Kickstarting for Theatrical Distribution: Pro’s & Con’s

by Sara Kiener

One day we’ll say “I remember the film industry before crowdfudning existed,” and newcomers will drop their jaws in disbelief. Kickstarter has made a quick and lasting impression on the industry, opening doors for filmmakers who have reached the end of their fundraising and grant writing ropes. Countless movies have been made that wouldn’t have been made without Kickstarter - many of which have left a significant mark in the festival circuit, in theaters and in our homes. One of the more recent trends that I’m intrigued by is the bevy of films Kickstarting to raise funds for theatrical distribution. Urbanized, My Reincarnation, Tchoupitoulas, Detropia and, more recently, Taiwan Oyster, Starlet and The Waiting Room (the latter 3 are currently active) have been green-lighting their own theatrical releases. With their success, I'm sure many more filmmakers will follow suit in the coming months.
Whether you’re raising funds for a portion of your budget or you're trying to get your movie seen on the big screen following a robust festival reception, here are some factors to consider before you launch:Kickstarting to MAKE a movie:

  • Pro's
    • The obvious pro here is that you get money to make your film.
    • You also get to connect with your audience before your film even exists.
    • If you run a tremendously successful campaign, you’ll be noticed by festival programmers, producers, talent and distribution companies.
    • Through the process of your campaigning, you get to weed out you “good” outreach ideas from your “bad” outreach ideas, and you can use this data to inform your outreach and marketing efforts later on in your films’ release. Crowdsourcing is your chance to try anything and everything, and learn how to connect and engage with your audience so come screening time, you’ll have a slew of email addresses and Facebook fans to tell about your exciting news, in a tried and true engaging way.

  • Con’s
    • You HAVE to connect with your audience BEFORE your film exists. You have nothing (or very little) to show to your fans. If you do get backers, it’ll be months and months before you can show them a completed project and, by then, they may have lost interest in your project.
    • If you run a mediocre or not very successful campaign, you won’t be noticed by festival programmers, producers, talent and distribution companies. If they do stumble upon your less-than-awesome campaign, you may look disorganized or as if there is no built-in audience for your project down the line.
    • If and when the time comes that you need more money to finish your film/distribute your film/travel with your film/create key art for your film and so on, you may have already tapped out all your favors and asks via Kickstarter.

Kickstarting to DISTRIBUTE a movie:

  • Pro’s
    • The obvious pro here is that you get money to distribute your film and hold on to your theatrical rights.
    • You also get to connect with your fans RIGHT before you unleash your film onto the universe. If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll Kickstart with a theatrical plan in mind so that you can announce theatrical details throughout your campaign.
    • You get to SELL a finished product to your fans. Digital downloads, DVDs, tickets and community screenings (what people want!) are just a click.
    • If you run a tremendously successful campaign, you’ll be noticed by exhibitors across the country. Once upon a time, regional theaters looked to New York opening weekend grosses to decide if they would book a film. What if they looked at your Kickstarter grosses instead?
    • You get to weed out you “good” outreach ideas from your “bad” outreach ideas, as you gear up for your theatrical outreach. So by the time you’re 2 months out from your opening date, you already have a slew of partners waiting and ready to pounce on your promotions.

  • Con’s
    • Somehow you have to finance your film to completion without Kickstarter. Good luck!
    • If you’re Kickstarting to raise funds in order to hire a team to distribute a film (bookers, designers, publicists, grassroots outreach, etc.), you have to WAIT until you have the money in place before you can hire them. It can be a tremendously stressful situation to be in.
    • If you blow your film industry coverage and buzz on your festival circuit and your Kickstarter campaign, who will you turn to in order to create buzz for theatrical? Be mindful of the delicate balance - on the one hand, you need some industry press talking about your kickstarter campaign so that you can hit your goal and release the film. On the other hand, you need some industry press talking about your film right before theatrical, to help get butts in seats when the day comes.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong time to crowdfund. It just depends on what you want to get out of the experience, besides money. As you prepare for your crowdfunding campaign, be mindful of how the above factors may impact your films’ long term trajectory. And then hold your breath and hit the "launch" button!

Sara Kiener is the co-founder and marketing director of Film Presence which has implemented grassroots outreach and social media campaigns for over 30 films as they've prepare for their theatrical, DVD, broadcast, festival premieres and Kickstarter launches. Film Presence places an emphasis on organizational partnerships and community building. Highlights include the 2011 Oscar Nominated WASTE LAND and 2011 Oscar Nominated HELL AND BACK AGAIN. Twitter: @SaraKiener @FilmPresence

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox “PART 4: 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. If they gave records for quality as well as quantity she probably would have gotten those too.

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.

Hard to believe, but true: Here are the very last 6 Tips that I learned from our Kickstarter campaign. (Then again, you never know when I might suddenly get more Kickstarter inspiration…)

37. The Advantages of Fundraising for a Finished Film: A New Model?

As I’ve mentioned often, I was terrified of fundraising for a finished film. It seemed to break every rule imaginable. So it was strange to discover is that there are actually advantages to fundraising for a film that is completed. It turned out that the very thing we wrote on our Kickstarter site to sell the idea of donating to our film to prospective patrons is true: Donating to a finished film is a low risk proposition. Why?

• Most films go over budget, take much longer than planned (Oh like 20 years) and God forbid I should put this in print, never get finished. While I am not sure the general population knows all these facts, I think they can smell the “risk” in the ether.

• With a finished film and especially one that is beginning to get noticed and play known festivals like MY REINCARNATION was doing, people can enjoy giving to something that is a sure bet. It is already successful.

• For the fundraising filmmaker, an obvious benefit is the ease at creating “New News” (previous Tip #34): We could film endless additional video updates from the various events the film was showing at and also make “Sneak Preview Fundraising Screenings” to show them the goods and create buzz. Because MY REINCARNATION was playing at festivals, there was plenty of news, but still the film’s potential of widespread commercial release could not be achieved without further financial help. So there was evidence of success, yet with a clear obstacle to distribution that begged for people’s support.

I am wary to suggest this as a new fundraising model for obvious reasons. The amount of risk to the filmmaker is extremely high: I mean what if you can’t make the costs in this late game effort? Who knows how many years the anxiety about paying off the film’s cost took off my life?

But dreaming into the future, could people “vote” with their pocketbook for the films they want to see once they are made in the same way they vote by buying a ticket to a movie theater. Of course, this is asking them to vote at a higher level then going to a matinee, but for niche films on rarely seen subjects, maybe people are willing to pay $100 or $200 for the price of admission. Just a thought…

On another level, the question is can you translate some of the advantages we had on our campaign to a film that is not yet finished? And like all fundraising efforts, how do you have the manpower or womanpower to launch a campaign of this magnitude while simultaneously finishing your film?


