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The 21 Secrets to the Success of the Kickstarter Oscar Campaign

Photo of Dana Harris By Dana Harris | Indiewire July 11, 2011 at 4:33AM

Last week we announced the new lineup of documentaries for the International Documentary Association's annual DocuWeeks showcase.
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This picture is worth $37,000: The Kickstarter campaign for "Dying to Do Letterman" is on track to meet its goal in short order: In the first two days, producers Joke and Biagio had already reached $20,000.

Last week we announced the new lineup of documentaries for the International Documentary Association's annual DocuWeeks showcase.

But, to be honest, we buried the lead.

Because while it's definitely an honor to be one of the 17 features selected -- and the program does an extraordinary service in providing docs with that week-long Oscar-qualifying run -- all that glory comes at a price.

To be exact, about $37,000.

That's what DocuWeek filmmakers need to help defray the costs of a week-long screening at the Sunset Laemmle 5, along with associated promotional costs.

So, Joke and Biagio, the directors and producers of DocuWeeks participant "Dying to Do Letterman," did what any enterprising filmmaker does when confronted with an impossible financial goal: They turned to crowdfunding.

On July 6, the day of the IDA announcement, they set up a Kickstarter campaign with a $37,000 goal. Two days later, they'd already earned $20,000. At this writing they're on the cusp of $30,000, with nearly two months to go before their September 4 deadline.

While it's always nice to see an indie filmmaker make good, it's even better when you can understand how. And for this one there's so much analysis around their success that it's almost impossible not to understand it.

Cinespin (a blog that analyzes emerging funding, marketing and distribution for independent filmmakers -- and a new Indiewire must-read) breaks down what they've done right:

They’re not assuming everyone knows how Kickstarter works. And they’re not relying on Kickstarter’s fine FAQs to do the work for them (as that would take users off their page and into mindless surfing land). Instead, they’ve created their own very clear, succinct explanation of how the system works, right on the page, keeping the user engaged.
They make the concept of escalating rewards very clear. The more a supporter donates, the more cool stuff they get. And the graphic clearly explains that at-a-glance. For the uninitiated, that’s an important graphic that makes the donation/reward process easy to understand.

They focus on conversions, not big donations. Letting people participate at the very minimum level of one dollar means donors are eased into the psychology of giving, at a price point that feels comfortable and reasonable. Once they’re thinking about giving, perhaps they’ll think about giving more. And if not, just getting that first conversion – even for one dollar – is extraordinarily valuable for the filmmaker. Because now, they’ve opened a dialogue with another supporter, who has a connection to their project. They may tell others, they may Tweet about their donation, they may encourage friends and family to contribute, and because the filmmaker can now nurture that relationship and stay in touch with this qualified lead (nay, existing customer), they can keep them updated and perhaps generate additional support from them as they get closer to their goal. Had the minimum been $5, that donor may have walked away. Creating that connection is worth the $4 lost.

They include lots of testimonials. People like to belong, and they like to know that other people — maybe other people who know more than they do — think the project is worth supporting. Quotes and testimonials that qualify the project, from reputable sources, go a long way toward instilling confidence in a prospective donor.

They used the FAQs. The FAQ function provided by Kickstarter is a great tool to provide extra information for that methodical user … the one who takes time to read and research … yet it’s presented in a nice expanding CSS format, so initially it’s not too much daunting content. It’s a nice easy-to-read list, that lets the user choose how much content they want to see. And note that the producers use it to further explain where your money will be going and why it’s important.

They respond to comments. They maintain the conversation, by keeping an eye on the comments section of their Kickstarter page, and responding to their supporters. Sure, they’re going to send a reward to every donor anyway, but again, it’s about nurturing relationships, staying humble, and showing appreciation. We learned about saying Thank You in Kindergarten. It’s still important.

They keep it fresh. The producers are posting regular updates to their page, including video (everybody love video – it’s shiny, and it’s noisy) and they’re using them to say thanks, to share knowledge (links to books they’ve found helpful), and just generally keep the page fresh and interesting.

They give back. They’ve posted links to the graphic files they’ve created for their own campaign, for other Kickstarter users to download and use. They understand the community, and they want to nurture a culture of giving. Because in the end, it’s good for everyone.

[Additional hat tip to Crowdfundinghelp]

Not to be outdone, the producers themselves assembled a give-back (one in a series) that breaks down the 14 Blog Posts That Helped Us Launch Our Kickstarter Campaign. Among the sites they cite are Sheri Candler, Kickstarter proper, Vanadia, Rooftop Films, Justin Kownacki, John August, Chip Street and our own Ted Hope.

So for this Kickstarter project, we're not sure which is more impressive: Raising such a substantial amount of money in such a short period of time, or the motherlode of crowdfunding tips that have swiftly flowed back as a result.

So, you tell us: How helpful is this case study for your own projects?

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit