Lucas McNelly & Noah Nelson on Thursday, Jul. 19th
We here at Turnstyle News don’t hide the fact that we’re excited about the ongoing crowdfunding revolution. Filmmaker Lucas McNelly writes our “Crowdfunding 201” column, which takes an in-depth look at what makes crowdfunding campaigns tick. Tech and entertainment editor Noah Nelson takes joy in finding new campaigns to talk about and creators to profile.
While the 201 series has been a success for us, we’ve deliberately left cataloging the basics of crowdfunding campaigns out of the discussion. Until now. Lucas and Noah have each come up with five musts for campaigns, which we now share with you.
1. The Pitch Video (Lucas)
You have to have a pitch video. You just do.
If you don’t have one, your campaign will almost definitely fail.
Really, the video needs to accomplish 2 things: 1) It needs to prove that you can do what you’re raising money to do. So if you’re making a film, you need to show off your skills. The more well-known you and your work are, the less you need to do this. I did a profile on Fat Kid Rules the World. They had already won an Audience Award at SXSW. So they could effectively skip this step. But you probably haven’t. Ergo, show us something. 2) You need to connect with your potential audience as a human being. It’s the old politics question of “would you like to have a beer with this person?” If you fail the beer test, you’re going to have a hard time. You also want to show off your enthusiasm for the project. People respond to that sort of energy. Look at Kevin Garnett. You don’t need to be screaming at people, but show that passion and people will line up behind you.
2. Have Great Photos & Images (Noah)
Nothing is more annoying for a web writer, at least this web writer, than getting a draft of a article together and then having to scrounge around Flickr for a suitable Creative Commons image. Be a friend to these sad, coffee stained wretches who want to be enthusiastic about your project by providing pretty pictures, at large format sizes, in easily accessible locations. On your project page, with links to higher resolution versions. In your Facebook fan page. Best of all: at the website you’ve dedicated to the project, in a section with the url extention “/pictures” or “/press”.
It still boggles my mind that full finished films, games, and other creative endeavors don’t take these steps. I deal with projects that have professional public relations people working behind the scenes that sometimes don’t have the material accessible. A PR embargo is one thing, but once a work is in the wild there’s really no excuse for a lack of an image archive. Plus a word of warning: if you don’t choose the image that gets spread around, one of us will.
3. Fix It In Pre (Lucas)
A crowdfunding campaign is like a movie. There’s pre-production, production, and post-production. You want to do as much as you can in pre-production. You want to plan out your perks and, more importantly, budget how much they’re going to cost you. Find successful campaigns that are similar to yours. Sure, it’s great that Amanda Palmer raised over a million dollars, but are you Amanda Palmer? No. If you’re trying to sell your 2 bedroom house in Nebraska, you wouldn’t look for comparable properties in Manhattan. Look in your neighborhood. Trying to raise money for a $10,000 web series? Find other web series that raised around that much. Study those campaigns. See what worked, and what didn’t. Constantly ask yourself, “would this get me to give to the campaign?”
You should have most of your campaign mapped out before you launch. Because once it starts, your life is going to be Hell.
4. Hone The Lede (Noah)
On the entertainment beat I get hit with a boatload of pitches each day. The ones that stand out don’t necessarily have big stars or amazing high concepts, but they all have one thing in common: they can be explained in one sentence.
Twitter is great practice for this. If you can describe your campaign in under 140 characters you’re doing great. Under 140 with the shortened URL and you’re a superstar.
This is about more than communicating on Twitter, however. For your campaign to stick in people’s head’s you need to make it easy to remember. $99 dollar Android-based game console. Guy wants to direct a movie before he goes blind. An ad-free magazine about pairing beer and chocolate. Your short pitch is your weapon to colonize as many brains as possible. It’s the hook of a pop song. Do it right and people will spread the news for you. Do it wrong and they will stumble over themselves trying to explain why they backed you in the first place, if they bother to at all.