38. Create ‘Events’:

There are many ways you can create “Events” even if your film is not finished. Any way you can generate new compelling video that is under 5 minutes (and even better around 2-3 minutes) and can be uploaded onto YouTube, your website, your Facebook page, and your Kickstarter page, helps your campaign. Here are a few ideas that came to my mind (you will surely think of more):

• Just like we had “Sneak Preview Fundraising Screenings” of MY REINCARNATION during our Kickstarter campaign, you can have “Sneak Preview Excerpt Fundraising Screenings” or “Fundraising Soirées” in a host’s home. You can also show the trailer or scenes from the film to an invited group of potential contributors or just interested souls. The key is to videotape the event and then get people’s reaction to the clips they have seen on camera to create a new video post. If possible, another hook might be to ask the film’s subjects to appear at the event with you to talk about the film (depending on the subject matter).

• Honestly, neither of our Sneak Preview Fundraising Screenings generated much money. However, the video we created for the website – of me talking, the protagonist talking, and people’s reactions to what they saw – helped the Kickstarter campaign have life and credibility. From our analytics, we saw immediately that contributions rose when we posted these videos. Remember the Lemming Theory in Tip #30? People will be more likely to join your project and make a contribution if they hear others singing its praises. Any way you can get these video testimonies is worthwhile…

• You can also videotape discussions about the film in the edit room with your editor and yourself and post them.

• You can bring people into the edit room to screen parts of the film and tape their responses. Or ask them discuss the film’s important topic and it’s meaning for the world.

• You can ask your film’s current partners, who are already on board the project, to talk to camera about what they love about the film and why they are supporting it. Then edit that into a string of testimonies for the web.

• If you do any mid-game interviews with press, make sure you tape them and post on your website, your Facebook, your Kickstarter page.

• Tiny Note: My experience is that when you ask a TV station or a print interviewer for a copy of the interview you just did, they always promise to give to you and often never send it to you. My solution is to bring a small Flip camera everywhere and ask an assistant or intern to conveniently film you being filmed. (Make sure they stand as close as possible for sound.) This way you have the video even if the sound is not so good. You can always subtitle the tape if necessary.

39. It’s Not Over Till It’s Over….

As our last week countdown continued we kept up the pressure. It didn’t matter that by the Day 4 of the countdown we had achieved our second goal of $100,000. We had a third goal in the back of our minds since the very beginning: To raise monies for the films theatrical rollout in the USA, which would be another $40,000 - $70,000. So we kept going.

Part of our campaign plan was that in the last week we would post a written update every day. This took a lot of work, but we actually sat together as a team and outlined what topic I would write about each day in the last 5 days of the campaign. Again we had the idea that these letters had to be real pieces of writing and not just a reiteration of the financial appeal. For ideas we tried to draw on things that related to the film topic, Tibetan Buddhism, and to the film’s subjects, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his son. This outline was really helpful. We followed the same procedure as with all my posts. I drafted the letter and then they were passed to Katherine and Lisa to edit and then to Stefanie to do the layout and artwork and post on all sites, It was intense, but it worked, even while midweek I had to hop on a plane to the Krakow International Film Festival where the film was having it’s Polish premiere.

The last couple days we even posted several times a day on Facebook with the hour countdown, mimicking what was on our Kickstarter site. Meanwhile, other people around the world started posting the countdown as well. Pretty cool when you realize others are following the ball dropping on your campaign and urging people to join during the last minutes! I myself kept reaching out to people on Facebook from Krakow until the “0 Seconds Left” appeared on our site.

In fact, there was so much energy at the end of our campaign that people turned to our website to make donations when the Kickstarter site closed down. We got several contributions in the days that followed May 28th.

It’s a good thing for me, because now that we have raised our completion funds and made a dent into our next goal, our theatrical release, I plan to keep continuing the fundraising – off Kickstarter – to raise the remaining costs for our theatrical release starting this October in the USA. In fact, Stefanie just put up a new "Store" (which we will conintue to build) and "Donation" page on our site. But due to Kickstarter, we were able to hire our theatrical booker with the funds we have so far and have started to chart the campaign, including having booked the film’s theatrical opening in NYC. More details to follow. (You can continue to hear about all things related to MY REINCARNATION by signing up on our Mailing List for constant updates and to find out when the film will be at a theater near you.)

40. The “Tipping Point”:

For months I fantasized about that illusive thing called the “Tipping Point”. I wondered how to make it happen. Clearly all the things we did and all the waves that our work generated around the world inside of other people took hold in the last 4 days of the campaign and created a small Tsunami that blew the MY REINCARNATION campaign off the charts. In those last days we more than doubled what we had raised previously in 86 days of work.

Afterwards, people wrote me things like: “Watching the last days of the campaign was better than a good soap opera”; or “I couldn’t stop checking the numbers all day to see how much they rose by”; or “I kept meaning to donate earlier, but somehow I kept forgetting till now”; and “I didn’t plan to give that much, but I just did!” (Said by the woman who bought my beloved Tibetan chest for $7,000 on the last day of the campaign with 6 hours left to go.)

I’d like to tell you it was all the result of our careful engineering and planning, but that would be a lie. Having been making films for 30 years, I know that you can work just as hard as we did and create a carefully constructed campaign, with a lot of good press, and plod along fairly well, but never hit that illusive “tipping point”.

So, I have to go back to my old dad for wisdom on this one. He always told me that 60% of success in life is hard work, 10% is talent, and the rest is luck. I think he is right. After all is said and done, I think we had some of that luck on our side this time.


41. From Kickstarter to outreach and distribution…

One of the things that became very clear to me doing this campaign is that Kickstarter is a preparation for your basic outreach and distribution campaign in America.

• We now had 518 additional people invested in the film and in it’s success in the world.
• We had reinvigorated our previous partners through the campaign’s success.
• We had built our mailing list, adding new individual names and new related organizations across the country and the world.
• We had built up our facebook and twitter presence.
• We had gotten people hungry for the film’s release in their local.
• We had identified and begun to build partnerships with key organizations related to the film that we could draw on for the theatrical release.
• We had raised the name recognition of the film on the web and in the world through the campaign and through selective press.

The biggest thing is that going through this experience has built our own “chops” on how to run a campaign for this film and gotten us in fighting shape for the theatrical to come.

