As I write this, I am 56% of the way to reaching the funds requested for my second consecutive film-related crowd funding endeavor. The first, held between May and October of 2009 was for my short film, IEP, a 14-minute fictional drama short that takes a hard look at special education, and more specifically, how it can be used against African-American children who don’t need it. The second is less tangible, but grander, seeking start up costs for my film production company, Feb4 Productions. After successfully completing one project and (hopefully) successfully completing another (although possibly behind my short time projections), there are a solid five things I’ve learned about crowd funding film projects, that may help you with yours.
1) Don’t assume you know where your money is coming from. For IEP, money came from some unexpected places. I contacted every prominent educational reform organization and individual that I could and barely even got a polite “No” most of the time. Family and friends was a mixed bag, to say the least. Even IEP’s 1000+ strong Facebook page never bought into the Obama-influenced “if everyone just gave $5!” mantra I was trying to promote. But in the middle of all that, I sent an email to a lady at my church who has two children in college and told me there was no way she could donate financially. But I kept her abreast of what we were doing. A few weeks later, she invited me to talk about IEP at a board meeting for a local NAACP branch, of which she happened to be a high ranking officer. I went, sat through the entire meeting, delivered my 5-10 minute spiel about what we were doing and stayed to answer questions. Two people donated because of my appearance that night. AND THEIR DONATIONS TOTALED NEARLY HALF OF MY PRODUCTION BUDGET. So, if I had disregarded the lady because she had said no or didn’t seem like a prime candidate to donate, my film may have never been made. And I wouldn’t have even known why. You don’t know which doors will lead to another door, so don’t block your blessings by thinking you do.
2) Have something to show. Writing a bunch of words on your website/Twitter/Facebook page etc. about what you want to accomplish is great. But if you’re talking about film, it helps your case to be able to show your prospective donor that you’ve actually used a camera before. For IEP, we shot a couple of minute-long, HD promos, explaining the social problem at hand and what we planned to do about it. This achieved the triple crown of 1) putting faces to our names (muy importante!); 2) telling smaller stories that simplified this big, complicated issue for the uninitiated; and 3) showing that I could shoot something in HD that would keep someone’s attention.
3) Offer attractive, graduated perks. One mistake I made with IEP was that I basically offered everyone the same perk. So if you gave $2000 or you gave $10, you got the same thing. Yeah, not really giving much of an incentive to give $2000, right? Not to mention that I didn’t raise enough money to be able to live up to my promises without coming out of my own pocket to meet them, as I eventually did. This go around, with Feb4, I have amended that by raising the bar. You have to give at least $250 now to get anything past a tax-deduction (per our sponsorship with Fractured Atlas) and a personal thank you. (More on personal thank you’s coming up next.) This raises the level of expectations for giving and lifts a certain responsibility off me for follow through that I may not be able to reach. From $250 to $3000 are several perks that increase in attractiveness as they ascend. It’s like anything else: Greater risk should lead to greater reward. Sites like IndieGogo and Kickstarter more or less insist that you do this, but for those are not signed up with them or just not thinking (as I wasn’t), this is the only way to go.
4) Find a way to get donors and potential donors in the same arena. So far, everyone who has donated to Feb4 Productions is a Facebook friend of mine. As soon as I get an email saying that they’ve donated, I drop whatever I’m doing and go straight to their Facebook page and thank them by leaving a comment on their page. Occasionally, I post a link to our IndieGoGo page as I’m thanking them. Sometimes, I get there and find, to my delight, that they’ve already posted it. Simple, yes? But what’s brilliant about this is that it allows all your other Facebook friends who haven’t donated to see that other people are donating. So as much as they may want to think of you as some aimless, immature dreamer who keeps babbling about some film crap all day, it gets harder to dismiss you when they know people are giving you money several times a day. Last week, I had two donations come within minutes of my leaving a thank you comment on someone’s page. Maybe they were coming anyway, I don’t know. What I do know is that while nobody wants to be first, being 17th is much easier for just about everyone. But you can’t be 17th if you don’t know there were 16 others.
5) Don’t give up. We were already shooting IEP the weekend our last donation came in. And I didn’t know it was coming. We had 26% of our funds for Feb4 with 10 days to go. One donation came in and all of a sudden we were 50% there. Sending that extra email can feel impossible. Knowing that family members with disposable incomes are dodging your calls because they know why you‘re calling hurts. Asking for retweets on Twitter from all your devoted followers and getting not one sucks. You will face private and public doubts and often feel paranoid, defeated and worthless. And even after all that, you still may not reach your goal. You may not even come close. But I’m here to tell you that every effort you make is strengthening your resolve, toughening your skin, and forcing you to come up with dynamic and engaging ways to communicate your vision. This will all come in more than handy once you get the money and have to deal with financiers, actors, distributors and audiences. Edison fell short many times, and so did the Wright Brothers and Einstein. Even Jesus got dissed by the people who’d known Him His whole life. But we remember them all today because they remained committed to the realization of their calling.
The money is out there. Don’t quit before you find it.
Jason Gilmore is a Toledo-raised, Los Angeles-based film director, screenwriter, producer and essayist.
Follow him on Twitter at @JasonLGilmore.