Lucas McNelly on Tuesday, Jun. 4th
Imagine you're a filmmaker with more ambition than money. Like a lot more ambition than money. You want to make a movie with explosions and spaceships and zombies and you don't want it to look terrible. Sound familiar?
In the same way that Kickstarter is allowing independent films to get made where it might otherwise be impossible, it's also doing the same thing in the software world. Naturally, in the Venn diagram of film and software, there's going to be some overlap. There Novacut, for example, and now there's HitFilm.
Actually, there was already HitFilm. Only, it was a PC version and lots and lots of filmmakers use Macs. Probably most of them. There was no Mac version, so the folks at HitFilm took to Kickstarter to fund one.
I caught up with the Marketing Manager Tom McLoughlin just after their campaign cleared the £25,000 goal.
INTERVIEW AFTER THE JUMP
Lucas McNelly: Tell us a little bit about the software.
Tom McLoughlin: At FXhome we've always strived to make great software at indie prices for film makers & photographers. In 2011 we launched HitFilm, a VFX app with editing, 3d compositing, 3d particles and a bunch of other effects. In 2012 we launched HitFilm 2 and things got even better with 3d model import and yet more effects. But we were only on the PC, and this made us sad, because we love Macs, and held us back, because film makers love Macs too. HitFilm was designed with the aim of being an all-in-one editor and visual effects package for the indie film-maker. We looked to combine the best features of non-linear editors like Final Cut or Premiere with the visual effects environment of a compositor like After Effects, Nuke or Smoke – creating a unique product in our market. We also decided to include features that other apps have to rely on plug-in manufacturers to provide, such as an incredibly powerful 3D particle simulator as standard within the software.
On top of all that, our price point is incredibly competitive, with the entire app only costing as much as some rival plug-ins, but we still weren't on the Mac, and that's what we wanted to address through the Kickstarter project.
LM: Not surprisingly, your backer bell curve peaked at the software itself, with only 5% opting for a higher level. What challenges did you find in up-selling people?
TMc: We always knew that there was demand for the product, the number of requests we received daily made that clear, so we always expected the most popular tier to be that where the backers were essentially pre-ordering the software. We also set a pledge level that made this a great deal and a significant discount on the standalone software price – the backers were helping us out and having to wait for the software, so we wanted to make it a compelling offer.
This did mean that it was always going to a challenge to sell the higher tiers – which is partly why we went for slightly crazy rewards (The Transporter is still available as I write!). We have found as the project continued some of the higher end tiers, such as the media lab style licenses have gone, and perhaps some of that type of backer may have been waiting for the project to near its goal before committing. One thing that did surprise us a little was the lack of interest in the boxed version. I guess people have got so used to the download model for apps these days, that shipping boxes is nearly a thing of the past.
LM: Normally when someone has an existing group of customers or fans, a big chunk of crowdfunding relies on activating them. But your existing audience is Windows-based and you're aiming for Mac-based and a lot of video editors are loathe to cross that divide. How did you overcome that without starting a turf war?
TMc: Our community is in general pretty inclusive and supportive, no matter what OS they use, so we weren't too worried about a turf war! We'd actually overcome a bigger challenge when we had to communicate to Mac users in the past that their shiny MacBooks weren't capable of running HitFilm (because of the GPUs Apple shipped at the time), as that doesn't fit with the average Apple users' perception of their machines.
But as I mentioned above – we knew there was a demand for the Mac version of the product. Our previous video software had always been cross platform, and a lot of those old users had been waiting for a Mac version of HitFilm to move to, so we just had to make sure that we got the message out to those users, and also motivated them to spread the word.
Ok, this is a key point. FXhome has a history and a community. Sure they've only got 1300 Twitter followers, but they've released several products over the years. There's credibility there, established and clearly cultivated over a decade. It isn't a wood block app thrown together in a dorm room.
LM: What was something that surprised you about the campaign, both positively and negatively?
TMc: The level of support from professional visual effects people was amazing and really took us by surprise. We were lucky in that Adobe's Creative Cloud move hit at just the time we launched our Kickstarter, and we became part of that conversation for a lot of people – our campaign became an alternative to the Adobe model for some, even though that wasn't how we set it up. However the general message that 'competition is good' was used a lot, and it was really nice to be talked about in the same terms as some of the well established competitors in our field.
The amount of work involved in maintaining a message and answering questions was a bit of a shock – particularly for a small team like ours.
LM: What advice would you give to someone attempting to launch a software project on Kickstarter?
TMc: Really make sure that you understand who you need to back your project, and put together a compelling offer for them.
Have a clear marketing plan to cover the whole project – if you're really lucky the project will fly, but if it doesn't you need to know in advance how to keep interest up.
Don't underestimate the level of work involved – it really will be 30 days of hard slog to stimulate the conversation and keep it going.
As simplistic as this sounds, it's actually profound (and rare). Sure, your campaign could go viral. It could get funded on Day 1 because you have the greatest idea in the history of the world. But it probably won't. And you need to be prepared to put in the work. And if you do that, maybe–just maybe–you'll clear the goal with 10 days to spare. But probably not. So be prepared. Like, worst-case scenario prepared.
Lucas McNelly (@lmcnelly) 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.