Planning a Kickstarter starts with a compelling idea for your film. For many filmmakers, our hometowns and their particular micro-cultures and institutions inspire many of the stories we’d like to tell. In our minds, we all want to be Mark Twain, sharing tales of our childhood on the banks of the mighty Mississippi.
For me, making movies was all about telling stories about the colorful “yinzers” I grew up around near Pittsburgh. And that’s what inspired my Kickstarter campaign.
How to Plan a Kickstarter for Your Film
Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms have become part of the independent filmmaking process. And if you want to get your first indie feature made, 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 film takes place in a location you passionately love… And if you meticulously plan your crowdfunding campaign, 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 a lot of lessons running a crowdfunding campaign for my micro-budget indie, Yinz. The film takes place in the small mill town near my hometown, Pittsburgh. Through careful planning and preparation, I was able to secure about $37,000 in backing with my Kickstarter campaign. And I also won some press in major Pittsburgh publications.
Go Back Home, And Say Hello
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 went and spent half of June 2015 in the Pittsburgh area.
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. Be brief, 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, commercials, and also who are involved with the tech community. Search Google, IMDB and look for producers and crew who worked on films shot 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 picture will come in incredibly handy while you’re making you’re Kickstarter video and designing your page. Remember, a picture is worth… 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.
Here’s one I took in my hometown that I used for the Yinz campaign.
Embrace The Narrative
While it is great to make an authentic film about a place you love, it crosses the line if you simply wanna exploit the locals for a laugh. You better adore the place 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 special about your project? You need to find the meta narrative of your project.
Keep the narrative simple. This is what people will relate to, and it’s how word of mouth will spread about your Kickstarter campaign.
Did you hear about the kid who’s 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 small town Western Pennsylvania, the place that inspired me to become a filmmaker in the first place, and making a movie about growing up there. It’s not about the genre, or the filmmaking techniques, or the technology we’re going to use.
Focus on the fact that you’re making a movie about a place that you love and what’s interesting about that place. If you love the place, someone else will, too. Your Kickstarter video should be about this meta narrative. The video’s story needs to be about your love for the location and your journey there to make a film.
It’s All About Driving Traffic
You can have the best Kickstarter video and film concept ever, but if no one goes to your Kickstarter page you won’t raise money. You should spend about one month (yes, that’s a lot of preparation) planning out how you’re going to drive traffic to your campaign.
There are plenty of inefficient ways to try 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 really 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 in order to drive traffic:
- Email contacts you already have.
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.
Meet BIT.LY, Your New Best Friend
“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 then click EMBED, Kickstarter will generate a bit.ly short link for your campaign at the bottom right of the window. As an example, this is the short link that Kickstarter generated for the wonderful movie Blue Ruin: http://kck.st/NDxLn1
The real magic in bit.y is that if you add a “+” symbol to any short link, bit.ly will show you a bunch of relevant statistics for the link and your campaign. Go ahead. Try it with Blue Ruin link: http://kck.st/NDxLn1+
During your campaign, make sure 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 their traffic from Facebook. So do most other projects. Most likely yours will too.
The useful thing about this data during your campaign is that you can double down on what’s working and forget about the rest. As a hypothetical example, the Blue Ruin team should not have wasted their time asking friends to share on Google+ (my gut feeling is that they weren’t doing that, anyway!)
Instead, they should have double down on asking 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 newby, don’t waste your time. It’s probably overkill, and you need to focus on driving traffic, not learning another ecommerce platform.
Divide And Conquer (Your Contact List)
Your personal contacts are the the most important source of traffic and funding for your Kickstarter campaign. I have seen a few numbers thrown around, but it is generally said that about 60% of an average crowdfunding campaign’s backing comes from people who personally know the creator.
If you take into account the people who are two or three degrees away from you that will discover your project from your contacts posting on Facebook, 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 some combination Google and Outlook and iCloud and the like. Choose one service to be your central database.
I personally utilize Google Contacts, but I don’t think it matters very much which you choose. 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. KICKSTARTER FRIENDS AND FAMILY
2. KICKSTARTER MASS.
Go through every single 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.
Here’s my guide: If someone invited you to their wedding or similar family function, or if you’d invite 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 group. You should end up with about 150 people in your FRIENDS AND FAMILY contacts group.
If you don’t actually know someone or wouldn’t feel comfortable doing a small favor for him, don’t put him in either group. Don’t be a spammy. Aside from potentially violating spam laws, you don’t need these people for a successful Kickstarter.
Once you have your list, your next step is to export both groups of contacts in .CSV spreadsheets that can be opened with Excel. You can use these spreadsheets to import your groups into Mailchimp or some other email marketing program to track who’ve you emailed.
For everybody in your FRIENDS AND FAMILY list, you will write a personalized email from your own email account. (Note, it is very important that you do not violate spam laws when sending emails. When we refer to personal emails, we mean these people better know you and like you.)
Use TextExpander (see below) to craft a template, then personalize each email with your close contact’s name and a friendly message. Use Boomerang (see below) to time each message to be sent the morning you launch your Kickstarter at just after the moment you plan to launch your campaign.
You’ll create an email for the MASS GROUP that will be sent from Mailchimp (see below) the moment you plan to 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 that have the most backers in the least amount of days. If you can get your campaign to 20% of of your goal within the first two days, you’re mostly likely golden.
