Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and the Art of Preparation for Crowdfunding Filmmakers

Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and the Art of Preparation for Crowdfunding Filmmakers

By John T. Trigonis

I am noticing a trend with crowdfunding filmmakers: Many people are rushing into crowdfunding to finance their indie film projects without fully understanding the numerous challenges that await them.

It’s as if these people are going out for their first skydive, but they didn’t bother to take a skydiving lesson or get a few practice jumps in first. They close their eyes and hope for the best.

And then they realize they forgot the parachute.

For indie filmmakers (turned first-time crowdfunding filmmakers), consider the following advice to be the sort of the trusty crowdfunding parachute to help you land safely, at an appropriate target without too many bumps and bruises.

Crowdfunding Filmmakers

Crowdfunding Filmmakers

If you are scrambling to come up with new promotional ideas because you’ve hit a lull in your fundraising, chances are all the best advice on the Internet may not help you with that particular campaign, especially if you need to make changes. . .  Especially as the clock ticks down to zero.

Best-case scenario?

You’ll have some solid knowledge with which to cement together the foundation for the next crowdfunding campaign.

But why risk it?

Why not go into crowdfunding as fully prepared as possible before realizing this inevitable truth: crowdfunding is hard work!

Yes, people like Zach Braff and Don Cheadle make crowdfunding look easy, and it may be a bit easier for them simply because their names are what’s selling their campaigns and films. But take a look at other truly independent film projects and you’ll notice that a well-wrought campaign is a time-consuming venture. It will require that you constantly focus on keeping one day ahead of the clock.

This is where proper research comes in handy.

And this is where we can borrow a tactic authored by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. In his book The Art of War, Sun mentions that “those who do not know the conditions of mountains and forests, hazardous defiles, marshes, and swamps, cannot conduct the march of an army.”

 In other-words, as a crowdfunding filmmaker, you gotta know your terrain and have a plan!

Italian historian and philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, in his pamphlet The Prince, calls this virtu, knowing the nature of what you’re working with and its (and your) limitations.

And in my own book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, I repeat the most important thing about crowdfunding anyone needs to know:

Crowdfunding is a full-time job. To do the job right, you have to be prepared, have all your perks in a row, perfect your pitche, and construct a social media strategy that will last for the duration of your campaigns.

And even then you’ll encounter some troubled waters here or a short-winded lull there, but you will be more prepared to deal with them without sacrificing the integrity and quality of our campaigns themselves.

Perhaps my father said it best regarding sickness and well-being: “Prevention is better than curing,” he’d say, and I’ve found this is true in life, and especially in the world of crowdfunding filmmakers.

How To Crowdfund Like Humphrey Bogart

How To Crowdfund Like Humphrey Bogart – By John T. Trigonis

Classic movies can teach us a lot about life and the world today. It seems they may be able to teach us a little something about How to crowdfund, too.

I recently went through quite a lengthy phase in which I was watching only Hollywood classics and film noir from the 1940s and 1950s. Of course, I eventually rediscovered the works of Humphrey Bogart and watched just about everything this silver screen legend starred in, from his first major role as notorious outlaw Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest to his most memorable role as Rick Blaine in Casablanca.

How To Crowdfund Like Humphrey Bogart

How To Crowdfund Like Humphrey Bogart

One day I asked myself, What if Humphrey Bogart was a crowdfunder?

What advice might he give to people trying to raise money from the everyday Joes and Janes out there?

Luckily, I didn’t have to look much further than to the immortal films he left behind, so here’s a quick trio of how to crowdfund tips that could be the beginning of a beautiful (and lucrative) friendship between you and your indie film’s crowdfunding campaign.

  1. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Every successful film campaign begins with a pitch video because it behooves us to look directly into the eyes of our potential contributors when we invite them to join our campaign as funders. There are pitches that are shot like interviews, with the subject staring off at an imaginary interviewer; there are others that are simply movie trailers or sizzle reels, photos of company logos, and other sales tools. These campaigns seldom succeed. The people who make up our audience –– they are the ones who have the power to make or mar our campaigns, so like this most memorable of cinematic moments in Casablanca, “here’s looking at them” when we pitch our projects.
  1. “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.” Okay, technically this is one of Lauren Bacall’s most famous lines from To Have and Have Not, the film in which she and Bogart fell in love, but (1) it is a Bogart film, too, and (2) the line reveals a most important aspect of crowdfunding: promotion. We’ve got to be proactive about getting the word out about our film campaigns. Today, this means networking on the major social media sites, namely Twitter and Facebook. If we know how to pucker up and sing the praises of our movies, we’ll be that much more likely to whistle up a win, both financially and socially.
  1. “The only thing you owe the public is a good performance.” Bogie says this in Nicholas Ray’s film In a Lonely Place, and in online fundraising, a good performance is an understated truth. Crowdfunding is a full-time job. It takes lots of hours and hard work to do it right, but we can also have fun with it by embracing the theatrical in our campaigning. When those final days and hours loom large over the horizon, we can use this to our advantage and turn our personal anxiety into a collaborative excitement and bring in more funding. We shouldn’t just give our contributors the film they’re helping to finance, we should leave them with an experience they’ll remember long after we all triumph.

Whether this advice comes from more contemporary crowdfunding gurus or a classic Hollywood icon, it’s worth a listen, and probably more so from Humphrey Bogart since he’s likely to slap you if you don’t; after all, it was Bogie who said to Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon, “When you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it!” and then proceeded to slap him. Hard.

Personally, if you’re looking for tips on how to Crowdfund, I’d skip the slap and take the advice.

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A behind-the-scenes consulting machine, John T. Trigonis has mentored hundreds of filmmakers worldwide to create compelling crowdfunding experiences that not only reach, but also exceed their goals. An indie filmmaker and successful crowdfunder himself, Trigonis has literally written the book on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and puts his prowess to greater use as Indiegogo’s specialist for film and video campaigns.

Debunking The Myth of the Social Media Guru

The Myth of the Social Media Guru by John T. Trigonis

So, you wanna hire a social media guru for your crowdfunding campaign, eh?

Ask yourself this: what expectations do you have?

Most folks would anticipate that this “social media guru” will be the one doing most of, if not all, of the work involved in spreading the word about their campaign, resulting in funding streaming in from Twitter and Facebook faster than you can count it.

And occasionally this is the case, though not as often as we’d like to think…

The bigger question, though, is whether or not you’ll keep your social media guru on the payroll through not only the duration of your campaign, but over the online lifespan of your finished film. Tweets gotta keep Tweeting. Facebook updates don’t post themselves. And eventually Google Plus will grow into something more than a way to make email seem cool.

Building buzz is one thing, but once it’s built up, it requires maintenance for the long haul ahead.

Social Media Guru

The Myth of the Social Media Guru

Instead of hiring a social media guru, consider starting your crowdfunding process early and then spend your time building up your social media following first though interaction with your audience and by adding value to their day.

This can be done over a couple months of interaction, or up to nine months, as was the case with me. And believe me, when I started, I was certainly no social media guru.

Does this sound like a lot of work?

It is, but remember that the benefits of crowdfunding are twofold.

Obviously, we want to raise the funds we need to make the films we want to make. More importantly, though, crowdfunding means engagement with our audiences. We can’t simply ask our audiences for money – we make it simple for them to say no that way.

We have to give people a good reason to contribute, and direct interaction with the filmmaker (and not necessarily a third-party social media guru) makes one heck of a strong reason for a person to contribute to a campaign.

Here are three quick things you can do to get started:

  • Read, Retweet, and Repeat. One way to add value to your audience is to keep up to date with filmmaking news. If you’re reading articles and not sharing them on social, you’re only benefiting yourself, and that benefits no one. Instead, read articles that inform and enlighten you, but re-tweet and share them on Facebook, and append a few words about it when possible, just so we know that you actually did read it.
  • Use Twitter and Interest Lists. If you’re anything like me, a feed of thousands of folks we’re following can make it a bit more difficult to nurture meaningful relationships. I suggest creating lists as a way to keep your actual following light enough to build up some strong relationships, yet still keep yourself in-the-know about everything from “Movie News” to what your “Film Influencers” are putting out into the world. You can also use a client like Tweetdeck to lay these lists out as columns to peruse at your leisure.
  • Build your community and your audience. Many filmmakers spend time talking to other indie filmmakers, which is excellent, since communities like #supportindiefilm and #scriptchat exist to help and support one another. But these communities are seldom the entire audience for that horror film you’re prepping to crowdfund. Spend time with your actual audience on social media; it’s your community will help you get your film out to that audience, but it’s the audience itself that holds the power to keep you there.

In the same way the “crowd” comes before the “funding” right down to the word “crowdfunding” itself, we have to take charge in building up the audience for our films, and step one is to lay aside thoughts of hiring a social media guru; believe me, the good ones are few and far between, the legit ones quite costly too.

Instead of hiring a social media guru, do your own socializing on Twitter and Facebook, and strive to create deeper connections with your crowd. You’ll be rewarded later with the funding you need to make the films your audiences want to see.

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A behind-the-scenes consulting machine, John T. Trigonis has mentored hundreds of filmmakers worldwide to create compelling crowdfunding experiences that not only reach, but also exceed their goals. An indie filmmaker and successful crowdfunder himself, Trigonis has literally written the book on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and puts his prowess to greater use as Indiegogo’s specialist for film and video campaigns.

Crowdfunding For Filmmakers

If you’ve been following the trends, you know that crowfunding is a popular way for filmmakers to raise money. But did you also know that crowdfunding is essential for building buzz, testing your movie concepts and sourcing an audience?

