Before I started Film Sprites PR in 2014 I started to test the waters of social media and publicity for film by assisting with promotion of crowdfunding campaigns. It was 2013, I was fresh from studying, and crowdfunding was a new and exciting world to me, and to filmmakers who wanted to cut out the middle man when it came to funding their films.
Fast forward to 2020 and every man and their dog knows what crowdfunding is. Thousands of shorts and features have had crowdfunding campaigns on platforms like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Seed & Spark and Go Fund Me (and that’s for starters!). Thousands of dollars have been raised in campaign funds, and films have gone ahead.
Since my initial dive into the world of crowdfunding, I’ve been involved in successful campaigns for films like Us Among the Stones, which debuted at the BFI London Film Festival last year, WW II film Magpie, and finishing funds for RAIN: A Fan Film About Storm. And then, as luck would have it, I took up a position at Boosted, the crowdfunding platform of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand and gave artists crowdfunding advice that assisted them in creating amazing things like the short film Memory Foam, the outrageously funny webseries These Two, and the feature documentary Peter Peryer: The Art of Seeing, which debuted at the New Zealand International Film Festival in 2019. I even had the great privilege of presenting a session on crowdfunding for filmmakers with a Boosted colleague for theNew Zealand Film Commission‘s Fresh Shorts Intensive Weekend.
I’ve seen what works with crowdfunding, and what doesn’t.
I’ve also seen crowdfunding myths pop up time and again; things that don’t seem to go away. They’re things which seem reasonable enough, but are counter-intuitive to successful crowdfunding. Today, I’m going to let you in on those myths, AND give you alternatives that will help you reach your target.
Myth 1: You Have to Have a Really High Target to Be Successful
If someone has a crowdfunding campaign for upwards of $100,000 I’m going to ask why.
Perhaps if you’re an A-List director and hiring well-known actors, have loads of location shoots, a multitude of crew and have a massive VFX budget, then that figure might be correct. But if you’re a director who is directing their first short on a shoestring and only need around $10,000 then chances are you’re not going to need that much.
There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, however when it comes to crowdfunding you have to think very pragmatically (especially since crowdfunding is like having another full time job in and of itself). When people tell me they want a really high target for their crowdfunding campaign, their logic tends to be along the lines of: “if we have a really high target, people will think we’ve got a huge production and that will make them more likely to contribute to the campaign.”
There’s a few problems with this:
1. If you’re on an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform and your campaign is unsuccessful, the risk of not reaching your target increases the higher your target is.
2. If you have a campaign with a really high target and it’s unsuccessful, it looks less impressive than a campaign that has reached (or exceeded) its target. A smaller target that is tracking well percentage-wise during a campaign makes people more likely to contribute to the campaign than a large target that is not tracking well.
So, what’s a more practical target? Here’s the formula I give people:
- First, work out exactly how much you need to make your film/webseries. If you’re crowdfunding in pre-production, you’ll need to work out how much it’s going to cost for everything you need, e.g. equipment hire, catering, paying your cast and crew, etc. In post, work out what you need to finish the film and how much that’s going to cost (e.g. sound, colouring, reshoots).
- Look at the percentage the crowdfunding platform will take in fees and add that percentage onto your total (e.g. if the platform charges 10%, add 10% to your figure)
That’s what your total should be. The benefit of this is that if you achieve your target prior to the close of your campaign, you can then continue promoting your campaign on social media and go for a ‘stretch goal’ of some type.
One thing to also keep in mind is whether or not you’re offering physical perks during your campaign, because that will impact on the total amount as well. Some campaigns with perks ask contributors to add an additional amount (around $10-$15) onto their contribution to cover postage and packaging costs. It’s entirely up to you as to whether or not you do this.
Myth 2: Long Campaign Durations Are Best
One of the myths that seems to come up time and again is the idea that if you run a long campaign (two months or more), that it will be more successful because it gives people more time to contribute. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way!
Crowdfunding campaigns tend to have a pattern: the first week of campaign you’ll see a flurry of contributions, then contributions will tend to slow down in the following 1-2 weeks, with momentum picking up again in the last 7 days.
So, why do I recommend not having a long campaign duration?
- Crowdfunding is a time-consuming process. Successful campaigns mean a LOT of sweat equity. A 30 day campaign can be exhausting, but if you stretch it out to 60-90 days it means you’re going to have to keep going. How is that going to impact on your personal life, your professional life, and your filmmaking?
- Another issue is that if your campaign is not going well, you might be tempted to give up on it altogether. And I don’t want to see that happening with anyone!
A good campaign duration is 30 days. The reason for this is that it keeps to a concise, manageable timeframe, and you are able to receive contributions from people with varying pay cycles (e.g. fortnightly, weekly). It also means that your own personal momentum is maintained, and trust me- enthusiasm is infectious!
Myth 3: If People Are Cinephiles, They’ll Contribute
Here’s the thinking behind this common myth: people love movies, so they’re going to support my campaign because of this.
If only this were true!
The reality is that the majority of your crowdfunding contributions (around 90%) will come from your immediate network (friends, family, work groups, industry groups, your mailing list and your social media following) as opposed to people unconnected to your immediate network. That doesn’t mean you can’t get those contributions, it’s just prudent to make sure they’re not the focus of your contribution hopes. You can find out more about how to prep your crowdfunding campaign (and identify your network for your campaign) HERE.
Myth 4: A Crowdfunding Campaign Doesn’t Require Any Effort
Crowdfunding: it’s easy money, right? Your campaign page goes live, and the money starts rolling in.
A crowdfunding campaign is like having another full-time job. Between writing the copy for your page, getting a pitch video ready and reaching out to your networks via social media and/or e-mail, it takes time.
Think of it this way: if you were doing investor relations face-to-face with someone, you’d have things like a pitch deck, a treatment, and you’d be able to break down your film budget. Crowdfunding is very much like investor relations, but online.
Crowdfunding is not a magic ATM machine. The more time you put into prepping and promoting your campaign, the easier it will be the next time you need to do face-to-face investor relations, because the skills overlap somewhat.
If you’re looking for ‘easy money’, crowdfunding is probably not for you.
If you are just crowdfunding because you think it will bring awareness to your project or that you’ll go viral, crowdfunding is probably not for you.
If you don’t have the time to plan a campaign, keep your contributors updated and promote your campaign on social media throughout the funding duration, crowdfunding is probably not for you.
And if it’s not for you, that’s okay too! I’ve spoken with people who, after weighing up the pros and cons, have decided not to run a campaign and have successfully gained the funds they needed for their projects through other means. Crowdfunding is another option in the arts funding landscape, not the be-all end-all. You can always apply for grants and scholarships, do investor relations face-to-face with private investors, or look for angel equity.
So there you have it- some of the most common crowdfunding myths dispelled.
There’s much more about crowdfunding available on the blog. If you’re interested, check out these posts: