This is a guest post from Josh Gaines, an author based out of Denver, CO whose debut short film Cordial Kill is currently in the home stretch on Kickstarter.
As someone who's currently experiencing the emotional roller coaster of running an all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign, Josh is in a position to share some insights that might help you navigate your own campaign come launch time. Enjoy.
We’ve all seen Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms be abused, or presented poorly.
People asking for money that they don’t need (or don’t want to have to work for), or others who fail to present their project in a clear manner, demonstrating exactly why they’re asking for funds, what those funds will go towards and what their backers will get in return.
We’ve seen the projects with a $10,000.00 goal that have $30 pledged by the end. And they’re sad.
That’s precisely what I didn’t want to be in going the crowdfunding route to finance my first short, an original crime film called Cordial Kill.
Even if you put together the fanciest, most well-defined campaign page ever with the most gorgeous pitch video ever conceived (mine isn’t those things, but just saying), these realities don’t change:
- It is terrifying and uncomfortable to ask your fans, family and friends for money. Period.
- Your success is not guaranteed even by the perfect campaign.
- You will never feel completely ready to launch; more preparation can help, but it won't guarantee success
- Crowdfunding is no longer new and exciting, it has become commonplace. It's harder than ever to stand out in a sea of campaigns.
- Unless you have a large, faithful following already, crowdfunding comes with a great deal of anxiety and hard work.
- Despite all of this, you’ll be baffled by how many people still don’t know what Kickstarter is or how it works.
A brief word about me and what I’ve done so far
Purely for the sake of context, I’ll mention that I am an author from Denver with a relatively small, but faithful, following. This is my first endeavor into film, and those folks who do keep tabs on what I do know me primarily as a writer, not a director. That's hurdle number one for me in this campaign.
Of course skillsets can cross over, and for many of us they do, but the general public tends to view you as only one thing. “Wait, I thought you were a writer. You’re making movies now? I don’t understand.” Seems like a simple enough concept, but even this subtle change can throw off your audience, and it can take some repetition to get them up to speed.
Let’s talk numbers for a moment, again, for context: The last book I put out was a science fiction novel in October 2015 that sold fewer than 500 copies, and those who bought it paid either $2.99 for the Kindle version or $7 for the paperback.
All that to say, the last thing I put out made nowhere near $5,000 total (the amount I’m asking for to fund my film), so to come to my followers announcing that not only am I doing a new thing (writing and directing a movie), but also asking for more money than they’ve ever given me, combined, was a risky and perhaps foolish endeavor.
Still, I believed in the strength of the film and I had to try. So here's what I've learned so far.
Honesty and thorough explanation regarding the budget
In preparing to make my first short film, I chose to go through Kickstarter in an effort to raise what I believed was a reasonable amount of money to make a solid short, primarily because I wanted to be able to pay my cast and crew a reasonable rate and to feed everyone on set really well, among other more practical costs.
Even if these people believe in my vision, they're taking a chance with a first-time director and lending me their time and talent, so I want to take good care of them.
Although $5,000 is a tiny sum in the film world, to someone outside the industry it seems like a great deal of money to ask for. And in a way, it is.
To address this, I made the decision from the outset to be absolutely as clear and honest as possible with my campaign, and to detail every single cost I could think of in the project’s description. I wanted people to know where their money was going, and to give a good justification for how we would put it to use.
I also alluded to it more concisely in the pitch video for sake of transparency, and to not gloss over the fact that, yes, I was indeed asking for their financial help.
Little things like this may seem obvious, but they're important, and they add up quickly.
Not everyone is familiar with Kickstarter, so it's your job to teach them
Another issue I mentioned above is that many people, even in 2016, still don’t know or understand what Kickstarter is, and they certainly don’t know how much work goes into creating and maintaining one. Hard to believe, but true.
Once I realized this might have been holding my campaign back, I sent out an email to my subscribers and made a quick Facebook post that explained in a brief, friendly and simple fashion the nature of Kickstarter and how it works.
- People need to know it’s an all-or-nothing platform.
- They need to understand that they won’t be charged until the end, and even then only if the campaign is successful.