5. Work, Work, Work (Lucas)
A couple of months ago, I did a survey of campaigns, asking people how many hours a day they put into the campaign. The average successful campaign that raised over $10,000 put in 9.9 hours per day. Yes, per day. Unsuccessful campaigns put in 5.2 hours per day. You don’t need a degree in statistics to figure out what that means. The campaign will take over your life. Plan accordingly.
I keep telling people that, and they don’t believe me. Then, on day 12 or so of their campaign, I’ll get a text message about how overwhelmed they are. Don’t be overwhelmed.
6. It’s Called A CAMPAIGN For A REASON (Noah)
Don’t expect to flip a switch and then watch the money roll in. Unless your name is Amanda Palmer, Seth Godin, or Tim Schaffer. Spoiler: they didn’t expect to either. Well, maybe Godin did. What sets those three apart from you?
Wrong. It’s not that they’re famous. It’s that they spent the time cultivating their audience for years before they pulled the trigger on their Kickstarter campaign. A campaign isn’t just about getting that dollar… there are easier ways to make money, and several fine cable television shows dramatize those methods. You, however, have chose to put in the work of building up your audience while simultaneously hitting them up for money. To do that you’re going to need to court attention outside your comfort zone. You’re going to need a plan.
Do you have anything other than “Hey I’m here!” to talk about once you’ve launched? No? Then you’re not ready. Running a 30 day campaign? What do you have planned for day 15, when you’ve hit a slump and need a boost financially and emotionally? Look at the campaign for Republique. Game developer Ryan Payton told us game industry insiders thought he was asking for too little money. As it turned out they had to fight for every dollar.
7. Thank you, ________ (Lucas)
Take a look at this tweet.
It’s kind of a perfect example of what you should be doing throughout your campaign. You’ll get an email whenever you get a backer, and it’ll say something like “John Doe has backed your campaign”. Now you might know who that is, and you might not. Either way, you owe them a thank you. And not as one of those BS perks where you say you’ll thank them. That’s not a perk. That’s common decency. It’s a simple process. 1) Figure out who the backer is. If they’re on Twitter, find their Twitter handle. 2) Figure out what they do. If they’ve got some project of their own, that’s great. Or if they’re obsessed with the Celtics, or Star Wars, or cats. Whatever it is, make a note of it. 3) Put all of that in a thank you tweet, including the link to your campaign in the tweet. Easy.
It’s ridiculously effective.
You’ve thanked them publicly, which is better than a private message (which you should probably also do). You’ve taken the time to learn something about them and perhaps even promoted their work. You’ve organically plugged your campaign, while showing people that you’re getting more backers. And guess what? There’s a really good chance your new backer will re-tweet that to all of their followers.
I tell EVERYONE to do that. Very few do. And then they wonder why no one knows about their campaign.
8. End On A Friday (Noah)
Lucas mentioned this in his 201 post about what he looks for when analyzing a campaign. It bears repeating.
Think about it this way: how much time do you spend on the internet over the weekend? Really? That much? I’m sorry. The rest of us are out in the world having fun. Or we’re at least playing Minecraft, which is totally the same thing.
The big point is this: a campaign has a story arc and these story arcs are predisposed to having a Big Finish. Whether that means a last desperate attempt to get the show off the ground or a final frenzy of buyers who realize that the X-On Neuro Rocket Game Stabilizer Pen & Watch will cost $300 more when it finally hits store shelves is irrelevant. What matters is that on Friday people are A) still at work, B) might have money to burn (payday!) and C) are more likely to be willing to depart with their cash than they will be after a weekend where they wasted it all on DLC/Scotch or some combination thereof. Not that I’m condemning DLC or Scotch. Perhaps we could combine to two! Time to take this idea to Kickstarter.
I’m being extra jokey here because it just seems obvious to me, and doubly so once you’ve watched a campaign fail to cross the finish line because they were closing funding on a Sunday.
