The Worst Case Scenario: Confessions of a Failed Crowdfunder




A friend of mine likes to say a mistake is only a failure if you don’t learn from it. I feel pretty confident there aren’t any mistakes a person can make crowdfunding that I avoided during our first Indiegogo attempt to raise $50,000 for the short film GABRIELLA’S AMERICAN; raising less than five hundred dollars in 30 days. With over 2,700 unique visitors to the crowdfunding page, not a single dollar came from anybody we didn’t know. Fortunately, the project has other funding to make sure we get it shot and edited by the late deadline for Toronto International Film Festival, and I came away from it all with valuable experience I would not hesitate to try again after learning from my mistakes.

Crowdfunding is a terrific opportunity to engage a potential audience and build a fan base for your film, however, there are certain unwritten rules nobody tells you about you can only gain through experience. These unwritten rules I learned the hard way seem to fall under three main categories; choosing the right project, setting a realistic fundraising goal; and proper pre-launch preparation.  I think they’re all equally important and interrelated, a deficit in one possible to overcome by strength in another.

Like it or not, crowdfunding is a pop culture phenomenon and when in Rome, they say, the dumber the project the better. I made the mistake of going with an artsy World War II short film with a female teen heroine that was highly unlikely to interest modern, predominantly male social media geeks. Donors make decisions to back projects in nanoseconds, my next crowdfunding project I would choose a straightforward comedy, horror or documentary.

My second big mistake was setting an unrealistic fundraising goal. Even if a project needed $50,000, I would break it down into five smaller campaigns to handle different aspects of production, pre-production, filming, post-production, distribution, etc. People are far more likely to donate after others have donated and the campaign is not foundering hopelessly at 1% for weeks. I have heard from different sources you need between 20-30% of your contributions lined up from your own contacts. To make matters worse, I committed the cardinal sin of accepted contributions off-line from people who didn’t want to be identified online. Those funds would have paid dividends by helping to move the contributions bar.

There is a lot of information and advice online about crowdfunding available online, but one bit of advice that cannot be repeated often enough is how essential it is to begin a social media campaign prior to a crowdfunding campaign. I literally joined Twitter the same day I went live with the Indiegogo campaign, thinking to myself there’s millions of people on Twitter, how hard can it be? How far in advance you should start your preparation depends on the amount being sought, but should not only include time to build up Twitter followers and Facebook Likes, but to have time to interact with these people and get to know them a little bit. Never having used Twitter before, a friend told me to look at Twitter like you’re in a big bar. There’s people you swap chit-chat and jokes with in passing, then there’s people you come to know a little better and would gather at the table with. Attempting to add Twitter followers during my crowdfunding campaign was a disaster. I will leave you to imagine how popular the guy is in a bar going around to complete strangers asking if they can spare a couple of bucks.



A strong-willed teenage girl in Occupied France defies her entire village in an attempt to save a wounded American flyer from the Nazis

To add one last insult to the injury of my failed crowdfunding campaign, my campaign had the dubious distinction of starting a couple days before ‘Veronica Mars Movie’ launched on Kickstarter, sending me through all the stages of grief in a single day. At first denial, then hope some of the media attention would somehow filter down to other campaigns, and finally acceptance nobody who watches Veronica Mars is even aware there was a Second World War. Despite such notable exceptions, I don’t see crowdfunding being used to fund features unless you had an enormous existing fanbase, in which case you probably wouldn’t need funding. Especially with equity crowdfunding on the horizon. In my opinion it can fill the gap between no-budget films and six-figure features that didn’t exist before, giving beginning filmmakers an opportunity to get real-world experience with a film big enough to have a budget to show potential producers or investors to help secure funding for bigger projects.





The project has 15 year-old acting sensation Jolie Vanier attached to play the lead role of Gabriella and her father will be played by French actor Fabrice Mougas. Although the cast speaks French, the film will be in English other than some German by Mark Alexander Herz, the imposing tough guy who plays the German SS officer sent to find the American. The dramatic conclusion is an outdoor scene to be filmed at a Los Angeles area movie ranch with authentic World War II German military vehicles. Gabriella’s American takes place in wartime, but there is no shooting or explosions, it is a moral dilemma faced by a young woman determined to do the right thing while everyone around her wants to do the easy thing.

The short is intended for the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, and hopes to make the July 12 late deadline for the finished film.