It makes sense doesn’t it? Word of mouth doesn’t travel without a personal network of supporters, however small. For some reason, there is a misconception that free money just rolls in when a crowdfunding initiative is launched, despite the fact that there are many, many case studies available online (for FREE) from people who ran successful campaigns and report that it was very difficult work. Widening the audience is one benefit of a campaign, but you have to start from somewhere in order to widen out.
In a short clip I did with Film Courage, I talk about why crowdfunding may not be for everyone and the limitations one will encounter if not very active online.
An aspect of a crowdfunding campaign that isn’t as apparent as money, is building up a sizable contact list of engaged supporters. I can’t tell you how crucial this is not just to the one project, but to ALL of your future as a filmmaker. Developing and maintaining a database of personal contact details is invaluable because they have given permission (and expressed an interest in) for future communication from you. This list should be guarded with your life and not relinquished to any third party! It shows the trust people have put in your talent and in you as a person, a trust difficult to gain that can easily be destroyed. This list should never been taken lightly or sold/given away for short term gain (besides, it goes against CAN SPAM Act regulations unless each recipient has been given clear and conspicuous notice that his or her e-mail address will be shared with third parties for marketing purposes. Who would agree to that?).
While there are certainly companies and individuals asking to be hired to crowdfund for artists, I think skipping over the crucial step of putting in the personal work it takes to gain trust is missing by employing this tactic exclusively. Social media channels are truly a gift and an opportunity we have been given to get closer to our audience, to have a deeper and more personal connection through our work. It breeds loyalty, instead of disposability. Also, the ability to know that our work touches people and matters to people can keep you going when it seems the world is full of rejection or self doubt. Gathering a team to help is advisable (in all aspects of filmmaking), but allowing only the team (or worse, an uninvolved 3rd party) to have contact with your supporters is a mistake.
It is time that artists come to terms with the fact that the age of the bubble (where creation takes place only in private) has come to an end. The audience wants to feel close to the art and its creator. This isn’t new really, fan clubs have existed for decades, but now that closeness comes in Tweets, Facebook posts, blog posts, podcasts, videos, Pinterest boards etc. and the ability to have a dialog directly. Make an effort personally to reach out to your audience, even get to know them by name, and you will see that effort come back to you in artistically, financially and personally beneficial ways.
In October 2012, I wrote a series of case studies on cross media projects for The Film Collaborative blog. I love following these projects because I think it is an emerging artform and those creating them are on the cutting edge of the future of entertainment. One Australian cross platform creator I find interesting is Christy Dena. She has been working on a particularly intriguing project called AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS that aims to bring the radio drama into the 21st century. When I first read about the project, I was a little confused because it described the project as an audio tour of the web. I whisked off some questions to her and got the full story.
When you say this is an audio tour of the web…I am getting that you mean using the web to tour through your story, not that it actually leads the viewer on an educational tour of the web right? Could you explain a bit more about your story? Who is your main character and why should we go on an adventure with her?
CD: “The project started with the idea of audio tours of the web. I worked on developing a startup technology business that utilises that idea. At first the plan was to release a creative project as a way to showcase what the technology can do, and open it up for anyone to create their own audio tour of the web – for educational/non-fictional or fictional purposes. The work involved in creating both a fictional project as well as a startup was huge, and so I had to make a decision which one I’d put my energy into — first at least. I decided on the creative project of course.
So the idea developed away from an audio tour, to more of a radio drama layer that involves traversing specially-created fictional websites. While there are many characters in the story, you travel primarily with the protagonist and her sidekick. The characters live in a world split in two: the Overworld and the Underworld. The lead is an autopsy pathologist in the Overworld, who has a hidden life as a Philosopher in the Underworld. She is outed as a philosopher, and so attracts the wrath of the Reality Infringement Council and the excited fandom of a Part-Time Time-Travel Student. The Pathologist decides to take on a bet to find the meaning of death. She is a strong woman who persists no matter how many forces around her try to take her down. She says things we’ve always wanted to say, she does things we’ve always wanted to do.
What inspired you to make this story?
CD: “There are a few points of inspiration. The identity obstacles are based on my own experiences as a creative person. For years, I’ve had people putting me in boxes — oh she is an academic, she is too industry to be academic, she is too corporate to be an artist, she is too arty to be a corporate. People really need to put you in a box and while people have moved with me as I don’t seem to fit in the one they’ve assigned me, I am aware that I’ll always having people not quite understanding me because I don’t play by their rules.
