An Image that greets visitors at UponAStarryNight.com
Adventures in Crowdfunding
by Sylvia Binsfeld
I have had an unusual challenge to meet. To create a book, I first need to make a movie, and not just any type of movie—a short fantasy film, which means the expensive kind. The children’s picture books in the series I am working on, which started with Dorme: a Magical Dreamland Visit, will all come with a fantastical, imaginative short film and be illustrated with images taken from the film.
Dorme premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and then was invited to more than 38 other festivals throughout the world. Along the way it won four awards. One film festival director showed it a few years in a row. Gaiam Inc. purchased it for the Spiritual Cinema Circle DVD-of-the-month club. And I started working on my picture book. But as I was getting ready to go into prepublicity mode, a severe family crisis occurred that took up much of my time. So since I’m the only person running my tiny company, the book had only a mini-debut. It got a lovely writeup by Midwest Book Review, but it took a while for me to resurface and be ready to bring Dorme: A Magical Dreamland Visit to the public.
I sold my home to complete my first labor of love, so to make my second film and book, I had to think of something else to fund my rather costly endeavor, both money-wise and time-wise. I decided to try crowdfunding.
You see, the little fantasy films are expensive to create. With crowdfunding, I thought, what I would have to invest would be mostly a huge amount of time. I had never chosen crowdfunding before because the idea of asking people for money made me uncomfortable, but with this new insight, it became more appealing.
As you probably know, crowdfunding lets people call directly on others to help fund something they are working on. For a film, book, or album, it can be a glorious way around the studio or traditional publishing systems to get quality products produced—or so I hoped.
I used Indiegogo to look for funding for my magical fantasy film Upon a Starry Night. Turns out the much-needed Healthy Media for children and families area has to fight hard for funding on that site, where Horror and Documentaries are the most-funded genres.
And it also turns out that crowdfunding is . . . well . . . hard. Expect to spend about a month before your launch your campaign and about two months after the launch with the campaign as your main focus.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about making a crowdfunding campaign successful.
Choose a crowdfunding platform that is right for you. For example, Kickstarter is all or nothing. If you don’t reach your goal in time there, you don’t get any of the money you worked so hard to raise. If you do reach your goal, Kickstarter takes 5 percent. With Indiegogo, you can choose either all-or-nothing funding or flexible funding, which means that if you meet your goal, Indiegogo takes 4 percent, and if you don’t, you still get to keep the money you raised to build other fundraising efforts, but Indiegogo takes a whopping 9 percent. I didn’t use Pubslush, which specializes in funding books, because I was looking for film financing first, and Kickstarter and Indiegogo are better known for that.
Create a buzz. Since you’ll probably have only 45 to 60 days to raise all your money via crowdfunding, it’s important to start building a buzz beforehand. Let your friends and acquaintances know personally and through social media about your plans. Have a prelaunch party—anything to get buzz going so your campaign can get off to a fast start. I created a pitch video, sent out emails letting people know about my upcoming campaign, and posted on Facebook.
Create a social media to-do list. What types of social media will you be using to get the word out throughout your campaign? Of course, you know Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and more. I’d choose maybe four to focus on primarily. But here’s the catch: By the time you start your campaign, you’d better already have a serious following. I did not. I got my Twitter and Facebook pages going shortly before my campaign started, which does not work. You need to have tons of contacts (meaning at least a thousand, better several thousand), and to have established a presence beforehand for people to be interested in what you are doing.
Create a marketing plan. Besides using the Internet and its social media (including your Website and blog), what else can you do to get the word out? Radio interviews? Newspaper and newsletter stories? Create a press release and send it to all the media people you know and to media people you don’t know who figure to be interested in your project.
Create a pitch video for the crowdfunding site of your choice. Personally tell people why your book or project needs to be created—what’s so special about it?—and then ask straight out for what you need. My ask on my video was not strong enough, so I needed to redo to include a direct (if gentle) ask. Even if you are shy, don’t give in to the temptation to rely on images. It’s important for viewers to meet you.
Set a realistic goal. Considering that I have no family network to contribute chunks of cash to my campaign, and that I still need to build a following, having just recently gotten on the social media bandwagon, I should not have set my goal at $25,000. In fact, I should not have set it any higher than $5,000; that amount and lower amounts seem to be common crowdfunding goals. Raising more is difficult, and raising more than $10,000 is ridiculously difficult in the allotted amount of time, especially as a one-person team—which was a mistake; you should have people helping you. Indiegogo does not recommend that you try for $20,000 and above; instead, you might raise that kind of money with several smaller campaigns.
