Avoid These Top 5 Mistakes In Documentary Funding

Top 5 Mistakes In Documentary Funding by documentary filmmaker, Faith Fuller

Are you in need of funding for your documentary?

Are you uncomfortable asking people for money? Are you baffled by the whole fundraising process? Sometimes, just knowing a few simple rules and avoiding some common mistakes can make all the difference in your fundraising success.


Top 5 Mistakes In Documentary Funding

1. Not having a trailer – There’s nothing that can catapult or doom a documentary funding effort like a trailer. If you have a fantastic trailer that moves people emotionally, your chances for donations dramatically improve.

According to the crowd-funding platform IndieGoGo, campaigns with videos raise 122% more money than those without. You not only need a video, but that video needs to hit an emotional nerve with the audience. And NEVER show your video online without having a donate button right next to the video. If people are moved by your trailer, they need a way to donate right then and there while they’re “in the moment” and feeling inspired.

2. Not asking – We all know how nerve-wracking it can be during documentary funding to ask someone for money. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get! If you’re nervous about asking someone for money, ask yourself why you feel nervous. Have you done ample research to understand whether or not your project is a good fit with the needs and interests of your potential donor? Have you built a relationship with the person? Have you done your research to figure out how much the person is capable of giving?

The more information you have, the more confidence it will give you that you’re making the right ask at the right time. A documentary funding trick I learned from fundraising expert Marc Pitman is to take a “prop” with you to a meeting where you’ll be asking for money. That prop can be your trailer, some raw footage you just shot, photos of a location you’re scouting to shoot some re-enactments, etc. A prop can help take focus off “the ask” and put you both on the same team discussing the “prop.” But there’s no way around it. To get a donation, you’ll have to ask for it.

This leads us to documentary funding mistake #3.

3. Talking too much – When people are nervous or they are super passionate about a subject, they tend to go on and on. Filmmakers make this mistake all the time. One common situation where this happens is during “the ask”. Imagine you’re sitting across from a potential major donor, you finally get up the nerve to ask for that big donation and then… you keep talking.

Big mistake! Here’s how it happens. You say something like: “I’d like to ask you to consider a gift of $25,000 for the documentary project.” (uncomfortable pause) “Um… but if you can’t that’s okay too.” Don’t do this! Don’t try to fill the uncomfortable silence. In documentary funding, as soon as you make the ask, BE QUIET. Let the ask sink in and let the other person respond FIRST. It’s hard to be quiet but it’s crucial.

4. Cold Calling– Cold calling almost never works in documentary funding. Typically, there must be some kind of pre-existing relationship and trust built up before someone will give money for a cause (at least for significant amounts of money). So if you’re reaching out to a potential donor for money, don’t try to ask for money on that very first call. The first time you reach out to a person or organization, it is simply to begin a relationship. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, would you?

There’s a saying in documentary funding: if you ask for money you’ll get advice, if you ask for advice you’ll get money. Make it your priority to listen and engage with the potential donors. Find out THEIR needs and interests. Do a lot of listening and try to figure out if your project is a natural fit with the person or organization FIRST before asking for money. For example, get their advice on how you should proceed with your project or who they would suggest you contact for support. Build trust and give the person time to understand what you’re trying to accomplish. The goal is to get them thinking about you and your project in a positive way!

5. Going it alone – Don’t make the mistake I did when I first started making documentaries and try and do the documentary funding thing alone. Having a documentary funding team makes the fundraising process MUCH easier, especially if you are inexperienced with the fundraising process. Get some “gray hair” on your team and/or people who have connections in the business world. Expanding your field of influence can significantly boost your fundraising success.

The biggest mistake of all is to let the documentary funding process bog you down. There is always a way to find money! Use those brilliant creative skills you were born with to “think outside the box” and come up with fundraising ideas unique to YOUR project. If you want more information on how to make a documentary, you might want to check out Faith Fuller’s Documentary Fundraising Toolkit.

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Faith Fuller is the primary author of www.Desktop-Documentaries.com and the director of the award-winning documentary Briars in the Cotton Patch: The Story of Koinonia Farm which was broadcast nationally on PBS from 2005 – 2010. She helps filmmakers seeking ideas on how to make a documentary.

