My past two blog posts were both related to following your dreams and making that leap of faith. First, my “Thankful” poem on Saturday. Then yesterday with the wonderful guest post from doc filmmaker Evan Vetter. If you’re now jazzed and ready to make that big leap and start the special creative project you’ve always wanted, chances are you may need some money. Sorry, I can’t help you there. But, you may want to follow the path of thousands of other creatives who’ve used crowd-funding sources like Kickstarter.com or IndieGoGo.
This past month I was witness to one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever. Not because of the amount of money it made, but because of the heart, soul and passion of the creative behind it to make it work. I’m speaking of none other than fellow filmmaker/blogger Koo of NoFilmSchool.com.
I had the pleasure of having him on my podcast a couple of weeks ago talking about the campaign to raise money for his first feature film, “Manchild.” His funding goal was $115,000. No small feat. As of last Friday, on the very last day, he crossed that proverbial “finish line” a winner and raised an astounding $125,000. According to Koo’s account, it is the most successful Kickstarter campaign for a project in the narrative film category. (If you recall, Don Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” raised $346,000 of an original $125,000 goal, but that falls under the documentary category).
So, how in the world did Koo do it? Obviously, there’s a lot that went into making his dream come true. But, as I watched his progress over the 38 days his campaign was live, there are seven key observations I made that I think it would behoove all artists using crowd-funding to follow.
- Social Networks Work. Koo has spent the past 18+ months building a huge following on his blog. He reported that 50,000 people have downloaded his free ebook about DSLR filmmaking, which you get when you subscribe to his newsletter, so it’s safe to assume he sas about that many members on his email list. He used the power of that list, his Twitter following, and working the social networks to get the word out. I think it’s safe to say his hard work in building his social network following really paid off.
- Social Networks Are Not Enough. Philip Bloom has a massive following on the web. Over 32,000 Twitter followers and a heavily trafficked blog with almost 25 million visits. Yet even with that amazing social network, the Kickstarter project by director Brian Reubal for which Bloom is the DP unfortunately did not meet it’s much smaller $48,000 goal. (If you’re still interested in seeing that project come to fruition, you can read more about it here.) It obviously takes more than just a huge network to make a crowd-sourcing campaign work. Koo really put in the time and energy to make this campaign a success. It was like watching a presidential race as the deadline inched closer. There were articles, podcasts (both video and audio), written interviews, and numerous blog posts by Koo himself. And he wasn’t too proud to “ask for the sale.” In other words, he pointed out how much he’s given away for free over the past two years and humbly asked for those of us who have participated in that to give back. (If his film career doesn’t pan out, he could have a great career in public broadcast financing). The moral: build up your social network, but don’t put too much stake in it. (Just to be clear, my mentioning Phil’s project is not meant to be an indictment against him or Brian’s project. It’s just an observation that it takes much more than just a large following. However, if you’re like Freddie Wong who has 2.3 million YouTube subscribers, you can reach your $75,000 goal in ONE DAY, be at $92,000 as of this blog post writing, and still have 27 days left for his Kickstarter campaign, Video Game High School!)
- Make Compelling Videos. I’ve seen a number of crowd-funding campaign videos, and one of the biggest problems I see with many of them is that they don’t do a good job compelling me to invest. In order for these things to work, your video has to really sell the audience. It’s going to take more than just your friends and family to fund your project. A lot of the videos I’ve seen have the artists talking about why this project means so much to them, and how if I fund it it will make their dreams come true. That’s great for grandma and grandpa, but that’s not enough to get total strangers to invest in you. Your video needs to show what we as a viewer will get if we put up any money. What are the rewards? Why can I trust you’ll be abl to pull it off (what have you done before)? And most importantly, if you’re a filmmaker raising money, then for heaven’s sake, show me your filmmaking chops in your Kickstarter video. If that video does not move and/or entertain me, then what confidence do I have your project will? Koo’s Kickstarter video was funny, clever, and really got me to WANT to give money to the project. But he didn’t stop there. He went on and made a SECOND video that was a montage of film and tv shots that gave a feel for what his film was going to be like. And if that wasn’t enough, he made a THIRD video giving us a status update. He even made a FOURTH video that was an After Effects tutorial on how he did the split-screen shots from the first video. In the midst of his campaign, he found a clever way to “give back” again. All four videos were compelling and entertaining to watch (well, the tutorial wasn’t “entertaining” per se, but it was educational). Bottom line: he used the medium and he used it expertly.
- Reach for the Stars. Koo’s film is about basketball. So, guess what he did? He reached out to the basketball community to get support. He encouraged his followers to tweet and/or reach out to basketball superstars with larger followings to get them interested and tweeting about the project. If your project is related to a particular field, then reach out to people in that field with larger networks to see if they can help.
- Don’t Neglect Your Backers. Koo didn’t forget about his backers once they pledged. Leading up to the deadline he was giving away some kind of goodie each week to keep them inspired and updated on the project.
- Creative and Valuable Rewards. It goes without saying that your pledge rewards need to be valuable in the eyes of the investors. Koo is giving away the standard fare you’d expect from a filmmakers: downloads of the film, DVDs, blu-rays, behind the scenes, etc. But, he also added a twist. Each dollar of the film funded up to the first $115,000 represents a frame from the feature film. Each of the investors will get the still frames from the film that they made possible. That’s a neat little complementary reward that makes each reward a unique one (like getting a signed print from a limited series).
- Never Give Up. Lastly, never give up and never give in. I really wanted Koo’s project to be successful. One, because if it was, I knew it would be a blue print for when it’s my turn to hit the crowd-funding campaign. And two, I knew it would make a great blog post if he did. But, I have to admit, I was getting skeptical. A couple of weeks ago when he was only at about $78,000, I started to doubt he’d make it. But he pressed on. He was aggressive, but it paid off. He never gave up. The project didn’t actually get funded until the very last day. Talk about making it in the 11th hour.
I’m proud to be one of the 2,336 backers of “Man-child.” But I’m even prouder of the work and commitment that Koo put into this project. As a filmmaker with my own dreams of one day making that special project, I have been inspired and deeply moved by Koo’s commitment. Congratulations my friend. Now go out and make a kick-a$$ film! The real pressure is on now.
Koo has since written his own blog post about how he raised the money. It was very eye-opening to see how much time he spent. Definitely a MUST-READ if you’re doing the same. Click here to read it.
Here are two more great articles from Koo’s website on running a successful campain:
- Ten Must-read posts before starting your own crowdfunding campaign
- Ten More Must-Read Posts Before Starting Your Own Crowdfunding Campaign
P.S. In the time it took me to write this article (about an hour), Freddie W’s campaign for VGHS went from $92,000 to $103,000. Who knows what it will be at by the time you actually read this.