42. Delivery…

Ah delivery, the most unglamorous part of the campaign but the aspect that requires as much or more care. We have not actually delivered to our patrons yet, so there is a lot we still don’t know (perhaps another Kickstarter Update in a few months!). But there are a few things that we have thought about that you might want to consider:

First, just make sure you calculate the cost of Kickstarter, Amazon, the time of the people helping you and the costs and postage of delivering items properly. In my mind, I have made this to be about 15 - 20% of what you raise. In our case between, $22,500 – 30,000 out of the $150,000 we made towards the film. So what we will take away is somewhere around $125,000. Thinking about this ahead of time will help you set the right number goal for your project. But I think it is also important to let you backers know how much is the exact take-away from the campaign, so they understand what you might still need to raise, or why you may have to come back to them in the future. I haven’t yet figured out exactly how to “frame” this to contributors, but I am working on it now.

I think it is important to keep in touch with your patrons after the campaign ends, giving them updates on next steps and how the Incentives will be delivered and the future of the film. These people are your best friends in the march towards completion and getting the film into the world properly. They are your new expanded team, or, as I like to think of them, “Soldiers” for the film in the world. They have a vested interest in your film’s future, because it is now, in part, their film.

* * * * *


Kickstarter is an amazing process to go through. I highly recommend it for its potential monetary rewards, how it expands your network, and challenges your inner conceptions. I would do it again immediately with the right film project.

I do however, have to say one thing: All of us agonize about how to fund our films, and indeed it is a challenge. But sometimes it is easy to forget that the really difficult thing is not fundraising but making good films. Nothing compares to the challenge and the complexity of this unique art. With funding so scarce in America, it is easy to loose sight of this fact. Kickstarter is nothing compared with the task of making a well-crafted, surprising, valuable, enjoyable, emotional, eye-opening visual work that has the power to change the way people see themselves and the world. Let us all keep our eye on the ball as we journey forward!

Coming in the next weeks is a special post from the MY REINCARNATION team – Stefanie Diaz, Lisa Duva and Katherine Nolfi – filled with new wisdoms and perspectives on climbing the Kickstarter Mountain!




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.

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox "PART 3: How MY REINCARNATION Broke All Kickstarter Records"

Yesterday, the profoundly generous Jennifer Fox shared with us four more of the lessons she learned crowdfunding. This after a run two week's earlier where she shared a host of other (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. Read the next four today.

Here are the next 4 Tips of Kickstarter wisdom I learned along the MY REINCARNCATION crowd-funding path….

33. How Many Times Does It Take? The Rule of Three (at least):

For many years I heard distributors say that you have to hear the name of a film three times before you will go to see it in the movie theater (the same applies for purchasing any new product). I am not sure why this is the case, but the idea is that you have to have a new idea reinforced several times and several ways before you will take decisive action.

This is something I noticed over and over during the MY REINCARNATION campaign. People did not act the first time we sent them an announcement but somewhere down the line – email blast or Facebook Post number 3, 4, 5 or 6 (that they actually read) – they decided to become a patron. Of course this it totally different for those who have heard of the project before – like your long-suffering family and friends – who have been listening to you talk about your dear film ad nausea and make a donation if for no other reason than to have some peace and quiet.

But for strangers and for those who don’t have an emotional attachment to you, the key is to give reasons to keep reading, watching and considering the project so they can hear about it several times and pass their individual saturation point or “tipping point” to make a contribution. But to keep them engaged till they make their decision to become a patron, takes some work…

34. “If You Give, You Shall Receive”:

During the course of our Kickstarter campaign, I became so fired up with crowd-funding that I found myself really sympathetic to email appeals I received to help complete other films on both IndieGoGo and Kickstarter. I found myself making small (I am broke after all) $10 to $25 donations to other film projects I liked. What happened was surprising. Inevitably when I gave a donation to someone they made a donation back to our project. While we didn’t exactly make huge sums from this, it expanded the awareness of the project and they became part of the film’s community (see previous Tip #25). I found this very interesting.

It made me realize that another thing my Mother told me was true. When I was grown up, my Mom made a post motherhood career change to become a professional fundraiser for deafness research and created a foundation called NOHR (The National Organization for Hearing Research). She always said that it is important that she make donations to all her local charities and go to their events if she wants people to give to her foundation. I always found this idea strange, until I saw it happen on Kickstarter.

35. ‘New News’:

Previously I spoke about the idea that our team approached our Kickstarter campaign with the idea that there would be a “rollout” (see previous Tip #3), many people asked me what I meant by this.

A “rollout” means that you have to constantly create new reasons for people to keep checking your site and read your email blasts. This may not be so true on a shorter campaign but on a longer campaign like ours, which lasted 90 days, it becomes absolutely evident. So the question becomes: what new incentives are you giving your audience to continue their involvement or begin their involvement? I have already said in the previous post that fundraising is not a passive act (previous Tip #26); you must grab that potential patron’s attention.

Once you launch your Kickstarter campaign, the excitement of what you are offering – the new video appeal, all those new wonderful incentives – only lasts a certain while. I would give it about 10-days and then all that “newness” becomes old hat. After that you have to start adding “new news” to give people reasons to check your site and read your emails.

Of course one of the things you are giving people are your exciting written updates, that tell people about the film’s progress, campaign updates, and your life following the film’s development (which I have spoken intensively about in previous posts see Tip #14).

But I would say as a campaign goes on, you have to keep upping the ante, which means adding something new, every two weeks, then every week, then every day – until D-day. For our campaign the first thing we thought of is that we have to keep adding new video to our website and Facebook page regularly and point everyone to this video in every eblast we did on our own list as well as on the list serves of other organizations. These videos were created from every screening the film had at film festivals; a video series we created called O.F.F.’s (Outtakes from the Film), where we released various short clips (1.5 – 4 minutes) from the 1,000 hours of unused footage; two sneak preview screenings, one with protagonist Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in Melbourne, Australia, and another with the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City; photos from MY REINCARNATION events as I traveled around the world; and more video and audio interviews with me or the protagonists Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Khyentse Yeshe.

Late in our Kickstarter campaign, when we were searching for “new news”, we started to add new incentives to the original list. Posting photos and descriptions of these new beautiful, precious items day by day gave people a reason to keep checking our site. See the next Tip #35:

36. Late Game Discoveries –What We Wish We Knew 90 Days Earlier:

There are many things we learned in the last days of our campaign – approximately 6 days till D-Day – when desperation set in and we kicked into even higher gear. Some of the things are due to it being our first time out with such a high priced campaign, others are just about breaking those inner taboos that keep you from going all the way to exposing your financial need (and therefore vulnerability) to your friends, family and the world.

