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Didn’t I know that running a crowdfunding campaign was no easy task? I knew that choosing to launch a campaign would be a great risk but it was something I had to do, especially after losing a major producer weeks before we launched. If we hadn’t launched our campaign, our film would have been at a standstill for another year or two. Imagine that!
I also knew there were both motivators and de-motivators to consider before launching a crowdfunding campaign. Let’s talk about the motivators first.
• Launching a crowdfunding campaign gives your project visibility. It doesn’t just give the campaign visibility but it also gives your project visibility to the press, potential investors, film festival programmers, distributors (e.g., theatrical, DVD, and On Demand), and moviegoers about your scheduled release. This can work wonders, if according to Stacey Parks at Film Specific, you clearly announce in your campaign when your film is expected to be released, where you plan to shoot, and etc. Notice below how our crowdfunding campaign garnered the attention of The Huffington Post and Shadow & Act below (and the film isn’t even released yet):
Gratefully, our campaign was also announced in AfterEllen.com, Elixher, and many other established blogs and e-zines, which cater to our niche.
Luckily, we also got a few retweets from Frameline and Boston LGBT Film Fest, where our short (also of the same title) premiered. And what could be better than getting a retweet from Jon Reiss, king of the Think Outside the Box model (a model I have studied by the way) who is currently in the midst of his own crowdfunding campaign for BOMB IT 2:
• Launching your campaign allows your to raise money fairly quickly but, in order to do this, you must know your targeted demographic and your rewards must appeal to them and to your investors. Launching a campaign, then, allows you (if you raise all of the funds) to go into production immediately after raising funding. I can’t begin to tell you how many projects I’ve supported on Kickstarter (e.g., Ryan Koo’s Man-Child, Dee Rees’ Pariah, The Last Fall, Jenni Olson’s The Royal Road, Olympia Dukakis, Whoopi Goldberg’s Mom’s Mabley Documentary, Gary Goldstein’s Writer’s Guide to Hollywood, Jeanne B’s Impasse, 99% Occupy Wall Street Documentary, Aurora Guerrero’s Mosquita y Mari, and Issa Rae’s Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, to name a few) which went into production immediately after their launch; this includes trailers and/or a short film about their feature before their scheduled releases. Hopefully, with our own kickstarter campaign, we do the same. All of these are excellent promotion opportunities.
• If you love networking and meeting new people, you can communicate directly with future film festival goers via the crowdfunding site and continue to build your fan base. I never liked the term fan base, but it’s a guaranteed fact that if individuals like you and your project, they will support your efforts. Also, if you learn how to collaborate and bring other people on board your project who may not specialize in what you do, you can help to advance each other’s goal. Ted Hope reminds us that in today’s digital age, indie filmmakers must develop new pitches and learn to collaborate to succeed. Find out more about pitching in the digital era in Ted Hope’s Blog. No one gets anywhere alone. Indie filmmaking is a collaborative activity supported by the community and we must never forget that it takes a village to produce an indie film.
• Launching a campaign enables us to tap into our niche world audience. But we must know our niche world audience to ensure that our films get seen. Ted Hope reminds us that it’s not enough for a film to get made. We must ensure that our films are seen after they are released. This is the new task for indie filmmakers. And that is why really effective social marketing, as well as the launch of your campaign, can help to attract new supporters. Remember that gratitude goes a long way. Don’t forget it while you’re out raising funds. Thank people. Send personalized emails. They love this. And you’ll feel better.
Okay, we’ve talked about some motivators. Now, let’s talk about what can possibly de-motivate someone from launching a campaign. Yeah, I know. The possibilities are endless, but don’t get frustrated just yet.
CROWD FUNDING DE-MOTIVATORS
• Launching a campaign is time consuming. Do note that if you happen to be the “campaign manager” (and you must assign roles to your crowdfund staff), you will not have a life while your crowdfunding campaign is active. Of course, you may find time to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, walk your dog and say hello to your housemates and children, but you will be glued to your computer screen studying your crowdfund analytics and marketing via social media. Interns are helpful here. Get some before you begin and consider offering them a Special Thank You IMDb credit. They’ll thank you for it down the line.