9. Updates (Lucas)
One of the first things I look at when checking out a campaign in process is how many updates they’ve posted. It’s a simple formula. More updates generally means people are more engaged. You should have some of these planned ahead of time. But I’m also a big proponent of the personal video done off-the-cuff during the campaign. This is really simple. Chances are you’ve got a phone that shoots video. Point it at yourself. Talk about how the campaign is going, especially how overwhelmed you are with all the support (and, trust me, you will be). Be yourself. Upload that to YouTube. Post an update. It literally can be as simple as that. You don’t need to get an Alexa and a bunch of lights. You’ve probably already done that in your pitch video (and, yes, there’s points during the campaign where you might want to do that), but sometimes the most effective video is the grainy one of you at your kitchen table, thanking people from the bottom of your heart.
It can be as simple as that.
10. Think Of Your Audience (Noah)
First. Second. Always.
We all suffer through spam. Journalists and bloggers with even the slightest bit of notoriety even more so. When reaching out a little bit of research can serve you well. The straight up PR blast does little to grab attention, but one that is tailored to our tastes? Now we’re talking.
The power of social media isn’t it’s ability to turn anyone into a broadcaster: it’s the necessity it puts on everyone to be a narrowcaster. Google and Facebook hinge their entire business model on the idea that they can refine an algorithm to the point where they know your marketing vulnerabilities. You’ve got something better: your brain.
Before reaching out to a journalist or posting on a popular message board take some time to understand what their values are. It may not guarantee you’ll convert them into a backer or an ally, but you’ll go a long way towards increasing the odds they do. It’s basic respect, and if you’re going to be playing this game again you’ll want the respect of these communities the next time you go to the well.
This is bonehead simple from my point of view– but this is Crowdfunding 101– and I’m still shocked at how many people don’t get this.
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.
Noah Nelson is the tech and entertainment editor for Turnstyle News. For legal reasons he can’t tell you that he lives in a Los Angeles cafe. But he totally does.
Read the rest
Last year, on my very, very long road trip, I stopped in Seattle to work on a movie called Fat Kid Rules the World, directed by Matthew Lillard. I did 9 days on the film, working in a bunch of different departments, as needed, and wrote up the experience. The best of the posts is probably this one.
One of the first things you notice about Matthew Lillard is that he’s got a seemingly endless supply of energy and enthusiasm, so when he told me he was thinking of self-distributing the film on Kickstarter, it struck me as a pretty natural fit.
A big challenge in someone transitioning from the studio world to this New World Order of talking directly to your audience is that people tend to not grasp what that entails exactly. It’s kind of like going from Downton Abbey to Deadwood. The old rules just don’t apply. But you do get to curse a lot more.
But Matt sort of intuitively grasps that (scroll to the very bottom), so I knew he’d be just fine.
And they’re running a good campaign. There’s perks that span the resources they’ve got at hand, from Pearl Jam gear to the chance to have Shaggy record your voice mail message and a bunch of other stuff.
Contrast the Fat Kid campaign to the Bret Easton Ellis campaign for The Canyons. While it’s tempting to be wowed by the bigger dollar amount, the Fat Kid campaign is easily the more effective one, pulling in almost twice the audience reach and 50% more backers. One reason is Lillard and company are putting in the work. They’ve posted 5 times as many updates, and their campaign hasn’t been running as long. That’s the sort of thing that pays off, not just for this project, but the next one as well.
I tracked Matt down via email to grill him about the details of the campaign.
McNelly: Talk a little bit about the decision to put Fat Kid Rules the World on Kickstarter. At what point did it become a realistic option? What was the thought process behind using it for self-distribution?
Lillard: I think one of the main reason’s Rick Rosenthal and Whitewater PIctures decided to “get in bed with me” on Fat Kid was because I came in with a strong business plan as well as a creative vision on how to make the film. Our discussion started around the notion of putting a micro budget film on the VANS Warped Tour and taking it directly to the kids it was made for. So I guess you can say we were very grass roots/DIY to begin with. Then when we didn’t find the opportunity to support the film like we thought it deserved after SXSW [Ed. Note: where it won an Audience Award] we were like “screw it, what do we have to lose?” We believed in the film and thought it deserved a chance. Plus at the end of the day we had nothing to lose because the offers we received weren’t very good and we’d have to hit a home run to participate in any real way. I don’t blame big companies at all. It takes a fortune to sell a film and we’re not that big of a movie. It’d be hard to turn a profit on us.