In the following Filmmaking Stuff podcast, author and Crowdfunding expert John T. Trigonis answers your most pressing questions about Crowdfunding For Filmmakers.

Click the PLAY button below to learn more about Crowdfunding For Filmmakers:

Crowdfunding For Filmmakers

Read these previous articles related to Crowdfunding for Filmmakers.

Crowdfunding For Filmmakers

Crowdfunding For Filmmakers

1. Six Steps to a Reel Crowdfunding SuccessIn this filmmaking guest article, crowdfunding expert John T. Trigonis shares his six steps to a reel crowdfunding success…

2. You Are the 30% – How to Set Your Crowdfunding GoalOne of the more difficult things in crowdfunding seems to be choosing the right crowdufing goal amount for your project. For me, it’s all about what you can commit to raise, but not everybody subscribes to that (yet)…

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A behind-the-scenes consulting machine, John T. Trigonis has mentored hundreds of filmmakers worldwide to create compelling crowdfunding experiences that not only reach, but also exceed their goals. An indie filmmaker and successful crowdfunder himself, Trigonis has literally written the book on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and puts his prowess to greater use as Indiegogo’s specialist for film and video campaigns.

Six Steps to a Reel Crowdfunding Success

Six Steps to a Reel Crowdfunding Success is a guest post by John T. Trigonis

Back when crowdfunding for independent film was still a relatively new concept, I launched a campaign on Indiegogo for my short film Cerise.

I hoped to raise $5,000 from the crowd. This was to add to the $10,000 I’d already saved up.

I didn’t know it then, but I had not only run a successful campaign, raising a total of $6,300 from 117 funders, but I had also created an immersive campaign experience for not only my funders, but my entire network on Twitter, Facebook and email.

Since then, I have written numerous blog posts, consulted on a plethora of campaigns raising funds from between $5,000 and $500,000, and wrote a book on the subject of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers.

Crowdfunding Success

Crowdfunding Success

Through all of this reflection, I’ve realized that successful campaigning is no accident –– it takes a lot to raise a lot, and here’s seven steps to get you started.

Research the crowd-space

Read, read, and read. If you’re not into reading, then watch videos and attend seminars about crowdfunding for indie film.

There’s a surplus of information readily available online and in print, and a successful campaign experience owes itself to understanding the ins and outs of crowdfunding; simply being a great filmmaker oftentimes isn’t enough.

Strategize your campaign

All things worthwhile are planned way in advance, so plan the main aspects of your crowdfunding campaign ahead of time, leaving some room for some much needed spontaneity.

Create a campaign timeline, and on that timeline, pencil in dates for when you’ll release an update video, unveil a new limited-time perk, or launch a referral contest to further engage folks in your campaign. And speaking of engagement…

Be a social dragonfly

Crowdfunding would not be what it is without social media. We all have a Twitter and Facebook account, now’s the time to use it. It’s important, however, not to talk only about yourself and your upcoming crowdfunding campaign.

To achieve crowdfunding success, you need to build some social proof first. Tweet about things you know, like making movies and obscure Polish directors.

It’s also good to share links with your followers and Facebook friends. Most importantly, crowdfunding success means that you start listening to the people who follow you. You do this so they’ll start listening to you, which will be especially key when you launch your campaign.

Make your pitch personal

In my book, I highlight three parts of a pitch – the Intro, the Pitch, and the Showcase. But even the greatest pitch video can inadvertently shadow itself if it doesn’t come from a personal place: yourself.

You could be on the verge of the greatest film project ever produced, but that alone may not compel me to help you make it. You’re the catalyst that can convince us to chip in the funding you need to make the film you want, and one way to do this is to be in your video, look us right in the eyes, and make us an offer we simply can’t refuse.

Offer amazing perks

Crowdfunding means giving money in exchange for rewards or perks. In my very popular blog post “Three Ps for a Successful Indie Film Campaign,” I outline three types of indie film perks – standard definition (sd), High Definition (HD), and 3-D!

If you’re making a movie, you’ve got to say thanks and give a copy of the movie (sd); if someone pitches in more substantial amounts, offer them IMDb credit as an associate producer or even dinner the director (HD); but everyone deserves the kind of perk that makes a deeper, three-dimensional connection to the film their helping to fund, so offer something you can personalize to each contributor, which means you have to. . .

Be creative at all times

Crowdfunding success is about raising money, but it doesn’t have to be such serious business.

The worst thing we can do as filmmakers is be boring. Running a boring crowdfunding campaign can be worse. Therefore, we should strive to be just as creative in our campaigning as we are in when making our films.

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John T. Trigonis is the Vertical Manager of Film at Indiegogo, a published poet, writer and storyteller, DIY filmmaker, freelance professor, and author of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign. Additionally he is a cat lover, coffee aficionado, wine enthusiast, and comic book geek.