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An Inside Look at a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

An Inside Look at a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

Having managed or consulted on a number of ambitious crowdfunding campaigns, I have found that almost nothing can prepare someone for how fully they will have to immerse themselves in the process to succeed. I’ve written here about my own experiences raising over $150,000 to shoot the second season of my web series EastSiders and I also interviewed Casper Andreas about our campaign for Kiss Me, Kill Me after it blew past its $100,000 goal, but I haven’t written about the process from the trenches before. What’s life really look like in the final week of a campaign? I caught up with Retake producer Sean Mandell to talk about his sugar diet, sleep habits and strategies. 

Retake is the story of a young male prostitute (played by Luke Pasqualino from Skins and The Musketeers) who is hired to go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon by a lonely older man and act out the memories and fantasies from a trip in his past. The film tackles questions of identity, memory and the fragility of human connections. 

I was very fortunate to have Sean on my team as an associate producer on the second season of my LGBT web series EastSiders, and now I count myself fortunate to be a part of his team as a consulting producer on Retake

This is the type of edgy, artistic film that Kickstarter was built for—the industry has made it clear that the only way we are going to see stories like this told is by making them a reality ourselves. In the end, the film managed 910 backers and passed its $75,000 goal by over $5,000.  To find out more about the project you can visit their website www.retakethemovie.com.  

KIT: What is currently on your night stand?

SEAN: A box of Entemann’s, ibuprofen, anti-anxiety meds, and a half-full Vanilla Coke.

KIT: How many hours are you sleeping?

SEAN: On average around 4. I’m usually up between 5 and 7 am depending on the day and how late I was up the night before. There have been many all-nighters as well. It’s like college.

KIT: You mentioned Entemann’s. What are your eating habits like these days?

SEAN: I consist almost entirely of sugar. I’m pretty much destined to have a massive sugar crash once this campaign ends. I’ve already booked a stay at Passages. I’m averaging about 4 espressos a day, 1-2 red bulls, and a soda or 2 as well. Some days eating is not an option. It is very bad when those days happen to be days you’re supposed to be having a fundraising party and drinking alcohol.

KIT: Walk us through the campaign so far. What’s this rollercoaster been like?

SEAN: Rollercoaster is definitely the right word to describe this process. It’s like Space Mountain. You can’t see the majority of the turns, dips and climbs ahead of time. No matter how much you have prepared and planned out your campaign, there are always unexpected challenges and hurdles that make you feel like you could lose your lunch at any moment. 

KIT: What was your first day like? 

SEAN: Our base of operations (a.k.a. my living room) was truly a war room that day. We wanted and needed to have a strong first day or else we knew we would be dead in the water and written off completely.  We wanted to raise 10% in the first day and thankfully, we exceeded that. It was thrilling. 

KIT: Where are you now in the process and how are you feeling?

SEAN: We are approaching the final three days. The pace of the campaign is relentless. It’s a marathon but you have to be running almost at a sprint the entire time. The middle was definitely the hardest. We had been warned that fundraising would slump around this time but no one can really prepare you for the intense marrow-deep feelings of doubt and fear that consume you. Thankfully, we are coming out of that slump and have seen our fundraising efforts spike as we entered the home stretch of the campaign.

KIT: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?

SEAN: Being a small team has definitely proven a challenge. The number of tasks we have to do on any given day always exceeds the amount of manpower we have in our arsenal. 

KIT: I always advise Kickstarters to build a team of committed individuals beyond the main producers / content creators as soon as possible. The only way to tell if you have the right size team is through trial and error, because different team members will have different levels of commitment to the campaign. 

SEAN: As we got started, we quickly realized we needed more help and brought on new individuals to execute our plans and help us accomplish our campaign objectives. Not having our full cast assembled by the time we launched our Kickstarter also hindered us in a way because it left some creative elements up in the air that, had they been cemented, could have been used to generate buzz and funding. 

KIT: You want the fundraising process to serve the project, not the other way around, but you have to present a compelling package to your backers to get them on board.