The story weaves identity and death together. Death and the manner it is investigated, was inspired by the sudden death of my mother. She wasn’t ill or anything, she just suddenly died one day. To try and make sense of it all, I went through all her things — read her last scribbles on her notepad, read her last emails, listened to the last music track she had on, read the last phone message she sent, the last book she was reading. I did it to try and make sense of what was happening. The autopsy was taking care of the how, I was interested in the why. It was a kind of a philosophy autopsy.”
So far, what kinds of work has been involved in getting this project started?
CD: “I began with testing the technology as a business case, but then moved to the creative side. So that entailed working on the script. I started with post-it notes, tons of bits of paper, and charts. Of course, lots of research. I listened to lots of different radio dramas, as well as movies and games related to the topic of death and identity. I also studied strong female characters, and narrative structures associated with having a lead that doesn’t need saving. I adapted the screenplay format to work with websites and action. I wrote about all of this in a Mediacommons article. I’ve studied how comedy can work in interactive situations where a player is involved, the different ways you can deliver a call to action, how immersive websites work, and so on.”
It sounds very thorough. What made you decide to make this iPad specific? I suppose that it will be an app in the iTunes stores globally so one could use an iPhone or iPod Touch to experience the project too? Or with the experience be particularly acute for iPad users?
CD: “The choice of an iPad is resource constraint. We’re ultra indie, and so can’t afford to produce the project for all the different types of Android tablets. My original grand plan was to release on desktop and tablets. But then I realised I needed to choose one for the first release. iPad has the biggest penetration we can develop for, and iTunes gives us an existing economy people are used to. The experience isn’t suited for the phone, however, because we have websites and an interface that just won’t scale well for the really small screen. The experience is personal in that it is single player, and so the tablet is the ideal private experience platform.
I spent a long time working out how the interaction design would work. I’m delivering information through audio primarily, but also through visual information such as text on websites, images, and actions the players undertake. To get this sweet spot of balancing the right information delivery through the delivery is crucial. As well as the aesthetics of how the player will be situated in relation to the action aurally, and to the fictional world. So we’ve done two playtests. The first entailed recording actors using binaural sound. Binaural sound involves recording to be as close to the way we hear things naturally. We had a dummy with microphones in each ear seated in the position of the player, in front of a keyboard. I hired spaces that sounded like the rooms the scenes were set in — one that sounded like an office, another was a large studio that sounded like the casino. The actors moved around the dummy/player. We then edited the audio, put in sound effects and music and put them with basic websites we had created. We then ran playtests with people to find out what worked and what didn’t. I discovered a lot of interesting things from that. We then created a prototype for the iPad. This involved recording actors in a studio, and creating basic websites with an iPad interface.”
You are in the middle of crowdfunding this endeavor on an Australian crowdfunding site called Pozible. I have talked about Pozible in my presentations. How are you finding the experience with it?
CD: “The decision to go with Pozible was a difficult one. I investigated going through Kickstarter — either in the USA or UK — for many months. I had family and colleagues who were willing to let me use their bank account (because Amazon Payments requires a local bank account). But Amazon Payments reports earnings over a certain amount to the tax office, and so we couldn’t risk that happening with family and colleagues. I discovered it is relatively easy to set up a company in the USA from overseas, but creating a bank account is riddled with financial and legal obstacles. There were also the further costs involved with using Kickstarter — Amazon Payments takes a cut, and then I’d be losing money in the currency exchange, and bank fees. Since I wasn’t asking for a large amount in the big scheme of things [$15,000], it wasn’t financially viable to go through Kickstarter and so decided on using the local platform of Pozible. Further to this, all the stats say that the majority of traffic and pledges come through Facebook – and so in this sense campaigns are platform-agnostic.
But there are still obstacles. Kickstarter is the flavour of the month/year/last few years. It naturally attracts press and supporters. Press are less inclined to talk about a project on some lesser-known platform. Kickstarter is news. There is also the brand-association that comes with Kickstarter – you use Kickstarter if you’re truly international and serious. I think that is what some people think. But Pozible has been going for a few years now, and the Australian public is getting behind it more and more – though not to the degree of Kickstarter. We’re used to buying things overseas, and aren’t good at supporting our own all the time.
