In July, “Lazer Team,” the first feature film by Rooster Teeth Productions, made crowdfunding history. The film’s Indiegogo campaign raised $2,480,421 in funding from 37,497 funders, becoming the most funded film campaign in the site’s history, far exceeding its initial $650,000 goal. Even more impressive, the campaign managed to hit its goal within 10 hours and passed the $1 million mark within 24 hours.
So, of course, the natural question is: how’d they do it?
Indiewire recently spoke with Matt Hullum, CEO of Rooster Teeth Productions and director of “Lazer Teeth” and Rooster Teeth Creative Director Burnie Burns to find out the secret to their phenomenal success. The live-action, feature-length film recently began production and has an anticipated Spring 2015 theatrical release.
Certainly, the Indiegogo campaign benefited from Rooster Teeth’s hardcore fan base. In 2013, the Rooster Teeth YouTube channel became the fourth most viewed YouTube channel in the world (non-music), now with nearly eight million YouTube subscribers and over three billion views. And the Rooster Teeth website has five million unique monthly visitors with 1.7 million registered community members.
“We’re the third most funded film in crowdfunding history, including other platforms, and it’s the most funded film project ever on Indiegogo,” said Hullum, who, after a decade working in feature animation and visual effects in Hollywood, returned to his former home of Austin, TX to help start Rooster Teeth. As one of the groups lead writers, directors and producers, Hullum developed the live-action production division responsible for such hits as “RT Shorts,” “Immersion” and “The Gauntlet.”
Were you surprised by the incredible response to the campaign?
Matt Hullum (MH): It was shocking, but not surprising in a sense. Any time you amass that kind of money in such a short period of time for a project that’s not even fully detailed or explained to the audience and the funders, it’s crazy and shocking. But it’s not surprising in that we know our audience and their level of engagement is so high. We just had a very positive feeling from the get-go that they were going to step up to do something awesome and they did.”
Was it always clear that you would raise the budget for the film via crowdfunding?
MH: Yes, it was always clear that we wanted to do that because if we were going to do a big feature, we wanted to be able to involve our audience and our community as early as possible in the process. This seemed like an obvious way to do it and get everybody excited. There’s something special about a community being able to say ‘I put my money behind this. I’m one of the reasons it got made.’ That’s 100% true. We’ve only been shooting the past couple of weeks. We’ve had several executive producers from the Indiegogo campaign on set to visit and it’s been just great talking with them. I think they can see with their own eyes what we’ve done with the money. They can see it really being put to work. I think a lot of times in crowdfunding campaigns there’s a distance and a separation between the project itself and the production and we wanted to minimize that distance as much as possible.
How did you decide on Indiegogo?
Burnie Burns (BB): Indiegogo had some features that we really liked a lot, mainly little nuanced things. I know at least for me, a big feature was that people could make their pledges at the time they committed to them whereas some other crowdfunding sites you have to wait until the campaign finishes to process that. That way you get over-inflated totals. People will either drop out or their payment doesn’t process. Indiegogo, we talked to the team over there, we had looked at some people we know and respect in the video industry who had done some successful Indiegogo campaigns…when we did the research, all the signs pointed to Indiegogo.
How did you go about setting the campaign goal?
BB: We recognized early on that a big fringe benefit of running a crowdfunding campaign is there is a built-in marketing aspect to it. We wanted to have goals that covered the most amount of press territory so obviously, we set a goal for where we wanted to go and what we could make the movie for, but we also wanted to take advantage of milestones along the way. For instance, when we broke the goal within the first 24 hours, that was huge and then when we broke $1 million in the first 48 hours, that was another thing to get out there and talk to people about and let people know that this project had a lot of momentum and a lot of people behind it. The more milestones that you have, the better.
There’s so much competition for crowdfunding money. How do you stand out from the crowd?
MH: Take 12 years to build up a brand! But seriously, it is hard and we get this question a lot. How do you build an audience in today’s space where there’s a lot of noise? How do you break through the clutter? The thing that we’ve always tried to do is be consistent in our message and to have regular releases and to do things in a manner that is really kind of traditional when you think about it. Going back to our content model and “Red vs. Blue,” it’s always been a weekly release and people know when to expect it. It’s more of an event instead of a scattershot approach where they don’t get into a rhythm with you. So consistency in terms of the content of your message and the way that you deliver it is really the best thing you can do even if you’re starting out without an audience and trying to build one up from scratch. Take steps that are measured and don’t make your audience do more work than you have to. Take the message to them in a clear and consistent way.
BB: There’s no recipe for success. There’s always an X-factor you’re never going to repeat on someone’s success, but you can absolutely follow someone’s failure. So it’s important to avoid pitfalls. Be honest about what you’re able to fulfill. What does it mean to sign 5,000 posters? What does it mean to sign 2,000 posters and DVDs? Sit down and sign a ream of paper and see how long that takes you or organize four of your friends to sign a ream of paper. You’d be surprised at how much time something like that takes. So just be honest about that and do some analysis.
Any other advice for filmmakers looking to crowdfund?
BB: Take some time and look at some successful crowdfunding campaigns and see how they did it. We looked at the interest level and the donation levels for campaigns and they all seemed to have a U-shape where there was a lot of interest at the beginning of the campaign and not much interest and not much press over the course of the 30 days of the campaign until there was a big spike at the end— especially if they were trying to reach their goal. We tried to flatten out that curve as much as we could by having events all along the way. In a lot of ways, the crowdfunding campaign is as big a project as the project itself – not just during the campaign, but you also have to be prepared for a year or two years of customer service after the fact.
Editor’s Note: The “How They Funded It” series is presented by Indiegogo. Indiegogo has the largest, independent film fan base in the industry, all eager to discover new movies, new genres and new film projects. To learn more visit www.indiegogo.com.