- They need to realize that they actually get something tangible in return for their investment..
The day I emailed and posted the Kickstarter explanation, the dollar amount towards my goal doubled in 24 hours.
Dealing with the frustration, anxiety, and uncertainty
Honestly, it can be a temptation to get inwardly frustrated with people for being so out of the loop, or for treating something that you are endlessly passionate about like just another pointless thing that they scroll past in their updates feed.
I think it is extremely important to remain positive and helpful throughout the fundraising process. Remember:
- You’re asking these people for their hard-earned money, something that they are giving out of love or as a favor to you, and you are not entitled to it.
- Treat every contribution that rolls in like a gift. Get excited about it. Be thankful.
- You will always be the most passionate person about what you’re making. Don’t get upset if others don’t care as much or don’t get it, just be diligent about communicating your vision and getting others on board.
- If someone has a (dumb) question that you think anyone living in this century should already know, be kind about answering it, and be as helpful as possible. Even if it’s common sense to you, it may not be to others.
At the time of writing this, I am one week into a two-week campaign, and the past seven days have been an emotional rollercoaster the likes of which I’ve never previously experienced. There have been major highs and lows.
For example, the first 24-hours after announcing my campaign: not a single dollar was pledged. I was devastated, and thought I’d made a huge mistake. Why did I ever think anyone would believe in this movie, or in me?!? The next day, we had a decent jump up—several hundred dollars—and along with the pledges, my confidence rose a bit. Several days later, after I sent out the Kickstarter explanation email, our total doubled in one day, which was very exciting.
Since then, it has been a trickling in, small pledges here and there, and the anxiety has set in again because I fear that I’ve reached the limit of distance I’m going to get out of my own followers and fans. Perhaps that’s not true, but it feels that way since the momentum has almost completely died down.
But wait, haven’t I tried to do everything right? Haven’t I avoided everything that I’ve seen other campaigns do poorly? I’ve been honest, helpful, clear, excited, and tried to communicate the vision of this movie, and—with absolutely no ego in this statement—I am confident in my own talent and ability to pull off the making of this film. Yet after all that, I’m still the guy with only 1/4th of his movie funded. It is such a challenge not to look at the numbers right now and be discouraged, and worried.
I have several friends who have gotten their campaigns successfully funded (in some cases, more than one), and they have all encouraged me not to underestimate the final push that happens in the last 72 hours or so. Historically, this seems to be the window in which Backers really come to the rescue, and pledges even come from people who don’t know the creator personally, but who want to help.
I can only hope that this will be the case with my film.
An attitude for when the end looks dire
So what do I do now? Ha, I wish I knew the magical correct answer to that. Basically, I will keep moving forward, and keep preaching to myself everything I’ve said up to this point. I’ll continue to push the project, to reach out to people, to present the facts as often as possible without being annoying. I’ll keep believing in what I set out to do, and I’ll try to rest in the fact that I have given this my all, I have done everything I could do within my own power, and trust that if it is meant to come through, the right people will find it.
And frankly, if the campaign fails, yes it will be drag, a disappointment and a jab to my self-confidence, but I’m going to try to take it as a learning experience. And I’m still going to pursue to get my movie made, albeit with some substantial adjustments.
I think there’s this weird idea in the ethos that when a Kickstarter fails, the people who started it are somehow considered eternal failures in the eyes of the Internet, that they turn into these pathetic laughingstocks who ought to be viewed as idiots for ever thinking people would pay money for their silly idea.
On the contrary, a failed Kickstarter is not that big of a deal, it’s not the end of one’s career, nor is it what defines them or their value as a person. The Internet will forget, if it notices at all. It’s also important to remember that we live in a fickle time. People’s attention is being yanked from one thing to the next in rapid succession, all day long, and getting them to slow down and take the time to notice this thing you’re making is a great challenge, but not an impossible one.
When put in those terms, successfully funding a Kickstarter is quite the impressive feat. It’s a battle for people’s attention that begins when you hit “Launch” and ends when the clock runs out, so keep at it.
Now, if I can only survive this painful process to get to the real job: making the movie.
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