• Towards the end of the campaign, with 6 days to go, I realized we needed more medium priced incentives on the site. The lower priced incentives were selling, but some of the higher priced incentives remained and didn’t seem like they would go. I decided to try something new as I discussed in the previous tip. So I raided my house once again and brought out more Buddhist artwork – at lower price points – to add in several installments as new incentives to offer people to buy. The next day Stefanie took pictures and posted the photos, updated our Kickstarter incentive lists, and sent out my new email announcing these objects and suddenly the contributions rose again.


• Silly at it may seem, I was uncomfortable reaching out to the film’s protagonists Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Khyentse Yeshe for support. In fact, it was something I considered taboo for the duration of the Kickstarter campaign till the last days. There are many needs in a Buddhist community, and I didn’t want to ask for more help with something so superficial as a film fundraising campaign. I remember having a light bulb go off the same Sunday I raided my home. We were only at around $65,000 and I was wracking my brain how to move the campaign forward. I was nervous, but before going to bed, I wrote both Rinpoche, and Yeshi, who were both busy with heavy teaching schedules in Russia. I didn’t know if they would see the emails I sent them or even respond. The next morning I awoke to an email from Yeshi – donating a fantastic Buddhist statue – and then Rinpoche responded two days later offering a personal diamond ring to sell. We immediately posted pictures of the objects everywhere (in fact you can see the second one still up on our Kickstarter page now). These objects sent a clear message that the protagonist’s supported the film to the worldwide Buddhist communities that caused the contributions to go flying. Why people needed this sign, after the protagonists’ had given so many others – including letting me film them for 20 years and after the film was finished doing Q & A’s at screenings with me in different parts of the world – I don’t really know. It is one of the mysteries of human psychology. But certainly one of the many lessons is that people need constant evidence to keep donating to a long campaign like ours. In retrospect, I could have made this request sooner. But it also opened the idea of other contributions…

• In retrospect, I could have canvassed many people in the community and backers and asked them to donate personal items to the Kickstarter campaign. This would have allowed us to keep adding incentives and also to enroll more people in the effort without only asking for money.

• It wasn’t till the last week of our campaign that we realized that you could keep adding photos and video to our actual Kickstarter page. We always posted the visuals on Facebook and our website, but not on Kickstarter. Adding new visuals to the Kickstarter page each day in the last 5 day countdown made people come back to see what was “new” and they ended up contributing more.

• It’s amazing in the last days to realize the people you haven’t contacted about your Kickstarter campaign. One of my realizations came from yet another phone conversation with my mother, who was always trying to come up with new ideas to help me. She asked, “What about your high school? Have you announced the campaign to them?” No I hadn’t and I wish I had. I know it would have paid off. Same with your college class (I never graduated college so that was moot for me.) Any groups or organizations you have been part of – anytime during you entire life – are good candidates to tell about your film, since many still think filmmaking is glamorous and may very well enjoy being part of a film effort.

• The last day of the campaign I started to post individual messages on friends’ Facebook pages. This had enormous success and people contributed with hours to go. If I had to do it over again, I would have done this much sooner and more widespread. In fact, I would have slowly posted on all 3,500+ facebook friends I have built from the campaign of my last film. I wouldn’t make the posts obnoxious, just personal with a link to the MY REINCARNATION Kickstarter page.

• Beyond Facebook, I think I would have reached out to more individuals on our email lists and asked them personally for help in passing the word. We did a lot of mass mailings but the personal emails were harder to write. Yet often they are the most fruitful.

* * * * *
Next up is the last blog post with my remaining 6 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.

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!

* * * * *

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.

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox "How MY REINCARNATION Broke All Kickstarter Records & Raised $150,000"

Two weeks ago Jennifer Fox shared with us some of the lessons she learned crowdfunding (1st six here, next 14 here). Since then, she has gone down in the record books for both the number of donations and the amount thereof. If they gave records for quality as well as quantity she probably would have gotten those too. 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. The best part is, this ain't all. There's still more coming next week! Thanks Jennifer.

It was only last week, but I have to admit: I have a bit of nostalgia for those heady last days of our Kickstarter campaign. Now when I open up my computer and press gmail, I stare at the few new emails despondently. I wonder if I will ever wake up again to hundreds of Kickstarter messages on my computer screen announcing donations. Even our supporters have written to say they miss the daily excitement of checking our site to see if – and by how much – the dollars rose.

I am reminded of something one of the protagonists of MY REINCARNATION and son of Namkhai Norbu, Khyentse Yeshe, said to me in an interview once:

“Whenever you try to do something difficult, you fail and fail and fail, until you succeed.”

When Yeshi first said this, I didn’t relate at all. The word “failure” is very un-American. In fact it is something almost extinct from the American business and political vocabulary. (Have you ever noticed that no American president has ever failed at anything?) But Yeshi is Italian and being so he is more comfortable with a wider spectrum of experience. The more I thought about what he was saying, the more I realized he was right. It is a very good description of our Kickstarter campaign: We failed and failed until we succeeded (at the first goal $50,000) and then we failed again and again until we succeeded and surpassed our second goal of $100,000. The main thing we did as a team was to take our failures as key pieces of information, pointing us towards what to work on next.

Midway through our campaign my cousin, Ken, sent me an article from Tech Crunch, spouting the success of the new crowd-funding platform, but also stating that 43% of the Kickstarter projects fail and never reach their goal. Reflecting on this together in our team helped us recognize some of the pitfalls when we hit them, and change course so we could ultimately succeed.

Now that the dust has settled, here are our 9 additional tips (13 more to come) that we learned doing our campaign to add to our previous 20 (from “Hope for Film” Post 1, Post 2, and Post 3):

21. Kickstarter Is Not For Sissies:

No one can prepare you for the amount of work a Kickstarter campaign involves. Don’t start your campaign until you make the time, mental space and have enough pressure on yourself (meaning financial need) to do so. No one fundraises because they have nothing else to do.

It is the same advice I give to young documentary filmmakers when they ask me should they make their new film idea?  I always say, “If you can walk away from an idea, do so immediately, because making films is too hard. Only make the film that you can’t walk away from…”

Same with Kickstarter, if you have any other means to raise money, do so, because it will be easier. Kickstarter is all encompassing. You have to be ready to make your campaign your J-O-B.


22. Not Every Film Is A Kickstarter:

One of the first questions a journalist asked me at the end of our campaign was: Is every film right for Kickstarter? The answer is absolutely not. But evaluating what will be successful on Kickstarter is probably very different from the way most broadcasters or distributors evaluate a potential film.