That being said, the response internationally has been phenomenal. We have backers from over 14 countries! These backers didn’t care about the platform, they wanted to support the project, support me, support the team. And so that is wonderful. It certainly is easy to use, and doesn’t have the obstacle of Amazon Payments (backers can use credit card and Paypal). So it is more accessible.”
At present, AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS has reached the $5,000 mark in their bid to raise $15,000 with only 7 days to go. Check out their creative, animated pitch video HERE. Good luck to Christy and her team.
I edited this piece and it was published on the Sundance Artist Services blog and The Film Collaborative blog. I am reposting it here because I think this film is the first and only one so far to eschew the typical Sundance offers, have the courage to know what distribution path is best for it and launch into the market straight after the festival. Also, I hope it serves as informative and inspirational to all who read this blog. My great respect goes to truly empowered filmmakers James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot.
written by Bryan Glick, with assistance from Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler
Indie Game: The Movie has quickly developed a name not just as a must-see documentary, but also as a film pioneer in the world of distribution. Recently, I had a Skype chat with Co-directors James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot . The documentary darlings talked about their indie film and its truly indie journey to audiences.
Swirsky and Pajot did corporate commercial work together for five years and that eventually blossomed into doing their first feature. “We thought it would take one year, but it ended up taking two. I can’t imagine working another way, we have a wonderful overlapping and complimentary skill set, ” said Pajot. “We both edited this film, we both shot this film. It creates this really fluid organic way of working. It’s kind of the result of 5 or 6 years of working together. I don’t think you could get a two person team doing an independent film working like we did on day one. It’s stressful at times but the benefits are absolutely fantastic, ” said Swirsky.
According to Swirsky, Kickstarter covered 40% of the budget. “We used it to ‘kickstart’, we asked for $15000 on our first campaign which we knew would not make the film, but it really got things going. The rest of the budget was us, personal savings.” The team used Kickstarter twice; the first in 2010 asking for $15,000 and ended up with $23,341 with 297 backers. On the second campaign in 2011, they asked for $35,000 and raised $71,335 with 1,559 backers.
The hard work, dedication, and talent paid off. Indie Game: The Movie was selected to premiere in the World Documentary Competition section at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival winning Pajot and Swirsky the World Cinema Documentary Film Editing Award . “[Sundance] speaks to the independent spirit. It’s kind of the best fit, the dream fit for the film. Just being a filmmaker you want to premiere your film at Sundance. That’s where you hear about your heroes,” noted Swirsky. “Never before in our entire careers have we felt so incredibly supported…They know how to treat you right and not just logistics, it’s more ‘we want to help you with this project and help you next time.’ It was overwhelming because we’ve never had that. We’ve just never been exposed that,” interjected Pajot
They hired a sales agent upon their acceptance into Sundance and the film generated tons of buzz before it arrived at the festival resulting in a sales frenzy. The filmmakers wanted a simultaneous worldwide digital release, but theatrical distributors weren’t willing to give up digital rights so they opted for a self release. “There were a lot of offers, they approached us to purchase various rights. We felt we needed to get it out fairly quickly and in the digital way. A lot of the deals we turned down were in a little more of the traditional route. None of them ended up being a great fit,” said Pajot.
Several people were stunned when this indie doc about indie videogame developers opted to sell their film for remake rights to Scott Rudin and HBO. Pajot explained, “He saw the trailer and reached out a week or so before Sundance. That was sort of out of left field because it wasn’t something we were pursuing.” Swirsky added, “They optioned to potentially turn the concept into a TV show about game development…As a person who watches stuff on TV, I want this to exist. I want to see what these guys do with it.” The deal still left the door open for a more typical theatrical release. However that was only the start of their plan.
“We had spoken to Gary Hustwit (Helvetica). We sort of have an understanding of how he organized his own tours. We had to make our decision whether that was something we wanted to utilize. Five days after Sundance, we decided we would and were on the road 2 weeks after… Before Sundance this was how we envisioned rolling out…[We looked at] Kevin Smith and Louis C.K. and what they’re doing. We are not those guys and we don’t have that audience, but knowing core audience is out there, doing this made sense,” said Swirsky.
