Handy Crowdfunding Resources for Indie Filmmakers

Handy Crowdfunding Resources for Indie Filmmakers

I can say with complete sincerity that it’s been a complete blast bringing you our Crowdfunding for Filmmakers month! There’s been lots of great feedback and it’s been thoroughly enjoyable to bring to you hints, tips and advice on crowdfunding of your indie film or webseries. There have been people who have said: “well, what about my (insert non-film project here)?” No problem! All of the hints and tips we’ve provided here are easily adaptable to any campaign for any project- the reason for a filmmaking focus is, well, we work with filmmakers!

This post is going to be a little different from the previous crowdfunding posts, because I wanted to bring you a really useful toolbox of resources that can assist you with your crowdfunding, regardless of budget or size of project. Some of these resources are ones I personally use for the work we do at Film Sprites PR, some are really handy resources that will inspire and add to your crowdfunding resource and knowledge base. Plus, we’ve got a little freebie we’ve been hinting about via our social media as well! So, here’s some resources I hope you’ll find genuinely useful:

TED Talks and Other Must-Sees

I have previously talked about how Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk about ‘The Art of Asking‘ was vital in the creation of Film Sprites PR, and it really is powerful. It’s something I recommend every artist watches at least once before they think about undertaking a crowdfunding campaign. Why? It’s so hard to ask for anything in life because it can be such a vulnerable act, but when you remember the importance of human connection and of being seen it can put asking in a new light. If you’re really amped up after watching this, you can follow it up with Amanda’s Google talk as well. I also thoroughly recommend reading her book of the same name, because the sections about artists and crowdfunding that are interspersed throughout the book will give you insight on the process from an artistic perspective, something which is so very valuable.

Another talk (this time at TEDxJerseyCity), is John T. Trigonis’ talk ‘Crowdfunding Today, Tomorrow, Together‘. John knows his stuff, because he’s not only run his own successful crowdfunding campaigns for his films and graphic novels, he’s also a film strategist for IndieGoGo. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again- John knows his stuff. I also highly recommend the second edition of his book ‘Crowdfunding for Filmmakers‘. It’s an enjoyable read with lots of no-nonsense examples and advice, and it’s definitely well worth your time. It’s the one book I recommend to every filmmaker.

And if you’re super-keen, grab a cup of your favourite hot beverage and a notepad and pen and get immersed in Emily Best of Seed & Spark’s videos on crowdfunding for Film Courage.

Posts From Our Vault:

During this month we’ve given you a wealth of information about crowdfunding for filmmakers, but we have also posted blog posts about aspects of crowdfunding in the past as well! We give you ways to look after yourself during your crowdfunding campaign to avoid burnout, how to harness Twitter for your crowdfunding campaign, and how to maintain that ever-important connection with your contributors post-campaign.

Social Media Scheduling Tools:

While you should aim for around a 90/10 ratio for organic posts/automated posts, there are some great scheduling tools which can assist you in scheduling and posting across your social media platforms simultaneously instead of having to do it manually for each platform. Hootsuite is arguably the first platform which comes to mind, but I actually like Tweetdeck when it comes to automation and scheduling on Twitter also.

Design Software and Apps:

Confession: I love design apps, not just for their ability to assist me in designing things quickly and cleanly for social media, but because with many design apps they will help you to crop pictures to fit the proportions of various social media platforms. Images are exceptionally useful when it comes to promoting your crowdfunding campaign on social media and sharing things behind-the-scenes of your film, and design apps can really assist you, even if you have absolutely no clue about how to use design software like Photoshop. Here are the software/apps I particularly like:

  • Canva: I can honestly say that I use Canva almost every day in some capacity because it’s very easy-to-use. One benefit of Canva is that it will give you alignment guidelines so you can make sure everything is aligned and looking good. For every design size there are also templates available with different design mock-ups. The basic (and generously extensive) software is free to use and you don’t have to download it if you’re using it on a home computer.
  • Pixlr: here’s another one I use regularly, and have used often during crowdfunding campaigns and for social media posts. In fact, if you’ve seen social media posts for the 2018 Raindance crowdfunding campaign that we’ve been posting on our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts, you might have seen collages which show multiple images (like the picture below). These were created via Pixlr. Pixlr is useful for multi image collages, but it also has things like filters, special effects and photo editing which can be useful for touching up images you want to use. The Pixlr app is particularly useful for editing on the run!
Raindance FF Past Screeners

Image created in Pixlr to show films which had previous screened at Raindance Film Festival, to be posted on Twitter.

  • Another app I like is Promo Republic. One of the benefits of Promo Republic is that it gives you a calendar which shows you when international events are coming up (like awards ceremonies, holidays or quirky national days), and there are often templates to match. This can be useful if you’re looking for content to post which matches the theme or vibe of your film.

And now, as promised…we have a freebie for everyone! Click HERE to gain access to our booklet, Crowdfunding Hints and Tips for Filmmakers. It contains two of our most popular (and most useful!) posts about crowdfunding for filmmakers. There’s no catch- no purchase necessary, no opt-in, just click and download. Simple!