Film Fundraising: 5 Crowdfunding Mistakes to Avoid

In this guest filmmaking article, filmmaker Brad Kageno shares what he learned with his crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and provides you with 5 Crowdfunding mistakes to avoid…

Film Fundraising: 5 Crowdfunding Mistakes to Avoid

As I type this, I am halfway through my Kickstarter campaign for my feature I Hate You.  We’re about one-third of the way toward our goal, and we now have $10,000 to raise in about 30 days.  It’s definitely possible, yet even though I can’t declare victory or defeat (who knows what’ll happen?), there’s already a list of things I’ve learned from our campaign:

1.  Do not put off today what you can do today.

Here’s a downer: 55% of Kickstarter campaigns fail.  Keep that in mind as you embark on yours.  Depending on your goal, and the amount of connections you have, expect to be working non-stop on your campaign.  Don’t get lazy, even if there’s a lull in pledges.  Every effort you make to promote your campaign, the better the odds of someone contributing to it.

For I Hate You, we’ve posted weekly videos and have reached out to all sorts of sites and organizations everyday.  And, as you can tell, we’ve also been writing a few blogs to spread the word.  As I tell my team, “It’s not over ’til it’s over,” so prepare to rest only until your campaign is done.  (And even then, you won’t be resting long.)

2.  Do not ignore the power of (free) social media tools you can use to promote.

Don’t wait until you start your campaign to begin creating an audience for yourself.  Start posting videos on YouTube, gain subscribers.  Start tweeting and gain followers.  And if by some chance you aren’t on Facebook yet, get on it and friend everybody who tolerates you.  If you have a blog, great!  If you don’t, either start one or start participating on others.  Get on message boards and post comments.  So what if you’re antisocial?  Here’s a way to gain potential pledgers without having to spend a dime or step out of your abode.

Remember, you cannot succeed at crowdfunding without a crowd!  Even if you find social media pointless, take advantage of it!  Personally, I wish I had been more active in social media before beginning my Kickstarter campaign.  Even though our YouTube videos have gained modest views, they’d be even better had we started posting videos months, even years in advance.

3.  Do not be afraid to bug everybody you know.  And I mean e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y.

As your Kickstarter campaign progresses, you may be surprised by the amount of people from your past that pledge.  So far, I’ve had my elementary school teachers and even preschool friends pledge!  It got me thinking that maybe I should contact as many of them as I could, and to my luck, many have supported I Hate You.  So, be prepared to reconnect with faces you never thought you’d see again.  Of course, there’s always family, friends, co-workers, and the usual bunch you must reach out to.  Do not hesitate to ask them for their help.  The worst they can do is say “no.”

Oh, don’t forget to thank them after they pledge.  Gratitude and crowdfunding go hand-in-hand.

4.  Do not put all your chickens into one basket.

Have a Plan B, C, D, E, and F when you run your Kickstarter campaign.  Don’t put all your time and effort into just YouTube or just Twitter or just e-mails to contacts.  Take the time to strategize in case one outlet doesn’t prove as effective as others.

Initially, we thought we’d get most fundraising support from certain organizations, but as it turns out, Facebook and YouTube have given our campaign more traffic and money, so we’ve refocused our efforts towards those two sources.  With so many still suffering from the recession, it seems the odds are overwhelmingly against funding a creative endeavor, but surprisingly, even unemployed pledgers have voiced their support!  That said, always prepare for changes, and be ready to switch gears as you track your project.

5.  Do not give up.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but expect lulls every now and then, and don’t get discouraged by them.  If you are seeking a huge amount, you may not be able to afford too many lulls, so set goals to raise a certain amount a week.  Re-strategize when necessary, but remain persistent throughout.Being a narrative film, our I Hate You campaign has been unpredictable to say the least.  And even though there are a few naysayers who are skeptical, I keep reminding myself of the 89 people who believe in my team and in myself to make a damn good movie.  I have no intention of letting them down.

If you are about to launch a Kickstarter project, I wish you the best of luck, and I hope my tips help!

BIO: Brad Kageno was born and raised in Hawaii, and studied filmmaking at Chapman University under the guidance of directors John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, WarGames) and William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection). In 2003, he directed Boyz’ Day, a musical-comedy short prominently featured at the San Diego Asian Film Festival and other showcases. He then directed a dramatic short, Cup of Joe, the following year. Out of college, Brad took film assistant gigs and random day jobs to pay the bills, but quickly realized that the only way he was going to make a movie in Hollywood was to do it himself. So that’s what he’s doing now with his upcoming project, I Hate You.

Untapped Crowdfunding Site For Filmmakers

As a filmmaker, one of the challenges you face is how to finance a film. When I was starting out, things were much different. Back then, if you wanted to finance a movie, you had to cross your fingers and wait for someone to grant you permission…

The problem is, many people in Hollywood are still waiting for someone else to give them permission. Permission to make a movie. Permission to be successful. Permission to live the best life possible. UGH!

