Crowdfunding Tips for indie films

Preface

Crowdfunding has become an essential tool in the growth and production of independent films across the world. There are literally hundreds of thousands of films being pitched on dozens of various crowdfunding sites across the internet and with that volume of requests for funding, you need to stand out from the crowd and be noticed

The idea of crowdfunding an independent film is born from the very nature of independent films, bootstrapping a project and gaining community support while developing your idea. Crowdfunding allows you to avoid traditional investors and producers who can, and will, meddle in your story and possibly steer you down a path you don’t want to go with your film.

Crowdfunding is also an amazing tool for measuring your community engagement and excitement in your product or film. It’s also a fantastic resource for networking with fellow filmmakers and fans that can help promote, share and critique your work to help you grow as a writer/director.

Crowdfunding is not a place for easy money, a sure thing or a platform for begging friends and family to “co-produce” your film. Successful crowdfunding comes from months of hard work, community engagement, give and take, and a willingness to get your hands dirty and focus more on the campaign than your current film project.

If you are willing to put in the effort and do the work, you can join the hundreds of thousands of people who have successfully raised money for their campaign and received the support they needed to make their film productions the best they can be. Here are my main crowdfunding tips.

Step 1: Building your audience

Ready to start the process of crowdfunding your next production? Let’s do this!

Spend a few months cultivating your community before crowdfunding.

Before you even create an account on your favorite crowdfunding site, you need to have an audience. Building an audience is the single most important step you can take to ensure a crowdfunding success and in this day and age, it’s the only way to really begin the process. Also, if you have a successful and thriving community of people wanting your film, then you already have your market research taken care of. Let me explain…

There are literally thousands of crowdfunding campaigns out there sitting with only a few dollars, raised by moms, dads and aunts who want to see their family member succeed. These campaigns dwindle down, day after day, with nothing happening on them while the organizer of the campaign wonders why nobody is giving them money for their super-awesome film.

The reason, of course, is that they jumped the gun and assumed that “If you pitch it, they will come” and that’s just not going to happen.

So, how do you build an audience and grow a community from nothing?

Task #1: Build an Email List

An email list is the single most important tool in a crowdfunding campaign and in online marketing in general. Research shows that over 80% of engagement in an online campaign comes from opt-in email programs and that engagement is highly actionable. When people willingly subscribe to your email list and you constantly provide them with valuable content, not just asking for financial contributions, the community starts to know, like and trust you.

Setting up an email list is not difficult or expensive, it does take time to cultivate and grow but anything worthwhile does. If you sign up to a service like MailChimp you can create a signup form in just a few minutes and put that form in dozens of different places. I suggest that if you don’t have your own website, get one now. Yes, you can get a free domain but the idea here is to build an audience who knows, likes and trusts you and the quickest way to make someone think twice is to use a free service. By owning your own domain name, you show that you are willing to invest in yourself and you believe that your production company or film is worth investing in.

So, now that you have your MailChimp account and your own domain set up, where do you put your sign-up form?

There are countless resources out there to help you optimize your placement and ensure a high level of engagement on it, but the key points to take away are to put it “Above the fold”  on your homepage/sidebar and on your “About” page. But just putting a signup form on your site isn’t enough; you have to provide content that people want to continue to receive. So, figure that out and make sure that you can keep a consistent flow of this content going before you ask people to sign up.

Task #2: Build a Facebook page

Research shows that, when building a community and growing an audience, Facebook still ranks #1 on the social networking platform list. Because so many people can engage your page, share, like and upload pictures/videos, Facebook blows away the others in community interaction. Facebook pages allow you to dedicate a section of your account to a specific production, build your community around that page and share production stills, notes, videos, links and other resource to help your community stay up to date and engaged in your process. It’s a great way to share relevant information about your production/film and gives you an enormous capability to connect and interact with your audience. It’s free, which is always a good thing, and there are so many millions of people using it and searching for places to interact with like-minded people that you just have to start populating it and sharing it across your network for it to really take off.

It’s important for you to commit to growing this audience and not relying on it to grow itself. You need to be engaged and active on the site, adding new content, following other people, and liking their content to show that you are engaged. If you can’t commit the time and energy it takes to grow any of these social media tips, then you need to find or hire someone who can.

It’s my personal opinion that having a page with no activity is worse than not having a page at all. If you have a page and don’t update it often, it shows people that your idea was just a passing phase and you can’t be relied upon to stick with your projects. Keep that in mind when committing to this, or any other online activity.