Kickstarter definitely works best when a clear-targeted audience can be identified for the project, classically called “niche audiences.” These audiences are perfect for web based projects because ostensibly you can identify and reach out to every person with similar interest around the world. Niche audiences tend to be very devoted to their subject and therefore passionate about wanting to see a film about their issue, subject, pastime, or obsession.

In our case, the film MY REINCARNATION works on two basic levels: First, it is a classic father-son story, that everyone can recognize, which is why many broadcasters have already signed on to air it. But this is too general for web-based fundraising; you can’t find that group and target it (because it’s everyone).  So in this case, the second storyline is crucial: Since the film is about a Tibetan Buddhist father and son, the Tibetan Buddhists were an obvious niche to target.

But unbeknownst to many outsiders, the Tibetan Buddhist community is not one entity. It is divided into little groups of supporters backing each school and teacher.  It is hard to get those not directly connected to a teacher or school to support a project outside of their frame.  We had to start shifting our campaign and write each sub-group differently to address this problem. We positioned the film as a film for all Buddhists, in any school, in fact, anyone interested in religion. Get to know the sub-groups within your niche and experiment with the language that best speaks to each group within the larger whole.

23. The Magic Number:

Our team agonized over how much we could succeed in raising for MY REINCARNATION. The fact that you don’t get your funds unless you make your goal loomed heavily. We knew that most people seemed to set their target between $3,000 and $15,000 on the site. But we had a huge deficit ($100,000) and this was our last ditch effort to reduce it. If we set the goal too low, it would only be a drop in the bucket. On the other hand, if we set the goal too high, we might not get any funding at all.  We estimated that we could comfortably raise $30,000, so we pushed up the tension and put our goal at $50,000.

Once we made the $50,000 goal in half the time (46 days out of 90) we felt safe, no matter what we would get the donations, but then we had another problem: How to reset the goal to keep going?  First thing we did was put new copy on the front page saying the new goal was $100,000.  But that raised a credibility issue.  Some who previously donated wrote to me and asked why we needed more? 

In reality, we had always written that we needed to raise $100,000, but were only going for half.  We even said that in a perfect world we needed to raise $140,000 to 170,000 to include US theatrical distribution.  But that didn’t register to many of the people donating.  It took a lot of emailing and Kickstarter Updates to clearly explain the situation. I would say the campaign lagged for a while as it turned this bend and we had to work very hard to reset people’s minds toward the project.

24. How Many"Web-Days" Is Right For Your Campaign?
:

Another nice fact I learned after we finished our campaign came from one of the Kickstarter staff members, asking me why we decided to set our time limit at 90 days. She wrote:

“90-day campaigns actually have the lowest success rate of all durations (with about 30 days typically being the most successful). How did you find that 90-day duration to work for you?”

This is a perfect example of naiveté working for us. Our team didn’t realize that shorter durations have higher success rates. We were still in the old model: More time is more opportunity. We thought that $50,000 is a lot of money to raise and we were afraid of the time pressure. Our longer campaign did give us time to reset the goal midway after achieving our stated amount of $50,00 to $100,000 and then to find a way to lead people to picking up the challenge a second time. But it was just that – almost like two campaigns.

What I learned (see previous Tip # 20) is that web time expands in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Ninety days could have been a year the way we lived it, how hard we worked, and the amount we accomplished.  To function a campaign has to keep momentum, which is why less time is easier to handle and stay strong.  Human beings want to follow.  If the campaign is doing badly, people stay away.  But if they see the numbers rising, they want to jump on the boat. Better to have a short fast-rising campaign than a long campaign that moves little.  The time limit pushes people to make a decision.  Push the people closest to you to act quickly and to help the ball rolling as soon as possible.

25. Define Your Real Goals – It’s Not Just About Money:

When we started this campaign, if you asked me what I wanted from potential supporters, I would have bristled and said, “Their money, stupid!” But I have to say as the campaign evolved, I realized I wanted and needed more than just money from contributors.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we developed the idea of a donor level called, Outreach Partner (previous Tip #15) for people who couldn’t give any more than $1. In the beginning we thought that many people who can’t give money, can get involved by blasting their friends.  Later, I realized we wanted everyone to do this, and in fact giving more money sometimes made people more invested in the project than those who couldn’t give much.  So now, in the aftermath of Kickstarter I would say I have different goals. I want contributors:

– To participate in the campaign in every way they feel they can.
– To feel they have a stake in the film achieving it’s fundraising goal.
– To take up the cause of the film and the message of the film as their own by passing the news about it onto their friends, relatives, co-workers, the world…
– To care enough about the film to donate more than once (if necessary to make the goal and they can afford to do so.)
– To become a soldier for the future of the film, so when the film goes into distribution, the person wants to help it get out in the world (see next post’s Tip #41).

26. Fundraising Is Not A Passive Act:

This might seem obvious but I have started to notice the number of organizations that have the button “Please Donate” on their website. It is sort of the “flypaper” approach: if someone passes by, they may get caught. In a modern world, where our attention is being competed for from everyone and everywhere, I doubt many people just happen to press that “donate” button. Do you?

Running a Kickstarter campaign has made me realize that fundraising only works if you actively go out to the potential donors and grab their attention by talking to them directly in a compelling way, whether virtually via email, facebook, twitter, by phone or Skype or god forbid, in person.

While doing MY REINCARNATION, I donated to a few other campaigns, but sometimes when I read their Kickstarter updates, I wanted to write back to them and ask: “Do you think that post makes me want to engage more? Does it make me donate a second time?” I remember reading one filmmaker’s update, announcing the campaign had made their goal, but that with 3 days left to spare, it was still possible to donate again. There was nothing in the letter about why I should give more: What would it buy the film? Why would it make me feel better than I did the first time I donated? I didn’t anti up nor did many others. If there is nothing for me to gain – either through what I will tangibly get, or as a Patron of the arts, in my desire to help get the film further, I will never give again.


27. Words Are Everything – What Is Your Message?:

In our team, we constantly evaluated our success and changed direction from each evaluation. One of the very simple things we did was evolve and adapt the way we wrote about the film in response to what we learned. We kept rewriting and rewriting our pitches to hone in on what worked. We also wrote different pitches for different audiences – Buddhist, Filmmakers, and General/Family population.  From years of watching political campaigns and my own experience with fundraising, I learned that words are everything.