They proceeded to go on a multi-city promotional tour starting with seven dates and so far they have had 15 special events screenings of which 13 were sold out! This is separate from 37 theaters across Canada doing a one night only event. They also settled on a small theatrical release in NYC and LA. When talking about the theaters and booking, they said theaters saw the sellout screenings and that prompted interest despite the fact that the film was in digital release. They accomplish all of this with a thrifty mindset. “P&A was not a budgetary item we put aside and if an investment was required, we would dip into pre orders. We didn’t put aside a marketing budget for it,” said Swirsky. Regarding the pre order revenue, they sold a cool $150,000 in DVD pre-orders in the lead up to release of the film. From this money, they funded their theatrical tour.
While the theatrical release was small, it generated solid enough numbers to get held over in multiple cities and provided for vital word of mouth that will ultimately make the film profitable. The grosses were only reported for their opening weekend, but they continued to pack the houses in later weeks.”I don’t look back at the box office. The tour was more profitable than the theatrical…They both have the benefits, having theatrical it gets a broader audience. It was more a commercial thing than box office,” said Swirsky. “We are still getting inquiries from theaters. They still want to book it despite the fact it’s out there digitally,” said Pajot. ”We had this sort of hype machine happening. We didn’t put out advertising. Everything was through our mailing that started with the 300 on our first Kickstarter and through Twitter,” said Swirsky. Now the team has over 20,000 people on their mailing list and over 10,000 Twitter followers. In order to keep this word of mouth and enthusiasm going, the filmmakers released 88 minutes of exclusive content – most of which didn’t make the final cut – to their funders, took creative suggestions from their online forum and sent out updates on the games the subjects of their film were developing over the course of the two years the film was in production.
Following the success the film has enjoyed in various settings, Indie Game: The Movie premiered on three different digital distribution platforms. If you were to try and guess what they were though, you would most likely only get one right. While, it is available on the standard iTunes, the other two means of access are much more experimental and particularly appropriate for this doc.
It is only the second film to be distributed by VHX as a direct DRM-free download courtesy of their,‘VHX For Artists‘ platform. Finally, this film is reaching gamers directly through Steam which is a video game distribution platform run by Valve. This sterling doc is also only the second film to be sold through the video game service, where it was able to be pre-ordered for $8.99 as opposed to the $9.99 it costs across all platforms. This is perhaps the perfect example of the changing landscape of independent film distribution. Every film has a potential niche and most of these can arguably be reached more effectively through means outside the standard distribution model. Why should a fan of couponing have to go through hundreds of films on Netflix before even finding out a documentary about couponing exists, when it could be promoted on a couponing website?
As they are going into uncharted territory, both Pajot and Swirsky avoided making any bold predictions.”It’s just wait and see. It’s an experiment because we’re the first movie on Steam. We’re really interested to look at and talk about in the future. I don’t want to make predictions…I do think documentary lends itself to that kind of marketing though. We’re trying to not just be niche but there is power in that core audience. They are very easy to find online,” said Swirsky.
Just because they are pursuing a bold strategy doesn’t mean they were any less cost conscious. “The VHX stuff, it was a collaboration, so there were no huge costs. Basically subtitles, a little publicity costs from Von Murphy PR and Strategy PR who helped us with theatrical. Those guys made sense to bring on,” said Pajot. “A lot of our costs were taken up by volunteers. If they help us do subtitles, they can have a ticket event, a screening in their country,” added Swirsky.
They also note that a large amount of their profit has been in pre-orders. 10,000 people have pre-ordered one of their three DVD options priced at $9.99, $24.99 and a special edition DVD for $69.99 tied with digital. While the film focused on a select few indie game developers, they interviewed 20 different developers and the additional footage is part of the Special Edition DVD/Blu-Ray. That might explain why it’s their highest seller.
All this doesn’t mean that any of the dozens of other options are no longer usable. Quite the contrary, they have also taken advantage of the Sundance Artist Services affiliations to go on a number of more traditional digital sites. Increased views of a film even if on non traditional platforms can mean increased web searches and awareness and could be used to drive up sales on mainstay platforms.
The real winner though is ultimately the audience. For the majority of the world that doesn’t go to Sundance or Cannes each year, this is how they can discover small films that were made with them in mind. The HBO deal aside, this is bound to be one incredibly profitable documentary that introduces a whole new crowd to quality art-house cinema. “We are still booking community screenings. If people want to book, they can contact us…We are thinking maybe we might do another shorter tour at some point,” said Pajot.
Here’s to the independent film spirit, alive and well.