SEAN: Balancing casting with Kickstarter in the indie film world is very often a catch 22. Some actors don’t want to be involved in productions that are not fully funded. Yet, in order to get funded, many projects need talent attached to prove the viability and audience potential for that project. We’ve been fortunate enough to find a core group of actors who are passionate about our story and who have generously shared their support for Retake.

KIT: Kickstarting film projects (as opposed to ongoing web projects, for example) can also be challenging because you don’t have a built in audience or following. Films seeking Kickstarter funding often don’t have a finished product to reference when pitching potential backers. How did you combat this? 

SEAN: We’ve worked around this by creating a full sizzle reel, which is essentially concept footage that gives viewers a taste of what our end product will be. This is a highly effective tool for filmmakers. So many people have seen the sizzle reel and said to us, “I can see the movie you’re making. I get it.” The more you can do to help people get it, the better. 

KIT: We’ve talked about the challenges you’ve faced— what advantages does your project have?

SEAN: As hard as it is to get funding for LGBT projects in the mainstream, being an LGBT project is helpful in the online crowdfunding world because there is a specific audience already in place that is interested in seeing and supporting films of this genre. 

KIT: I agree. I’ve written a lot about this subject—I love the fact that the financing challenges that independent LGBT projects have is igniting a crowdfunding movement with more and more projects being green-lit everyday. 

Having a director who is an established filmmaker who tells LGBT stories doesn’t hurt either. Nick Corporon’s short films have played at over 60 film festivals worldwide and won several awards including audience awards. As much as you can, you want to make clear that your team is passionate about film and has been working tirelessly towards this next step you are now taking. Bringing on a lead actor that has an existing fan base and following has also helped build support, buzz and momentum for our project. Especially since he will be playing a role that is a departure from his existing body of work.

KIT: How did you prepare for your campaign?

SEAN: We spent a great deal of time researching other Kickstarter videos and campaigns, seeing what worked and what didn’t and then tried to imagine any ways in which we could reinvent the wheel so to speak.

We also reached out to other individuals (such as yourself) for advise who have been on the Kickstarter journey before. Using this advise, we strategized a press outreach plan, set up our social presence, started building a social following, and effectively hyped our launch.

KIT: Every project is different and the internet is a constantly changing and evolving organism. What works for one campaign might not work for another, but what strategies and initiatives have worked well for you?

SEAN: I think timed promotions have worked out really well for us. We did a special selfie give-away to every donor who donated during a certain window that people responded well to. We also just had an anonymous angel donor offer to match all donations made during the course of the entire weekend.

KIT: What hasn’t really worked? 

SEAN: Given that our campaign was happening close to the holiday season we tried to roll out some promotions that were specifically linked to the holidays—Black Friday promotions for example. Those didn’t really work for us and ended up being somewhat of a distraction to the personal outreach at the core of our strategy.

KIT: I think a lot of people focus on the splashy success stories because they want to avoid the legwork that goes into most campaigns—writing to everyone you’ve ever met and being humble enough to ask for help. 

SEAN: It isn’t an easy thing to do, but if you care enough about the project it’s worth it. 

KIT: What has been the most surprising thing about the Kickstarter experience?

SEAN: The unbridled support and love we’ve received from both friends and total strangers. I can’t describe the feeling you get when someone you haven’t spoken to in years is willing to go to the mattresses for you and your project. It’s of course a testament to your friendship and their kindness, but also to the project. It reminds you how exciting it is to be able to share your work with others.

KIT: What advise do you have from the trenches for other filmmakers considering a large crowdfunding campaign?

SEAN: As much as you can, get your ducks in a row before you launch your campaign. Identify the audience that will want to back your project and start outreach early so they have an awareness of what you’re doing with plenty of time to fall in love with your project and plenty of time to support it. Beyond that, I think it comes down to making sure you are deeply passionate about what you’re working on. People can tell when your passion is real and, hopefully, passion is infectious.

To learn more about Retake, please visit www.retakethemovie.com.

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