So we all knew Kickstarter was there, we felt like we had a very large base to pull interest from (Pearl Jam, Award winning YA book, Warped Tour, fans from our festivals), talked to you and a couple of other people, and decided to have at it. We set a HUGE number and are still climbing the hill….fighting the good fight…. whatever cliche you wanna use, we’re on it.
McNelly: Right now you’ve got over 1,200 backers and 4,200 Facebook “likes” for the campaign. What sort of impact do you think that’ll have on the future of Fat Kid, as opposed to if you’d just put it on the Warped Tour?
Lillard: Well our pitch to our audience is we made this film for you. YOU should come out and see it. Those tags, the “likes”, are the first step in generating awareness and we think its vital to our success. One of the things you don’t know yet, I’m breaking the news here first which seem appropriate given our history and your unwavering support of the film… is that we’ve just done a major deal with TUGG.COM to release the film via their innovative new platform. We deliver our film on demand in the theatre of your choice anywhere in America! We’re thrilled about the potential of this and think we’re on to something very new and exciting. So to us, motivating our base is everything!
McNelly: One of the cool things about your campaign has been the involvement via video of a lot of the Fat Kid team, from DP Noah Rosenthal to Jacob Wysocki (the titular Fat Kid) to KL Going (author of the novel) to composer Mike McCready and on down the line. Was that difficult to coordinate? What sort of impact do you think it’s had?
Lillard: It wasn’t hard really, I think it’s all in the planning. When you’re making an independent film what you don’t have in time and money you have to make up with creativity and diligence. We assigned a point person (Nick Morton, one of our associate producers) early in the process and maintaining the campaign has been his priority for the past 5 weeks. He’s doing an amazing job of it. In the end I don’t know if it’s been useful to be honest. I think we generate good will with our backers, I think they can see we’re serious about our goals. We’re also in a bit of a different position then most other KS projects in that we have a finished product and we have really cool materials to share. We’re not pitching a “it might look like this…” project, we’ve got the end result and a lot of shiny things to show people.
McNelly: Talk about the Reddit session you did. I’ve heard about it from people who have no idea I worked on the film, which tells me you probably did something right.
Lillard: WHEN we achieve our KS goal, it will be because of those 3 hours and the millions of people that played along that day. I think our campaign was on the 25th day and we had raised 52K? After that session on Reddit.com, we were at 87K! It was epic, that’s the only word I keep using to describe it. It was a session called an “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) and I went there and had a blast. I’m not sure why it was so great for the Reddit readers, but for me I found an opportunity to talk about me and my career, and Fat Kid in an organic way with people who really wanted to know. I laughed out loud a lot. I can’t wait to go back and do it again. It was also the first time in my life I witnessed, first hand, the power of the internet. They are the ones that are responsible for getting Fat Kid to the people.
McNelly: How has the Kickstarter experience played out in contrast to your expectations? What do you think has worked really well? What do you wish you had done differently?
Lillard: I’ve learned a lot, that’s for sure. Umm…the big surprise for me has been how difficult it’s been translating eyeballs and people loving the film into donations. I knew because of our exposure in the world, the social media numbers we have behind the project, that we’d be able to spike awareness around the film and I assumed that would mean we’d generate enough interest in our story to give money. That has not been the case. Facebook, Twitter, etc. is about awareness but it’s been direct contact with people that’s made the greatest impact on our campaign.
McNelly:This is where you write whatever you want. Final thoughts and stuff.
Lillard: I think indie filmmaking is at an amazing crossroads right now and I’m excited to see where it goes. Now, more then ever, we have the ability to make films for almost nothing and that’s broken down all barriers of entry. I think it’s a new golden age of filmmaking. With that, there needs to be the ability to recoup investment dollars, people need to make money.
We took last week off, but the subject of the week prior to that ends on Friday the 1st. They’re still short of their goal….The week before that, we looked at The Anniversary, which rallied to hit their goal…Andrew Brotzman is raising money for post-production for his debut feature Nor’easter (another film I worked on).
