Crowdfunding Your Film
There are thousands of total strangers out there who are dying to give you money to make a film. Crowdfunding is real. It works! But you have to do it right.
You need to take on the role of being a film producer before you can be the filmmaker. The producer's first job is to find the money.
Making movies is one of the most expensive art forms. In the past when a filmmaker wanted to make a film they had to be prepared to grovel and scrounge. Crowdfunding has added an element of dignity to finding financing but you still need to be prepared to work hard to get funding.
Crowdfunding is the newest phenomenon that has transformed the indie filmmaking scene like nothing since digital filmmaking. More films are getting made today, often from top filmmakers, in the last five years because of crowdfunding. In 2014 the Sundance Film Festival screened 20 films financed through crowdfunding.
What is Crowdfunding
Rather than trying to find one or two investors to provide all the money, or (heaven forbid) using your own money, you ask a lot of people to invest small sums. Some people will contribute a few dollars just because they want to help finance an art project, or because they like the sound of what you're doing. But most contributors want something in return. Usually a DVD of the finished film is offered for smaller investments. Larger investments might get a meeting with the filmmakers and actors or an invitation to the wrap party.
The idea sounds simple enough and the execution is simple. But, it has been estimated, that 60% of filmmakers completely fail to find any significant money through crowdfunding. And many of the filmmakers that do find some investors fail to meet their funding goals. The key to crowdfunding is to do things in the right order and the right way. Failure to follow the rules guarantees failure.
Prepare First for Crowdfunding Success
Research previous crowdfunding projects
Many filmmakers have documented their crowdfunding projects and you can learn a lot from their experience. Don't be afraid to contact them directly by email or phone. Indie filmmakers are often very generous with their advice and opinions. Be prepared to do the same after your project is completed. We all can learn from each other. Especially try to learn from failed fund raising projects to learn what they did wrong.
Allow at least 6-months for the pre-launch process to get the word out and build an enthusiatic community. Starting your publicity after you post your project to a crowdfunding site and a sure route to failure.
Research your audience
You should already know what genre film you are creating and what audience you expect to be interested. You also want to know at this point what audience might be interested in funding your project
Some have said that non-fiction documentaries on emotional and political subjects are the easiest to fund. What I have seen is that an exciting, narrative fiction story gets the best response. In fact the response and investments you get will be highly dependent on how hard you work to contact potential investors and especially on how exciting a pitch you can present.
Establish your online presence
Millions of people visit crowdfunding sites every month but the odds that very many of those people will happen to find your offer and act on it is very small. Start with a beautifully conceived website and blog. Add an active presence on Facebook and Twitter at least. Engage with as many people as you can including other filmmakers.
You should be posting something at least every week if not daily. Done properly you should start to have some network of followers after 3 to 6 months.
Some other suggestions of ideas and concepts that may help:
- Collect email addresses anyway you can. Use free plugins and online tools to blast emails to everyone on your list when you have any updates of interest.
- Make sure your project has an emotionally compelling Story.
- Make a list of everyone you know and call them all. Ask them for ideas of how to promote your project.
- Ask everyone involved in the project (actors, etc.) for a list of everyone they know. Call them all.
- Look for Evangelists, people with a nack for spreading buzz. Look at other similar film fundraising projects to get the names of anyone who was key in spreading the word about those projects.
- Write and Talk, Write and Talk, to anyone who will listen. You are trying to build an enthusiastic community.
- Connect with at least five people everyday sharing your passion.
- Tweet, blog, Facebook, Repeat. Often.
- Keep researching. Find other successful crowdfunding projects and learn all you can from their success.
- Perfect your pitch.
- Find filmmaking forums and connect with the community. Offer good posts and answers to questions rather than just pitching your film.
- Make a video of your pitch. Post it everywhere you can. You're a filmmaker aren't you? You should be able to sell your project with a great video.
- Run a contest.
- Ask your followers how they found out about your project and what message captured their interest.
Beyond Facebook and Twitter there are some new sites designed specifically to create buzz. Check out the following:
ThunderClap is designed to help creators build momentum during pre-launch for their projects. If enough people support your project they blast out Facebook posts and Tweets creating a wave of attention. You have a specified number of days to reach your goal and the site allows you to track your progress.
PitchFuse allows creators to generate interest and track interest in a project before you start your crowdfunding campaign. Accumulate followers, analyze pageviews, collect emails and receive comments before you launch so you can fine-tune your pitch.
CF4ALL gives projects CrowdCredits based on interest in your project. Project with the most CrowdCredits are showcased on the CF4ALL website.
CrowdfundingPR helps you create free press releases for your project. Other paid upgrades allow you to blog and connect with other bloggers, journalists, friends, and supporters.
LaunchRock offers a tool to create a pre-launch landing page for collecting emails of potential investors. LaunchRock is similar to Prefundia.
