By: Shawn Hainsworth, 2021 TV Pilot Semi-Finalist, LONELY ORPHAN GIRL.
Crowdfunding provides a unique opportunity to bring your filmmaking or screenwriting project to life.
But the market is extremely competitive. On Kickstarter alone, there have been over 80,000 film projects averaging a success rate of under 40%. Short films, with more modest goals, have the highest success rate on Kickstarter, coming in at 59%. So, funding your short film this way, if only in part, is a real possibility. But how do you run a successful funding campaign?
In this blog post, I am going to provide a high-level overview of managing an independent film project on a crowdfunding platform such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
There are other platforms, such as Patreon, which you can use to attract backers who want to support your work as a creator but are not necessarily tied to a specific project.
So, let’s make a start!
Set Realistic Expectations
It is very important before you begin your campaign to set realistic expectations. If this is your first campaign, and you do not already have a significant following for your project or your work, then be honest with yourself about your goals and what is achievable. I prefer to see crowdfunding as an ongoing process of financing your work and developing your audience over time. It takes time to develop a following of supportive backers.
If you look at the film projects on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, you will see a lot of projects with modest goals such as raising festival submission fees or finishing funds. The advantage of these late-stage projects is that you can show potential backers roughed-out scenes or even a completed film. But however far you are along with your project can always repurpose a treatment, pitch deck, or poster to serve the needs of your fundraising campaign.
Tip #1 – Define what you want to accomplish in as much detail as possible.
Ask yourself, how much money do you need to complete this objective? How long will it take you once you receive the money? What rewards will your backers receive?
Some of the rewards frequently used by filmmakers on their crowdfunding campaigns include:
Know the Platforms
Take time to research the different crowdfunding platforms because there are significant differences. For example, Kickstarter is all or nothing. If you do not reach your goal, no money is collected. Indiegogo offers a flexible funding model where you keep all funds raised even if you don’t meet your goal.
Build Your Audience Before You Launch
The duration of most campaigns is 30 days. You will get most of your backers in the first few days. The success of your campaign depends on building your audience and the excitement for your project before you launch. This means identifying and reaching out to your ideal viewers to get them excited about your upcoming project.
Tip #2 – An ideal viewer is the specific type of person who would enjoy buying and consuming a particular type of content, based on demographics, psychographics, generation, and genre.
Once you have defined your ideal viewer, you need to join the communities where they communicate. Today, this is easiest to do online – on social media platforms, Reddit, or special interest forums. But don’t neglect IRL too. Research local interest groups that might be interested in your project – they will know others that you can talk to, and “word of mouth” is still incredibly important when it comes to achieving lasting success.
Average Pledge and Conversion Rate
How much will an average backer contribute to your project? We will discuss the friends and family effect below, but often this value is between $10-$20. Conversion rates are typically between 1-3% (ignoring friends and family).
This means that if you want to raise $500, with an average pledge of $15, you will need 34 backers. Even with a very high conversion rate of 5%, you may still need to attract 680 potential backers to your campaign to reach a goal that provides a sufficient budget for filming.
The Family and Friends Effect
Family and friends are often the biggest backers of first-time crowdfunding campaigns. You may easily collect $500 on the first day from your family and friends, making your goal and creating a successful first campaign.
Tip #3 – Keep in mind that you will be paying a commission (about 5%) to the platform.
Running a campaign is time-consuming. In addition, if your goal is to build an audience or generate income over a longer period, friends and family will not sustain your objectives long term.
Back Other Projects
Spend time looking at other film projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo and become a backer. Most projects have a reward tier in which you can contribute any amount of money. Contribute $1 to a few campaigns. You can then see how these campaigns manage their communications with backers throughout the lifecycle of the project and use similar successful strategies in your campaigns.
On-Line Marketing and Analytics
Most creators do not consider themselves marketing experts and often do not want to do this kind of work. But make no mistake that crowdfunding is a marketing activity. No matter how great your idea is, you must be able to sell it. This involves using analytics to determine which platforms and messages are successfully converting backers.
Tip #4 – Kickstarter has inbuilt analytics that can help you improve your performance in finding potential backers and converting them to supporters.
Beware of Third Party Offers
Once your campaign launches, you will receive numerous offers from marketing firms that will guarantee to make your campaign a success by reaching out to their list of super backers. Most of these online companies are not worth the investment. Remember, every dollar you spend promoting your campaign is one less dollar you collect. If your goal is to develop an audience long-term, investing in marketing may be worth it.
Tip #5 – If you are going to establish a relationship with a marketing company, do your research upfront, and select a marketing partner before you launch your campaign.
Good Luck and Keep Learning!
Crowdfunding is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort and research, but it is worth it. Learning how to promote your project, and successfully convert supporters will help you with both your current and future projects.
Shawn Hainsworth has independently produced, directed, and edited five feature-length documentary films as well as numerous shorts and experimental films which have been screened at festivals around the world. He makes his living as a computer programmer working most recently working in the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence. In October of last year, Shawn launched a new Indie Comics publishing company, SHP Comics, with three titles written under his pen name Darin S. Cape. His first Kickstarter campaign, in February, was 195% funded and helped publish the first issue. His most recent campaign was 260% funded and had a 300% increase in the number of backers. Shawn lives in Massachusetts with his wife, two kids, and two hound dog mixes.
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