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.
Read the rest
Ok class, for our next lesson, we’re going to take a look at a campaign for a short film. The campaign itself has made a couple of pretty big mistakes, but just like we did last week, we’re going to look at one specific aspect of the campaign that’s working.
IMPASSE by Michael Bekemeyer & Jeanne Bowerman
People who make movies spend a lot of time talking about existing properties. You hear this a lot in Hollywood circles, of course, as the studios will seemingly adapt anything, no matter how much the jump to the big screen stretches the limits of plausibility (Battleship? Really?). But there’s a reason for that: you’ve heard of Battleship. You’ve played Battleship. It’s easier to talk John Q. Public into seeing a film if they already know something about it. This is not complicated and I can’t imagine I’m telling you something you don’t already know.
But where you don’t see a lot of existing properties is in low budget independent film. Sure, every so often you get a film like Matthew Lillard’s Fat Kid Rules The World that adapts a book with an existing audience, but most of the time you’re dealing with entirely new stories that need to more or less start from scratch.
Enter Jeanne Bowerman, a screenwriter who’s career is pretty much defined by Twitter. Along with a couple of others, she started the weekly #scriptchat discussion and has diligently built a reputation as one of the more generous people in the Twitter film community.
Most of the time, she works out of a Panera office, but a little over a year ago, she shifted to a Starbucks and became transfixed by an argument a couple was having in the parking lot. This being Jeanne, she started live tweeting it. You can read the entirety of it here (they released it at the $4,000 mark), but I pulled a few of the tweets below:
This went on for quite a while, and before long, Jeanne had her followers transfixed by the scene that was unfolding before them, in real time. People were talking about it. A lot. According to Jeanne, the number was in the hundreds. I was online for the whole thing and I remember it pretty vividly even now. So when the campaign for Impasse launched, it took all of 5 minutes to realize it was the adaptation of that story. She had, out of thin air and a little bit of voyeurism, created for herself an existing property. But more importantly, it was a valuable property. One she could leverage into a short film. Crowdfunding it was a no-brainer.
To quote Jeanne, who I reached via email:
The plan was always to crowdfund. To be completely honest, I have very little experience with crowdfunding, so this is all quite surreal to me. I’ve helped many an indie filmmaker raise money… I do love to pimp indie… but I have not run my own campaign before. In hindsight, I can already see where I’ve made mistakes, mostly in pre-planning. I just started my full-time job as ScriptMag.com’s editor only weeks before we launched, and I’ve been swamped getting past the learning curve of both the new job and running a Kickstarter campaign. Some days I can only pop into social media for quick spurts, but I’m trying not to inundate with self-promotion. In an ideal world, I’d have time to still organically engage in between calls for support.
But overall, we’re learning as we go, and people are unbelievably generous and kind. Today we posted the original tweets from that day at the coffeehouse, and the response has been incredible. We contemplated posting the actual Impasse script, but in many ways, this is even better. People will understand the tone of the film and the emotion it will evoke just by reading the tweets, yet it allows us to keep the story a surprise. It’s already exciting our backers. We’re thrilled with the response.
She built an audience for her project, and now she’s leveraging that audience to bring the film into fruition. And that’s what crowdfunding is all about.
Last week’s project, Brea Grant’s Best Friends Forever, cruised past the $75,000 goal on Saturday en route to over $80K….Going down the meta rabbit hole is this documentary about crowdfunding which naturally has a Kickstarter campaign. As for the campaign, it’s not great. Timon Birkhofer, if you’re reading this, come interview me and we’ll do a scene for the doc where I tear down your campaign and re-build it…If you missed it earlier in the week, there’s a really interesting article about a campaign that is trying to fix a campaign that made a lot of mistakes in trying to duplicate Double Fine’s success. Three weeks of pre-production for any campaign is really low…See something interesting in the works? Let me know on Twitter.
Lucas McNelly is the filmmaker behind A Year Without Rent, Up Country, Blanc De Blanc, and Gravida. He runs Kickstarter campaigns for a living. He hasn’t lived anywhere in a long time.
Read the rest