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Attention, Documentary Filmmakers: Tips on How to Succeed on Kickstarter

Attention, Documentary Filmmakers: Tips on How to Succeed on Kickstarter

The filmmakers
behind “Do I Sound Gay?” (David Thorpe), “I Am Big Bird: The
Caroll Spinney Story” (Chad Walker and Dave LaMatina) and “Top
Spin” (Mina T. Son and Sara Newens) successfully raised money for their documentaries on
Kickstarter. They shared what they learned in the process at the “Fund Your Doc: Lessons In Creative
Funding & Audience Building” panel at DOC NYC on Nov. 19.

Kickstarter’s Dan
Schoenbrun centered the conversation on these three stages: Project Video,
Rewards and Updates using the three DOC NYC films as examples.

READ MORE: The 2014 DOC NYC Bible

Director and
journalist David Thorpe, who directed “Do I Sound Gay?” recalled making his hilarious project video while
“wearing his swag” (a bright pink promotional T-shirt of his film) at the
IFC Center. “It was clear we wanted to do something
that made you feel like you were involved in the making of the film, because
ultimately, that’s what Kickstarter is about.” Thorpe’s campaign raised $120,573 with 1,968 backers passing its $115,000 goal.

But you don’t have to
use colorful sartorial pieces or snappy one-liners to promote your
project according to Thorpe: “I have seen a lot of Kickstarter campaigns
where it’s clear the director should not be pitching the film…. So I would say,
if you’re not charismatic in front of the camera, regardless of how you are
off-camera, I’d find someone who is or I would use the footage.”

For the “Top Spin” campaign, Son and Newens offered signed ping pong balls, a match with
the film’s subjects and a private party at SPiN as an incentive to sustain the
fundraising momentum: “I think it’s natural for most campaigns, maybe you
can attest to this [addressing Thorpe who agreed]  there’s a lull in the middle there, there’s a
lot of excitement in the beginning and then of course at the end, because
people really rally and want you to meet your goal, but in the middle, it’s a
lot harder. We tried to come up with creative things to gain more interest,” Newens said.

Newens highlighted the
success of a limited time offer on their Kickstarter campaign, in which a donor
matched a backer’s pledge.”One thing that we did which was really
effective I thought, we had for a limited period of time matching donor. That
really reinvigorated the campaign,” noted Newens. “Top Spin”
raised $26,100 during the first campaign which had a goal of $20,000, while the
second campaign raised $75,775 with 589 backers.

Son encouraged people to look at the average
pledge level when deciding how to price rewards.

Thorpe, Son and Newens agreed that offering
Producer credits as a backer reward is popular. “If you’re not in the film
world, that’s something that I think is attractive, although a little
controversial, it was something that was very popular,” said Son.

Though the “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll
Spinney Story” filmmakers could not make it to the event due to a urgent
matter, Schoenbrun said of the team’s approach to updates which used videos and celebrity clout to spread the
word: “You can’t just be asking, you need to be engaging and having
conversations that are interesting to your audience.” He also noted that “they
used their updates to engage long after the Kickstarter campaign had

Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story”
raked in $124,114 from 1,976
backers well exceeding the initial $100,000 goal.

On the all-or-nothing funding site, it
pays to use content creatively, and make it worth sharing so you can reach as
many potential backers as possible. “I would always be personal in your
outreach, that’s a huge thing for me. No one wants to feel like they are
getting a blast that’s been sent to every other organization, and the nation,” said Schoenbrun. Son concluded the discussion by saying: “If you do
the work, you will succeed.” Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee.

READ MORE: Sundance Selects Picks Up DOC NYC Opener “Do I Sound Gay?”

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