Task #3: Twitter

Ah, Twitter. I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter when growing communities because it is very difficult to cultivate a community on a page that scrolls away so quickly. It’s also very limited in the message you can put out, 140 characters is all you have to spread your message and to grow your audience. While the platform remains in the top three of the things you need to do, I would make sure that you take the time to use it correctly. First and foremost, don’t automate your tweets. I know there are a lot of people out there, who say to automate and to make it just post randomly, but there is a science to the constantly flowing stream of information and you need to do your due diligence when investing the time into this platform.

When you launch your twitter account, be sure to link it to your Facebook and you can share your tweets with your page, limiting the load you have to post on. Applications like HootSuite can also help with this as well.

This will, undoubtedly, take you several months to grow an active and engaged community but it is worth it for many reasons, one of them (but not the most important) is crowdfunding. Consider this, when you have a huge community of fans and an audience who hangs on the edge of their seat for your next release of content, you’ve succeeded in what most people want out of their creative works: getting appreciation. With these tools in hand, you can now move on to choosing your crowdfunding platform.

Special Note: Do not, ever, buy followers. The social media revolution would have you believe that the follower count is the most important thing and I can tell you right now that statement is an anathema and will only cause you to lose money, community engagement and any credibility you will ever have as a person. Seriously, don’t do this.

Step 2:  Define your goals

Break down your needs and identify the least amount of money you need.

No matter what platform you choose to crowdfund on, you need to have a clear and concise plan on how much you need, what you are going to use the money for and why you are crowdfunding in the first place. Creating a detailed production list for your film is essential for many reasons but, for the purposes of this post, we will focus on why it’s important to your film production.

One thing to note, a film budget is a constantly growing and evolving thing, especially on the independent side of things, because there are a variety of scenarios that may affect the overall financing of certain things. You will find that as you break down your film into scenes, you will have to adjust the budget to cover unexpected expenses that you may not have realized you would need at first.

The budget plays a pivotal role in cataloging the costs of every element of the production to make sure that whatever funds you do have available goes to supporting your cast and crew, securing permissions and insurance for your locations and renting/purchasing whatever equipment you need to get the job done.

Once you have your budget in hand, you can start to see exactly how much money it’s going to take to make your film and I’d wager you would be surprised just how much that really is. One thing that far too many filmmakers fail to do is ensure that the people helping them create this vision (IE: The Cast & Crew) are well taken care of and shown the appreciation they deserve.

While it may not always be possible to pay a direct salary to your cast and crew, it’s important to ensure that you are spending some of your budget on things like food and transportation costs, especially if your cast has to travel to get to the locations you have secured. Little details like this, while often forgotten, are essential to making people want to work with you again. It’s common courtesy, especially if you are not paying them, to offer them some form of comforts.

The Budget

In the beginning of your budgeting process, you should break it down into the following categories, all of which are standard to just about every film production, but this is by no means an exhaustive breakdown of an example budget:

#1: Pre-Production

Pre-production is made up of all of the items you must address in the beginning phases of your production, up until the day you go to shoot your film. In this stage, your budget will account for things like locations, insurance, miscellaneous expenses, printing your script and just about everything else you need to pay before you get to set. This is sometimes the most easiest to predict in terms of cost, because normally these things are at a set price and can be planned for accordingly. This is generally the cheapest of the four categories for your budget.

#2: Production

Regardless of the scale of your film, production is often where the most amount of money is spent, simply because there are more people and locations involved during this stage. The bulk of your budget will go to the most necessary things, paying your cast and crew, location permits, equipment rentals (cameras, lenses, rigs, tripods, extra batteries, lights, etc), insurance and the rest will eat into a significant portion of your budget. Other important items such as catering, lodging, transportation for the cast and crew, makeup and first aid are also large considerations, but many of these can be offset with a little out-of-the-box thinking. One thing you should NEVER do is skimp on safety. If there is even the slightest chance of something “going wrong” you need to reconsider that scene all together. You don’t want to jeopardize anyone to make your film.

#3: Post-Production

Your post production costs make up a sizeable portion of your budget, even if you are not making a heavy post-driven film with special effects and lot of action. No matter what type of film you are making, if you skimp out on post production the film will suffer and the monies you have spent on planning and production is rather wasted. Post-production includes things like your editor, sound designer, colorist, composer and a myriad of other talents, not to mention the money you need to license any music, stock footage or festival submissions you probably forgot about.

So, as you can see, all of these things need to be taken into consideration while wiring up your film budget. Some of these costs can be excluded from your crowdfunding campaign if you have some friends who are willing to help out, know people who will let you use their equipment or otherwise network with the right people who can help you produce your film, but you need to be aware of these costs prior to starting your film.

Spend as much time on your budget as you have your script (…please spend enough time on your script to make it worth filming) and make sure that you seek outside guidance on your budget if this is your first time. Details like this will help you in the long term by giving you a great working foundation for the rest of your filmmaking career. Don’t skip out on the essentials because you are excited about making your film come to life. You will ruin the experience for yourself, your cast and crew, and whoever did you any favors while making your dream come true.

Step 3: Picking a platform

There are dozens of platforms out there for you to choose from when considering crowdfunding a project. Each of them has their own merits and flaws and it is up to you to do your research in finding out which is best for your production. Don’t just pick one out of a list, do yourself a favor and really dig into that platform and weigh the pros and cons for yourself. Some of the things you need to look out for is how much the platform charges, is it all or nothing, do they have easy to use embed options and are they tailored to film making.

Preparations

Pre-Launch Support

The only way to maximize your chances of a successful campaign is to get as much pre-launch support as you can. In order to reach your target goal, the first 30 percent of funds needs to be committed before your campaign goes live and in order to get the first 30 percent, you need to develop relationships with your community.

It’s vitally important for you to develop a strong relationship with both your own community and to make connections with other people with a large audience to help promote your campaign. Having a high-profile endorsement of your campaign is a great way to maximize the probability of your eventual success at raising the money you need for your film.

Seek out organizations and groups of people who love your genre of film and start engaging them. Don’t just solicit help from them, engage and entertain them. Give them screenshots, behind the scenes, script snippets, examples of previous work and also give reviews of other peoples work.

Plan “Perks” accordingly

To be honest, in the early days of crowdfunding, the perk system was a cool and unique way to engage your potential supporters and to offer them something neat for their contributions. Unfortunately, far too many films fall into the trap of offering pointless perks and the obligatory hat or t-shirt. Although these items are good for your brand/film evangelists, most people will take that shirt and put it on the pile of other clothes they have. It doesn’t really offer a great incentive to contribute.

Spend the extra money on DVD copies and include exclusive behind the scenes footage, production stills, a personally written “Thank You” from the cast and other features.

HOT TIP: Consider having your cast and crew record a personalized Thank You message and have an insert on your DVD with a QR code. It’s another level of interaction that shows you care about your contributors and are not just using them for their money.

NOTE: Having your name on a product with a thank you message for contributing might be one of those secret loopholes that get you a brand evangelist for life. Your mileage may vary, but it is a nice incentive.

When thinking about your deliverables, you need to remember that you will float the bill for the shipping and product creation. You need to figure out what your hard cost for product is going to be at both 10 and 1,000 and make sure that you are able to willingly part with the funds.

The most successful campaigns, not attached to a large celebrity name or project, generally have only a handful of perks. Keeping it simple will give people less of a decision to make about supporting your project.

NOTE: Start off with a smaller contribution amount, but still make it worth your time. The average price point for a typical perk is $25 and if you market and plan your perk well enough, these $25’s will add up quickly.

Step 4: Pitch It!

So, now we have come to the heart of the crowdfunding campaign: The pitch video. You will find thousands of resources on creating your pitch video, each with conflicting recommendations on what you should and should not do.

Here is the winning recipe for a pitch video for an independent film:

  • Introduction:
    Introduce yourself and your team. People give to people, not to campaigns. Be personable, be honest and be excited. Nothing worse than watching another monotone video of someone reading a script.
  • Pitch:
    Tell your followers about the project. Include your title, logline and why you need the money. Is it to finalize post-production with a great VFX studio? Tell them! Be specific. Be honest. Tell them what you are offering them. Tell them about your awesome perks. (remember what we talked about in step 3?)
  • Trailer:
    Please, for the love of all things holy, show them your work! Assemble an example of the awesomeness that you are going to give them. Give examples of your past work, part of the film they are funding and what they can expect for supporting you.
  • Make the ask:
    I see so many people make the mistake of not asking for the support of their followers in the video. Don’t assume that just because you have made the video and made it sizzle that people will actually give you their money without you asking. Get comfortable with asking for their support, do it at the end of the video and be specific. People need direction.
  • Thank Them:
    Try something new and exciting as a thank you. Don’t just regurgitate those two words and expect to mean something. How many times do you hear “thank you” every single day of your life? A lot, I’d imagine. The message gets watered down with redundancy, so try something fresh and new. I’m sure a creative person like you can do it, can’t you?

The Story

Another place people make a terrible mistake is in their story section. This is the place for you to dial in the details, tell your potential contributors about who you are and what you are raising the funds for. Here is where you need to be specific and don’t worry about repeating something you said in the pitch video, it just helps hammer home the message to hear it and then read it.

Explain your film project and go into details about what your film means to you, but don’t ham it up with pointless narrative about how “awesome it is” or how “cool the movie will be”. Your excitement is great but you also need to prove that you are professional enough to warrant a contribution.