Now that there is some form of distribution available to every project made, whether it is working with a service company to theatrically release or uploading the project online for free and enabling perpetual viewing, it is time to acknowledge that new mindsets and skills are needed not just for filmmakers, but also for film promotion. Traditionally, a publicist’s role was to leverage the relationships she had formed with editors and journalists (the media) to ensure story placement in publications and she strived to convey a cohesive message about a film. She endeavored to control the message and those who were allowed to carry it. The prominence of social channels has torn this process apart. Now, the media aren’t the only ones talking about a film and it is getting increasingly difficult to control the message. It is becoming more prevalent to create the dialog instead.
Whether you choose to take on the promotional role yourself as a microbudget filmmaker or you are looking to start working in film promotion, the skills now needed go well beyond writing a good press release and having a good database of personal contacts ( but you still need those too). Here is a look at some emerging skills with the knowledge that it is nearly impossible to find strong abilities for all of these in one person.
-Storytelling and curation. Writing skills still play a vital role in film publicity, but there’s more writing now than ever. As social tools enable a production to reach an audience directly and wherever they congregate online, something besides a “message” must be written. Stories that are memorable, relatable and “sticky” will pull people to you and keep them coming back and the stories aren’t only written by a journalist; not when one has a blog, a newsletter, a Tumblr page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Pinterest boards and possibly participating in forums. We’re now talking to the audience, not through third party media. Many more tools, many more skills needed to understand how each one works and how to get the most from them. A visual sense of storytelling is needed as well because many of the social posts that get the most interactions and shared are photos/videos/infographics. In order to develop stories that resonate, one must spend much more time getting to know the audience as people with definite tastes and interests, not as faceless, broad demographics. Also, time must be spent finding great information and sharing it which is just as important (perhaps MORE important) as creating it. Tools that help aggregate useful information and inspire self published content will need to be found and this has become a standard duty in the work day.
-Technical skills. The ability to code, photo and video edit and format, graphic design, link building and SEO, as well as keeping up with every little trick Facebook settings can throw at you will become increasingly useful. In order to use the new tools effectively and keep to a modest budget, personal training should be undertaken to develop a good understanding and at least a basic level of performance.
-Observation and monitoring. Learning to listen first is without a doubt a very useful skill in the online world. Too many times we are pushed to “sell” “convert” “promote” with no real understanding of who we are talking to and what they care about. Indeed, previously it was difficult to know what “they” care about because “we” didn’t really talk to “them”, but this isn’t the case anymore. Sharing opinions, recommendations, emotions, interests, locations, and personal details abound on the internet and there is no longer an excuse to guess about the needs and wishes of the audience. They are talking online every day, so listen. Monitoring conversations, picking out trending topics, predicting what is likely to spark interest, and THEN actively participating in those communities in an authentic way is how to get the information and interest flowing.
-Measurement. This is now the world of big data and making sense of everything that can be tracked (because lots can be accurately tracked) is increasingly needed. Analytical skills to evaluate trends, outcomes, and correctly interpret and apply data are skills that enable communicators to turn data into actionable work and measure return on investment. Also, turning data into visual interpretations for management (charts, graphs, statistics) helps show the impact of your work or where things need to be adjusted.
-Fundraising and organizational outreach. Not a week passes that I am not asked about advice on a crowdfunding initiative. Crowdfunding is not only about raising money, but also raising a profile, creating attention, building mutually beneficial partnerships and gathering an audience for a project that may just be starting. Understanding the needs and motivations of a particular group of people sounds quite psychological and it is. Communicators have always needed to be aware of psychological triggers that cause people to care about the message, but in the online space where one isn’t face to face and many decisions hinge on long earned trust, it takes a different mindset and skillset than writing out a good prospectus or pitch letter. Continual research and outreach to influencers and organizations helps to build up the long term trust that can enable one to call on help when it is needed, whether it is financial help, spreading the word on a project or collaborating together by submitting material (crowdsourcing) in order to give the project a richer life than one the production could create on their own.
-Constant adaptation. Most of the above skills are a catalog of communication demands that didn’t exist 5-10 years ago. Nothing is constant in life but change, right? You can be sure that as new technology and platforms emerge and information gets even thicker and faster, the ability to learn something that wasn’t around even last year will serve you well. Spend time every day learning, reading, and practicing for improvement. A Google search engine is a wonderful thing and nearly everything can be researched and learned for nearly free online. Failing to understand when the shiny new tool becomes THE necessary tool in the pack could marginalize you. Keep up with the trends and adapt accordingly.