Crafting The Perfect Email
Keep it simple stupid. 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. It’s confusing and people who aren’t as web-savvy 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. If they want to back your campaign, they will.
- 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 to home to make a film about what it was like growing up in [PLACE].” Or, “I’m traveling to Montana to make a film about modern day cowboys.”
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.
Prime The Pump
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 those personalized emails go out on the morning you launch, send an email to your Friends and Family list giving them a heads up.
You will want to craft an email to send to your Friends and Family contact list about five days before your campaign starts to let them know what you’re up to. If your campaign starts on Monday – Wednesday (recommended), I suggest sending your “priming” email on the Thursday before.
Letting your friends and family know that 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, make sure you let your personal contacts know that they can opt out of the whole Kickstarter experience. Tell them that if they ask you not to contact them about the campaign, you will respect their wishes and won’t begrudge 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 coming in the Kickstarter video and on the Kickstarter page. I don’t want to say too much now.
If you prefer for me not to email you about it, please just let me know. I completely understand and respect your time… No hard feelings at all!
Facebook Is King
Facebook’s market capitalization is $267.4 billion as of August 1, 2015. By contrast, Twitter’s is $20.3 billion. A simple explanation for that is Facebook is much better for sharing content you want discovered by others. And people and corporations are willing to pay for that.
Luckily, Facebook allows everyone to share for free. You don’t have to promote any posts or pay for any advertising. All you need to do is drum up a frenzy of your friends sharing on Facebook.
Ask every person you email or speak with to share your campaign on Facebook. If someone doesn’t back your campaign monetarily, the second most valuable thing they can do is share it on Facebook. This is how you’re going to get strangers that are 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.
Create Your Media Hit List
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 which make blog write-ups more valuable than articles in all but the largest 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. Here’s a template media hit list you can save to your own Google Drive to work on. 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 work with.
Target The Right Media
We’re independent filmmakers. Odds are we don’t have personal assistants, interns, or the money to hire a virtual assistant, as recommended in other Kickstarter guides. You’re going to have to do the legwork of finding what members of the media to pitch yourself. It’s not that hard.
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 then 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 featured 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 hit list template.
Next, start researching bloggers who write about that area where you’re making a film. Find bloggers who write about the local arts and films. 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 Facebook fans the pages of 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. The majority of those will probably be local to the region of your film. If you haven’t confirmed at least 10 stories before your launch, get in touch with smaller blogs.
Ask all the bloggers to launch their stories the first morning of your Kickstarter campaign and share those stories on Facebook when they come out. Be very kind to bloggers. Popular bloggers are busy and bombarded with requests to feature stories. Treat them kindly and make their lives easy.
Prepare A Media Kit
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.
To help them you, you need to create a media/press kit for their convenience. A press kit has all the basic information a writer would need to tell the bare-bones of your story and some interesting pictures to accompany a story. You’re doing the homework for them, and this makes them more likely to write a story.
In your press kit, you should include headshots and biographies of key crew and talent, a logline and short synopsis and high resolution logos for the project. You might also want to include some storyboards or location pictures. Make sure you keep text documents in easy to access formats like .txt and your images in .jpg.
I suggest putting all these files in a Dropbox folder (or similar cloud sharing service) for which you can easily share a link. You can take a look at the Yinz press kit as a template.
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 just trusts them. That’s why advertisers pay so much to get those annoying ads at the beginning of your favorite podcast.
You’re not going to get on WTF 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 interesting shows. Look up the hosts and add them to the hit list.
Be flexible with your scheduling to make it easy on the podcasters. Make sure you’ve thought about things you want to talk about in advance and share your press kit with the podcast host. I host a podcast, and I’ve ended up staying in touch with a number 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.
Don’t Stress. Automate.
There are some key tools you’ll need to help you save time during your campaign. If you’re writing all your emails and updating social media in real time, your life is going to be a nightmare. The following tools will allow you to get most of the work you need to do for your campaign done before the campaign starts.
The number one pro tip I can give you is to use Boomerang with Gmail to schedule emails to be sent at a specific time in the future. I wrote over 150 personalized emails over the course of two weeks all to be sent the morning the Yinz Kickstarter campaign launched. If it weren’t for Boomerang, I could have never sent personalized, meaningful emails that reached people at exactly the right moment.
Use TextExpander to save time typing, particularly when writing emails. You’ll enter commonly used phrases and email templates into the utility, then enter a quick shortcut for long strings of text to appear. You’ll save tens of hours as you write emails for you Kickstarter campaign. It’s also great for saving numerous email signoffs and URLs you commonly go to (like your Kickstarter’s!).
Use MailChimp or a similar service to send mass emails to your contact lists. You can time long in advance when these emails are sent. MailChimp has great guides and makes it easy to get started. Don’t be spammy, and make it easy for people to unsubscribe to your lists!
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 being shared.
The First Morning
Wake up early and press the LAUNCH button on Kickstarter. At this point, assuming you automated your campaign, your contacts will be receiving emails and locals will be hearing about your movie made in their backyard.
As the money comes rolling in, you can think about 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 big donation, you should get on the phone to call that individual and thank them. It will mean a lot to them. Make sure you’re responding to any emails that come back to you with questions or support. Update the FAQs 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 whole process over again for the last two days of your campaign when you need to make a final push to reach your goal.
Eventually, hardest of all, make a really awesome 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.