We've all heard about it. That wonderful crowdsourcing tool that allows filmmakers to raise funds straight from a supportive community online. We've all heard the fantastic success stories, films that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of days.
And Kickstarter IS a great tool. It can often be the thing that makes the difference between a dream and fully-made film.
But, it is tricky to navigate, like anything else. Using kickstarter is as much an art form as any other means of fundraising, and there are lots of ways to go wrong.
First, it's best not to think of Kickstarter as a magic money tree. Yes, many filmmakers get their films funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they often have a lot going for them already: they or someone involved is a celebrity, for example. Or maybe they've already secured the backing of good investors or a studio.
If you're small-time like us, you have to be smart.
The first thing to address is how kickstarter works, because that will determine everything else about how you use it. It is an “all-or-nothing” platform. In other words, you set your monetary goal, and set the length of your campaign, and you then have that many days to raise your goal. If you make more than your goal, great, you get more. But if you make a penny less, you get nothing.
First, set a reasonable goal. When you started working out your budget, figure out what you'd really need to start filming, and figure out how much you think you could reasonably raise. It's better to ask for $5,000 and get it, than ask for $20,000 and get nothing at all.
As you know, we've already been raising money on our own. That was the plan. We figured we'd need at least $20,000 to film our movie, but that we would probably not be able to get all of that money on kickstarter. So, we decided to raise as much as we could elsewhere, and fill in the gap with Kickstarter at the end. We settled on a goal of $8,000. BUT...don't just be satisfied with that! Make sure you make your backers understand that your goal would be great, but you need as much as possible. That will help encourage people to keep donating after you reach your goal, rather than just stopping when you hit it. Also, bear in mind that whatever you raise, kickstarter will take a 5% cut. So make sure you account for that.
SO, you've got your goal, how do you get it?
First, set your length of campaign. It'll help you plan the rest of your fundraising schedule.
You can set it yourself, and there's a wide range. HOWEVER, research has indicated that the best time range for a kickstarter campaign is somewhere around 30 days. Less than that means that it's hard to hit your goal in time, and even if you do, you won't have much time to raise MORE than your goal. More than 30 days, and people lose interest. You won't make enough beyond your goal to justify running a longer campaign. And that's important, because kickstarter is TIME-CONSUMING, as we'll see. So 30 days it is. That meant for us, the last month before filming should be devoted to kickstarter.
You need to make your kickstarter page, and this is going to involve several things.
First, you need to use the page to pitch the movie to potential backers.
I would suggest doing a lot of research, that's what I did. Look at what people have written about using kickstarter, there's a lot of material out there. Also, check out successful kickstarter pages, to see what they've done. We'll talk more about that in a second.
Because you also need to decide on donation tiers and rewards.
That's how kickstarter works. It allows you to determine different levels of donation, and then you are obliged to reward backers at different levels with different rewards.
Obviously, both the donations and rewards need to go up in value incrementally. But value is a relative thing, and that's important.
First, what donation tiers do you set?
In other words, you could do something like: donate $10, $20, $30, $100, etc.
There is good research out there to help determine what are good tiers, but I'll also share what I've learned.
First, don't go too low, and don't go too high, and don't have too many tiers, because that's confusing and a waste of time. That doesn't mean you should be so timid that your top donation tier is only $100. You can be bolder than that. But, if you have too many low donation tiers, it'll drag you down. Research and my own experience has indicated that most people are most comfortable donating in the $20-$25 range. That's often the most popular tier. If you have too many tiers below that, not only will some people donate lower that might have donated higher, but low tiers won't add up quickly enough for you to hit your goal in time.
For us though, we knew many of our backers had limited incomes. We didn't want to exclude them, because every dollar counts. We settled on ONE tier below $25, but no more than that.
Then research indicated you could be pretty successful going up in this way: $15, $25, $65, $100, $250, and a top donation tier of $600. Some campaigns have gotten away with FAR higher donation tiers. But for us, we thought it best to set a top tier that was high enough to make a big difference, but one that wasn't so high that no one would bother even thinking about it. Consider the kind or people you know to help you set your top tier. Do you know someone with $2,000 to throw at your film? Great! No? Maybe think about a lower top tier to make it more likely SOMEONE will donate high. Research indicates you'll get a cluster of people donating at the $25 level, and only 1 or 2 at the high level. But even 1 or 2 is great.