I will be participating in a half day workshop in Los Angeles on May 26, 2012 with The Film Collaborative’s Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter. This will be an intensive session filled with tools and strategies you should know regarding building an audience with online tools, utilizing film festivals and how to plan your distribution with particular emphasis on digital distribution. This workshop is for filmmakers who are ready to accept the new challenges of film marketing and distribution and not intended for those only seeking a traditional, all rights scenario. Tickets are more than affordable ($20 for TFC members, $50 for non members) and are on sale now.
I know this is a cop out post, but I’m feeling totally guilty (and totally overwhelmed at the moment with the upcoming world premiere of Joffrey Mavericks of American Dance in a few weeks) that I haven’t posted anything new in a while. So, I started looking back over the posts from this year that received the most response, the ones that I hope were helpful to you, and thought I would recap them.
How do I know they received a good response? I use PostRank to help me gauge what kind of interest the posts received. These posts all have a score of 7 or higher (scale of 1-10). The number to me doesn’t matter so much as knowing what you respond to so I can speak more about it. I also view blogging as an experiment, trying out new topics. Some work, some don’t and that is ok. If I waited until I knew the perfect topic and made the perfect post to address it…well, the blog would probably only have 12 posts a year. Without further adieu..
10) The importance of a good trailer-This is part one of my interview with trailer editor Bill Woolery on creating a good trailer, working with a trailer editor, and the types of trailers there are. Frankly, I am surprised it ranks so low as a trailer is probably the MOST important element in the promotional efforts for your film. Hopefully if you didn’t catch this 2 part interview, you can read it now.
9)Crowdsourcing as exploitation-This one got a few responses from other sites such as DocumentaryTech and The Chutry Experiment. Basically, I gave my take on the film Life in a Day and how they were using the crowd throughout the filmmaking process into the distribution process, but offering very little in return for the free labor.
8) The ugly truth about social media- A post about feeling overwhelmed with all of the startups devoted to “social media” and how they purport to make life easier, but really there is no easy work around for building up relationships. It is slow, painstaking and never ending work if you use the tool correctly.
7)Readying a crowdfunding campaign-This year saw the donation numbers for independent film projects on crowdfunding site really soar. Whereas a year ago, $10K was the norm, this year it became $20K, $50K, $100K. That’s a significant jump in just a year! But those successes didn’t come from throwing up a page on Kickstarter and watching the money roll in. This post talks about being prepared long before you actually go live with your campaign.
6)The internet expanded consumption but destroyed the industry- A Seth Godin inspired post (of course!) which talks about the redefinition of what it means to be a distributor of content. Bureaucratic and scarcity driven business models that once dominated the industry are being diminished and what will take its place is being capable of grabbing (and keeping!) attention and building an ongoing fanbase.
5)Marketing a documentary with a limited budget-The title pretty much says it all really. I took you through the starting stages of my promotional work for the documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance; tools I’m using, finding the audience and getting their interest, how we will be distributing it. If you have a documentary project, you might find it interesting. If you have a narrative project with clearly defined audience, you will get something from it too.
4)Building your brand with no budget-As I say many times in interviews and in workshops, the key to building a sustainable fanbase is having an artist brand that people identify with. In this way, you won’t be starting from the ground every time you have a new project to build an audience for, you will simply transition the one you already have. This is work you can start doing right now, before you have another project going and this post is full of tips on how to start.
3)Actors don’t need social media…excuse me?- A post inspired by a Twitter discussion I was having with Paul Osborne (@PaulMakesMovies), Nathan Cole (@WaterholeMovie) and Paul Barrett (@producerpaul) about not only hiring actors with talent, but also ones with a strong social following. They largely disagreed because they see the on screen talent as superseding the need for promotion, but I’m telling you when it comes time to building up an audience with a limited budget, you are going to need all of the help you can get. If there are 2 equally talented actors, pick the one who has a fanbase (duh) and I don’t mean Brad Pitt. There are plenty of actors who are active in social media and can activate a crowd for you. And listen up actors, if you haven’t been doing this, you aren’t an asset, so become one. Even TV casting agents are looking up social footprints of potential hires so stop burying your head. Get a profile up and start interacting.