Film Sprites PR Crowdfunding Hints and Tips for Filmmakers

Hopefully this has been a really useful month of posts about crowdfunding for you. If you’d like to know more about what we do at Film Sprites PR in terms of publicity and digital marketing of independent films and webseries, you can find out more HERE. Alternately, get in touch with us! Use our contact page, or drop us an email at: filmspritespr[at]gmail[dot]com.

Great Aunt Gladys Wants to Pay By Check and Other Unusual Things That Can Happen When Crowdfunding

Unusual Things That Happen On Crowdfunding Campaigns

99% of the time, crowdfunding campaigns run relatively smoothly. You plan, prepare and launch your campaign, the contributions start to roll in, and things go according to plan. But there are times when things go “off script”. It doesn’t happen very often, and for the most part they’re things you may not have to worry about, but I think they’re worth mentioning in case they do arise in your campaign.

All of these examples are things which I have seen happen in campaigns over the past 4 years of assisting with crowdfunding through Film Sprites PR‘s publicity and social media marketing services. They’re atypical, but knowledge is power- if things like this happen, at least you’ll know what to do about them:

Great Aunt Gladys wants to pay by check: in the digital age, we’re so comfortable with hopping online and submitting a payment to a crowdfunding campaign that we forget that some people aren’t comfortable with that method of payment (for whatever reason). Occasionally, you may get someone who wants to contribute to your campaign via check or cash. That’s completely doable! You have two choices- bank the funds in the account you’re using for your film funding, or, if you have an all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign where every cent is vital in order to receive your campaign funds, you can bank the funds in your film funding account and then put those cash or check contributions into the campaign and up on the page. Either way, don’t forget to thank your contributor, and be sure to ask them if they would like a perk.

This is something to bear in mind if you decide to have a pre-launch fundraising event as well. You can upload those cash or check contributions on the first day of your campaign.

unusual things that happen on crowdfunding campaigns 2

Caught by the FB police: now this has only ever happened once in the 4 years I’ve been working on crowdfunding campaigns, so again it’s atypical but definitely worth noting. It’s the final week of a crowdfunding campaign, so things are amping up. The team who are assisting on the campaign (which included the director, several of the actors, and some really passionate fans who went above and beyond) are ramping up their posts, sharing more progress about how the percentages are creeping ever closer to 100%, etcetera. Everything’s going absolutely tickety boo for the first three days…and then ALL of the Facebook and Instagram posts were flagged as spam or offensive content. Yes, caught wrongly by the Facebook Fuzz and Insta Police. Even promoted posts had been flagged! After submitting reports on each of the flagged posts, pointing out it wasn’t spam, the posts were released from posting purgatory, but by that time it ceased to matter- we had no time to lose and then concentrated our social media efforts collectively on Twitter.

The algorithm at FB and Instagram had gone “danger, Will Robinson!” over the upswing in posts for the campaign and flagged it as spam (which it wasn’t). It doesn’t happen often (it’s only happened once in the time I’ve been doing crowdfunding), but if it does happen via social media platforms then it’s time to think about how to work with this sort of obstacle. In our case, we decided to forego Instagram and FB posts to concentrate on our Twitter audiences…and it worked. People were not only contributing, someone was making the most amazing .gifs using pictures of the cast and started helping to spread the word, and people were asking the people involved about the film (and of course we gleefully answered their questions).

If something happens in a campaign which throws up a bit of a barrier, take a deep breath and think: “how can we get around this or work this to our advantage?”

Your all-or-nothing campaign was unsuccessful: all-or-nothing campaigns have their pluses and minuses, and one of the minuses happens when a campaign is unsuccessful. You haven’t received the funds you wanted, but it’s not a waste of time by any means! For one, you’ve gained valuable insight into things like your audience and their demographics, you’ve secured awareness of your film and probably also increased your following on social media, and you have seen how much individuals were willing to pledge.

If there are a few individuals in particular who were willing to pledge a significant amount to your campaign (over $1000), it would be worth reaching out to them post-campaign to see if they would still be interested in investing in the film in some capacity. This could be via an equity arrangement, or in exchange for a credit as a funding producer, etcetera. This is something I have seen happen in the past, and it can make a significant difference when funding your film.

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Your all-or-nothing campaign has an hour to go…and you’re 95% funded: this can happen, but there’s one solution to consider that will not only ensure you get over the line, but that you secure the funds that your amazing contributors have pledged: you contribute yourself. That’s right- if you’ve got that 5% available, contribute it! There is absolutely no law which states you can’t contribute to your campaign yourself. Otherwise, if you have a team member, family member or close friend who is willing to come in and contribute that 5%, that can be a life-saver as well.

As I stated earlier, these are not things to stress out about, but they’re worth being mindful of. They’re aspects that should never hinder your ability or enthusiasm to go out and crowdfund for your film. Happy filmmaking….and happy crowdfunding!

 

What Part Should Publicity Play In Your Crowdfunding Campaign?

