Lucas McNelly on Thursday, Jun. 14th
Believe it or not, there’s a science to all of this. Sure, it’s a soft science, but it’s a science nonetheless. I have a couple of colleagues who I send breakdowns of potential campaigns to and they’ll all come back with a projected amount they can expect to raise in the same ballpark, give or take 10%. Then, sure enough, that’s about what that campaign will end up raising. If there was a fantasy Kickstarter league, we’d dominate it.
Where it gets interesting is when a campaign comes along that doesn’t easily fit into a category. Some because they’ve failed, but others because they’ve vastly exceeded what any of us would have projected.
Is it a fluke? Or are they doing something we should all be doing?
Adam Baker’s I’m Fine, Thanks sells itself as a feature-length documentary about complacency, which isn’t exactly the sort of description that jumps out of your computer screen and shakes you until all the money falls out of your wallet. Yet it has raised over $85,000 of it’s $100,000 goal, and it still has 8 days left. All by itself, that’s impressive, but when you consider it raised the funds on the strength of 3,300 backers, none of whom came in at a perk level greater than $1,000, it gets more impressive still.
There’s no Hollywood names attached. Brett Easton Ellis isn’t on-board. The director has virtually no IMDb credits to speak of (or at least, nothing that would explain this sort of audience). So what the hell is going on here?
Let’s go to the database. We’ve got 96 successful campaigns on file that were explicitly raising money for post-production of a feature-length documentary. They, on average, raised 115% of their goal, a number I’m Fine, Thanks is on pace to easily surpass. Here’s some more metrics:
There’s a couple of things to look at here. Clearly this is the profile of a campaign that’s leaning more toward building awareness for their film than strictly going after money. But, on some level, everyone’s trying to do that. And if you check the film out on Kicktraq.com, you can see there isn’t one big spike. It just keeps going up, more or less methodically. It’s not like Oprah sent everyone there or anything.
For this project, we would project it to need roughly 4,700 “likes” of the campaign on Facebook and 814 backers (we’d actually adjust that up to 1,150, or around $75/backer, to be safe in budgeting) in order to raise their current amount of $85,500. They’ve TRIPLED those projections. But they haven’t just tripled the backer projection, or the “likes” projection, they’ve tripled both of them, while keeping that ratio (Likes/Backers) in what we think is the “sweet spot” of a campaign that’s running at a good level of converting eyeballs to backers (anywhere from 3.5:1 to 4:1).
The campaign itself is good, but there’s very little about it that’s extraordinary. Still, it doesn’t make any big mistakes (other than that poster perk at $50, which is going to hurt their margins). They’ve only done 5 updates. There’s zero video updates. The pitch video is standard stuff.
But look where are those backers are–88% of them came in at the cheapest two perk levels. 88%!!! And the vast majority of those did the $5, DRM-free download of the full film, a download that’ll be available before it’s available to the general public.
And why not? If people are willing to give you money for your yet-unfinished film, why shouldn’t they get a download of it in return? It’s not it costs anything to fulfill that perk. It’s a very audience-friendly move, yet very few films try it. Why?
Well, one answer you’ll get is that it could negatively affect potential distribution deals. I asked Adam about that over email.
McNelly: Talk about the decision to put the DRM-free copy of the movie at $5. Where did that come from? Were you worried that sending the movie to your backers first would negatively affect potential distribution deals?
Baker: It was inspired by the comedian Louis C.K. who recently recorded his own comedy special and sold it straight to his fans for $5, DRM-free. It was wildly successful and as a fan and supporter of his – I was blown away by the strategy. I’m a lifetime fan now.
We were a little worried about hurting our chances of a distribution deal – but knew that affordable and direct digital distribution was very important to us. So, the pros of doing this strategy simply outweighed the drawback of hurting a traditional deal.
And maybe that’s driving things more than we know. Adam runs the website Man Vs. Debt, which has an audience that’s not to be ignored, but nothing to the level you’d need to support this sort of audience on a crowdfunding campaign. He’s got almost 15,000 followers on Twitter, but that’s not nearly enough either, and his Klout analysis agrees. Hell, they didn’t even launch the Facebook page until after the campaign launched (and they’ve barely updated it).
There’s also the not-small factor of the blog network spreading the word. Or, as Adam puts it, “Sure we don’t have any “Hollywood” stars – but we’ve been fortunate to have dozens and dozens of wildly popular bloggers and communities share it thousands of times.” That never hurts.
I think, in short, Adam found his niche, his audience, and he hit it hard. As he should. No other explanation makes sense.
And that niche, you’ll notice is not fellow independent filmmakers. Once you find yours, everything else gets so much simpler.
Matthew Lillard’s Fat Kid Rules the World campaign hit the goal with plenty of time to spare…Marie Ullrich is looking at needing a rally to hit her $35K goal for The Alley Cat…J. Reuben Appelman is raising funds for a documentary called The Sick of Sarah Movie…This camera bag looks pretty cool…A bunch of video game forums tried to bully the campaign of Anita Sarkeesian. $126K raised so far says they failed pretty spectacularly. Good. I won’t get into a rant here, but feel free to imagine your own string of profanity directed toward the idiots trying to stop her.
Lucas McNelly is the filmmaker behind A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. He consults on Kickstarter campaigns for a living. He hasn’t lived anywhere in a long time.