Why are you passionate about this project? Are you trying to tell a thought provoking story about a troubled teen, or are you trying to reinvent the stagnant wasteland of cliché and overdone horror films? These things are what people want to know and this is how you engage them. Pull on their heartstrings or get them revved up about your new concept. Associate with them and make them want to get to know you.

You also should use graphics in the story section. Use some behinds the scenes stills or production shots of your work. Have a graphic designer whip up an awesome poster for your film and put it here. Show some of your special effects or something that gets people interested. It’s important to remember that a wall of text is always hard to read, unless you are specifically reading a book.

Most of all, you need to be personable. If you are funny, be funny. If you are serious, be funny anyway because nobody likes a Gloomy Gus. Your message needs to resonate with your audience and make them know, like and trust you enough to give you money or support.

Crafting a motivating story section requires you to be comfortable with your authentic self and being able to accurately write about your project, if you are unable to do this yourself, find someone who can write up some decent copy and put it up there. Don’t just hack something together, people will notice and it will be detrimental to your authenticity and believability.

Follow Up

This is where a lot of people get in trouble.

You need to follow up with your contributors frequently, extend your stretch goals, provide multiple video updates and generally stay engaged with your people. They are the ones making your dream happen and they need to be rewarded for their support by being in contact with you.

Update your followers every 5 days, at least (preferably more) because they need to be kept in the loop and see that you are active. You will raise 4-5X more if you update frequently.

Step 5: Success! Now what?

You have worked yourself into a frenzy to get this campaign funded and you’ve done it! Now what? Well, now you have to make good on the deliverables you promised (remember, this comes out of your overall budget so I hope you planned accordingly) and the obligatory percentage that the crowdfunding platform takes. Also, it will take about two weeks for you to receive your funding from the platform, so be sure to factor that into your schedule as well.

Hire people who can do their job better than you can.

Use the money you have gotten to hire someone to help you. If you suck at camera operations, hire a DP, if you can’t color grade to save your life, get a colorist. Remember that making a film, no matter what budget, is a collaborative effort and you really do need help to be successful. Yes, there are some instances where a person can do all of the work themselves, but the overall quality of that work is probably not going to be great, or it takes 25 years to release.

While you are certainly good at what you do, you need to bring in experts who can bring your production to the next level, shot after shot after shot. Evaluate the way you build your team, is it full of friends and family who act as your crew or are you positioning experts behind and beside you to guide you on the journey of being a filmmaker?

You want to surround yourself with people who are better than you. Forget the ego for a moment and understand there are always people who are better than you at something, find them and let them handle the part of your production where you fall flat. Trust me it will make things much better down the line. To succeed, you need to be honest with your own weaknesses and eliminate those weaknesses with people who are specialists in that field.

Build a lasting relationship with your initial backers.

Never underestimate the value of having lunch with a group of backers, because that builds a credibility and a relationship with those people who will, most likely, support your next venture with gusto. Provide them with photos of you on the set, build a relationship with them, exchange emails and generally stay in contact. I know you are busy on your set, but don’t be a diva, you can take a few minutes to thank the people who put you there.

Be honest and transparent.

If you promise a release date (don’t do this), then when you inevitably miss that date, you need to be transparent with your backers and let them know of the delays. Creating brand evangelists means exposing yourself to them in the most honest and open way possible. It is hard to let a stranger into the troubles you are facing, but remember that these people are the ones who SUPPORT you. Let them support you emotionally as well as financially and you’ll cultivate a relationship with your fans that will last for many more productions.

Step 6: Conclusion and Recap

If you have followed the crowdfunding tips listed in the steps above, I have no doubt that you are ready to launch an awesome crowdfunding campaign. There are no guarantees in crowdfunding and no matter how much you want for something to happen, you have to be willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears to get to that payoff.

So, let’s recap:

#1: Build Your Audience

  • Start with an email list, use MailChimp and build a list.
  • Grow your followers on a Facebook
  • Engage your audience with Twitter.

#2: Plan Your Budget

  • Define your goals.
  • Identify your financial needs.
  • Write a film budget and be accurate as possible

#3: Pick Your Platform

  • Use the tools available (including our partner page) to raise awareness.
  • Use smaller contribution amounts for more support.

#4: Make Your Pitch Video

  • Be exciting.
  • Be educating.
  • Be authentic.

#5: Follow Up After Success

  • Hire people to help you.
  • Stay in contact with your contributors.
  • Be honest and transparent with any troubles.

Follow these steps and enjoy the success you get.

If you want to talk and promote your film, series or fundraiser, speak on the FilmFervor podcast and share your work with the world.

About Justin Kincaid

Justin is the host of Film Fervor and a passionate lover of independent entertainment. Indie films are where people can truly express themselves and Justin believes that there are too many limitations on "mainstream" movies to be able to tell good stories.

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