Guest Post: Jennifer Fox “PART 2: How MY REINCARNATION Broke All Kickstarter Records"

Two weeks ago Jennifer Fox shared with us some of the lessons she learned crowdfunding (1st six here, next 14 here, next 9 here). Since then, she has gone down in the record books for both the number of donations and the amount thereof. Jennifer continues her path of profound generosity with another wave of the demystification wand to show how it was done. It is not magic; it's hard work -- but it can be done, and learned from.

OK, so I promised one last Blog Post and this one has already morphed into three posts. But I swear that these last three posts are my last words of wisdom about Kickstarter for a while (the final words of a self avowed Kickstarter addict).

Before I take a break and move onto other subjects, I want to let you know that there is a fourth post coming down the pipeline from the MY REINCARNATION team – Stefanie, Katherine and Lisa – who are working on another article filled with their words of wisdom and perceptions of what they learned doing our campaign.

As you can see, the short form is not my strong suit. I am a serial storyteller, not one for getting it all down in one neat punch. To me, the dramatic structure of life is episodic, which is why I have always loved the serial form and have made two documentary series and am now preparing a fiction television series. Even the new feature I am writing is told in episodic chapters.

Crowd funding is the same. It is a series of small dramatic arcs climaxing in small successes (after those failures I mentioned in the previous post). It would be misleading to talk about a Kickstarter campaign like it was one big Hollywood blockbuster. So here are the next 4 Tips, with 9 more coming, consisting of a lot of small dramas:

30. “The Lemming theory” Meets “The Power Of One”:

Everything I know about fundraising and distribution comes from my not so original, “Lemming Theory”. Human beings want to follow. So if the campaign is doing badly, people stay away but if those numbers are rising, people want to jump on the boat. Before people choose to support you they want to know the crowd is already voting for your project. No one except your mother or your father – and perhaps but not for sure, your lover/wife/husband – will back you without evidence. The “Lemming Theory” means that most people don’t want to be the first one to take the lead.

So how does anything ever happen in the world, if no one wants to stand out? A crowd doesn’t magically form. Usually it takes one courageous person who is respected – in the community or communities that the film addresses – to stand up for your project. Then other people see that individual, figure things are “safe”, and start to join in. That means that you, as the campaign team, are always searching for “key people” to embrace your film or your campaign and lead the way. And usually, it is a series of “Ones’”, over the course of the campaign that will get the project funded.

In fact, when you get many key individuals standing up, that is when the crowd turns into a stampede. (That is what happened in the last days of our campaign when donations suddenly went crazy, but more on that in the coming post Tip #40). To be clear, these key individuals are not necessarily famous people, although they can be since they have a lot of that “respect factor”, it depends on the project. But they are people who are trusted in the community that you are reaching out to for funding. Sometimes too, when you cast a wide net, people unknown to you turn up and embrace your campaign and lead the charge…

31. Team Web – Spreading Your Reach through People and Press:

There are many reasons to build a Kickstarter team (see previous Post #1 and previous Tip #2). Besides handling the sheer volume of Kickstarter work, a team expands your idea base, and also your contact base. As I have mentioned earlier, our core MY REINCARNATION Kickstarter team consists of Stefanie, Katherine and Lisa – each bringing different skills and experience to the campaign.

At the beginning of setting up our campaign, Katherine, suggested we write down all our existing film partners and contact them to see if they would help in spreading the word about the campaign. It was a given that we would engage the Buddhist Community of the film protagonist, Choegyal Namkhai Norbu, and his son, Khyentse Yeshe, with whom I have good contact. (This is the key benefit to having a niche audience as I discussed in the previous Tip #22.) But we were also looking for some traction in a wider circle of people than the obvious ones we knew.

Our Executive Producers and Funders were the first people we contacted about our plan. Perhaps wrongly we did not engage our European film partners at this level, since crowd funding is still new in Europe. (In retrospect, why not? They might have made good outreach in their communities. Oh well, next time…)

Interestingly some of our partners and EP’s took no interest in our fundraising project. They adopted the attitude that they had helped the film enough already and my current financial crisis was my problem, which is fair enough. Others like Executive Producer, Dan Cogen, from IMPACT PARTNERS, became a real source of support, blasting news of our campaign, Sneak Preview Screenings, and answering email questions immediately no matter how busy. One of many examples of his help relates directly to this post.