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This month on the blog, we’ve focused on crowdfunding for filmmakers, covering subjects like aspects you need to consider prior to running a crowdfunding campaign for your webseries or film, common mistakes to avoid in your crowdfunding campaign, and the benefits of crowdfunding beyond the financial. In this post, I want to discuss a subject that is very close to my heart, which is publicity. Specifically, I want to discuss the role that publicity tends to play in crowdfunding campaigns.

Now, if you’ve worked with Film Sprites PR before, or have followed the blog, you’ll know that I’m a straight-shooter who believes in transparency. I’m not going to suggest you take on one of our PR or digital marketing services if I don’t think it’s going to be beneficial in the long-term, and I’m incredibly honest on the blog because I believe that people can learn from the pitfalls and mistakes I have gone through in the almost 4 years that Film Sprites PR has been operating. One pitfall for me was in regards to the role that publicity plays in a crowdfunding campaign.

Being that I was passionate about being a publicist in the film industry, I thought that when it came to crowdfunding campaigns, publicity was the be-all end-all. Get a feature about the campaign in front of indie film-loving fans and watch the dollars roll in!

*record scratch*

Errrr….not quite.

Don’t get me wrong, publicity for your crowdfunding campaign is fantastic- not only does it create awareness around the campaign, it also helps to bring your film/webseries to the attention of your potential audience. Both of these are very good things. But do they translate into dollars for your crowdfunding campaign? Not always. Bear in mind the fact that statistically 90% of contributions to your crowdfunding campaign will come from your existing networks. You might experience a higher percentage of contributions from film fans and your potential audience if you have well-known actors, but again that’s no guarantee.

Am I trying to pee in your cornflakes and tell you not to pursue publicity for your crowdfunding campaign? Heavens, no! But if (like Publicist Me of 2013) you are placing more weight and expectation on securing funds as the result of media placements, you might have to re-think that.

newspaper on table with latte and cellphone

You might recall the Who’s In Your Network? infographic I shared in a previous post. Publicity falls into the ‘other’ category on that infographic, right at the tip of the triangle and with the least amount of weight compared to your personal network and your film’s network. Depending on whether your film or webseries has an actor or actors who have considerable followings, publicity can sit between ‘other’ and ‘film’s network’, but that’s an instance when you can put more more importance on media outreach.

A rule of thumb? Focus on your personal and film’s networks and how you can connect with and secure contributions from them first and foremost. Publicity is a useful tool in your arsenal, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you rely on. Crowdfunding campaign strategy is less a straight line and more a web of interconnected parts that function as a whole.

So if you’re keen to source publicity during your crowdfunding campaign, here’s some hints and tips to help you:

  • If you’re approaching bloggers and film websites, be sure to read their ‘about’ and ‘contact’ pages to make sure they’re a good fit. Some bloggers and websites have a strict policy whereby they don’t accept press release submissions from films in crowdfunding campaign mode because they get inundated with them. Respect their wishes and don’t send them an unsolicited press release because you think your campaign may be the one that changes their mind. After all, you can always come back to them when your film or webseries has been released and/or requires reviews.
  • Don’t just copy and paste the same pitch to every outlet. An editor wants to know why your crowdfunding campaign is newsworthy, and why their audience would be interested in it. Of course you may want to outsource this particular task to someone who does publicity for a living, as they know exactly how to pitch and which media outlets would be most suitable to pitch to.
  • You’re going to be exceptionally busy with your campaign, so if you have pitched to media it’s worth setting up a Google alert (or two) for your phone and inbox, that way you can keep track of any published features. It’s incredibly useful post-campaign as well because you can continue to track not just features from outlets you’ve pitched to, but any organic earned media that comes up. This happened a few weeks ago with a client of mine. We had sent out review requests in November 2017 and an outlet discovered the film in 2018 and reviewed it, and that outlet was not part of our media list for that film at the time.
  • There are varying schools of thought as to whether you should attach a PDF of your press release, copy and paste it to the e-mail, etc. I tend to favour creating a Dropbox folder which includes the PDF of your press release, any video clips you’d like an outlet to potentially use, as well as high-resolution images that are clearly named (no random numbers!). That way you can pitch to media and give them the Dropbox link without potentially getting caught in their spam folder because you’ve sent an attachment.

Publicity is a useful tool to have in your crowdfunding toolkit, but it should be used in conjunction with other methods of connecting with contributors to assist with your success.

Avoid These Common Crowdfunding Mistakes!

Avoid These Common Crowdfunding Mistakes!

Our month focusing on crowdfunding for filmmakers is in full swing, so now it’s time to talk about some common mistakes people make with crowdfunding campaigns.

Back in 2013 when I started getting to know the world of crowdfunding for independent film, I saw a lot of things that looked like best practice. But as I began to learn more, and as crowdfunding and social media began to evolve, I saw that these things were not only a misuse of energy, but could also be costing filmmakers opportunities to have people contributing to their crowdfunding campaigns.

The mistakes outlined below come from my observation and experience, as well as from assisting filmmakers with their crowdfunding campaigns. Avoid these mistakes at your peril!

Spamming people with your crowdfunding link: this is something I’ve talked about in previous posts, but it’s well worth repeating, and so I’ve been a bit cheeky and copied and pasted the next part. I think it’s the best analogy I can come up with for spamming everyone with the link to your campaign:

Imagine you’re sitting in a hotel room by yourself, and you hear a knock on the door. Upon answering it, someone is standing in front of you and says: “help make it happen for….” and then promptly leaves. As you close the door, you hear the same person knocking on every other motel room door and saying the same thing. This is what it’s like when you tweet everyone the link to your film or campaign individually. Not only is it time consuming, it means that your followers can see each tweet you send out with the link to every other follower! At best they will mute you from their timeline, at worst they will block you, so for the sake of sending out the same cut and paste tweet to each individual follower, you’ve lost people.What can amp the annoyance factor up even more is if you tweet your link randomly to someone you’re not even following! I have lost count the amount of times people who are not following Sprites on Twitter have tweeted a link at us (along with a bunch of other people they’re not following, in the hopes of a re-tweet).

Crowdfunding is very much like having a full-time job, so why would you work harder when you could work smarter? Another thing to avoid is tweeting the link to your campaign to celebrities. You think it’s an inspired idea, but imagine how many people have thought the same idea about their campaign and tweeted at the same celebrity? It’s the same as trying to get a well-known director to read your screenplay via Twitter. You are much better off (and will be more successful) focusing on a)your audience and network and b)providing interesting, engaging content that makes people want to contribute to your campaign.

Not being fully prepared for your campaign: I’ve covered the steps you should consider before undertaking a crowdfunding campaign recently, because there are so many factors you need to consider before starting a campaign. There’s a misconception that you can put up a pitch video, written info and perks information on your chosen crowdfunding platform and just leave it, and that somehow contributions will mysteriously grow without any input from the campaign owner and their team. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it!

I say this to you from the bottom of my heart- don’t consider a crowdfunding campaign unless you’re fully prepared and armed with the knowledge you need. That preparation includes knowing the terms and conditions of your chosen platform, identifying your networks (statistically 90% of funding will come from people you know already), and understanding how things like platform fees and credit card fees will impact on the amount you receive.

Not taking responsibility for your campaign: a few years ago, I met a lovely man who was very polite, calling me “m’am” in correspondence. I said that Sprites could provide publicity outreach and additional social media marketing for his campaign, an agreement was made and once I had agreed to come on board….I never heard from him again, despite e-mailing repeatedly.

Nothing.

Nada.

Zip.

Zilch.

He had believed mistakenly that I was going to be responsible for the entire campaign, and that he didn’t have to do anything. The fact of the matter is that your campaign is your campaign. You may have additional team members to assist with various tasks during the campaign (like social media and publicity outreach), but if it’s your campaign and you’re requiring funds for your film then you need to take responsibility for overseeing it. Nobody knows your film and your goals more intimately and in-depth than you do. If you’re not keen to do the social media side of things (or don’t have a huge following), by all means have someone else doing it for you, but they need to know the complete ins and outs of your film and your objectives for the campaign.

Having too long a campaign: most crowdfunding platforms have a minimum amount of days a campaign must run, and there are some platforms where you can crowdfund for as long as you want. 30 days is a good minimum, 60 isn’t bad…but anything after that and people will tune out. A better option? If your crowdfunding campaign target is larger than $10,000 you might want to think about having multiple crowdfunding campaigns, but well spaced so as not to exhaust your networks and their ability to donate.

Feeling pressured to run a crowdfunding campaign: a friend or colleague has told you that they raised an easy $10K on Kickstarter for their project…but you’re not keen. Perhaps you don’t have time in your schedule that you could carve out to make a crowdfunding campaign a success, or perhaps it’s just not a route that you want to go down. That’s okay! For many independent films crowdfunding is just one piece of the financial pie, and not the be-all, end-all. There are grants, pitch competitions, private/angel investors and equity investment. You don’t have to settle on crowdfunding just because everyone else is doing it. It’s a great way to raise funds while growing your audience and awareness around your project, but if you’re uncomfortable doing it, don’t.

Most importantly- have fun! Crowdfunding shouldn’t be a chore. You can celebrate each milestone, enjoy connecting with your audience and get to know new audience members in the process. Happy crowdfunding!

Project Lodestar: The Making of an Indie Film

Project Lodestar The Making of an Indie Film

It’s a genuine pleasure to be bringing you a guest post from Daniel Harlow about Project Lodestar, UCLA Film Studies! Want to know what Project Lodestar is, and how you can participate if you are an independent filmmaker? Read on…

TITLE: The Making of an Indie Film

LOGLINE: One man, against the odds, forges ahead while an industry burns. A thriller with an ending that no one can (ever) predict.

Fade In – SXSW 2017 – A Roundtable Discussion

Frank and I sit at the Round Table Discussion table. He’s an Austin filmmaker with a big burly beard, slick backed hair, pony-tail and a burning gaze. Frank punctuates his sentences with a verbal exclamation point that tells you that if he says he’s going to do something – he’ll run someone over to make sure it gets done. Frank is hard core. He pays the rent by shooting rock music videos and if he showed up to shoot your rock music video, you’d think: “Yep, that’s how a guy that films rock music videos should look.”

