How Crowd Funding and Social Networking Made Me a Better Filmmaker
If you told me 5 years ago that this is how we’d be doing business, I would’ve said you’re crazy! But the truth is, this is where we’re heading, if we haven’t already arrived. When I was in film school, no one prepared me for this. Then again, nobody realized social networking would grow into the monster it is today. Even 6 weeks ago, I still belonged to the school of thought: Twitter is lame. However, I quickly realized that social networking is just part of the job now.
Back in November 2010, I started developing the idea for my next project, “Feast of the Foolish.” Since it’s a highly stylized period thriller in the vein of Carnivale, Deadwood, and Big Fish, I knew we’d need a bigger budget than I’m used to working with, aka micro budgets. Don’t get me wrong. No-budget filmmaking is one of the most creative processes around, but I was ready to step it up. And what better way than crowd funding? Everyone’s doing it. It’s easy, right? Wrong.
From the beginning, our plan was to raise the majority of our budget on Indiegogo.com. Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo allots the raised funds, even if you don’t reach your goal. (Beware though, if you hit your mark, Indiegogo charges 4%. If you’re under the mark, they take out 9% of total funds raised.) I thought I could float by on my Facebook network of around 900 people. After all, my Facebook pals helped me get nominated for RAW: Filmmaker of the Year, an online voter based contest system for RAW: Natural Born Artists (www.rawartists.org). A panel of respectable judges chose my stop motion short film, “A Lost Love Story” as the winner and I got to deliver my first acceptance speech to large number of people at the Henry Fonda Music Box (www.alostlovefilm.com). All because of great Facebook network. But crowd funding is different because you’re dealing with people’s hard earned money now.
I told my good pal at Mubi Garage, Luis Alguera, that I launched a crowd funding campaign for my next film. He asked me if I started posting it on Twitter. I said, “ I don’t have an account.” There was just laughter on the line. Thankfully, Luis schooled me in some of the must-dos for a successful crowd-funding campaign. First and foremost, get a Twitter account.
Aren’t Twitter and Facebook similar? Nope. The difference is great: Facebook is for people you know and Twitter is for people you don’t know who share common interests. Both of these networks are very crucial during an online campaign, like winning a nomination or crowd funding. I quickly learned the filmmaking community on Twitter is vast and loyal. There was so much chitchat about projects and scripts, I got lost for days on the Internet! As the weeks passed, my network grew rapidly. I’m still amazed by all the wonderfully creative people out there and how willing they are to support other filmmakers. We are not alone! Now, just a few weeks later, I have nearly 2,000 followers and sent out almost 2,500 Tweets. Through Twitter, I’ve hooked up with lots of amazing filmmakers creating relationships that I would’ve missed had I kept on with my snobby perceptions of this incredible social platform. I’ll admit it. I was wrong about you Twitter!
My first weekend on Twitter, I watched Victoria Westcott of British Columbia raise thousands in a couple days for her feature film, Locked in a Garage Band. From that moment, I was hooked. I researched lots of different crowd-funding campaigns, successful and not so lucky. Over 20% of all campaigns never get passed $0! If you get over 50% funding, then you have a 90% of reaching your goal. Of those who were successful, every filmmaker was highly accessible in the social networking world. Jocelyn Towne holds the record for a crowd-funding campaign for a feature film called I am I. She raised $111,965 on Kickstarter with over 900 backers. BAM! It hit me. This is modern day filmmaking. Social networking is how we communicate, pitch script, fund movies, and get our films seen. Filmmakers from all over the world are uniting online and I wasn’t going to miss it. So, I dove in headfirst and I haven’t looked back.