Fully flesh out your project
Your need to have your film project fully defined before you start asking for money. This generally means a completed script, actor commitments, locations locked-in, etc. You should also have a fleshed out PR kit. If you want to sell your project you need to have something to sell. Only the best, most compelling projects get funding so make sure your idea is one of the best.
Consider the following for your press kit:
- Resumes or biographies of all the talent--Director, writer, producer, cinematographer, crew with notable credits and your cast
- Glossy photos (headshots) of your actors
- If you have a name star in your cast be sure to feature them in a big way
- Photos of previous productions you crew have worked on
- Exciting synopsis of the film's story
- Reels (best scenes shot by the cinematographer, director and cast members on DVDs)
- Production artwork
- Costume designs
- Storyboards of scenes
- Mockups of your posters. Really good, visually-distinctive artwork.
- A trailer, even if you haven't shot one scene of the movie
- Comparisons to any other similar indie movies that were successful
- Your marketing plan
- Anything else that might possibly seem impressive or helpful
You want to assure any potential investors that you have thought of everything and that there are reasonable odds that your project can make money. You need to be honest about the risks of investing in a motion picture but you can also emphasis the possible upside.
Make everything look as professional as possible so the potential investors know they are buying into a classy production.
What is an angle you could use to appeal to a special interest group. Churches, ethnic groups, professional organizations can sometimes be convinced to finance a film if the story has something that appeals to a leader in the group.
Go after small amounts of money from many people. A single investor with a lot of money into the deal is going to watch and second guess your every move. Creating your dream is hard enough without that kind of pressure.
The talent you hire can get you money. Well known directors and actors know people with money. If they believe in your project they'll find the money.
Project enormous enthusiasm and confidence. Don't you have as much right as anyone to succeed?
Continue building marketing materials from now on. Make sure everything you do somehow becomes more publicity and marketing for your fundraising project.
Create a realistic crowdfunding budget
Even the least expensive indie film is going to cost $10,000 just to feed the actors and handle the other most basic costs. Don't try to skimp or be overly optimistic about the cost of your film. Come up with a very realistic budget and then add at least 10%. Keep the budget as low as is realistic to produce a quality film.
Get ready for the money
You need to start acting like a business. This could include some or all of the following:
- Form a production company. Choose a name.
- Open a business checking account.
- Get a business license.
- Open a PayPal account so you can take credit cards.
- Create business cards, letterhead, a press kit and that website.
- You need a phone, and e-mail but you don't need to rent an office.
Decide on a crowdfunding site
There are many crowdfunding sites but they don't all work with film projects and they all have different terms and keep different percentages of the money you raise as their operating fee.
Kickstarter is probably the best known of the crowdfunding sites. They claim a 39% success rate for funding film and video projects.
Kickstarter offers massive amounts of traffic and high success rates. Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. If you don't reach your goal in the alloted time you lose all the money collected to date. The large number of projects posted to the site can make it harder for strangers to find you.
The site seems user-friendly both for setting up a project and for potential investors. Payments are routed through Amazon which charges a credit card processing fee and is a bit complicated to set up. Kickstarter charges a 5% fee if your campaign is successful. Be sure to include that in your budget.
Kickstarter has been known to reject projects that aren't well specified or seem to be more about "social message" than a tangible product.
Much smaller than Kickstarter, IndieGoGo specializes more in creative projects like films. IndieGoGo offers flexible funding options. Campaigns can be all-or-nothing or partial funding. You are not required to set a funding goal. Fees are different for the different plans.
Investor payment choices are bank wire deposits or Paypal. Paypal charges significant fees which can add up.
RocketHub offers an international scope as well as flexible funding options. Fees are a bit higher than other sites.
RocketHub has teamed up with the A&E channel to launch Project Startup with workshops and tips for fundraisers.
Determine investment levels
Decide on various steps of investment and the return to be expected. At first you want to be generous with what investors can get for each level of investment. Later on as you approach your goal you can raise the stakes and require a larger investment for the same returns.
Obviously early investors are risking more than someone investing when you have almost reached your goal.
- Investment $1 to $24 considered a donation with no promised return
- Investment $25 to %50 will return a DVD of the finished film
- Investment $51 to $249 will return a listing as an executive producer on the film
- Investment of $250 to $999 will return .25% of any profits
- Investment of $1,000 to $2,500 will return .5% of any profits
- Investment of $2,500 to $10,000 will return 1% of any profits
Other incentives include invitation to the premiere and the chance to act in the film. Be prepared that the most common amount invested will be the the amount that returns a DVD of the finished film.
Keep good records
People who have invested will hold you to your promises. You need to know who invested what amount and what they were promised. An often overlooked expense of crowdfunding is the work involved in doing the crowdfunding.
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