded projects").
Not surprisingly, independent filmmakers have turned to crowd funding as a viable method of financing their films, and there are a some great success stories out there. Late last year, filmmaker Ryan Koo successfully raised $115,000 for his first feature film, "Man-child".
A number of sites exist that make setting up a crowd funding project easy. The two most popular are Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. They are both quite similar, the main difference being that Kickstarter is all-or-nothing: you set a campaign goal amount and a time limit for the campaign, and if you don’t reach your goal within the allotted time, the money reverts back to the donors. IndieGoGo allows you to keep what you raised, although they do take a larger cut as a fee (9% vs 5%). Either way, with hard work and an understanding of social media, you can conceivably raise funds well into the tens of thousands. Certainly enough to help fund a micro-budget feature film or documentary.
Crowd Funding Requires Work to be Successful
If you think it's as simple as setting up a campaign on IndieGogo or Kickstarter and just sitting back and watching the money roll in, think again. These sites are simply platforms - they help you showcase your project in a way that makes it easy for potential donors to learn about your potential film and make online donations - but they don't bring the donors to you. That's still your job, and successful crowd funding campaigns on these platforms take a lot of hard work. Here are some important things to remember when running a crowd funding campaign:
1. Make a Great Pitch Video
Kickstarter and IndieGoGo project pages center around your pitch video. It's one of the first things potential donors will see when they visit your campaign page. According to Kickstarter, projects with videos succeed at a much higher rate than those without (50% vs. 30%). If the goal of your campaign is to get people to buy into your vision as a filmmaker, what better way to do it than with a video. A filmmaker is primarily a storyteller, so if you can't tell a compelling story in 3 minutes or less in your pitch video, you're in trouble. Check out Ryan Koo's pitch video for "Man-Child":
2. Get Some Evangelists in your Corner
In the world of social media, evangelists are those who are passionate enough about your idea to help convert others to your cause. If you can find 3 or 4 people who have a circle of influence and a network of online "friends" beyond your own, ask them to help you spread the word. No matter how large your personal network is, it is still limited. Getting dedicated evangelists to bring the message to their own networks helps you cast a bigger net than if you were to go it alone.
Getting popular bloggers with large readerships on board is an ideal way to reach a wider audience, but it is easier said than done. Many are inundated with these kind of requests, but blogger Evan Luzi has written a great article for aspiring crowd funding campaigners on the best way to pitch your project to people like him.
3. Plan Ahead
Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns have a fixed time period, usually 30-60 days. According to Kickstarter’s own data, the vast bulk of backers seem to contribute at the very beginning and very end of a project. People tend to engage with things when they’re brand-new or when they’re nearing a deadline. They lose interest when things are in the middle. Be sure to have emails written specifically for the beginning, middle and end of a project so that you can keep it active. If your project takes off and there is a lot of activity, it can be hard to keep up and respond to questions - pre-written FAQs can be really useful.
4. Reward Your Backers Creatively
People who back your project aren't investors or funders in a traditional sense. They do not own a share of your project, and they do not receive a share of profits. As a result, the crowd funding model uses rewards to recognize the contributions of backers. Rewards are typically tiered: the bigger the pledge, the bigger the reward. Creative rewards can generate excitement and make backers feel that they are intimately connected to the project. Ryan Koo did a great job of breaking down his reward thresholds in a way that is meaningful to film making. A $5 pledge funded the equivalent of 5 frames of his film. The reward for this was a unique 5 frame clip of the movie. A full second was $24, and so on, right up to 5 minutes for a pledge of $7,200.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and you are limited only by your imagination. One of the most comprehensive guides out there is Nathaniel Hansen’s "The Ultimate Crowd funding To-Do List".
What are the Advantages of Crowd funding your Film Versus Traditional Financing?
Aside from the obvious, there are a number of reasons why crowd funding is an attractive alternative to traditional methods of film financing:
Crowd funding can work as an early "test screening"
Crowd funding sites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo are a great place to test out ideas. If a project is based on an idea that doesn’t resonate with people, it will fall short. In this way crowd funding campaigns are a great litmus test for ideas - those that are having difficulty finding backer – despite a lot of hard work promoting the idea - should indicate to the project creators that a finished film will also have trouble finding an audience.
Generate an audience as you generate funds
Projects that do find an audience not only benefit from financial donations, it also creates fans long before the film has been made. Traditionally, an independent filmmaker would begin marketing a film once it is close to finished (if there is any money left over in the budget). With crowd funding, you have generate early awareness and dedicated fans of the project before you even start production. And those existing fans have a stake in the film, so you can rely on them to help spread the word online once the film is out.
Prove your market to bigger players
A crowd funding campaign may not be the only source of you project financing. A successful crowd funding campaign will make it easier to secure traditional financing as you now have proven that there is a real market for your film.
You maintain 100% control of your project
If you do stick to crowd funding to finance your entire project, then creative control stays with you. Crowdfunders are not owners or investors in your film that require a say or percentage. They simply donate to your project because they want to support an idea that resonates with them.