So you've got your campaign length, you've got your tiers, what about rewards?
You want to give people fun things that relate to your project. Things that make them feel like they're a part of the project, because THAT'S what kickstarter campaigns are really all about.
And you need to be smart. You want rewards that people will enjoy and want to have, but you don't want to kill yourself giving out rewards. You're not a retail shop, you're a filmmaker trying to make a movie. Make sure whatever you promise as a reward, the cost of making and shipping those rewards won't be more than the money you bring in.
Good things for low tiers in a movie project are things like screen credit: special thanks, things like that. They cost you NOTHING to make or ship, and people like to see their name in the movies! Obviously that's not going to be enough for someone to donate $600, but for a $15 donation, I'll certainly thank you onscreen. Also, remember this: kickstarter donations are accumulative. That means, each higher tier comes with the previous tier's reward, plus something new. That should help you determine what you can afford to give. Also remember that if $25 is the most popular, you'll have to make and ship the most of that reward. Make sure it's cost-effective.
A word of advice: one thing that a lot of filmmakers think of having as a reward, is to be an extra in the film. On the face of it, that seems good. The filmmaker doesn't have to make anything, and who doesn't want to be in the movies, right?
First, if you're a little no-name indie film, people are less likely to care about being in your film. It's not as exciting as a big hollywood film experience. Also, remember that kickstarter campaigns go out all over the world potentially. It is good to bear in mind that most backers on most small-time kickstarter campaigns are likely to be that person's family and friends. BUT, not if you're ambitious, and I've learned some tricks to spread your kickstarter farther, which we'll get to soon. But that's the problem. Say you set your $600 donation reward to being an extra in the film. Say you're in, Delaware let's say at random, and someone from Ohio backs you at $600. Who's going to fly that person in and house them? You? That will cost you WAY more than $600. And it's not much of a reward if the person has to do it themselves. In other words, for a small-time film, having someone be an extra is not really the best reward. It's too difficult to make happen.
Posters, DVDs, digital downloads of the film, film-related goodies, screen credit: THESE are good donation tiers, and things people would like to have from a film. Determine which thing you could feasibly give someone at what level. For top donations, reserve something kind of super-special. You won't have to make many of them, since in all likelihood not many people will donate at the highest levels. Also, you can limit on your page how many of what reward is available. For us, we decided that we would give away actual props from the movie as the highest donation tier.
All this reward stuff is great, but never lose sight of the real truth of what you're doing on kickstarter. People aren't buying merchandise from you, they're backing an IDEA. You want them to fall in love with your film, and want to be part of making that film a reality.
SO...that's where your page comes in. You have to sell YOURSELF, your passion, your idea.
MAKE A PITCH VIDEO.
That's right. Make it. Put yourself in, even if you're not good on camera. They'll want to hear the idea coming from you. Be sincere, be humble, be passionate. Tell them why you absolutely HAVE to tell your story, and why they'd want to experience it.
MAKE IT GOOD.
Don't film yourself on your cameraphone. Get your DP, or contact someone with a good camera. Make it look good. Add pics, other video footage, clips from your trailer, make it fun. Find a good hook. But not JUST your trailer, that's not enough.
KEEP IT SHORT.
No more than 5 minutes, best to keep it closer to 3 minutes. Clearly convey what it is you're doing, why you're passionate about it, how you're doing it, what you need, thank them for supporting, and you're done. Fun, interesting, well-made, and to the point.
If you have a trailer or other video content for your film, include it on the page too. Pictures are great too!
The rest of your page should do what your video does, only a little more in-depth. Explain the film, maybe a synopsis, how you're making it, who you are, what is special about your film.
TELL THEM WHY YOU NEED THE MONEY.
Be clear what you need, and break it down for them. People want to know their money is GOING somewhere, and they want to know that you're a committed professional who knows what they're doing and knows what they need. You yourself should already know at this point why you need this money and for what, so that shouldn't be hard.
For an example, click HERE https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1788552448/lost-creek to check out our kickstarter page! And while you're there, maybe donate!