• Time on task is essential and running a campaign means you must also respond to administrative tasks and needs. This includes keeping track of incoming donations via paypal and kickstarter. It also includes sending-up emails and thank you’s, retweeting supporters and backers, answering questions from backers, and following up with the press.
• If you’re not organized and do not have a strategy of getting seen, a crowdfunding campaign can lead to your campaign’s demise. I’d recommend creating a Project File in Dropbox or Google Docs and sharing it with your campaign peeps. Do note that, as far as we know it, Google Docs is free for now so use it to your advantage. You can include subfolders in these files so everyone who is a part of your team can access them. Suggested folders include but are certainly not limited to: Press Releases, Kickstarter Strategy, Community Partners, Screenplay, Treatment, Cast, Crew, Budget, PayPal Donors, etc). Spreadsheets work wonders here. You’ll need to keep track of names, titles, emails, and contact information. It would be lovely if the crowdfunding site developed automatic Excel sheets for you.
This stands to be seen once we finish our campaign.
• Nothing is free these days (was it ever?) and you should note that there are a few fees to consider before selecting a crowdfund option. Here are the current fees for a few sites:
• Artists must be incredibly savvy and know their targeted niche less they stand to lose all of their funds they raised if they don’t meet their targeted goal by a specified date.
• Donor credit cards are debited only at the end of fundraising period; e.g., at the end of 30 or 60 days).
• If a project is successfully funded, Kickstarter applies a 5% fee to the funds collected.
• Artists retain all funds even if they don’t meet their targeted goal by a specified date.
•Donor cards are debited immediately at the time of a pledge.
• Indiegogo keeps 4% of your collected funds after your campaign is finished.
Go Fund Me
• Donors don’t need an account. Donors pay directly with their debit or credit cards.
• Go Fund Me charges a 5% fee from each donation you receive. If you don’t receive any donations, then you won’t pay anything at all.
• You’ll have to add your crowdfunding totals to your taxes at the end of the year so if you launch your campaign in November, just remember that come tax time, you’ll be paying “the Man.” Better to launch at the early part of the year than the latter. One thing you should also consider is that according to Section 181, a domestic incentive program, investors can now write-off contributions to a feature films in their taxes. Find out more via this PDF here or via Film Specific’s On Demand Seminar with Corky Kessler, an outstanding entertainment attorney who is also on board my feature film called The Postwoman Movie. Kessler co-authored the bill.
• Third party fees can also get expensive. Supporters who are not familiar with crowdfunding sites may feel uncomfortable using the site and may opt to use Paypal. Just know that when you use Paypal, further deductions are taken from their original pledge. This includes the cost to send the funds to you and the cost to transfer the funds either to your campaign or account. I do recommend having a PayPal option. If you feel so inclined, invite people to send you a money order or check to your postal box for we know that campaigns do not end after a crowdfund launch and there is always an opportunity to collect more precious funds from potential investors, gratefully. I’ve encouraged any backers who want to support my campaign for the Postwoman Movie to donate via my Paypal Link.
Below are a few other tips I’d recommend to gain visibility for your project.
BEGIN BRANDING FOR YOUR PROJECT
• You should consider branding your film long before you launch your campaign. Your image, font, and key message should be consistent across all social media platforms. Here are some examples:
LEARN TO WRITE A PRESS RELEASE
• What good is a crowdfunding campaign if no one knows about it? Every filmmaker should understand the value of a Press Release and how it functions. Publicityinsider.com provides great tips on writing a press release. You can also study the press releases of other organizations. At the very least, your press release should provide the title of your organization, date and location, the focus of the project, its background and value to the public, key players involved, and details about the specified project or event. It should also include your contact information at the very bottom. Once you get your press release finished, add your company logo to it, convert it to PDF and email it to the Press. Who knows? You may get featured on Huffington Post, GLAAD, Shadow & Act, and several other news blogs like we did. Save time by hiring a PR person. It is impossible to do everything alone.
