How They Funded It: ‘Life Itself’ Director Steve James Shares the Secrets to Crowdfunding Success

How They Funded It: 'Life Itself' Director Steve James Shares the Secrets to Crowdfunding Success
How They Funded It: 'Life Itself' Director Steve James Shares the Secrets Crowdfunding Success

Why did you decide to crowdfund “Life Itself?”

Well, I should make it clear that we raised money through other sources as well. Obviously, with documentaries, you need to create a patchwork of financing. Plus, the idea of the crowdfunding campaign wasn’t just to raise money. It also seemed to make sense for a documentary about Roger Ebert. Roger embraced technology and loved the idea of building a community on Twitter. And so many of his fans wanted to feel like they were a part of this film, so crowdfunding made sense as a way to involve them. One of our backer rewards let people watch the film online at the same time that it premiered at Sundance. It was the first time that was ever done and I think it’s a great model for festivals going forward.

READ MORE: How They Funded It: “Dear White People” Shares the Secrets to Crowdfunding Success

Why did you choose Indiegogo to crowdfund?

We chose Indiegogo because they were excited about the film and also we loved the fact that they allowed charitable donations. We were fortunate to raise more than we had set out to raise ($150,000), but if we had gone way over that number, we were planning to donate the extra money to The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation & The Roger Ebert Center for Film Studies at his alma mater, the University of Illinois.

What did you learn about crowdfunding through the process?

I learned that it’s a lot of work! People think you just put your campaign up there and it’s like free money. But it’s sweat equity. Believe me, a lot of people put a lot more time into the campaign than I did and yet I’m still fulfilling perks. I’m meeting with a filmmaker for lunch to give feedback on his script since that was his campaign perk – and then I think I might be done. It takes a lot more time than you think it will and it’s important to fulfill all of your promises.

You had a built-in “star” with Roger and you’re an award-winning filmmaker so you had an easier time standing out from the crowd. What advice would you give to others who don’t have those advantages? 

You need to make a great campaign video and really show why your project is worth backing. Or else create a really clever and creative video. Also, good rewards help to get people interested. And keep in mind it will take a lot of work to get the word out. Social media and press helps too.

What did you learn through the campaign?

We weren’t surprised to see how committed Roger’s fans are, but we found that they really appreciated the ability to see the film at the same time that it premiered. Also, it’s worth emphasizing that the campaign wasn’t just about raising money, but also building a community and getting the word out about the film. It was satisfying to see how excited people were to be a part of the film in some small way.

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

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