I made it a priority to get featured on Indiegogo’s homepage, yet another task much harder than I thought. There are nearly 30,000 projects on Indiegogo. They only feature around 45 campaigns on a rotating basis and you’re competing with other categories too, not just films. As explained on their website, crowd-funding is a platform based on DIWO (Do it With Others) activity. They track everything. The more sharing and social “buzz” you get about your campaign project, the more likely they will feature you. It took nearly 4 weeks of hard promotion and 6,000 hits to finally get featured on their homepage. I wish I could tell you the simple secret, but I don’t think there is one. Crowd funding like gorilla filmmaking. There’s no real formula. I promoted “Feast of the Foolish” on Facebook, Twitter, Mubi, Linkedin, Massify, Vimeo, etc. I even signed up for a professional emailing service for my small production company, Thirsty Girl Films, to target my email contacts. Although it may be a hassle to set up, I found that it gives your updates a professional pizzazz with all the features of regular mass emailing and more. (I use a free emailing service at www.campaigner.com)
Unfortunately, getting featured doesn’t mean you’ll reach your goal. In fact, we’ve been featured for a few weeks now and we’re still $2500 from our target! With only a few hours left, my poor nails are down to a nub! Crowd funding is not for the weak of heart. Thankfully, I’m a fighter. I believe, like most things in life, if you’re hungry enough, you’ll get there.
However, I wish I had done my research before launching the campaign, so I knew what I was getting into. If you’re contemplating a fundraising campaign for your next project, do your homework first. Make sure this route is for you. It’s incredibly time consuming and tedious. It’s an endless ocean of updating and promoting. You also need a large social network on multiple platforms. Likewise for your cast and crew. Don’t attempt a massive campaign unless you have a slew of people willing to help you consistently spread the word through their social networks too. I’d also suggest doing a crowd-funding campaign sooner than later. I’ve noticed that some people seem burned out or tapped out from crowd funding. Especially since indie filmmakers are competing against small businesses, non-profits, and pretty much anyone who needs a buck, I predict that crowd funding may become even more competitive in the near future.
With that being said, the payoff is quite wonderful! Slowly, you hack away at the dollars and inch toward your goal. It feels good to know that your friends, family, and artistic community support you. I’m truly humbled by all the incredible people I’ve met through my social networking lessons, not to mention the filmmakers running their own campaigns, who have donated to my project or helped me spread the word. As difficult as this campaign has been, it was worth it just for the meaningful contacts I’ve made so far. Going back to my earlier point, this is how we do filmmaking now. I know I’m probably saying a lot of stuff that you already know and congrats to all the filmmakers out there that have joined the movement. I’m so glad I did too! But for those who haven’t accepted it yet, don’t miss the boat! This is the future. Social networking is what people want and it’s the future of getting our films seen. As we move even faster into the world of VOD and instant updates, the time to learn is now!
I hear a lot of filmmakers complaining about how time consuming social networking can be. But I say that you’re looking at it in the wrong way. Social networking is just part of the indie filmmakers’ repertoire now. If you don’t have that skill, them you’ll surely drown! They didn’t teach me this in film school, but they taught me to be flexible and keep an open mind. I believe it’s a very exciting time for filmmakers right now, if you can adapt quickly enough.
Looking to back a great film? "Feast of the Foolish" is a high-concept short period thriller to be shot on the RED camera and possibly the RED Epic. Think Carnivale meets Big Fish meets Deadwood. Set in the gangster era of the 1930s and 1940s, this uniquely stylized film provides suspense, mystery, love, and betrayal. “Feast of the Foolish” is a true independent production. Donating to this project is directly supporting the indie filmmaking community. Our campaign ends this Sunday, May 1st! If you’re interested in donating, please go to www.indiegogo.com/Feast-of-the-Foolish and www.FeastoftheFoolish.com.)
Meg Pinsonneault is an award-winning filmmaker/screenwriter in the LA area and a crowd-funding veteran. She is known for her enthusiastic and contagious dedication to indie and DIY filmmaking. She is the co-founder of Weird Pixel and the director/producer of the upcoming feature documentary, Gwapa (Beautiful). In the filmmaker’s own words, “Where there is a camera, there is a way.” Follow Meg on Twitter and on Facebook.
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