Film may be 110 years old, the Film Industry a century, Amer-Indie, as a semi-organized infrastructure and process, 30 years, but as a creative community we are only a few years, at best, in. Sure the guilds have been here longer, but as an open & transparent, group, activity sharing information and aspirations, it's taken the rise of blogging culture to bring us together.
As much as we are coming together on a general basis, indie film communities come together now around specific voices. Nonetheless, other than Kevin Smith there are very few folks who have truly built and served their audiences to such an extent that that audience is in fact a community that can be depended on to support a film to the extent necessary to move it through production and release. Or rather, until recently. Crowdfunding, more than just a money raising tool, allows us to measure how communities can truly make movies happen. Koo, who has built the much loved and very useful blog No Film School, now is making a film, and as he shares below, he couldn't have gotten so far with the support from the community he has so loyally served.
My crowdfunding campaign to make a youth basketball feature film Man-child has made it most of the way to raising its $115,000 goal (!). I've been working tirelessly since launching the campaign on August 16th, and you can bet I won't be sleeping much until it ends September 23rd (this Friday). I don't know if we're going to make it all the way, but in coming this far, I've learned a lot -- and that's what I'm here to share. This post is also the story of how as a community we got 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson -- arguably the greatest living basketball coach, and someone I've never met in person -- to back my Kickstarter film.
You have at least two audiences
I run the indie filmmaking website NoFilmSchool, and the site's readers comprise my primary audience for the campaign. But even if you don't run a website, you still have a primary audience -- your friends, your family, your high school and/or college, and any other networks that you might belong to. This is your obvious first stop in a crowdfunding campaign.
Whatever kind of movie you're making, your film has a topic. That topic has an audience. In the case of Man-child the topic is basketball, and so in addition to my web site's followers, there exists another community that is potentially interested in my film: basketball fans. This is your second stop: people who are interested in your topic. But I think when you go after the second audience is important, because there's a difference between the people who know you personally and the people who don't. The former are willing to lend a hand because it's you. The second group needs a bit more convincing.
People have mentioned in the past a notorious dead time in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign. Without the excitement of the launch or the urgency of a deadline, crowdfunding campaigns begin to resemble a 2-liter of RC Cola with the cap off (they go flat). This is a great time to try to reach out to a new audience, because if you did your job in the first half of the campaign (and didn't annoy your followers on Twitter) -- you'll have more credibility than you did when the ticker read "$0 pledged." Once the campaign was able to demonstrate social proof thanks a number of backers on board -- but only then -- did I try to reach out to the second audience.
Audiences are like venn diagrams
There isn't a lot of overlap between my following of independent filmmakers and the basketball community at large. They're like venn diagrams: two circles that overlap but for the most part exist separately. If your friends and family are in the smaller circle, the point is to reach the people in the larger circle who have no idea who you are. This is how your audience is valuable in a way that has nothing to do with what's in their wallet.
Internet is plentiful, money is not
I launched NoFilmSchool by living out of a suitcase for 10 months. I know what it's like to be short on funds. But during those 11 months when money was nonexistent, what did I have plenty of? Internet. Wi-Fi on a friend's couch. A free connection at Starbucks. 3G. Even people on the other side of the planet who might not ever have a chance to see your indie film in the theater have a 'net connection (and many countries are way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to broadband speeds). So when running a fundraising campaign, think of your fans friends and followers as more than financial contributors. They're your allies in morphing the two circles of a venn diagram into one.
Strength in numbers
In the case of Man-child, as soon as we hit the halfway mark of the campaign (time-wise; we were not yet to 50% funded), I wrote a post asking for help from NoFilmSchool readers. Not financial help, but social media help. Along with an instructional video, I included links to lists of NBA players, media members, and bloggers on Twitter. Dozens of us began reaching out on Twitter collectively, asking ball players and journalists to check out or at least retweet the Man-child Kickstarter campaign. Personally, I was totally ineffective. Promoting your own campaign/product/service seems more like spam than someone asking on behalf of a friend, and there is strength in numbers: public figures have tens if not hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, and getting their attention is a crapshoot. They get mentioned so often that you need luck on your side to be in the right place at the right time; the more of you there are, the better your odds.
One success story is worth the effort
Despite my own lack of success, thanks to the efforts of others, several NBA players -- including two-time all-star Stephon Marbury -- retweeted the Man-child campaign. More importantly, Executive VP of the Los Angeles Lakers Jeanie Buss watched my pitch video and became a backer -- along with legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson. I saw a jump in the campaign's progress and didn't know where it came from, so I went to look at the backer list, and there was Jeanie Buss. I hadn't reached her, but someone else had. I thanked her on Twitter and we started direct messaging. She told me Phil had matched her pledge. My head exploded.
Your campaign is like a film
Films are better when they have an arc; the same goes for a crowdfunding campaign. In the past, I'd seen crowdfunders issue a press release at the outset of their campaign, but I didn't feel launching a campaign was enough of a story by itself to get picked up by anyone. 10,000 people have run Kickstarter campaigns, after all -- and that's just the successful ones. More than double that number have launched campaigns. But I did think this social media success story -- and the name recognition of having Phil and Jeanie on board -- was a story. So I wrote a press release designed to get the campaign in the hands of the basketball world.
The jury's still out
As I write this, the jury's still out as to whether this press release has successfully brought in more of the basketball world. As a one man band running this campaign all on my own, it took me longer to get the press release out than I would've liked -- even working around the clock -- and I haven't given media outlets much time to write up a story before this Friday's deadline.
When it comes down to it, though, whether or not the Man-child campaign is picked up by a large sports web site, the social media outreach effort was a success -- the story told in that press release has become an integral part of not only the story of the campaign, but the story of the film. And Phil Jackson, are you kidding me?!?
Your audience is worth more than $$$
More people have internet access than have credit cards. In the past month I've gotten a lot of messages from people who don't own a credit card but want to help the campaign somehow. These aren't messages they're sending via snail mail or smoke signals -- they're through Kickstarter, they're over Twitter, they're via email. They're online and they want to help. My personal friends (who aren't very active on Twitter) logged on and had fun seeing if they could get a big name to retweet it. Give your audience something to do other than cut checks!
The "dead" midpoint of a campaign is a great time to start asking for help to reach a second audience. In fact, if my own experiences are any lesson, I would go out with this initiative prior to the midpoint, because you want to give yourself enough time before your campaign ends for your collective efforts to have an impact.
Speaking of which -- my campaign for Man-child ends this Friday, September 23rd, at 11:59pm Eastern. If we don't make it, I will certainly have learned a lot in the process, but I'd love to learn a lot more by actually making the movie! So if you feel like getting some great rewards in exchange for your support, check out my campaign -- a download of the full film is just $10, a DVD is $24, plus you'll be sent the unique frames of the film that you made possible (details in my pitch video below). Best of luck with your own crowdfunding campaign, keep that second audience in mind, and thanks for reading!