Last April, I took up running again after an absence of over 15 years. Turns out I’m not nearly as fast as I used to be. Still, a month ago I decided to run a half marathon to raise money for rescue animals and learned exactly why people wear those dorky looking belts with water bottles on them–when you go past an hour, you need to bring your own fuel or you may or may not puke on the side of the road in front of your friend’s house. The belts look stupid, but carrying a water bottle is a hassle (I spent the entire 8 mile run switching hands and wondering if I could throw the bottle on someone’s lawn). So I went to Google and stumbled upon Simple Hydration, a hands-free bottle that, lo and behold, was born on Kickstarter.
I’m always looking for new angles to take for “Crowdfunding 201”, so I tracked down project creator Brian Hock, to see if we could learn something about the transition from Kickstarter campaign to real, live item you can buy.
Interview, with commentary, after the jump:
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Imagine you’re a filmmaker staring into the great abyss of attempting to get your next film made. You’ve had some success in the past, but oddly no one is offering to write a blank check for your next film, even though you’re pretty sure it’ll be amazing. You’ve heard of Kickstarter, mostly on your Facebook feed, but it all seems kind of daunting. Where to start? There’s so much information.
It’s not just the funding that’s changing by the minute. Distribution, publicity, social media: it’s kind of exhausting to keep track of it all. Scratch that, it’s incredibly exhausting.
Enter Artist Services, a wing of the Sundance Institute. I had the opportunity at the Sundance festival to sit down with Joseph Beyer, the point person for Sundance’s Creative Funding & Partnerships team. Beyer and his team are the folks responsible for bringing the Kickstarter campaigns for dozens of Sundance-branded films to fruition. Beyer laid out the idea behind his work: (more…)
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It’s a familiar scene to many filmmakers: they budget out their film, calling in favors left and right, then they launch their crowdfunding campaign and someone sends them an email that says, “Hey, I don’t have any money to give, but I’d love to help.” Invariably, that help can lower the budget. Maybe they have a location you can use for free. Or extra lenses they can loan you. Or they can edit the film for you. Suddenly, you don’t need $X.
Only, you still do.
Kickstarter doesn’t care that you suddenly found an editor that can knock a chunk off your budget. The target goal won’t change.
Enter Seed & Spark, a (very) new entrant in the crowdfunding space. I met up with them at Sundance, via mutual friends. (more…)
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To the surprise of absolutely no one, crowdfunding has become a major part of the scene in Park City. Last year, the Kickstarter party filled a rather large venue to capacity almost instantly, forcing them to turn away hundreds of people at the door. And, oh yeah, a bunch of films made noise in the festivals themselves, including Keith Miller’s Welcome to Pine Hill, which won the Grand Jury Award at Slamdance.
This year is no different. The Park City landscape is littered with films, and I’ll be there to sort as much of it out for you as I can. But first, we sent out a survey to a number of filmmakers about their campaigns. Think of it as a preview of coming attractions. Some got back to us. Some didn’t. Some we’re hoping to catch up with on the ground. We culled some of the best bits for this piece.
But if you’re going to Park City or you’re staying home and watching from afar, here’s a few films to keep an eye on, made possible (as they say on PBS) by people like you.
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When I hear the term “stretch goals”, two things immediately come to mind. The first is of the cat when he’s just woken up. The other is of a filmmaker who’s somehow hit their goal earlier and is panicking to try and get more money and backers. Neither is all that accurate, but at least the one of the cat is cute.
Which is a lot to say that I’m more or less skeptical of just how effective stretch goals are.
Despite what you might assume, they aren’t a new phenomenon. Any campaign that’s hit the goal prior to the deadline has at least flirted with the idea of stretch goals. Sometimes it’s something as simple as “if we raise another $500, I’ll shave my head”. Other times it’s a lot more structured.
So let’s look at a campaign that did stretch goals effectively and see what we can dig up. (more…)
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Read more of Lucas McNelly’s Crowdfunding 201 here.
I was on the phone the other day (actually talking!), venting to a friend of mine about how so much of the time I spend discussing crowdfunding with people comes down to the same couple of topics, explained over and over again, only to a new audience. Like every day is the first day of school and I’m having to explain to everyone where the bathrooms are. Nothing new has been “discovered” or explored or even broached in the 2 years or so since they were more or less settled, but still people keep asking. A lot. They also feel the need to argue about it and get all the reasons behind it. A lot. Naturally, this is kind of annoying. It’s also a pretty big time suck.
And, yes, I realize how that sounds, but I’m pretty burned out at the moment. My temper is short.
Kind of as a joke borne out of frustration, I told Noah I was going to write a column called “N Things About Crowdfunding I Will Never, Ever Discuss Again”. He thought that was a pretty good idea, and since he’s the boss, here we are.
Let’s start with a qualifier. Yes, these are all things I think have been argued to death, but that doesn’t mean someone can’t change the accepted wisdom. After all, the world used to be flat. But if you’re going to disprove it, really disprove it. With, like, research and data and things that would stand up to a peer review. Otherwise…go do all that.
[Uncover the Three Things after the jump…]
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In the return of Crowdfunding 201, filmmaker and crowdfunding pundit Lucas McNelly brings us up to speed on the project that took him off the TurnstyleNews grid for the past month. As always, it’s educational.
Well that didn’t work.
We aren’t going to get into why, at least not right now. We’re all a little burned out and in 4 Of A Kind overload. It’s just not something I want to explore yet.
In the final tally, it counts as a loss, but when you’ve got a campaign that got more than twice as many backers as the filmmaker had Twitter followers at the start and managed to become a trending topic in two different countries, there’s potential for growth. If you’re wondering, Kickstarter campaigns don’t trend on Twitter. I can’t think of a campaign that’s ever trended in the U.S., which doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. But if it has, I can’t tell you when.
While there’s a lot to be happy about, none of it really matters if the project doesn’t get funded. So…what now? (more…)
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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.
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