2)Humanizing your audience-A post inspired by Brian Solis that talks about the shift in communication that the internet, and more specifically social media, has brought to all aspects of our lives. Are there those not communicating online? Sure, its just that they are far from being movers and shakers and they will either come kicking and screaming or they will be completely out of touch with the modern century. But we must never forget that at the heart of social networking is a person, not a pair of eyeballs. Views, likes, and votes are all nice but very fleeting. Don’t boil your online activities just down to boosting these things, not only to the bottom line. Humans are starting to get back to wanting that connection with another human (especially now that the corporate and government trust factor has been disintegrating for the last several years and only gets worse as more transparency is coming to the fore online. Wikileaks anyone?), to feel they matter to you. The bottom line takes care of itself when trust and relationships are built and respected.
1)Facebook is not a good sales platform- This post received a 10! Wow! What more can I say about this subject, huh? I still maintain that people don’t come to social sites to buy, no matter how much those social sites are trying to reconfigure to suit the corporate bottom line. Research has suggested that many people “like” brand pages in order to get coupons though, which makes sense if you think that most corporate brands don’t give a hoot about you so in turn you will go with whichever brand offers the best deal, no loyalty and trust there. I don’t think this mentality is going to work out well for the indie artist so let’s just use Facebook to share interesting content, hold dialog and champion fans as much as we want them to champion us, OK? Let the sales happen on your own site (where you can keep the details, not give over the data to a third party) and offer the best items to your most ardent fans. Let the distributors deal with finding the strangers and giving them the non exclusive stuff. That method is expensive and transitory. Not worth spending your time chasing fickle strangers.
There you have it, the top 10 for this year. I wish all of you the happiest and most productive New Year 2012!
I’m doing research to help someone start a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. We have a few months of planning before we launch which gives us a good amount of time to figure out all of the strategy and logistics involved. I have said many times that a successful campaign starts with proper research on what has worked for others, assessing your advantages in this now crowded donation centric landscape and figuring out how to motivate people to choose your project to back.
My friend asked me if Kickstarter was the best platform to choose and I have to say that I’ve seen many more successful film related campaigns succeed there than on Indiegogo. I love all of the people who run Indiegogo and I think their service is sound, but the all or nothing makes a difference for donors in particular. It encourages motivation and momentum because if you don’t hit your goal, you lose it all. Those who pledge to you don’t want to see that happen. It also lessens risk for the donor because the goal you have chosen is what is needed for the project to move forward. If you only raise some of the money, but less than you really need, where does the money go? With Indiegogo, you can keep whatever you raise, but if you need $5,000 and only raised $500, what will be done with that money? The risk is further lessened because if you don’t make the goal, no money is taken for the pledge if the project is on Kickstarter.
We are trying to determine what to ask for, budget wise. Should we try and raise the whole amount we really need or should we raise in stages and complete different sections of the project one at a time? I am sure this is a question that comes up a lot in the planning stages. Here are things I am considering in order to determine this.
1)Full budget breakdown of minimally what we need. No one is going to put us in business. What people don’t want to hear in a pitch is “I need equipment, actors, crew, locations, post production services, festival fees, marketing and distribution costs.” What the hell have you done so far? With no resources at your disposal, you don’t look very professional and no one wants to put you in business. We have to say what we have already accomplished, what resources we have and what else we need to move forward. Transparency goes a long way in getting people to invest in your work.
2)Analysis of the kind of help we will have. We must make up a list of our ardent supporters. The shorter and weaker this list is, the less we will be able to raise. Since most crowdfunding initiatives depend on the internet to reach donors, your list of online supporters must be full of active social media users who are connected to you. If you don’t use social media very often and you don’t have a strong base of support, the amount you can realistically raise is going to be small. Are there those who have managed it somehow, becoming much more proficient at online relationship building while in the middle of a campaign? Maybe, but who needs the extra burden of getting up to speed on technology and building relationships while under the gun of a funding deadline. Not exactly the best of circumstances to be in for raising money.
3)Analysis of our organizational ties. We have made some organizational ties during the course of development on this project, which is a documentary. Now, we must bear in mind that most organizations are perpetually looking for funding so we won’t be asking them to pledge funds. But we would like to encourage them to tell their members about the campaign. The easier we can make this for them to do, the more likely they will. It could be in an email blast, a post for their website on what the project is and why they would be interested in it, a link of our Kickstarter page on their Facebook wall and Twitter account, maybe a quote from their Executive Director about why they endorse the project or find it worthwhile. Something that is minimally taxing to them but could help us in a big way.