In the middle of our campaign, I was at my brother’s Passover with my cousin Ken, a successful entrepreneur (the same one who afterwards sent me the Kickstarter business article mentioned earlier). I overheard him talking to my Uncle about this crazy new company that was making millions, getting people to give them money without any equity in the final product. He spoke about it like a Ponzi scheme. To my surprise, he was talking about Kickstarter. Of course, as an artist I never saw crowd-funding this way. Artists throughout history have survived through patrons; Kickstarter, and platforms like it, are modern, democratic forms of arts patronage where people donate money to get art made. But listening to the way my cousin saw it made me realize that one of the key hurdles of any crowd-funding campaign is to figure out how to frame the request.

I slowly began to realize that the word “donation” was the wrong word to use in a campaign like this. First we changed the word to “Support,” but even that was not far enough.  Finally, we changed it to “Participate.”

It must be clear that you are making an exchange with your supporters: they give you money and you give them back something of equal value. The question to consider is exactly what are you giving back?

28. Start With The SUBJECT of Your Email:

If your emails aren’t being read, you don’t have a prayer in hell of doing an Eblast, list-serve, based campaign. One of the things I started to think about is what gets me to open an email.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I only open mass mailings when I think I will receive something: perhaps a new idea, new video tidbit, new advice, new stories, etc.  I noticed the emails I don’t open are those that say “UPDATE” or “March News” or “Bulletin #23.”  The description in the SUBJECT of your mass email matters.  It had better be interesting; we all know how little time each of has to read our 6,482 emails per day.

What makes a sexy SUBJECT heading? That of course depends on your film and your target audience. But it is worth thinking about it with the same concern you think about your film’s title.  There are many ways to hook someone’s attention: A SUBJECT can be so strange that you want to open it up to see what’s behind it or it can promise something inside that the reader wants to read or see. The imagination is limitless.  Also beware that a good SUBJECT can be right for one target group and not another, so tailor as you go.

There’s a simple test to see how well your SUBJECT headings are doing. Most mass email services (we use Vertical Response) have an analytic report where you can see how many emails have been opened and which links have been pressed.  It’s good to get in the habit of using this as a way to get feedback so you can up your game.


29. So What Are People Really Getting From Participating in Your Campaign?:

I really believe success depends on reframing the campaign from “taking” to “giving.” First, you select and curate “incentives” which are gifts that correspond to each donation level and to the film itself. (See previous Tip #6). This of course gives the contributor the feeling that he will receive something concrete. However, this is only the tangible thing people “get” from your campaign – and I would argue less important. There are so many intangible things people receive from being part of your film’s Kickstarter Campaign. I think it is important to be aware of them, so you can build them in your offer:

– They become part of an artistic endeavor outside of their normal life. One German man wrote me that as a tax accountant he felt little creative excitement in his life.  Suddenly, participating in our film, he felt a lot of newfound creative joy. He became very active on our Kickstarter, donated three times, blasted his friends, sent out a mass email urging all who had previously given to double their donations, and came to a screening at the Munich Film Festival and met me.

– One of the things donors “get” is contact with the creator. I wrote personal mails to everyone, especially in the first three-quarters of the campaign. We corresponded often throughout the campaign. Since I was traveling I encouraged people to come to screenings in their territory and introduce themselves.

– In a world that is increasingly disenfranchised, supporters get to join a team or group that has similar values to them.  They become part of a community doing something good for the world.

– Supporters are able to get their political and social values out into the world in the form of the film. They no longer feel invisible and ineffective as many do in the modern experience.  If the film succeeds, they have succeeded too.

– Many talk about offering donors the chance to participate in the glitz of filmmaking by getting their name on a film, being invited to a screening, and meeting the filmmaker. The glitz seems less important than I would have thought, but nevertheless it is one of the incentives.

Giving something back is also the reason why I began to write longer, more serious posts. I tried to write stories that let people into the filmmaking, fundraising, distribution, and festival process. Little written gifts to thank people for participating in our journey.

Every project is different, but the key is to begin to identify what you are giving so that you can frame your campaign that way. No one wants to give without getting back. Too often in fundraising campaigns, we appeal to people’s selflessness, which rarely works. Even on a Buddhist film! What does work is appealing to their positive needs and positive desires.

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Stayed tuned for the next – and I will try to make the last – 13 Tips for making a kick-ass Kickstarter Campaign!


-- Jennifer Fox

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.

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox "The First 6 Tips For Launching A Six-Figure Kickstarter Campaign

Last week Jennifer Fox shared with us her 22 year process to getting her latest film made. Today, she share what she has learned about aiming for a six figure raise on Kickstarter. Will she make it? Well, it all starts with you.... Make it happen. I contributed. And now she's giving back to the community -- perhaps you can complete the karmic chain and give to her. There's less than five days left!

The first thing everyone will tell you about a Kickstarter campaign is Tip #1: Reach out to your family. I must say this is not news to me. I have been reaching out to my parents all my life, long before Kickstarter. The older I get, the more I wonder if I could have lived such a high-risk artist’s life without their support. To give you just one example: when I dropped out of NYU film school at age 21, after only one year, to shoot a film in the war in Lebanon, they didn’t blink an eye. When I made a six-hour series on my sex life (and the lives of other women including those in my family), instead of disowning me, they came to the Sundance Film Festival and did a Q & A with me on stage. My parents always had a unique vision: My mom was a professional musician who loved art, film and theater, who would only give me blank sheets of paper to draw on as a child (no coloring books) – so that I would develop my creativity. My dad, who was a homebuilder and businessman, regaled us with the joys of entrepreneurship at the dining room table each night, the way some fathers talk about baseball. They succeeded in instilling in me a profound belief in my own creative vision, something that is very hard to teach. I often wish I could rent my parents out to my film students. In retrospect, that I am a film Director/Producer is just a neat amalgam of their passions.

My Jewish parents have a very hardy approach to life – neither of them has a penchant for wallowing in emotions (like I do); they are big believers in “ good attitude”. This has rubbed off on me despite my own tendencies. From them, I have learned that attitude and passion are what sell. I often hear film directors say how much they hate fundraising. The problem is that someone who hates what he or she is doing moves no one. From my parents, I learned to check my attitude when setting out to do something and if it isn’t positive I try to reframe it. And if it slips, as it always does, I reframe it again. Granted this is a very American, Reganesque approach, but there are things to take from everywhere. If you are going to be a filmmaker – particularly in America – you’d better figure out how to find joy and creativity in raising funds. From my Mom, I love creating and directing films but from my Dad, I love the challenge of figuring out how to fund something that no one thinks they want – only to discover that it is what they need. Making films for so many years, I learned that you don’t have to ‘win’ all the time, only a percentage. Every film that I have ever made has a drawer full of rejections. Perhaps I am negatively motivated, but those rejections often spur me to prove the world wrong. And again perversely I find this kind of fun….