In a late a game brainstorming session – after we had met our original goal of $50,000 but were trying to make $100,000 – our team was discussing strategies of how to push the campaign forward. Among the many ideas, Lisa suggested that we needed to get people writing about our campaign. We discussed trying to get someone to write about our campaign at the Huffington Post. Lisa loves the blog “Hope for Film” and thought we should contact Ted Hope, whom none of us knew except by reputation. She set about searching the web for his contact address, but came up with nothing. Then I found him on Facebook, wrote him, but no reply. On a lark, I emailed EP Dan to see if he knew Ted, and indeed he did and immediately wrote him, pitching the story of our campaign, which led to our first Blog Post on the site. What I didn’t know is that now Ted would also become a strong supporter of our efforts and keep publishing our story as it spread to three blog posts and now five.

Another example of how your team can help expand your contacts is the way we were able to connect with the Rubin Museum of Art and the programmer Tim McHenry. We were looking for a place to do a “Sneak Preview Fundraising Screening” in NYC but were afraid of the costs. The Rubin Museum came up but I knew no one there. I put the word out to the Buddhist community and one of our big community supporters in Massachusetts, named Anna, came to the rescue with a name, which she contacted for me and then passed to me. Once I reached out to the person at the Rubin, the ball was in play, and she passed us to Tim, who viewed the film quickly, loved it and offered to host the screening. The Rubin also has a press office that went to work for the event. There were several journalists who came to that screening, most agreed to hold their articles till the film would be released. But also at the screening was someone from the Religion Department of the Huffington Post, who afterwards expressed interest to Stefanie that I write a blog. I did so and it was published five days before the end of the campaign, called, “Buddhist Samaya and the Making of ‘MY REINCARNATION’”. So another idea of Lisa’s was realized.

This is how “Team Web” works, everyone on your team – from the current team to all those you have partnered with during all phases of the making of the film – if contacted and enrolled in the effort can spread your reach exponentially in ways that you never could have dreamed when you started. Every person on your team is like the center of the web with endless potential contacts.

32. Blanche Dubois & Depending On The Kindness of Strangers:

While the above stories are perfect examples of getting help from people you know, the Blanche Dubois axiom is about the unexpected support that can come your way. Many people along the campaign heard about the film and our need to complete the funding and took up the cause of raising funds as their own. This is where the web is truly a miraculous tool to reaching out and connecting with like-minded strangers.

One woman in Italy – named Frauke – who couldn’t afford to donate, emailed me that she wanted to help our cause. Then another person from Argentina – Raul – wrote me the same thing, asking if he could translate our Kickstarter page into Spanish. Both criticized some of our message, saying it was hard for people outside the US to understand what crowd funding was. They asked us to make it clearer and better. At first I was pissed off. I stalled them both. People wanting to help seemed just like more problems to me.

Quite honestly in the beginning I was afraid of these offers. I thought, “I don’t know this person, the Buddhist community is a bit tricky, what if he or she writes the wrong thing...?” I have always been quite protective of my projects, working by that old axiom, ‘too many cooks spoil the pudding’. But Kickstarter was busting all of my other notions, why not this one. I knew we needed more traction in the world, so I gave them rein. I did communicate with them about the importance of what was written about the fundraising. Sometimes I had to say no to some of their ideas. For example, Frauke asked me to get the film protagonist Chögyal Namkhai Norbu to write an endorsement of the film, but I didn’t want to bother him with this, which seemed too pushy, but we were able to quote something he said at the fundraising screening of the film in Melbourne, which seemed to work as well.

Suddenly everywhere on Facebook were posts from Frauke or Raul. It was strange but glorious, because we didn’t have to do the work. Our reach expanded and I loosened up a bit. Others offered help. A German woman, Christiana, wrote me, worried that the shipping of single DVD’s to Europe made them too costly (One of our incentives was a 2012 Commercial DVD pre-sale). She asked if she could collect monies for the Commercial DVDs and make one big donation, but then have one person bring them all to Europe. I said fine not thinking too much about it, when three weeks later she wrote that she had pre-sold DVD’s to the tune of $6,300, could she make one large donation to the site? I said yes, floored. When a $10,000 came on the last day – the donor wrote us that she represented 60 people in China who had pooled their monies to make one large contribution! Oh Blanche, it’s a shame you never knew about the web!

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Stay Tuned for the Next Two Parts with 9 more Kick-Tips…

Jennifer Fox is an award-winning filmmaker and educator known for her ground-breaking features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN and MY REINCARNATION. She recently co-wrote the half hour television pilot, THE GOOD EGG and is developing the feature script, THE HORSE'S TALE. She has executive produced many films, including LOVE & DIANE and ON THE ROPES. Fox is the film subject in: TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY.