Planning a film crowdfunding campaign starts with a compelling idea for your story. For many film producers, our hometowns and their particular micro-cultures and institutions inspire the stories we’d like to tell. It’s as if we all want to be Mark Twain, sharing tales of our childhood on the banks of the mighty Mississippi.
For me, making movies was about telling stories about the colorful “yinzers” I grew up near Pittsburgh. And that’s what inspired my Kickstarter campaign.
Table Of Contents
- Introduction: Crowdfunding Films
- Step 01: Your Crowdfunding Narrative
- Step 02: Plan Online Traffic
- Step 03: Track Your Plan
- Step 04: List Your Contacts
- Step 05: Email Marketing K.I.S.S.
- Step 06: Attract The Media
- Step 07: Contact Niche Bloggers
- Step 08: Get On Podcasts
- Step 09: Automate Your Promotion
- Step 10: Launch Your Campaign
Crowdfunding Films Introduction
Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms have become part of the independent filmmaking process. And if you want to get your first indie feature made, the odds are good that you’ll have to run a crowdfunding campaign. Unfortunately, we have all also heard the horror stories of failed crowdfunding campaigns.
If your film is authentic to where you grew up, or your movie takes place in a location you passionately love… And suppose you meticulously plan your crowdfunding campaign. In that case, Kickstarter is a legitimate way to raise money and build buzz from a built-in hometown audience who might not be familiar with you or your work.
I learned many lessons from running a crowdfunding campaign for my micro-budget indie, Yinz. The film takes place in a small mill town near my hometown, Pittsburgh. Through careful planning and preparation, I secured about $37,000 in backing with my Kickstarter campaign. And I also won some press in major Pittsburgh publications.
Visit Your Hometown
I have lived and worked in Los Angeles for eight years. Even if I feel like a Pittsburgh guy, the truth is that it’s only my home in my heart. I want to shoot Yinz in early 2016. So about six months before that, I spent half of June 2015 in Pittsburgh.
Before arriving, I researched every person and organization I could find with ties to the film industry. You need to do the same. Email these people and groups two weeks before your trip, and tell them you’d like to meet with them. Briefly explain that you’re planning to make a film in the area, and let them know you only want fifteen minutes of their time.
Make sure you find any organizations that support local filmmakers. I found the Pittsburgh Film Office and the Steeltown Entertainment Project. They were both eager to meet and have been remarkably supportive. You want to look for individuals who work in film and commercials and are involved with the tech community. Search Google and IMDB and look for producers and crew working on movies in the area.
Another thing you’ll want to do when you’re spending time at the location is to take lots of high-quality pictures. These pictures will be convenient while making your Kickstarter video and designing your page. Remember, a picture is worth a lot more money than words on Kickstarter. And the locals that you want to buy into your project will love seeing pictures of places they recognize.
Step 01: Your Crowdfunding Narrative
While making an original film about a place you love is great, it crosses the line if you want to exploit the locals for a laugh. You better adore the site you’re making a film about. Even if you’re having fun with local culture (think of Fargo), it better come from a loving place.
When it comes to local promotion, what is the story behind your story?
Simply saying I’ve always wanted to make a movie, and now I’m doing so isn’t good enough. That’s old hat at this point. What’s unique about your project? You need to find the meta-narrative of your project.
Keep the narrative simple. People will relate to this, and it’s how word of mouth will spread about your Kickstarter campaign.
Did you hear about the kid whose dad was a fisherman? And now he’s spending the summer making a movie on a fishing boat in the Pacific?
For Yinz, the story behind the story is that I am going home to a small town in Western Pennsylvania, the place that inspired me to become a filmmaker in the first place and make a movie about growing up there. It’s not about the genre, the filmmaking techniques, or the technology we will use.
Focus on the fact that you’re making a movie about a place you love and what’s interesting. If you love the site, someone else will, too. Your Kickstarter video should be about this meta-narrative. The video’s story must be about your love for the location and your journey there to make a film.
Step 02: Plan Online Traffic
You can have the best Kickstarter video and film concept, but you won’t raise money if no one goes to your page. You should spend about one month (yes, that’s a lot of preparation) planning how to drive traffic to your campaign.
There are plenty of inefficient ways to drive traffic to your site. I have seen plenty of people with 100 Twitter followers craft witty lines for their Kickstarters to send out all day. You might reach those followers, but it’s a waste of time. We want to avoid all the inefficient ways to drive traffic and focus on big wins.
There are four places we’re going to focus our attention on to drive traffic:
Forget about everything else. Period. You’re going to be too busy and have too much on the line to waste time posting cutesy fliers or sending postcards to distant relatives.
Step 03: Track Your Plan
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” So goes the old business maxim by Peter Drucker.
The same is also true of your Kickstarter.
The easiest way to see where your traffic is coming from is to share short links from bit.ly.
If you click the SHARE button on a Kickstarter campaign and then click EMBED, Kickstarter will generate a bit.ly short link for your campaign at the bottom right of the window.
During your campaign, ensure you’re always sharing and asking everyone else to share a bit.ly short link. You’ll learn a lot more about your traffic sources this way.
See the image below. It details some of the statistics bit.ly offers for Blue Ruin’s Kickstarter. Blue Ruin drove most of its traffic from Facebook. So do most other projects. Most likely, yours will too.
The valuable thing about this data during your campaign is that you can double down on what’s working and forget the rest. As a hypothetical example, the Blue Ruin team should not have wasted their time asking friends to share on non-relevant social media channels (my gut feeling is that they weren’t doing that, anyway!)
They should have asked their contacts to share their campaign on Facebook.
Kickstarter also offers Google Analytics integration. If you have used Google Analytics in the past, I recommend enabling it for your campaign. But if you’re a newbie, don’t waste your time. It’s overkill. Focus on driving traffic, not learning another eCommerce platform.
Step 04: List Your Contacts
Your contacts are the most crucial source of traffic and funding for your Kickstarter campaign. I have seen a few numbers thrown around, but in many cases, about 60% of an average crowdfunding campaign’s backing comes from people who know the creator.
Suppose you consider the people two or three degrees away from you who will discover your project from your contacts posting on Facebook. In that case, it’s fair to say the vast majority of your backing will be a ripple effect of reaching out to people you already know.
The best way to reach those people is through email. Email addresses you already have.
First, make sure all your contacts are in one place (these days, that means stored in only one digital Rolodex). Most likely, your contacts are split between a combination of Google and Outlook, iCloud, and the like. Choose one service to be your central database.
I utilize Google Contacts, but I don’t think your choice matters very much. Just make sure all your email contacts are in one place. To do this, export any stray contacts from other services and import them into the one you choose.
Then go into your contacts service, where all your contacts are stored.
Create two groups of people:
1. FRIENDS AND FAMILY
2. MASS POPULATION
Go through every contact in your contact book, which will probably be over a thousand people, with a fine-toothed comb. You must decide who you’ll put in either category.
If someone invited you to their wedding or similar family function, or if you’d ask them to your wedding or housewarming party, put them in your FRIENDS AND FAMILY group.
If you would ask someone for a small favor, but wouldn’t invite them to your wedding, put them in your MASS POPULATION group. You should end up with about 150 people in your FRIENDS AND FAMILY contacts group.
If you don’t know someone or wouldn’t feel comfortable doing a small favor for him, don’t put him in either group. Don’t be spammy. Aside from potentially violating spam laws, you don’t need these people for a successful Kickstarter.
Once you have your list, you will want to save both contact groups as a CSV so the files can be opened with Excel. You can use these spreadsheets to import your groups into Mailchimp, Birdsend, or another email marketing program to track who you an email.
You will write a personalized email from your email account for everybody in your FRIENDS AND FAMILY list. You must be careful not to violate spam laws when sending emails. When we refer to personal emails, we mean the people who know you and like you.
Use tools like TextExpander to craft a template, then personalize each email with your close contact’s name and a friendly message. Use Boomerang to time each letter to be sent the morning you launch your Kickstarter, just after the moment you plan to launch your campaign.
You’ll create an email for the MASS GROUP that will be sent from your email provider the moment you launch your campaign. These emails will be less personal, but they’ll also be easy to unsubscribe from.
There are two reasons we’re focusing on the first morning of Kickstarter.
First is because roughly 80% of projects that make 20% of their funding goal are successful.
The other reason is that Kickstarter’s sharing algorithm favors campaigns with the most backers in the least number of days. You’re most likely golden if you can get your drive to 20% of your goal within the first two days.
Step 05: Email Marketing K.i.s.s.
Please keep it simple silly. K.I.S.S. That’s the key to the email you need to send to both groups of contacts on the first day of the campaign. Too many people ask for a million things in their Kickstarter emails.
Having too many calls to action is confusing, and people who aren’t as web-savvy will get lost.
Ask for two things and two things only in your email:
- Ask that your friends go to your Kickstarter page and watch your video
- Ask them to share your Kickstarter on Facebook
Keep the email simple, and don’t mix messages.
Start with your meta-narrative:
- “I’m going home to make a film about what it was like growing up in [PLACE].”
- “I’m traveling to [PLACE] to make a film about [TOPIC].”
Then make your two asks.
Keep your email short, be polite, and don’t beg. Make sure you tell people that if they don’t want you to reach out anymore, you’ll stop doing so.
You don’t want your best friends and family to be surprised when they hear about your Kickstarter.
Assuming your Friends and Family contact list is about one-hundred people long, there’s probably no way you will be able to tell them all in person or over the phone that your campaign is starting soon. So before you send an email promoting your crowdfunding campaign, send a pre-launch email to your Friends and Family, giving them a heads up.
You will want to craft an email to your Friends and Family contact list about five days before your campaign starts to let them know what you’re working on. If your campaign starts on Monday – Wednesday (recommended), I suggest sending your “priming” email before Thursday.
Letting your friends and family know you’re running a Kickstarter is simply courteous. It also doesn’t put people on the spot to act on the first day of your campaign without being able to think about how they want to contribute.
Most importantly, ensure you let your contacts know they can opt out of the Kickstarter experience.
Tell them that if they ask you not to contact them about the campaign, you will respect their wishes and won’t envy them.
Here’s a template that you can use to let your friends and family know about your campaign the week before it launches.
Dear Friends and Family,
I wanted to give you a quick heads up that we will be running a Kickstarter campaign for my first feature film as a director, called YOUR TITLE, starting next week on DAY, DATE. The movie is about THEME in WHERE YOU GREW UP.
I thought you might be interested in the project, and I wanted to give you some advance notice, so you don’t hear about it out of the blue.
We’ll send you a handful of emails about the campaign, and we hope you’ll watch the Kickstarter video and share the project with friends.
We promise we won’t be spammy or overwhelming! We’ll have a ton more information in the Kickstarter video and on the Kickstarter page. I don’t want to say too much now.
Please let me know if you prefer me not to email you about it.
I completely understand and respect your time…
No hard feelings at all!
Step 06: Attract The Media
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are accessible media channels. Many of these outlets reach billions of people. Choose the one where most of your friends and family congregate. Then ask every person you email or speak with to share your campaign.
This way, if someone doesn’t put money towards your crowdfunding goal, the second most valuable thing they can do is share it on their social channels. If you have good, compelling content, this should expand your reach without the need to pay for advertising. This is how you will get strangers with several degrees of separation away from you looking at your project.
Go here to create a Facebook share link to your Kickstarter page that you can include in all your emails.
Blogs are a big deal these days. Everyone knows that. But what you might not have realized is that bloggers are the best way for you to reach your local audiences.
Bloggers also have easy-to-click links in their stories, making blog write-ups more valuable than articles in all but the most prominent newspapers.
To get started, you need to make a “hit list” of bloggers and other media members to contact in a Google Sheet. You’ll be able to update it in real time.
I’ve used an imaginary example on the top line.
Keep track of how many Facebook likes each blog’s page has. Likewise, track how strong your relationship is with the person and your previous interaction with her.
Writing down relevant information in your hit list will make it easy to craft specific emails to each blogger you’d like to reach.
Step 07: Contact Niche Bloggers
Most independent filmmakers don’t have personal assistants, interns, or the money to hire a virtual assistant. You’ll have to do the legwork of finding what media members to pitch to yourself. It’s not that hard.
You need to create a press kit for your movie during this step. A press kit has all the essential information a writer would need to tell the bare bones of your story and some exciting pictures to accompany a story. You’re doing the homework for them, making them more likely to write a novel.
Your press kit should include the project’s headshots and biographies of crucial crew and talent, a logline and short synopsis, and high-resolution logos. You might also want to have some storyboards or location pictures. Keep text documents in easy-to-access formats like .txt and your images in .jpg.
One suggestion I learned from the article Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days on Tim Ferriss’s blog (a must-read if you’re going to run a Kickstarter) is to conduct a Google reverse image search.
To run a reverse image search, open up Google Chrome and visit a successfully funded campaign similar to yours. Right-click on the campaign’s image. Then choose “Search Google for this Image.”
Google will show you posts that feature that image.
- Make a goal to find and email 20 bloggers who wrote about campaigns similar to yours. Start keeping track of those sites in the media contact directory.
- Start researching bloggers who write about the area where you’re making a film.
- Find bloggers who write about the local arts and movies.
You will find that many writers contribute to multiple sites and know each other. Ask for recommendations and introductions.
You will also find a ton of blogs that might work. However, keep track of how many social media fans those blogs have. Keep the top 20 most-liked blogs on your hit list.
You will now have 40 blogs to pitch, and you should be able to land stories in at least 10 of them. Most of those will probably be local to the region of your film. Get in touch with smaller blogs if you haven’t confirmed at least ten stories before your launch.
Ask all the bloggers to launch their stories the first morning of your Kickstarter campaign and share them on Facebook when they come out. Be very kind to bloggers. Famous bloggers are busy and bombarded with requests to feature stories. Treat them kindly and make their lives easy.
You and the local blogosphere are scratching each others’ backs. You’re giving them something interesting to report to their audience while they’re helping you drive traffic to your Kickstarter campaign. However symbiotic the relationship is, keep in mind that bloggers are doing you a favor. This is the same for podcasts.
Step 08: Get On Podcasts
Another media outlet that you should look into is podcasts. In my opinion, podcasters are the evening news anchors of our generation. The audience trusts them. Advertisers pay so much to get those annoying ads at the beginning of your favorite podcast.
You’re not going to get on W.T.F. with Marc Maron for your first film. So don’t waste your time trying.
But go into iTunes and search the store for podcasts about the city or region where you’re making your film. You will be able to find some exciting shows. Look up the hosts and add them to the hit list.
Be flexible with your scheduling to make it easy on podcasters. Make sure you’ve thought about things you want to discuss in advance and share your press kit with the podcast host. I host a podcast, and I’ve ended up staying in touch with several of our guests. I’ve already recorded an interview with a Pittsburgh arts podcast, and the wonderful host, Genevieve, introduced me to a local cinema blogger.
Step 09: Automate Your Promotion
There are some essential tools you’ll need to help you save time during your campaign. Your life will be a nightmare if you write your emails and update social media in real time. The following tools will allow you to get most of the work you need for your campaign before the campaign starts.
The one pro tip I can give you is automating your emails. You can use services like Boomerang or SuperHuman with Gmail to schedule emails to be sent at a specific time.
I wrote over 150 personalized emails over two weeks, all to be sent the morning my Kickstarter campaign launched. If it weren’t for automating my emails, I could have never sent personalized, meaningful emails that reached people at precisely the right moment.
Use TextExpander to save time typing, mainly when writing emails.
You’ll enter commonly used phrases and email templates into the utility and create quick shortcuts for long text strings. You’ll save tens of hours as you write emails for your Kickstarter campaign.
It’s also great for keeping numerous email signoffs and URLs you commonly go to (like your Kickstarter!).
Regarding mass emails, I know Filmmaking Stuff currently uses BirdSend for their emails. I’ve used MailChimp and other similar services to send mass emails. These services allow you to plan when emails are sent.
Many email marketing services have excellent guides that make it easy to start.
Do NOT violate Spam Laws. Read some articles on ensuring your mass emails are compliant.
Use Buffer to queue up social media updates. You don’t need to be sitting on Twitter or Facebook to blast out your campaign. And, of course, use bit.ly to help keep track of how your links are shared.
Step 10: Launch Your Campaign
Wake up early and press the LAUNCH button on Kickstarter. At this point, assuming you automated your campaign, your contacts will receive emails, and locals will hear about your movie made in their backyard.
As the money rolls in, you can consider promoting a status update on your movie’s Kickstarter page. As you tell Facebook the audience for the status, use the closest big city to where you’re shooting as your location target. Make sure you choose “movies” as an interest. Spend between $25-$50 to promote this post on the first (and last) day only.
If anyone gives a significant donation, you should get on the phone to call that individual and thank them. It will mean a lot to them. Ensure you’re responding to emails that come back to you with questions or support. Update the F.A.Q.s on the Kickstarter page.
Once the first two days of the campaign are over, you should re-group. Catch up on your sleep. Fill your Buffer with status updates. More importantly, start this process over again for the last two days of your campaign when you must make a final push to reach your goal.
Eventually, most challenging, make an excellent movie that does justice to the area that helped you raise money to produce it!
Jeremy Michael Cohen is a writer, director, and producer of films and other moving images. Additionally, he has produced and 1st A.D.ed millions of dollars of content, including seven feature films and tens of commercials for major brands, including Honda, Scion, and Reebok. His current project is a micro-budget feature film, Yinz.