MAKE YOUR UPDATES ENGAGING
• Transparency is key. Your donors are not only excited about your project, but they are especially excited about the director and crew behind the project so keep them updated on what’s happening with their money. According to Turnstylenews.com, your supporters become more engaged the more updates you have. Plan them in advance to keep folks on the edge of their seats. Find out more here. Jon Reiss, in his Update #2 for his backers, for instance, suggested tweets for his followers to use in their campaigns. They are as follows:
WATCH FILM COURAGE’S INSPIRATIONAL CROWDFUNDING VIDEO ON YOUTUBE:
• The video below is very helpful. It’s about an hour long but full of insightful feedback from filmmakers who launched crowdfunding campaigns. It also includes clips from Sheri Candler (marketing and publicity guru), Adam Chapnick (Principal/Evangelist at Indiegogo), and many more:
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF• Not everyone will believe in your project but you can’t let that stop you. You are the one who has the most passion about this project so don’t let any naysayers distract you. You won’t get anywhere in life if you take “no” for an answer and stop doing what you love simply because someone says, “This is impossible. No one will want to see your film.” Nothing is impossible! If you operate from a state of lack, you won’t get anywhere. However, if you operate from a state of abundance, you will learn that we attract to us all of the teachers, leaders, and experiences that we can ever need. This is the Divine Law and includes attracting funding for our projects. Keep affirmations around you, meditate when you can to stay centered and balanced, and avoid doubt. It’s a nasty word. Stay motivated with the blogs of Suzanne Lyons or Ted Hope. Study the trades as well as Shadow & Act (Cinema of the African Diaspora) and boxofficemojo.com.
• Top Kickstarter Projects of All Time (Crowdfunding Forum)
• Indiegogo’s Top 12 Campaigns of 2012 (Indiegogo)
• Ten Best Indiegogo Projects to Date (Heavy)
• Crowdfunding 101: Ten Things You Must Do (Turnstyle News)
• Crowdfunding 201: Three Things We Must Never Speak of Again (Turnstyle News)
• Become a member of Film Specific and get more savvy about marketing, pitching, and distribution.As you can see, launching a crowdfunding campaign is no an easy task and certainly not for the faint at heart, especially if you are a first time director and still building your supportive base. But it can be done. Now granted, I’m no Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg, Amanda Palmer, or Jon Reiss with a hugely expansive established supportive base. I’m still developing that base using many of their models. What I have been doing, however, is nurturing and building relationships with industry partners over time. This will no doubt be extremely helpful in the near future. I’m glad I’ve stayed down to earth and I’m grateful for these key friendships.Launching a crowdfunding campaign is akin to running a 5k race. No, I’ve never ran a 5k race before. I haven’t even ran a 1k race before! But I sure love to walk them. Hey, they don’t call me J.D. Walker for nothing. Preparation is key. If it’s of any use to you, keep this inspirational quote from James Baldwin on your wall:
“Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck — but, most of all, endurance.”
Never give up!
MY CAMPAIGN ON KICKSTARTER ENDS AUGUST 6 (PLEASE SUPPORT!):
• My crowdfunding campaign for THE POSTWOMAN MOVIE , an indie family drama featured in The Huffington Post and IndieWire, ends in less than 5 days.
• I’m searching for at least 500 more people to become backers. Won’t you join us?
• And watch my final kickstarter plea when you get a chance:
Help J.D.’S crowdfunding campaign for THE POSTWOMAN MOVIE become successful by donating here!
JD Walker is raising production expenses on Kickstarter for THE POSTWOMAN MOVIE (2014), a romantic drama about a single mom who gains independence after developing the courage to confront her children and dysfunctional family about her secret life with another woman. Originally trained as an actress, Walker is the 2013 Sundance Pitching Contest Winner for her second feature, a biopic set in Chicago. Her first feature script, “The Postwoman” earned Honorable Mention in the Sundance Table Read My Screenplay Contest. Walker graduated cum laude from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Drama and has both an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Howard. Her first short (produced at Qwocmap) screened at Frameline, Out in Film, The Boston LGBT Film Festival, Reel Sistas of the African Diaspora and several other festivals. “The Postwoman” Movie (2014) is her debut feature.