Frank wants to make a movie – bad. He’s filmed his own short. He’s filmed his own reel. He’ll hand you a jump drive with it on there. It’s not half bad. And he’s shelled out the $1600 for the Filmmaker pass at SXSW to hear what the experts have to say. How do WE get to where THEY are – with a film in South By Southwest.

Whoa.

Tell us.

Teach us.

Frank and I have spent almost every hour of every day the prior 3 days talking to industry experts in one-on-one sessions, round tables discussions and listening to panels. The experts have spoken.

One of the more coveted experts at SXSW is a manager associated with a recent Oscar winner. His advice is clear: “Do work,” he says. “Make something.” Yeah, make something. Stop screwing around and yacking and being a pretender. Make a movie.

I kind of get it. You ask 10 people at SXSW what they are doing and 9 of them will say: “I’m working on a film.” After a little while, once this answer starts to feel a bit well stale, I learn to ask the followup: “What stage are you in?” Expecting to hear: pre-production, filming starts on X date, post-production, editing, distribution, whatever. But I don’t hear that even once. The answer you get in almost every case is: “I’m looking for funding.” As an entrepreneur that ran a business for a couple decades, it’s hard for me not to kink my neck at that answer. Ok. So if you’re looking for funding, you’re kind of NOT really working on a film. So I get Mr. Oscar winner’s advice. Stop looking for funding. Do something.

Project Lodestar Camera 2

Ava DuVernay has a 2013 Film Independent keynote address on YouTube with thousands of views where she speaks about the number of people that ask to sit down with her and “Pick her brain.” She pounds her podium: “Don’t pick anyone’s brain, make a movie. Take all that energy you wanted to spend talking to experts and just make a movie.”

Mark Duplass has a well known YouTube video where he spoke at SXSW: His advice: first, make a short film. Then take $1000, buy food, pay for all the equipment you need with credit cards at Best Buy and Home Depot and return it all when you’re down. Make a film. With a voice. Stop sitting around and thinking about it.

Frank and I sip our two free drinks at the bar at the Intercontinental Hotel at SXSW catching more experts in between beers, asking more advice. We tell them about the films we’d like to make and our plans to market them. One after the other, they give some version of: “finish your movie, then get back to me.”

The experts have spoken and the ruling is nearly unanimous. Make a film. First. Make it good and worry about the rest once it’s finished. If you build it, they will come.

Listen, I get it. Ava, Mark, Mr. Oscar winner, they all talk to people all day long that will never, ever, in a million years, make a movie. So I get their frustration and I hear their message. So should you. But I can’t help feeling there is something dismissively simplistic in their advice. It might not be flat out wrong but it seems unnecessarily extreme to tell people to go from analysis-paralysis to suddenly go to a strategy of: fire first, aim second. I ran a successful company for a long time and that doesn’t fit my personal investment style, nor my management style … nor my anything style actually.

And, do studios make films this way? Um, no. Do I want to put up $100,00 of my own money into a film without the foggiest notion of what will happen once it’s done? Um, no. So I resolve to go find some filmmakers that followed this advice and see how it went.

SXSW closes.

Project Lodestar Camera

FADE IN – later that year – Cucalorus Film Festival, Wilmington 2017

Katherine has made a solid independent film. She sits across from me with her new daughter in a lovely coffee shop unusually crowded due to the influx of visitors from the festival. We are lucky to get the two couches with the coffee table in between giving her and her daughter extra room.

Katherine raised around $300,000 to make her personal film that has received strong reviews for its sensitive drama and sense of humor from multiple, small festivals. I discuss with her how she feels it will do financially and she deadpans that it will make near-zero dollars and she’s just hoping that it will get on Netflix somehow, even if she and her investors make nothing out of it.

Wow.

Nothing?

About nothing.

From a $300,000 investment to recoup $0?

Almost zero she says.

Oh.

FADE IN – later that day – different coffee shop, Wilmington 2017

Peter sits across from me wondering how in the world his tiny film with just 2 actors managed to cost $250,000. He was the director and not the producer so he wasn’t sure what cost so much but he knows that was his budget. His film won distribution by a very large, prestigious distribution firm. They, of course, will pay him nothing up front for the film. Zero.

But he’ll make a % right?

Yes, he says. After they recoup their costs.

What costs, I ask?

He has no idea – but whatever they are doing, it will cost him some $30,000 of his film’s first revenues. He believes all they are doing is putting it on iTunes, which costs about $1,500. But they did sell the film to Hulu for $35,000 – almost all of which the distribution company will keep. His investors will make a few thousand dollars back.

Out of a $250,000 investment?

Yes, he says. And he knows many of his peers that are in the same situation.

“We can never use the same investors twice. It’s just a process of burning through investors.”

Okay then. “There must be a better way,” I say. He agrees. Absolutely. He just doesn’t know how. He has no clue how to make a profitable film.

“I’d make a zombie movie if you told me it would make money. I’d make a movie about 2 stoner skateboarder kids fighting zombies if you told me that would make money.”

What makes money?

Project Lodestar is born.

Project Lodestar BannerI am heading a research project out of UCLA to find out what is the better way to make a movie. Here’s a few quotes from sales agents and distributors once I told them what the experts were telling me about “Just Do It”:

Sales Agent #1: “That’s the dumbest advice I’ve ever heard.”

Sales Agent #2: “…the stupidest thing that you could tell a filmmaker.”

Distributor X: “Why do filmmakers make these movies that no one wants to see and are impossible to sell?”

Distributor Y: “I know it’s hard for many filmmakers to hear when they worked on a film for one or two years but many times their films are worthless, not worth very little – literally worth nothing,  zero.”

Over the course of many conversations with sales agents, distribution companies, and producers (of films that have made money), another approach to making small films starts to emerge. As the final interviews are conducts and the notes are compiled, I can begin posting the notes. But another problem facing the industry has become clear that affects how hard it is for filmmakers to make good films with commercial success. The film business has a long history of secrecy. One of the film consultants I talked to explained it well:

“You might be too young to remember, but the movie business decades ago was going to a theater and paying for ticket. It was a cash business, Dan. And what happens with cash businesses? A lot of that cash disappears at one point or another. It’s impossible to audit. The mafia and other disreputable groups get involved. Everything was secret. The numbers you saw were never trustworthy and this veil of secrecy about who made how much (gross or profit) from where, it’s still a big secret for the most part. It’s impossible to get real numbers from anyone.”

And she was right. Almost no agent nor distributor would give real financial results. The best I got was “we are in the black” or “we are not even close” or “we are close and probably in the next year we will be in the black”.

They are (slightly) more transparent about the budgets of the films but there are obstacles there as well. First, a distributor and a sales agent don’t technically need to know the budget. Sometimes they really don’t and you have to ask the producer. But they almost always do – since making the filmmaker a “profit” on their film is usually the first goal, and success on that criteria is impossible to gauge unless you have a target/budget to make up.

Second, filmmakers, producers, everyone are – once again – always giving you dodgy information. They don’t want to give you the real budget, they want to double or triple it because films get pre-judged based on budget. No matter what the budget is, the filmmaker will hope you think it’s 2-3 times that much. There is a stigma associated with films under $1M so all films want to appear to have at least $1M or else they will lack enough “production value” to be good. On the other hand, they don’t want to tell you the movie “lost money” either. Thus the complicated dance around the numbers. The movie is “in the black” – which is good. But it is in the black because it was so cheap to make – which is bad.

The data is a real problem and thus we launch www.projectlodestar.org.  A place where Film Industry personnel can send their real_film financial results anonymously – without being judged for being a failure, nor sued for being too successful.

The lack of data does make a difference. If filmmakers don’t know what films make money then how are they supposed to make films that make money. If all filmmakers use a benchmark like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Napoleon Dynamite” then they will think comedies rule. If they use “Paranormal Activity” and “Blair Witch” as comparable films then Found Footage Horror is the way to go. One Sales Agent was adamant at how risky comedies were, saying that humor doesn’t travel. And it doesn’t even travel usually to Britain or Australia. The sense of humor can be very different in other (even English speaking) countries. If filmmakers saw real returns, actual sales figures for comedies that consistently showed a big drop-off from the US to Britain or Australia then that might get a lot of filmmakers to think hard about their next RomCom.

The financial margin for error on film is getting much smaller. Making a film that can has a chance to be profitable means knowing what sells in the US and in foreign markets.

Participate in the project. Send in your film’s results.  Foreign, Domestic, VOD, whatever budgets and revenues you are seeing and get a window into whether your film is an outlier or close to the average.  We will collect, categorize, summarize and report back to the participants what patterns we can see.

Maybe we can usher in a new age of greater transparency, better data, smarter films, more profits, better movies and better careers in film.

Then stay tuned to change metaphors for a moment from film to TV. Don’t touch that dial.

FADE OUT

ABOUT PROJECT LODESTAR, UCLA Film Studies

For the financially minded filmmaker: do you think that a good start to a career as a filmmaker is showing you can make a (good) film that makes more money than it cost? We do.

If you agree, then we are talking to you. Maybe you are using their family’s money, you own money or maybe you just don’t want to lose your investor’s cash. To those filmmakers: listen up. There’s a UCLA Research Project that you should be paying attention to.

What makes small films successful and profitable in the new digital age is what Project Lodestar is about. Can you “Moneyball” your cast? That is, can you find cast that is feasible for a small budget but will guarantee returns on your budget dollars spent? What genres are most reliable and is that changing from 5 years ago? We are not looking at outliers but rather averages and, in fact, we are trying to remove the outliers since they tend to throw off the curve.

If you or someone you know has developed a small film, send us your case study and contribute to the overall body of information. Once we have crunched the numbers, we will have the good, the bad and the ugly news that you can use to inform your next films! Participate HERE.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Harlow started his career at UCLA  in the Computer Science Department. Daniel ran an I.T. Consulting firm for 20+ years with offices in San Francisco, San Jose, Oregon, North Carolina, Arizona, New York, and Minneapolis before making his exit and starting his career as a Professional Golfer. However, his golf career was short-lived realizing that the inability to get out of a bunker at the age of 45 would likely be a big obstacle to his goal of winning the US Open. Never one to be daunted by the odds, he now approaches the fast-changing world of Film and Entertainment with the same mindset that allowed him to build a large and successful startup.