Here is a little secret. If you’re looking to raise money for your movie, set up a crowdfunding campaign. This allows you to test your concept from day one. And if successful, crowdfunding also allows you to find the people who may be most interested in your movie. In addition to providing you with funding, some of these folks will help you spread word of mouth.

Two popular crowdfunding platforms are IndieGoGo and KickStarter.


Crowdfunding and Independent Movie Distribution

A few weeks back I gave a talk and was surprised that many filmmakers in attendance had never heard of crowdfunding.

If you are one of those filmmakers, crowdfunding provides you with the ability to reach out to your social networks and solicit your contacts for financial sponsorship.

Crowdfunding and Independent Movie Distribution

In this “many to one” funding model, in exchange for donations, you provide various incentives. $5 dollars might get your sponsor a DVD. $500 dollars might get your sponsor an all expenses paid trip to the premier.

The other reason why I like crowdfunding is, it allows you to test a concept and source an audience from day one. In this regard, if your movie has a really sharp hook, you have the possibility of building buzz before you make your movie.

I have provided the following resources to help speed up your crowdfunding research:

Popular Crowdfunding Sites

www.indiegogo.com – Indie GoGo allows filmmakers to raise money and take whatever they get. Indie GoGo also owns a movie distribution arm called distribber.

www.kickstarter.com – This an all or nothing deal. Filmmakers either hit their goal, or they get nothing.

Distribution Tools

Assuming you are successful in your funding campaign, you will want to start thinking about your distribution strategy. To help with this, check out the following, popular distribution solutions:

www.distribber.com (my affiliate) – Owned by Indie GoGo, with a one-time upfront fee, this company allows filmmakers to access popular VOD marketplaces, in a non-exclusive deal.

Also, read this article from the Wall Street Journal – The SEC is considering lifting regulations on private offerings. In the very near future, filmmakers may be able to sell shares of ownership through crowdfunding. It’s still a long way away, but worth thinking about.

Hope these filmmaking resources help. While you’re here, sign up for my newsletter >>


Crowdfunding To Source An Audience for Your Filmmaking

If you’ve been reading Filmmaking Stuff for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed I talk a lot about “sourcing an audience.” And after having a discussion on the topic with one of my clients, it occurred to me that most filmmakers have no idea what I’m talking about.

So let me break it down.

In the old days, making, marketing and selling your movies required that you knew someone in Hollywood and had a gazillion dollars. It also meant that you waited around forever for some traditional distributor to validate your existence and hopefully pick up your movie (with something other than a crappy deal.)

But that was then. These days, you don’t need to know anybody in Hollywood. You don’t need a gazillion dollars. And (thankfully) you no longer need some traditional movie distributor to give you permission to make, market and sell your movie. And while these changes make this an awesome time to make movies, the new challenge is finding people willing to pay money to watch your movie.

So how do you a source an audience? I’ll give you one word: Crowdfunding.

What is crowdfunding? According to Wikipedia, “crowdfunding describes the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.” In short, this means filmmakers finally have a new way to raise money.

Filmmakers can set up profiles at various crowdfunding websites and then easily promote their movie project via their social networks and ask for money. In exchange for money, filmmakers offer tiered incentives to prospective sponsors. For example, in exchange for ten bucks, you might offer a promotional t-shirt and and a DVD. For five-hundred bucks, you might offer a flight to the premiere.

Crowdfunding in this context is not the same as seeking equity investors. Which makes this a very uncomplicated way to find sponsors and raise money. But outside of this obvious use, the little known secret of crowdfunding is this – Let’s say you’re a filmmaker with an idea for a movie. And let’s suggest that you aren’t sure how many people would be interested in your movie… So you set up a crowdfunding campaign.

If successful, your crowdfunding campaign will allow you to raise money – but as an important ancillary benefit, your campaign will also allow you test your movie concept with a built in, responsive focus group. Assuming you reach your funding goal, you will not only generate your initial buzz – but you will also source the early adopters for your movie… And these early adopters will grow into a group of fans who will help you spread word of mouth about your movie.

Depending on the scope and scale of your movie, once you have successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign, you may choose to leverage this success to seek out traditional investors. But instead of having an untested movie idea, you have a little POC. What’s POC? Proof of concept. (I credit writer Craig Spector for teaching me about the importance of POC.)

Crowdfunding helps you prove your concept. In the unfortunate event your campaign is not successful, this knowledge will help you go back to the basics and refine your concept before you take the next steps in you movie making process.

Here are 3 crowdfunding sites that are worth investigating:

  1. www.IndieGoGo.com
  2. www.KickStarter.com
  3. www.Invested.in

Happy filmmaking.

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