Our team is now on Day 85 of our 90 day Kickstarter Campaign. There is a lot we’ve discovered and are still discovering. Like all creative endeavors, fundraising is a “process” that evolves and develops as you do it. Here are 6 of our top 20 tips so far. Some of them are about the actual work and some are more about what I would call, “psychological warfare”, so necessary for the game:

1. Reach Out to Family and Friends:

Unlike what many will tell you, I must say that for me family (and friends) are more about getting emotional support than money, necessarily. It is very dicey to ask people you know and love to give you their hard earned funds. I had some friends tell me that they felt offended that I was emailing them about our campaign. Discussing this with them led to some very interesting insights about why I feel this is a democratic and legitimate way to support the arts. But I am not here to proselytize. I immediately backed off. In a way what they are saying is true: they don’t ask me to fund their passion, why should I ask them to fund mine? However, that’s not exactly how I see it: I believe that the film project, MY REINCARNATION, has a greater good for humanity and is a contribution to people’s lives. Hence, it must be seen and is worth funding…

2. Build a Team:

Filmmaking is a collaborative experience, but so is fundraising. It takes a lot of brainstorming and thinking out of the box. It takes multiple skills that one person rarely has all of. Without a team you just can’t get the traction and the reach into the world (see previous post). But also it helps with the fear factor. I don’t know about you, but this kind of public fundraising scares the shit out of me. My team keeps me from losing it. Having a team is also essential for Tip #3 (and Tip #16 in the next post):

3. Brainstorm the Campaign as a Rollout with Different Phases:

Our team, Katherine Nolfi, Lisa Duva, Stefanie Diaz and myself, discussed how the campaign would start – rather simply – and how we would keep rolling out new facets over time. We knew this had to be an international campaign since the film’s subjects are international and the Buddhism has an international reach. This meant that everything we did had to be done for the USA and abroad, often country by country. This included building email lists, adding new incentives, and creating regular new videos for our website, facebook and twitter that could be linked with our consistent updates on Kickstarter. We saw our campaign as having three initiatives: the web campaign; seeking out and approaching larger private donors to become Producers, and setting up “Sneak Preview Benefit Screenings” in key locations (so far we have held screenings in Melbourne and New York City). The screenings were part of our plan because we had a unique problem: we were fundraising for a film that was technically finished, but that no one had seen. We hypothesized that people might need to see the finished film to give it money. In the end, festivals also helped on this account (see the next post, Tip #8). But I also learned that the film's trailer was often enough for people as in point #4…

4. Make a Good Trailer:

Of course “make a great trailer” is common wisdom for any kind of film fundraising. However, MY REINCARNATION was such a difficult film that I didn’t edit a trailer during the fundraising process. When I looked for funds, I always showed edited scenes assembled in a half-hour or hour format. (Probably why we failed miserably much of the time.) We didn’t have a clear narrative for 18 years into the shooting, making it impossible to cut a trailer. One we finally cut the trailer, right before launching at festivals, it was rather easy to do because the story arc was so clear. Now I’ve been told by some people that they cry when they watch our trailer. It has helped many people to make a donation when they haven’t seen the film yet. As our Kickstarter campaign continued, we wanted to add an additional fundraising pitch to our trailer, perhaps on-camera, like so many directors have done. I filmed myself speaking to camera while at the Singapore Film festival, sent it back to NYC and Lisa edited it. But, we rejected it. Quite frankly, we have been showing my face too much in our effort to get moving images up on the web (posting a lot of Q & A Videos from festivals). I feel it’s the wrong message for a film project on a Buddhist theme, where I am beginning to look too much like a “Star.” So finally, Katherine came up with another approach using testimonies from our “NYC Sneak Preview Benefit Screening” last week. She edited them this weekend and the new video for our campaign will go up later today, with just 5 days left to our campaign (so check back on our Kickstarter site this afternoon to see the new video live).

5. Craft your Kickstarter Pitch Carefully:

Our team started by looking at the best-written pitches we could find on KICKSTARTER and basically mimicked their format. We liked the ones that explained everything, including how KICKSTARTER works. Since we were reaching out internationally and to an audience that was not in the arts, we felt this explanation necessary. Then we had to carefully frame why the film was still looking for money when it was technically finished. We made the explanation general, instead of giving a precise cause (which I am not sure was the right tactic in retrospect). Then we tried to turn a negative – that the film was finished – into a positive: this was a no risk venture because the film was already guaranteed distribution all over the world. We just had to find the last chunk of funds to pay for its costs before it could be delivered to television and other markets. This is very difficult to talk about simply because you are fighting people’s misconceptions about the film business and money, which come from Hollywood Blockbusters. They think films make big money – and get paid big money in distribution, which is not the case for documentaries (see my previous post).

6. Incentives:

Since you can't really put many images on your own Kickstarter page, Stefanie created a full brochure of pictures of the Kickstarter incentives on our MY REINCARNATION website so people could see what they were getting. She used the PBS pledge images as her model. We gathered a mixture of incentives, some Buddhist oriented and some film community oriented. One thing that we did very early on, even before the Kickstarter campaign began, was to offer a “Limited Special Edition Pre-Release DVD” for sale on our website at a very high price: $108. This DVD is a ‘vanilla version’ without extras or multiple language subtitles. We started to sell this a good six months before our Kickstarter campaign to help keep our office running during the festival release. When we put up the Kickstarter, we decided to offer the DVD in two ways: the Commercial DVD in 2012 at $25 and the Limited Special Edition Pre-Release DVD in September 2011 at $108. This has been our most successful incentive. For higher priced items, I raided anything I could find in my home: there are two of my own museum quality paintings by a very well known Buddhist Painter (one is sold and one still remains so far) and a beautiful antique Tibetan chest that my parents gave me (which I asked them first if I could sell, guess what they said?), still available. I even put up a limited edition watch I received from being on the Zurich Film Festival jury last year (gone). Basically nothing I own was off limits. It’s been a great Buddhist teaching to struggle with – and let go of – my attachment to my objects (that chest is one of my favorite possessions)!

What we learned for MY REINCARNATION is that the Buddhist incentives work much better than the film incentives. So far no one seems to care much about me or my career to purchase say a “Consultation with an Award–Winning Filmmaker". So much for my ego and 30 years of hard work!

-- Jennifer Fox

Jennifer Fox is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning Producer, Director, Camerawoman. She is known for her groundbreaking work on both documentary features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN, and now MY REINCARNATION. She is the subject of three films on filmmaking, TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY She has Executive Produced many award winning films, including LOVE & DIANE, ON THE ROPES and UPSTATE. She teaches and consults on directing and producing internationally at institutions such as New York University, the Binger Lab in Amsterdam, the University of Zurich and many others.

