Lucas McNelly on Thursday, Jul. 25th
There’s a couple of voices we mention from time to time here at “Crowdfunding 201”, for better or worse. Names that have sort of become adjectives in the crowdfunding lexicon. There’s Seth Godin, who we aren’t really fond of, and there’s Nate Silver, who we’re very fond of. There’s some notable campaigns we talk about from time to time. And then there’s Jon Reiss.
You may have asked yourself, “who’s Jon Reiss?” It’s a good question, a fair question.
Reiss made his name in the wild west of indie film pre-Kickstarter, mostly through documentary films and his book “Think Outside the Box Office”, which documents the promotion and distribution of his film Bomb It. It’s a good book. You should read it. I’d loan you my copy, but I’m not exactly sure where it is.
Anyway, the book has a lot of principles that can easily apply to crowdfunding. So it naturally got my interest when Jon finally launched his first campaign for, fittingly enough, Bomb It 2.
I tracked him down in Tanzania, of all places, for a little email Q&A about his soon-to-be-successful campaign. My comments are the ones in italics.
LM: I remember at Flyway, you said something to the effect that you hadn’t done a Kickstarter campaign yet because, in your position, it would have a different level of expectation. What got you to that point?
JR: I felt – f*ck it – why not! Part of the problem was finding the time. The past year has been a bit nuts for me – and we pushed back the release of Bomb It 2 twice because of other projects. Still I’m producing 2 features and starting a transmedia campaign – so there is never a great time. Practically – we need the money for the Bomb It 2 release. Finally – it felt time to re-connect with friends, fans, audience – etc. Crowdfunding is a great way to do that – almost something to do every year.
LM: You’ve tracked a lot of campaigns for your workshops. What extra research did you do before setting up your own campaign?
JR: I’ve consulted on a number of campaigns and then also supervised The Yes Men Are Revolting campaign last fall – so I learned a lot working on other films. I also did a fair amount of research before working on those films – and was also asked recently to do a crowdfunding presentation – so I wanted to be up to date for that. We also looked at a number of other street art and graffiti campaigns. Finally – I asked a bunch of friends who had done them recently. Some of the research was just thinking about what people who follow me would want – and how to engage them. We spent A LOT of time going over the rewards – A LOT! I really love the $35 conference call – its something I’ve wanted to do for a year now – a way of continuing the workshops and having a way for people who have heard me speak – or want to – to stay in touch.
LM: What’s the big difference between consulting and running a campaign yourself? Has anything surprised you?
JR: The stakes! It feels different – it courses through your veins. When I consult – I am involved a lot – sometimes intensely – (often checking backer reports every hour). But this feels completely different. I’m so happy I’m doing it – because there is nothing like the experience of it to really know what people are going through. For every other aspect of distro and marketing – I had done nearly everything – but not this. One of the biggest surprises was doing the video. I’m a pretty comfortable speaker and have a lot of experience doing it. But doing the video is totally different and it was so hard – that’s why I made the flubs video – I think a lot of people agree that they are harder than they look – but people don’t really talk about it. Since mentioning the issues – a number of filmmakers have said to me that they agree – its incredibly hard.
One of the things Jon has done is an outtake video of him trying to do his pitch video, which he released as an update (#6, to be exact). Part of what’s nice about something like a blooper reel is how it brings the audience behind the curtain. There’s no false veneer, which for someone in Jon’s position is a bit risky.
LM: You said you set the goal intentionally low. Can you talk about the thinking behind that?
JR: I didn’t want to be screaming at people in the 4th week. But now I wonder – and kind of wish I had set it at $25K. In addition the budget for Bomb It 2 was low – so I felt it was appropriate. We do need a bit more (not to mention fees and costs)- and I hope we end up going over a bit.
Because of the timing of the campaign I am in Africa shooting mini docs for three separate non profits and attending the International premiere of Bomb It 2 at the Durban Film Festival. So I wanted to set a level that would be manageable while I was working and traveling with questionable internet access.
Yeah….running a campaign while traveling isn’t a great idea, but you knew that already. Thankfully, so did Jon.
LM: Can you talk about your social media approach? This is one of the few campaigns that seems to innately grasp how to use Twitter effectively.
JR: This has to do with a number of factors. I am a firm believer and advocate of engagement as well as in giving content and realizing that people who contribute are people. Also I realize that many people are not so much giving to the film – as they are to me as a person. I also as you know believe in teams – and one of the things that as I indicated took some time was to assemble a team not only for the campaign but also for the release. My new assistant had 10 years of PR experience in fashion and wanted to learn the film biz – so I made her my Marketing Director and general Right Hand. One of my recently graduated Cal Arts students – who was one of the if not the best student in my Reel World Survival Skills class there is now my Social Media Manager. I also brought in King is a Fink to help out on the Kickstarter.
So I’ve assembled a team that at times knows me better than I know myself, and that’s not always a good thing, but it’s a GREAT thing in the context of a crowdfunding campaign. Nothing gets hidden, everyone’s brainstorming and problem solving on the fly, anxieties creep up, emotions flare, everyone’s worst sides come out…and then someone donates a dollar, and everyone celebrates together. Crowdfunding is a roller-coaster, and, just like when you go to the amusement park, it’s more fun when there are other people with you.
So all that’s really good. You need a team. But Jon’s social media approach has been pretty great. It isn’t even that he’s doing anything new or novel. On the contrary, there’s nothing innovative about it. However, it is rock-solid. He’s not making mistakes. He’s been very active without being overbearing and, more importantly, his Twitter feed is littered with stuff like this:
— Jon Reiss (@Jon_Reiss) July 22, 2013
Really, this is just legwork. It isn’t glamorous, but it’s the cornerstone of running the Twitter aspect of your outreach well. And it’s paying off.
LM: I know it’s early in the campaign, but is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
JR: Gotten my content together sooner. We are now posting a video a day – and on various sites – but I always underestimate the editorial time of other people’s sites – perhaps its my ego thinking that people will act on it immediately – and even though I spoke to people in advance – it takes days for things to post. So prepare for that. Also – I didn’t think I would need extra content the first week – because of the natural push of the first week and the appeal video- but I won’t do that again – I think on day 3 you need new content to push out. Especially since we have so much content – we should have started putting it out right away. If you see now – we are putting out brand new content at least on Tuesday and Thursday and then putting out little scene Bomb It 1 content M, W, F. Plus I’m finally getting time to write some blog posts – which I should have done in advance and put in people’s queues.
LM: Anything else you want to add?
JR: Everyone says its hard work. But people don’t talk about how fun it is as well. I love the connections and reestablishing connections with people. Sheri Candler also asked me on Twitter if this was one of the best parts of Crowdfunding reconnecting with people I hadn’t heard from in a while. An emphatic YES!
Obviously, we’re watching the Spike Lee campaign, which I’m sure will come up on Crowd Crowd…Lauren Mora is going for $10K to fund season 2 of Misdirected….Are you a really terrible cook, like I am? Well, this might be interesting….And, um, there’s this.
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.