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Are You Really Ready to Crowdfund? Here Are 8 Tips from Filmmakers Who've Been There

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | feelingsoblahg.blogspot.com April 30, 2012 at 1:3PM

We've all heard how great crowdfunding can be for filmmakers.  Some filmmakers struggle to juggle freelance gigs while they're trying to get their own film made.  A cool $20,000 gives them time away from scrounging for spare change. It's opening up funding streams that never existed before.  When was the last time you or your friends funded a creative project financially before Kickstarter or Indiegogo?
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The Indiegogo logo.

We've all heard how great crowdfunding can be for filmmakers.  Some filmmakers struggle to juggle freelance gigs while they're trying to get their own film made.  A cool $20,000 gives them time away from scrounging for spare change. It's opening up funding streams that never existed before.  When was the last time you or your friends funded a creative project financially before Kickstarter or Indiegogo?

Many low-level funders will give $25 to a film they haven't even seen yet over the $12 for a movie ticket, $8 for a digital download or $20 for a DVD, just to feel they helped a film come into being.

But in the end, is crowdfunding worth it?

When we took to a group of filmmakers, the answer, especially without a national film fund in this country, seemed to be "Yes!"  Indiewire asked a few of our filmmaker friends who have crowdfunded and some friends who follow crowdfunding with a careful eye to offer up anonymous advice to filmmakers considering a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign.  While they didn't agree on everything, we've simmered their comments down to eight helpful hints to keep in mind when considering or preparing for a crowdfunding campaign.

Be prepared:  Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and credit card companies do take a cut!  (Yes, we know it says this when you sign up...but some filmmakers are too busy to read all the fine print!)

An industry insider who is a Kickstarter fan told us, "It does drive me slightly crazy that filmmakers always complain about sticker shock at the end of a campaign.  Know how much the crowdfunding platform takes, know how much Amazon or whatever payment provider they use takes and do the math. They're not ripping you off (at least Kickstarter and Indiegogo aren't, as far as I know), they're providing a service which you pay them for through the percentage they take, and you can choose whether to use that service or not."

"It's actually been an insanely useful tool for getting new partners on board."

Don't be afraid to talk about Kickstarter in press or in public... even the best are doing it.

One producer told us, "I wasn't prepared to talk about the Kickstarter in press.  I didn't think this would become part of the story. But it's actually been an insanely useful tool for getting new partners on board."  A documentary director added, "Someone made an offhand comment, during the campaign, which they meant to be supportive, about how artists shouldn't have to experience that level of humiliation of trying to get donors, but I didn't feel that way. It sucks that we in the U.S. don't really support the arts, that we don't have state film funds the way some other countries do, but directors and producers always have, as part of their job been asking, pitching, reaching out. I liked the democratizing of the process."

No one wants to be "almost there" and lose it all on Kickstarter.

As you probably know, Kickstarter campaigns that don't make their goal simply don't get funded.  An indie producer we talked to had a suggestion: "I think I should have done some initial outreach to ensure that we had a 'gap' funder, in case we were within reach of our goal at the very end but not quite there. You want to know you have a big funder that can contribute when it makes sense."

Sure, these sites will help strangers find your project (and it's often lucrative!) but it's also about giving a platform for friends and family to know you're serious about this.

Many of our respondents told us that most of their support came from friends and family, and from direct asks in general (personal e-mails, Facebook messages, phone calls and in-person reminders).

A feature narrative producer put it in perspective, "On the week that one best friend announced her engagement and another the birth of her first-born, asking for money for my film felt like the episode of 'Sex and the City' where Carrie creates a registry for shoes. Crowdfunding becomes trickier the more projects you are attached to, the novelty gets lost and your family starts to wonder if you could only put as much energy into producing offspring.  Beyond your family, asking for money is also awkward when all your friends are struggling artists themselves but I do wonder how much more we could have raised if we had strong-armed a few more people!"

And, often, most of your friends and family have never heard of crowdfunding.

A crowdfunding consultant for a film told us, "There's a whole world of people out there who have never even heard the word 'crowdfunding.' For our project, many of our contributors set up profiles in order to donate, and only contributed to our project. If you find a way to reach the broader community, outside of filmmakers, you will not only raise more money, you'll also find and connect with your audience well in advance of your release."

Have a few project updates (videos and letters) ready before you launch your campaign.

The consultant explained to us, "I wish someone had told me more about 'update' strategy. It's hard to decide if you should plan updates in advance or think of them on the fly. It can be a lot of work to produce a short video overnight, and by the time it's done, it might not even be relevant anymore. Timing is tricky, so it's good to think about the types of updates you want to have ahead of time and to think about if rewards should be paired with them and/or if videos are necessary or even add anything to the update."

"I didn't realize how long it really takes to send a separate email to everyone I know."

The doc director added, "Have emails ready to send out on the first two days. It took me a really long time to send out the first emails. I didn't realize how long it really takes to send a separate email to everyone I know."

Sure, it's as much work as a job, but so is raising money for a film any way you slice it.

"I thought of it like this: there are so many grants I've applied to," the doc director told Indiewire.  "It's a lot of work to apply for a grant, and you send out the applications, and a few months later you (mostly) get a rejection letter. This was like a grant -- actually my campaign raised slightly more than, say, the Sundance grant gives (or so I've read!) -- but I got to make it happen by engaging in an active process as opposed to the passivity of waiting for a granting organization to reject your film (or once in a great, great while, support it.)"

You have to do something to justify people supporting your project over others!

A documentary producer told us, "You have to be very aggressive about getting the word out about the campaign day after day. You need great incentives and fresh reasons why people should give you their 10, 25, 50 dollars instead of someone else. Otherwise you'll get lost in the shuffle.

"I think crowdfunding is still a viable model for some projects that already have a strong, built-in fan-base, or campaigns that create a really strong incentive or angle for giving. But in general, yes -- I do think there's crowdfunding fatigue, especially in this economy. I see a lot of projects out there really struggling to meet their goals."

This article is related to: Features, Crowd Funding, Kickstarter , IndieGoGo , Filmmaker Forum