4)Listing our assets and perk levels. What will we be able to create as far as content and as far as perks to attract donors and give them to pass around? Ideas that spread win, so says Seth Godin. I think the idea behind the film is very powerful and will resonate with people as long as they 1)become aware of it 2)feel motivated to share it. So we need some good video to explain what we are doing and how someone can help us. But not just ONE piece, many pieces because often you have to touch someone many times with your message before it sinks in, before you can entice them to put in that card number and email address, before they decide “yes, I think I would like to become invested in this.” We have evolved beyond just one pitch video where you look someone in the eye and ask for money, now we have to regularly keep them up to date on how the campaign going, both in email and in video. It’s like having a Youtube channel, you can’t only have your trailer on it. Once someone has seen it, why go back?
Also, some people are motivated by perks. What perks will we offer that won’t cost us money from the budget we need to do the thing we are raising the money for and still satisfy the modern human need for “transaction”? And the levels of transaction? Personally I am not motivated by the perks in a crowdfunding effort, but I understand some people are and offering prized tokens to our audience is a consideration.
5)Listing the strangers. This one will come last but is quite important. I know all of you reading this have been hit up on a near daily basis by crowdfunding campaigns from your filmmaker friends…and their friends. We have to move out of the immediate circle of friends and family and organizations that know us and into the uncharted territory of strangers. About how many targeted strangers can we reach? This is where knowing your audience characteristics comes in because if you don’t have a clue, where in the world (literally!) will you start? Remember that crowdfunding isn’t just about raising money, it is equally about building an audience for our work. Backers provide encouragement, support, and public validation too. The first impression we are making to strangers is going to be this campaign and starting relationships by asking for money is really not cool. We must present differently to this group, we can’t have the same message used for friends and acquaintances. It may also be that this group is mainly reached through the core supporters so we need to arm them with the knowledge on how to help us widen the circle.
6)Time frame of the campaign. I wanted to make this a list of 5, but this is an important consideration that didn’t fit anywhere else. When should we launch and for how long should we run? I think Christmas and tax time are not good times to launch a fundraising effort. So now that leaves January (when those holiday bills start rolling in? maybe not), February and March for us. I need to see if there are any “events” or days of special significance we might tie the campaign to in order to make it particularly relevant during this time. We might not find anything. Also, I do subscribe to the idea the shorter the campaign, the more successful because momentum and enthusiasm slows down the longer it goes on. I’ve seen it on long campaigns and I know this about human nature. We will run a short campaign.
All of these factors determine what is realistic to ask for. There is no exact science on this, no tool (yet) you can run your numbers through and come up with the ideal funding goal. We’re still working through these so ideas and experience that would help us is appreciated.
I have been doing a few speaking gigs lately at colleges with students who are either interested in filmmaking or they are film survey cinephiles. I’ve taken on the responsibility of introducing them to concepts we in the industry are talking about lately. Stuff like crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, transmedia. Not sure if you guys realize this, but those are mostly foreign concepts to the average movie goer and that is a bad thing seeing as how all of those concepts DEPEND on audience participation. I get the distinct feeling that the general public isn’t really sure who is making their entertainment. Just as most filmmakers (and certainly corporations) treat their audience like a faceless mass; a conglomeration of eyeballs; audiences have no connection to who you are as a creator. It is time you put more effort in becoming human to your audience.
Your survival as an artist is going to depend on your ability to build an audience for your work. Which also means we have to be interested in you, at least professionally. I totally uphold your need for personal privacy. I am not advocating a Lindsay Lohan-style life share across the internet, but you do have a personality, a perspective, a way of seeing the world that can be shared. Independent film is more about the personal story, the artistic vision. Tell us what draws you to that story, what your work means to you, what drives you (to drink or otherwise). While you’re at it, find some artists you admire and do all you can to support their work too. We have to survive as an interdependent community.
All of this is new both to modern artists and to modern audiences. It will take some time for the vestiges of corporate media with their constant advertising interrupting our lives and our numbness to it all to subside. Show us there is a real person creating this art. Someone we should care about and encourage. Don’t hide behind your work because that’s what corporate media does. Step out here and let us have a look at you.