Crowdfunding and the Panther Connection
September 27, 2017
Before I go into the nitty gritty details, I’m going to talk a tiny bit about myself. If you’re here for tips and pointers, feel free to scroll down. I won’t mind. I promise. See? Totally cool about it.
As an Arizona native, Chapman had given me my dream – 25 minutes to the beach, 15 Minutes (and a 45 minute wait time) from Space Mountain, and being surrounded by a bunch of people who loved film 24/7. While I made the most of my time there, it did, eventually, have to come to an end. Being a 2008 alum (MFA/Screenwriting), it ended for me exactly when everything felt a lot more unknown and unsure in the world. Script sales became almost non-existent. Companies were opening and closing in the blink of an eye. The coffee shop gig was competitive. Heck, to put it in perspective, Netflix was still five years away from creating its own content. And when it came to crowdfunding, the thought was that it could be cool… SOMEDAY.
I was very lucky to land a job that let me stay in LA and build out a department of script readers. I took on many clients working on all stages of their scripts and helped make them better. And that was fine and well and good. That is until July of this year, when, while on vacation with my kids, I got the email that my job of eight years was ending. Despite all of the hard work, the tide of the industry never stays the same, and reader evaluations were going to go computerized. I spent the first month after the news shaking my head like a nostalgic septuagenarian muttering about the “good ‘ol days.” Wines might have been involved.
But I was wrong about the “good ‘ol days.” And once I pulled out of my curmudgeon-hood, I could see what many of my clients had seen all along. This new film landscape puts more power in our hands through Crowdfunding. Mark Duplass said in his South by Southwest speech, “It keeps us from waiting for the cavalry to arrive and when they do, magically make our film happen.” Crowdfunding is the future of filmmaking. It allows us to reach our target audiences. It allows people to have more choice in the stories they want to see. And lastly, it makes a writer, like me, low on excuses.
Crowdfunding makes you do the work.
After I had sobered up from my wines, I was lucky enough to reach out to Chapman Alums Prarthana Mohan (Directing 09) and Ed Timpe (Cinematography 09) to talk seriously about a project we had back-burnered for some time, The MisEducation of Bindu. Carved out of a Chapman short film project that evolved into a Nicholl Semi-Finalist script, there has always been a lot to like about The MisEducation of Bindu. It features a young Indian girl being put into American High School at the behest of her soon-to-be stepfather. Turning the high school story on its head, we don’t follow a geek to prom queen typical transition, but that of a smart young woman learning how to blend in, stick up for herself, and survive the halls of school.
With work and assignments always taking precedence, poor Bindu had been neglected for years. With renewed gusto, we launched our first campaign one week ago on Seed & Spark’s Hometown Heroes contest. Our goal? Raise $60,000 to fund the film.
So far, as I am writing this, we have hit $33,000 of our total in 15 days. This is what I’ve learned so far (in no particular order):
- Canva.com is a free graphics program that helps you make images for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s basically photoshop for people who have no skills in photoshop. This is so useful in making backer lists and creating updated images to keep the campaign looking fresh.
- MailChimp.com is a mighty fine mail listing system to group all your emails together, however, we still get most of our clicks from the personal e-mails we sent out. In fact, all of our mass emails only did a single digit percent of the work. It also shows you who unsubscribes from the campaign, which can be a personal ouch if you felt that person might support you.
- Seedandspark.com is a curated crowdfunding platform for filmmakers. It’s meant only for film and has a streaming channel connected. People who pay the monthly fee to stream their shows also get free money to back new campaigns. It helps bring in new people unfamiliar with your projects. Additionally, they have some very film friendly options as well, including a Wishlist where people can donate equipment and services for your film.
- You will be addicted to the pings on your phone and computer. As in, your loved one could be in the middle of a candle-lit dinner on your anniversary and you hear it… and you’re not going to be able to resist looking at how much was donated or who is following your project now. Keep all of that in another room if you’re trying to have human to human communication.
- Social Media shout outs are a great way to promote your campaign and thank the backer for a contribution. It’s a great reward you can execute as soon as the person donates. But! Be ready for them. Make some thank you images ahead of time (see #1) so that you can do this rather quickly. Getting behind can make it feel like all your doing with your life now is thanking people.
- The lulls are agony. In one hour you can get six donations, in another hour it’s nothing but you and your thoughts. Try not to panic, people are leading their lives and they know they have time to donate before you campaign ends. They might be at their grandma’s birthday party or making a pastrami sandwich. Let them eat the sandwich and kiss their nan, okay?! Take the time in the lulls to thank people, build more images or promotions, or get some rest. In fact, maybe start with the rest.
- Put a taste of your film into your promotion video anyway you can. Since many campaigns are to start funding a movie, you may not have footage to show your audience yet. We didn’t. However, we did take a few shots of our actress doing a few things in the script. We picked a few scenes we knew we could film easily, without sound, to use as we talk about the project. Not only did this give us interesting cutaways while we yapped, but it gave our audience sense of a movie, even if it hasn’t gone to camera yet. I actually had a gentlemen who promotes film festivals call me and talk to us about helping because he thought it might already be a movie. If it looks like a movie, it’s much easier to get people excited.
- Take a little time to reach out to potential donors that aren’t internet savvy. It’s probably no surprise, but some people don’t like to put their cards on the internet, or are worried about putting that information online. They may want to support you, but they’re not sure which Crowdfunding Campaigns to trust. Make it easy for them. There are a myriad of solutions to this – from accepting cash or checks personally and pledging for them, or you could have them get an American Express gift card to use online. Find out what they’re comfortable with, but don’t pressure them.
- Facebook loves videos. I got more views and wound up on more feeds when doing my thank you or promotional videos versus a regular post. You can even add captioning to them for the people watching with the sound off when they have work.
- People Donate More than Once! Okay, so this might be a shocker just to a crowdfunding newb like me, but we have already gotten multiple donations from the same backers. I was insanely touched, but I also couldn’t believe it at first. Being a part of our updates and racing to the next goal on our campaign was FUN for them. Being the person to help get us over the next hump was worth a second pitch in. And a third. So, make sure to keep your donors involved and excited. You’ll really reap the rewards.
- Yes, you should build up your base before your campaign… but… you don’t have to stop once your campaign begins. As a semi-awkward person of social media myself, I have struggled with obtaining meaningful followers and have stuck closer to stronger in person connections and relationships I’ve had. However, once your project builds momentum, you do start getting more unknown eyeballs. Making it to the front page of Seed & Spark, for example, and posting about the success of my campaign helped me get more follows and likes. It’s always fun to be a part of a successful campaign, so welcome your new follows and fans with open and inclusive arms.
Wanna see my campaign in action? You can follow The MisEducation of Bindu for free on Seed & Spark here. This will give you campaign updates and show you some of the techniques we’ve been using to keep working towards that 60K. I hope this helps more Panthers reach out into this field without fear and use it to make the movie of their dreams, too. I’m also available for Crowdfunding on my Twitter: @kay_tux.