Offer great perks for contributing to your campaign. People may want to donate just to donate, but it helps to let them choose from a selection of rewards that depend on the size of the contribution. Get creative. The more personal, the better.
The rewards I offered started at “$10+” for:
Gratitude and Good Karma
A personal thank you, with a downloadable copy of one of the director’s sketches sent to you from the director . . . along with lots of good karma.
(Include email address)
Starry Night Storyboard
Upon a Starry Night Storyboard emailed to you
Estimated delivery: September 2013
The reward costs rose in easy steps to begin with—from $10 to $15, $20, $25, $30, $50, $65 and $100—and then in ever-bigger leaps from $250 to $5,000.
For a $1,000+ donation, I offered Quentin Tarantino’s black leather vest, signed by Quentin. Though maybe not a fit for the breathtaking, tranquil fantasy I create, Q.T. is respected as a supertalent in his genus. I worked with him on a friend’s musical project some 17 years ago, and he gave me his vest simply because I commented that I liked it. Inside on the lining, he wrote, “To Silvia From Q.T” (I write Sylvia with a y, but who cares).
For $5,000+, the rewards were Associate Producer credit in the film and on IMDb, plus two tickets to the Upon a Starry Night Premiere, or consideration for product placement for donors with “a product that is high-quality, handmade or vintage looking, or somehow feels it would fit for this film,” providing that the donor “contact me before making a contribution.” In the copy describing this reward, I noted, “We are very selective. It must not change the vibe of the film. It must be a natural fit. Besides your product being featured, you will get large lettered sponsor credit in the film.”
Spread the word. Here’s the part that’s hard for me. I feel as if I’m harassing people, so I chose a relatively laid-back form of spreading the word, but an artist friend who had a successful crowdfunding campaign for a book said that he blasted emails and social media posts all day long and that his personal, direct asks garnered the best results. He always asked for two things in his emails and posts, monetary support and that the recipient spread the word.
Spread the word some more and ask some more. Be diligent (and yes, you may lose some Facebook friends).
Keep your crowdfunding page updated and interesting. Add news; add media; add photos as generously as you can.
Always say thank you. Let every one of your contributors know how much you appreciate what they did for you.
Realize that many people with successful, fast-moving campaigns have gotten large chunks of cash from close family and friends. That is a big advantage coming out of the starting gate. Some people don’t have that type of a support system in place. I know I didn’t. And comparing what I raised with what others raised sometimes made me feel like a failure until I reminded myself of that. But I started at ground zero, and my friend got $17,000 out of his $21,000 campaign from close family and friends, who wanted to see him succeed . . . wow. So that means he only needed to raise an additional $4,000 by himself, which is not far from what I had raised when my campaign finished.
Realize that some genres are considerably easier to fund than others. Attracting funding for a children’s film turned out to be hard for two main reasons. Although the film business attracts a lot of 20-somethings and 30-somethings who use social media, they are into different things than children’s films. And many people seem to think, “Now why would I send someone I don’t know money to make a film I have nothing to do with?”
Hope for some good luck; it can’t hurt. One nice side effect of all this is that you quickly know who your friends and supporters in life are, since as little as $10 can help. That is an amount I could easily part with for a buddy. It all adds up; that’s the whole point. It’s an exchange of energy. It’s a way for us to support each other. When combined with other donations, a small amount that an individual barely misses can breathe life into a beautiful film, book, or other project that otherwise could not be created.
Pestering Pros and Cons
When my friend finished his campaign for funds for his upcoming book launch, another artist asked him, “Was your campaign painful?” My friend said, “Oh, yes!” and the artist responded with, “Then it must have been a success!” The most painful part, my friend said, was begging people who had already donated to donate again, explaining that it wasn’t enough; he needed more, or he wouldn’t make his goal. He described his campaign as painful begging and bragging.
Though I admire the people who go through the pain of a successful campaign, and I feel that crowdfunding still is a great way for us little guys to get our projects finished, I decided in the end that it is simply not for me. My films are spiritual, and I have a certain philosophy in life.
Pestering the heck out of my friends and acquaintances simply doesn’t sit right with me, so I led a gentle, pester-free campaign that raised about $3,000 by the time it was over. Not bad. And to get the rest of the funding I need? After researching, looking for that unique company that shares Upon a Starry Night’s principles, I have a sponsor meeting that I’m flying out for next week.
Sylvia Binsfeld is an award-winning filmmaker and the author of Dorme: A Magical Dreamland Visit. Her new film Upon A Starry Night will go into production at the beginning of 2014. To learn more: OwlAndTheTigerDreamPress.com; UponAStarryNight.com.