Guest Post by Jennifer Fox: "Change Or Die: How 22 Years On One Film Lead To Desperate Measures

I have been producing for about 25 years now. I have routines, methods, and even rituals that help me get done what I have to get done. But if there is one thing that is constant in the film/media biz it is change. If we don't remain eternal students, we don't evolve and grow. Both our art and our business requires that we sometimes abandon all we have learned and take new approaches. We have to learn new tricks and embrace them with the love of a true amateur. Not surprisingly, I am inspired by tales of filmmakers doing just that. It would be hard to find a story that captures this necessity more than Jennifer Fox's 22 year ordeal with her latest film. Thankfully it brought Jennifer both all the way through and too a point that we can all now join in and share in both the process and success. We can learn from her guest post today.

As a 30+ year documentary veteran, there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s “change or die.” And while I am spewing out truisms that I've collected, I’ll share another one, “survival is winning.” I love making films, I certainly don’t expect to get rich, but what I do hope for is to be able to wake up each morning and to do what I am so privileged to do: work on a film and every few years, make a new one. So far I’ve succeeded. But this current film threatened to sink my boat more than once.

I must say I always knew MY REINCARNATION was a difficult project. I walked away from it many times, saying it was impossible. But something always drew me back and after 22 years, we had a fantastic story that we were launching in the world. It seemed that my worries were for naught. The film had several European television stations onboard as co-production partners (more on this in my next post), had been sold to PBS’s premiere series POV, and was invited to top festivals around world. So, at the end of last year when I discovered that one of my European co-producers, through no fault of their own, had failed to raised their promised $100,000 towards the budget, the wind went out of my sails. As the main Producer, I was responsible. In fact I had already technically “spent” that money finishing the film, I just hadn’t paid the bills. My brain went into an exhausted tailspin.

(For those of you who may have fantasies about the money you make once a film is finished, I hope I don’t ruin your day. My experience is that the majority of funds have to be raised before the film is finished. There are very few films that make large sums of money in distribution. To give you one example: a country might pay $50,000 or higher to get involved in a television co-production, but once the film is finished, that same territory will only offer a fraction of that to buy the film outright. Meanwhile, all European film subsidies and US foundation grants are for development, production and post. No one gives money backwards.)

So there I was on New Years Eve 2011 with a big problem: How could I raise funds for a film that was technically completed?

Making MY REINCARNATION I had already been forced out of my fundraising comfort zone. In the past, my films were funded with television pre-sales and foundation and government grants; I didn't "believe" in documentary investors because I thought it was too hard to pay them back. Moreover, I had never figured out how to approach private donors. This time, trying to raise funds for a spiritual subject, I faced a whole new set of challenges. It took 12 years before the first trickle of funding came in and 18 years before any substantial monies. Throughout the production of the film, I was forced to think out of the box: I privately approached and successfully brought on several private donors in exchange for producing credits; I ran a lottery and auctioned off most of my valued personal possessions; I pre-sold DVDs; and then I took my first ”investment/loan” through a deal with IMPACT PARTNERS.

This year I faced a whole new problem. With the film already playing at festivals, I racked my brain, what to do? Ideally I would find one large patron to complete the production costs, but I had exhausted my contacts. When I delicately returned to the people who had previously donated monies to tell them my sad tale (which is what all the books tell you to do), everyone politely declined to pony up additional funds. I was running out of options.

There was only one straw left. I knew I had listen to my own mantra. (You know that one about “change/die”). Early last year, I was introduced to crowd funding when my singer/song writer friend, Ana Egge, emailed me to ask if I would donate to her KICKSTARTER campaign to record her new album. 'Who could turn down such a talent like Ana?' I said to myself. So, I gave her a small donation and really enjoyed the updates and the feeling of being part of her creation. I even gave her a second contribution mid-way through the campaign. I saw the democratic power of this new arts patronage. I was intrigued. 'But it's not for me...' I thought.

When it came to my own project, the idea of going public with my financial problems and holding out a hand to the world terrified me. To me, asking for money is something private to do behind closed doors one on one. I was embarrassed to tell people I had this funding challenge; what would the community think of me?

But desperation is a powerful motivator. I didn’t know if I could do a crowd funding campaign. However, one thing I knew for sure, I couldn’t do it alone. I was exhausted from the last 22 years of pushing the ball up hill on this film. Honestly, at my age the idea of a “web anything” can be a bit daunting. Moreover, I was already committed to a heavy festival tour with MY REINCARNATION as part of its outreach and distribution. How could I be on the road and running a campaign that would surely take so much work?

So I decided to look for help. I reached out to another girlfriend and filmmaker, Katherine Nullify, who had done a successful Kickstarter campaign for her first feature UPSTATE last year. She brought in another filmmaker friend, Lisa Duva, currently making her first feature CAT SCRATCH FEVER. We all worked together several years ago on the web 2.0 theatrical outreach for my previous film FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN. These were women who could do anything and quite honestly I needed their juice. I wanted to enroll them to help me out.

My idea was to do a crowd funding campaign, but also to look for new larger donors to offer producing credits. I had the crazy idea that we could re-credit MY REINCARNATION in the territories that we hadn’t delivered the film yet – primarily the USA. I pitched the idea to Katherine and Lisa and they thought it would fly. Since I was broke, I offered them a percentage of the funds we would raise as payment. Thank god they accepted.

The third person of the team was already in place. Luckily for me, for the last year I had been working with a young, self avowed, web geek, Stefanie Diaz who had built our MY REINCARNATION web site and could do anything web. She loved the idea of a Kickstarter campaign – it was right up her alley.

The team was ready to go. The biggest question left was how much to aim for? We knew that most campaigns only try to raise between $5,000 – $15,000. But that would be a drop in the bucket. There was no way we could target the $100,000 we really needed, because it seemed impossible. So with knees shaking we launched our 90-day MY REINCARNATION Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $50,000.

I have never been so nervous in my life. 46 days and endless sleepless nights later, we hit $50,000. So with 44 days left we decided to keep going and try to make it to $100,000. How we got this far and what we came up with during those nights will be in my next blog post…. Meanwhile, with only 9 days left, I better get back to the web to write some Kickstarter thank you notes and beat the drum further…

-- Jennifer Fox

Jennifer Fox is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning Producer, Director, Camerawoman. She is known for her groundbreaking work on both documentary features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN, and now MY REINCARNATION. She is the subject of three films on filmmaking, TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY She has Executive Produced scores of films and teaches and consults on directing and producing internationally.