 

5 Reasons You Should Contribute to the Raindance Film Festival Crowdfunding Campaign

5 Reasons You Should Contribute to the Raindance Film Festival Crowdfunding Campaign

As you may know, this month we’ve been doing a focus on crowdfunding for filmmakers, and in a moment of synchronicity the IndieGoGo campaign for the 2018 Raindance Film Festival has begun! I don’t know about you, but I’m passionate about film festivals. Festivals are a celebration of cinema and a showcase of some of the best films around, and Raindance is no different.

So, why should you dig into your wallet and contribute to the crowdfunding campaign for this year’s Raindance Film Festival? Here’s 5 very good reasons:

1. It’s the UK’s oldest and largest film festival

Film festivals may come and go, but Raindance has some serious chops, celebrating its 25th festival last year. Not only that, it’s been run independently for those 25 years. In addition, past festivals have screened some seriously excellent and very well-known films like Pulp Fiction, The Blair Witch Project, Once, Oldboy, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ghost World and Memento; proof that the Raindance Film Festival has always had its finger firmly on the pulse of independent cinema.

Raindance FF Past Screeners

2. The Raindance Film Festival keeps current with technological changes in the film industry

As well as having an eye for the hottest independent films and bringing them to you every festival, Raindance keeps abreast of technological changes which arise in the film industry, like Virtual Reality (VR). This year with the help of your contribution they are looking to develop a cutting-edge festival app. This has two benefits: firstly, it’s convenient. As someone who has used similar apps for conferences and festivals, it’s much easier to whip out your phone and check information or a schedule than rummage around in your bag for a paper copy. Secondly, it cuts down on paper waste. In an era where we’re more conscious of sustainable practices, Raindance is making the effort to embrace sustainability.

Raindance Film Festival VR Suite-min

Speaking of sustainability….

3. Raindance has environmental and sustainability goals for the 2018 festival

In addition to the app mentioned above, for film buffs who love to collect the commemorative catalogues Raindance wants to print the 2018 catalogue on eco-friendly paper (which is more expensive), whilst also keeping the catalogue free. That’s quite an undertaking financially, but it’s one of the lengths Raindance wants to go to in order to be a more environmentally conscious festival and keep costs down for audiences at the same time. Just think- your contribution to the campaign will help make that a reality…makes you want to re-think today’s latte order and give that money to the campaign, doesn’t it?

Raindance FF Elliot Grove and Guy Ritchie-min

4. Raindance wants to continue to make independent cinema accessible

Independent cinema should be for everyone, and this year Raindance has some goals to ensure that it remains that way. Firstly, they want to keep tickets discounted for under 25s, students, senior citizens, claimants, first responders and carers. They also want to support filmmakers from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend the Festival via the 25×25 project in collaboration with the Independent Film Trust. They also want to ensure that there are no barriers for audiences with hearing and/or visual disabilities to attend festival screenings and seminars. How great is that?

Raindance Film Festival Podium-min

If these reasons alone haven’t sold you on contributing, then there’s one more reason:

5. The perks are EPIC!

There’s some serious swag at every perk level; from shout-outs to some seriously stylish Raindance branded gear (T-shirts, tote bags, badges). There’s also some unique perks that would defintely suit businesses or individuals looking to make their mark and be seen, like the ‘Adopt A Film’ perk where your logo will be put next to your selected film in the catalogue plus additional perks. Plus there’s festival passes, VIP tickets to the Independent Filmmakers Ball and much more!

If you’re as passionate about independent cinema as I am, this is a truly worthy campaign to contribute to. Make your mark and contribute HERE. Can’t contribute right now? Spread the word! On the campaign page the Raindance team have put together a selection of pre-made Tweets that are super-easy to copy and Tweet out to your followers.

Help Raindance meet their goals for this year’s festival, and help keep the festival in the beating heart of London and accessible to all.

 

 

Prep for Crowdfunding Campaign Success With These Steps

Prep for Crowdfunding Success

This month on the blog we’re focusing on crowdfunding for filmmakers! If you haven’t checked out the first post in the series, you can read it here.

Believe it or not, Film Sprites PR has its foundations in crowdfunding campaign promotion. Before Sprites began, I had spent the past 2 years networking with indie filmmakers and unofficially helping out by spreading the word about their crowdfunding campaigns. At the time crowdfunding was very much in the early adopter phase. Then, when Sprites started taking on clients, there was a lot of interest from filmmakers who were crowdfunding or were looking to start a crowdfunding campaign. It’s certainly not something I learned about during my PR certification, I can tell you! As a result, Film Sprites PR has assisted many filmmakers around the world with their crowdfunding campaigns (and in some cases with subsequent publicity and digital marketing post-campaign and into VOD release). I also began a position working at Boosted, the e-commerce venture of the Arts Foundation of NZ in February, assisting artists with their crowdfunding campaigns on the Boosted crowdfunding platform.

