Filmmakers are creative people, and most are buzzing with ideas. But most of them lack the industry contacts they need to get funded. Moreover, many countries do not have state film funds to promote films. The situation is all the more pitiable in the case of new and upcoming filmmakers. In such situations, crowdfunding can chip in.
Crowdfunding has transformed the way filmmakers pursue financial assistance. They raise funds through crowdfunding platforms to make their features, documentaries and short films. Thus, crowdfunding in its basic form frees filmmakers from the clutches of large corporations. Filmmakers also use crowdfunding platforms for publicity. Crowdfunding democratizes the whole filmmaking process and opens up a plethora of opportunities.
Super Troopers 2, an American crime comedy film directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, is a sequel to the 2001 film Super Troopers. Initially the production company, Broken Lizard, tried to raise funds through independent financiers. Later they initiated an Indiegogo campaign for USD 2 million. They raised over 73% of the funds within 14 hours of their launch and attained their funding goal within 26 hours. They raised USD 4.5 million, far more than their targeted amount, and their campaign is now firmly ensconced in the crowdfunding hall of fame as one of the largest-ever crowdfunding successes. Blue Mountain State, Wish I was Here, Road Hard and Lazer Team are a few other successfully crowdfunded films.
Why should you crowdfund films?
- Opportunities unleashed – Earlier, filmmakers could raise funds only from high net-worth investors. They could also raise up to USD 1 million from non-accredited investors, provided there was a ‘substantial relationship’ between the investor and filmmaker. Thanks to the JOBS Act, filmmakers can now raise funds up to USD 1 million by solicitation to general public, thus opening a whole new world of investment opportunity. With this, equity crowdfunding has assumed a vitally important new role in filmmaking.
- Donors can offer more than financial backing – They can also extend support, guidance and any help required at different stages of production. Many filmmakers have vouched that these backers were with them in the crucial phases of their filmmaking. These donors can assure a filmmaker that he/she is not alone, and that boost their self-confidence.
- Control with the filmmaker – Producers often feel they are at the helm and have various suggestions and opinions that must be incorporated into the film. Most filmmakers have described the Producer-Director tug-of-war that ensues. This struggle is even more likely to occur when you are a first- timer. Crowdfunding ensures that you can find people with similar views to fund you, enabling you to avoid control-from-above hassles.
- Connect with your audience – Crowdfunding is about more than raising funds. It is about a crowd sharing similar views and dreams. This interaction with your audience helps you understand their pulse. In the long run, this connection pays by strengthening your relationship with your audience.
- Promoting the cause – If your film is [for a cause], successful crowdfunding helps you spread its message. The backers are supporting you not only to make a film, but because they identify with your cause. This reality is especially applicable to documentary filmmakers.
- Publicity – Finally, a successful crowdfunding campaign ensures publicity. It helps create much-needed buzz for your film among your audience and in film circles. The big players start noticing your presence in the industry. Also, many film-festival organizers have started to look at crowdfunding sites as a source of selecting films for the festivals.
How to successfully crowdfund for your film…
If you have faith in your ability as a filmmaker, don’t let a lack of funding hamper your success. Crowdfunding lets you unleash your creativity without having to knock on the doors of production houses.
- Getting the basics right – Crowdfunding basics remain the same, regardless of whether the fundraising objective is a film, a start-up or charity. But the campaign needs to be a well-planned exercise. Create a compelling case and understand how much you need to raise. Raise enough to complete your project. Use a bottom-up approach and set realistic goals. Most unsuccessful campaigns had unrealistic fundraising goals. This happens when you prepare a budget based on regular Hollywood standards. Avoid doing that.
- Plan your campaign well in advance – Two weeks to two months should be right. Prepare a budget. The length and timing of your campaign are equally important. A too-long campaign might more people, and too short might not give you enough time to get funded. The idle period is 30-45 days. Also on the timing, as per Indiegogo, there is an increase of 13% in contributions in December. But check out the tax implications of starting a campaign at year end.
- The battleground – Choosing the perfect platform for your launch is critical. Study the different platforms and select the one that suits your purpose. Indiegogo and Kickstarter are the most popular sites. Indiegogo has both ‘flex’ funding and ‘fixed’ [funding models]. With ‘flex’ funding, you get to keep whatever you collect, minus a transaction fee of 4% if it is successful. If you don’t reach your goal, Indiegogo collects 9% as a transaction fee. In the fixed model, the transaction fee is 4%. On the other hand, Kickstarter follows an ‘all or nothing’ rule. Besides cash donations, Seed & Spark enables in-kind donations or rentals. The cut–off success percentage for getting the funds is 80%. The transaction fee for successful events is similar to Kickstarter, at 5%.
- The pitch video, your sword – As a filmmaker, what better way to publicize your film than to make a video? Who else can do this better than a filmmaker? This step is crucial – it is where you show off your skill as a filmmaker. Let your video be short and crisp. You can include footage from your film in it. Using just a few visuals, it must convey who you are and why the crowd should fund you. It’s okay if the making of it is time-consuming, but make sure to end up with your best work.
- Connecting with the intended audience – No one knows your film better than you do. No one can raise initial support among your intended audience. Step into their shoes and think what will awaken their interest, and let them get involved in the initial stages. Develop small events – for instance, if the film is about a particular section of people, let your cast be reflective of them. Organize auditions, particularly for them, and select the cast. This may be filmed and used as a teaser for raising interest. It will ensure that the project has enough publicity at the time of the launch itself. Keep an element of surprise for your big launch on the crowdfunding platform. This will help gain further momentum. For example, Stephen Dunn garnered USD 12,000 for his short film, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me. This was way over his target of USD 9,000. He announced the involvement of Canadian acting legend Gordon Pinsent in the film as the surprise element during the big launch.
- Perks matter – Be benevolent with the perks. Let your creativity flow when designing the perks. In the case of ‘Super Trooper 2’, the perks included tickets to a real beer fest (in reference to their 2006 film Beerfest) in Chicago, a producing credit (USD 10,000), a ‘director’ position (USD 12,500), a speaking actor position (USD 10,000), a trip to the ballpark with the five main actors (USD 15,000) and the patrol car used in the movie (USD 35,000). No wonder that all the above mentioned perks were snapped up within twelve hours.
- Keep donors in the loop – Your campaign is not over after you are funded. Keep in touch with your donors. Send them ‘thank-you’ messages for their donations. Update them on a regular basis, using videos if possible. Tight schedules are no excuse for not updating. Moreover, regular update videos keep you in news. Also, posting regular updates helps you get featured by the crowdfunding platform, which in turn will reap you more attention.
- Promotion – Having your product ready is just not enough. You need to ensure that your project sees the light of the day. Take advantage of online filmmaking communities like Filmmakerforum, IndieTalk, etc. to find an engaged crowd that will spread the word. Also try participating in local and global film festivals to help drive more traffic to your crowdfunding campaign.
Filmmakers were reluctant to enter the crowdfunding scene. Some were not ready to openly admit that they used crowdfunding. But things are changing. But let’s accept the fact that, despite all the preparation, some campaigns will fail. What if yours does? Don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. There are other means to raise money, even a second campaign. You can read more about it in our [The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding].
The Bottom Line
“First, think; second, believe; third, dream; and finally, dare…” so said Walt Disney. Crowdfunding can shield you from funding problems. But remember that it is not free money, and that success doesn’t happen if you simply have a campaign. All that counts is using the best means available for realizing your dream.