Crowd Funding – Who’s DOING It? – Part 4

If we go back to part 2 of this series on Crowd Funding and look at “Outreach” and what needs to get done to have a successful run in fundraising for an independent film (documentary or narrative) it’s clear that it’s all in the preparation.
So I asked my friend David Mandel who’s the co-producer of an independent narrative film called Mulligan to share his experience of preparing, launching and hopefully successfully finishing his Kickstarter campaign. David and his team are planning to launch on Friday, November 18, 2011.
Here a few questions I asked David during the preparation process:
1. Why Kickstarter? Very few other options exist – Kickstarter seemed to be the best known, either through their own marketing or because so many other people have used it. I’ve gotten a couple of emails about Kickstarter in the past and after looking through the website and browsing several projects, it seemed like a good fit – they have a relatively high success rate (not sure the exact numbers) and their overall approach and layout are very attractive.
2. What did you do to prepare? I’m working with Will, the director and Graham, the producer (I’m a co-producer) on it. It’s a bit tricky because Will and Graham are currently out in LA – but Graham’s moving back here right before the campaign starts. We’ve sent close to 100 emails back and forth about amount we need, what rewards to give, how we’re going to do outreach, etc.
The reward system is what has occupied the biggest part of our thinking (see below), but every aspect gets a lot of thought and discussion, particularly because we feel as though we’re trying to raise a significant amount of money (also see below). The division of responsibilities is still being hammered out, but basically I will be primary on updating and managing the Kickstarter page, Will will be working on Facebook and other social media – as the director he is much more the ‘face’ of the movie, and Graham has been working behind the scenes to negotiate the rates for the various expenses for which this money is being raised.
One big thing to come out of this process is that, succeed or fail, we believe it’s a good marketing opportunity. It’s very much a ‘launch’ for the movie, even though it hasn’t even been submitted to festivals. Our thinking is that spending this much time and effort to raise awareness for the movie at this stage will pay off down the road if and when it gets into festivals or gets distributed. And I do suspect that – if done right – this campaign will have a positive effect on festival/distribution opportunities.
3. How did you choose the ‘goodies’ – (called Rewards on Kickstarter)? This has been the most overthought aspect of the whole process. We did a lot of research into various other projects on Kickstarter, paying close attention to the rewards and the donation levels – that relationship is very important. Many stress that you shouldn’t do ‘the PBS/NPR’ thing, i.e. ask $100 for a tote bag. Having spent some time in the non-profit world, I know why that is done, but I also understand why some feel it’s a ridiculous price.
So, our goal was to come up with good rewards that people would want, mix in some humorous stories/selling points about them, and try to price them accordingly. This obviously gets much harder as you climb up the tiers of donor levels – it’s hard to think of anything you can provide that’s worth $500 or $1,000. We also tried to steer clear of rewards that would require a lot of time and energy to ‘produce’ and/or mail – we haven’t made DVDs yet, and as you might know, printing and copying them is both expensive and time-consuming.
Where possible, we tried to come up with digital alternatives that would be easier and cheaper to deliver, without making people think we were ripping them off. Most people probably feel a DVD of a movie is worth more than a digital download of it – even though the digital download is in some ways more useful because it can be played and accessed anywhere. I’d like to say we were thinking of our carbon footprint, but the reality is we’re all working jobs in addition to this movie, and don’t have the time and money to print and mail 100 DVDs.
You also have to think about your potential donors – some of these will be friends, family, acquaintances, but hopefully there will be lots of people who have never heard of you or the movie, and what would any of this be worth to them? The best thing is to try to sell the movie, sell yourself, and make people feel as though they’re being acknowledged and reward them on multiple levels.
4. How did you choose the length of the ask (30 days)? Some research suggested 30 days was the ideal timeframe. It matches our schedule of needs, and it’s during a time of the year when (hopefully) most people will be in a giving mood: Thanksgiving and early December. I think it gives us time to learn and adapt as we progress, so that if we do hit a ‘slump,’ we can regroup and think of ways out of it before the clock runs out.
5. How did you choose the amount realistic to raise? Did you base it on need or based on what you think you can raise? We’re trying to raise $10,000. This is probably the hardest thing to figure out, and it’s one of those things that has to be partially based on reason and partially based on emotion/hope. We know how much money we need based on certain deliverables: festival submissions, color correction, sound design, a website, etc. It’s hard to ask people for money – even though the project is more than worthy of it. Everyone knows what today’s economy is like, that there are problems out there that need people’s money and attention. But this is a film that very much deserves to be made and seen, and I’m confident if people could see the full finished product, they’d take the afternoon off and plunk down a movie ticket’s worth to see it. I hope that translates to a successful fundraising campaign.
I can safely say that having exhausted all cheap and free possibilities; this is the minimum amount that we can ask for in order to guarantee making this movie the best it can be. It’s also reassuring to know that should we go over our asking price, we get to keep the overages.
How do we know we can raise this much? Mostly from looking at similar projects that have been successful on Kickstarter, and from acknowledging how much thought and effort we are putting into this. Because of the stage we’re at with the film (picture-lock), we can show off clips from the film, and I think that’s going to be the biggest selling point. The movie sells itself, and I suspect it’ll be a lot easier for people to commit to a project that’s so close to completion and one they can already watch parts of.
Next on Friday, November 18th: Questions for David: how is the countdown to the launch panning out? Any surprises? Anything you’d do differently?
And you, dear reader: leave us your comments!

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