Over the past 4 years I have been able to see what works in a campaign, what doesn’t, and the commonalities that add up to crowdfunding success and failure. One thing that remains true for every single crowdfunding campaign is this: preparation is vital.

So, how do you need to prepare for your crowdfunding campaign? Check out the steps below:

Identify your financial goal: you want to secure funds for your filmmaking, but how much do you need? Depending on whether you’re running a campaign to secure funds for pre or post-production, your financial goal may vary. What exactly are the campaign funds going to pay for? It sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes (especially if you’re new to filmmaking) campaign managers are not entirely sure of how much they really need. Don’t forget- if you’re crowdfunding via a platform where you can offer perks, you need to fit this into your financial projection if you have physical perks which require printing, manufacture and/or posting.

Another thing to take into consideration with your financial projections is whether or not you have other sources of funds available to you. Do you have an angel investor on board? Have you applied for (and been successful with securing) funding from creative arts organizations? If so, what’s your overall budget, and how much will these other sources of funding add to the pot? If they are make up a substantial percentage of your financial goal, it might be worth considering avenues for funding other than crowdfunding to top your funding up, or you may choose to continue but with a conservative crowdfunding target in mind.

Research crowdfunding campaign platforms: thankfully there are now a plethora of crowdfunding campaign platforms available to suit every need and every goal, but sometimes this in itself can be overwhelming! That’s why it’s vital to research crowdfunding campaign platforms…and I’m not just talking a quick skim over the Terms and Conditions! The two main styles of crowdfunding are all-or-nothing (where you have to hit your campaign target to receive funds raised minus the platform’s fee), or flexible (where you receive all funds raised minus the platform’s fee, regardless of whether you hit 100% or not). Find out how much the platform charges percentage-wise for their fee and how this will affect your overall campaign goal. Do they offer consultation sessions, and if so, would you take them up on this? How much project support (both advice and technical support) do they offer?

Another important thing to look at is how donations are handled on the site. Are they processed at point-of-sale (as in when the contributor makes a donation), or are transactions on hold until the completion of a successful campaign/refunded until the completion of an unsuccessful campaign? This can also impact on your final funds.

It’s also great to talk to other filmmakers who have crowdfunded about their experiences and why they chose the particular platform they used. They can give you some vital advice that can help inform your decision.

Neon Sign Do Something Great

Identify your crowd: the most important factor in any crowdfunding campaign is your crowd…so who are they? There is a common misconception that a crowdfunding campaign is like Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come, ‘they’ being fans of indie filmmaking and people who are not in your immediate network. It’s estimated that 90% of contributors to a crowdfunding campaign will actually come from your network, so it’s vital that you work out who is in your network first and foremost.

So, who is in your crowd, and what does your crowd look like?:

Crowdfunding For Filmmakers Network Mapping

Based on the infographic above, here’s what your network looks like:

Personal network: these are your friends, family, work groups, industry groups, your mailing list and your social media following. These are the people that will hopefully form the majority of your contributors.

Film’s network: the second rung of your network is the network for your film. This includes production companies, cast and crew, your film’s mailing list and social media accounts, as well as the fans of your actors and their networks, fans of your filmmaking and past films.

Other: the last rung of your network includes things like communities of interest (places where you’ve filmed or will be filming, interest groups for the subject of your film), fans of your film’s genre, as well as media connections like bloggers, news outlets and podcasters.

So, why identify your network?

  • It helps you to gauge how many people you potentially have in your immediate personal network so you can contact them accordingly to assist with first day donations
  • It can help you to prioritize when and how you approach potential contributors, especially with regards to publicity and social media
  • You can get a sense of how much grassroots support there is for your campaign

As you know, I’m always honest about my own experiences with publicity, social media marketing and crowdfunding, and when I first started I didn’t understand just how important it was to get support from your personal network. After all, they’re your friends and family, etc, so it’s a given that they’ll support you….right? I put more emphasis on doing outreach to media and influencers because at the time I believed (wrongly!) that publicity was the key (cue angelic music). Publicity can help, certainly, but it’s all about that crowd.

Work out your ‘why’ and hone your pitch and message: once you’ve picked your platform, you’ll want to think about things like your ‘why’, your pitch to contributors and your message to your networks. This is something which I could wax lyrical about all day, so it will be covered in a subsequent post, but for now it’s something to be aware of in the process.

You may notice that I haven’t mentioned perk selection, and the reason for this is that it may be that you choose not to run a crowdfunding campaign with a platform which allows for perks, and why selecting your perks is something to be considered in your financial projections, it’s less important in the initial stages than aspects like identifying your networks and doing due diligence on crowdfunding platforms.

Crowdfunding campaigns take time, care and preparation. It’s worth taking the time to get prepared so that you can make the most of the campaign period and hopefully reach your campaign target faster.

Thought this post was useful? It’s now part of our FREE resource, Crowdfunding Hints and Tips for Filmmakers, which you can download HERE. No purchase necessary, no opting into a mailing list, just click and download from our Dropbox.