You Are Unique, But You Are Not Special

or Why We Should Stop Asking for Ridiculously High Amount of Money from Potential Backers to Let Them See Our Film

In the last few weeks I’ve checked over twenty crowdfunding campaigns begging for money to make films/documentaries. Six had subjects that interested me, but I only gave to one. The one that did not ask me to give $50 to get a DVD (!) or a digital copy of the finished film.

If you’re never going to go further than this line, then take this away with you: setting $50 as an entry point to see your film in a crowdfunding campaign is neither ok nor a good idea.

I will explain why below.

A word of caution though. The marriage of Money and Art has always been a subject prompt to trigger intense reactions. In the last few years, rules have been blurred, the playground has expanded and hit a global scale, and everything got both exhilarating and very confusing.

All these elements make this topic a tricky one as a lot of what we say today might no longer be true tomorrow. But I suspect that one thing won’t change: the way we treat others will determine the quality of our success.

With that in mind, I have tried to organize my thoughts on the sensitive subject that is Asking for Money to Make Art, and why we should drop the bad habit of asking to much for our film instead of creating more value.

Yes, Artists Needs Money

Let me start with the obvious. We can all agree that no matter how great the stories we want to tell, how wild our ambition and how good our intentions, we need money to survive or even, dare I say it, live.

And then, if you are a filmmaker -or in any other artistic field that requires equipment and numerous collaborators, you probably also need a consequential amount of money to give life to your stories.

Up until a few years ago, we needed to convince private investors, banks, studios, our loved ones, and grants to get money.

Today, on top of those options, we can reach out to complete strangers, our potential audience, and launch a crowdfunding campaign to convince/seduce them into giving us money.

The amount of money we get from those strangers can either help us be totally independent, or come as a complement to finance our film. Whatever the deal, it’s a powerful way to gain freedom and connect with people who care about what we want to say.

It can also backfire if we take people’s money and ‘love’ for us for granted, and that’s often due to the misconception that crowdfunding is just a way to get money to tell our story.

Crowdfunding Is the Longest Shortcut Ever

Unlike many wants to think, running a crowdfunding campaign is not a quick and easy way to get money to support one’s vision. It’s a lot of work over a long period of time, much more work than what we’d have to do if we were working within the traditional financing system.

If somebody hands us half a million to make a film, we’re only accountable to that person. If hundreds or thousands of people give us money, whatever the sum they give, we are still accountable, only now to that many more people.

Yes, we are not accountable regarding the creative decisions that go into making our film, and no backers expect to give notes after a screening or have a say about the final cut.

But backers do have expectations when they chip in. On the first level, they hope to see our story exist in the world. On a second level they hope to feel like they are part of something.

Those don’t look like crazy expectations and yet, I see many filmmakers launching crowdfunding campaigns who don’t bother with any of it really.

My belief is that they don’t bother because they feel like them making a film is already plenty of work and enough of a contribution. It is plenty of work, no doubt.

Is wanting to make a film enough of a contribution to ask $50 to a stranger ? Only if you think you’re special.

The filmmakers that think that it’s ok to ask $50 or $100 to strangers in order to let them watch an unmade film that might be a piece of crap are lost on the Filmmaking Map.

Enter The Filmmaking Map

You see, Filmmaking is currently located in an odd middle land.

It’s torn between the romantics and the neo-storytellers.

Those who consider crowdfunding as a necessary step to get their foot into the ‘established system’, finding Studios to fund their films and receive the treatment they deserve (the romantics); and those who see crowdfunding as only one of the many tools available to find their audience and hook them for the Long Game (the neo-storytellers).

The Film Business is currently composed of both groups.

The only problem is that the romantics are trying to get into a very tiny club that isn’t looking to expand more than it must to survive.

That’s right, the Established System does not want you.

Whereas the Neo-System, comprised of the great people of the world, might want you. Or at least your story.

In case you wonder, here is what you need to do to get into either system:

Established System Vs. Neo-System

To make a film within the Established System you need to convince FINancers of two things:

1) That you’re ‘the Man for the Job’, which makes it that much harder for many storytellers who don’t look the part. (And I’m not limiting that notion to being a women.)

2) That you will make their investment worthwhile, either because they’ll make more money, or because they’ll be attached to a project that will make them look good.

If you can convince them of those two things, then you can go and focus on the creative obstacles that await you, being accountable to a powerful few.

This is how the Established System runs. This is what many filmmakers over 30 grew up as a model in mind.

This is no longer what we have to do though, as the last five years have deranged everything for the better.

To make a film within the Neo-System, you have to work very hard, and make people want to become FANancers.

Within the Neo-System, we can learn how to make films and tell stories for free online, whatever our gender, race, age or nationality.

We can ask strangers to give us money to help us tell our stories the way we want.

We can distribute our films and reach out straight to our audience.

In the Neo-System, you don’t need to convince people that you can do the job, they assume you can do it, you just need to convince them your story is worth seeing the light of day.

People don’t give money to our projects because they want to make more money (not yet at least). They don’t care if our film makes big bucks. Honestly, they don’t even care if it hits theater (that’s the romantics’ drama).

In the Neo-System, the first thing backers care about is seeing our film.

When we launch a crowdfunding campaign, our friends and family might feel obliged to help. But the people that initially don’t know us, they first care about the story we say we want to tell.

Every time someone gives a dollar to our crowdfunding campaign, it means that that person wants to see our film and is helping at the height of their means to make our dream happen. And this is huge and disruptive and powerful.

Within the Neo-System, our story matters more than we do. At least at first.

From Backers to FANancers

And that’s when crowdfunding becomes the longest shortcut ever. To make a crowdfunding campaign something more than a one time money transaction, and to turn those backers into FANancers because of us, and not just our stories, we have to create a shift in the conversation.

The good news is that it is possible to create this shift and make people care about our vision. The bad news is that it is a lot of work. Turns out that the leveling of the field comes with a price. Yes, we can all make films now, but we also need to work 10,000 times more than before to get people’s attention.

We can’t just be ‘filmmakers’. We need to be storytellers

This is a luxury that belongs to the Established System, and even they are started to realize something must be changed for the Long Game.

Looking at the number of crowdfunding campaigns with outrageous perks, it’s obvious that (too) many filmmakers use the Neo-System to ask for money, behaving as if they really belong to the Established System. They want to do this film to kickstart their career, looking up to the FINancers and taking the FANancers for granted.

You just need to take a look at Patreon to see that FANancers can become a very powerful army. See Tony Zhou in the video essay realm, and Amanda Palmer in the music/thing field.

But if you must do a crowdfunding campaign, take a minute to understand its potential first; it goes way beyond a money transaction.

A Crowdfunding Campaign Is a Powerful Entry Point for the Long Game

Most filmmakers who run a crowdfunding campaign will likely want to tell other stories afterwards. Which means, finding money, again; and finding people who care, again.

With that in mind it becomes clear that each campaign is our entry point to gain people’s support for the long game. Not just for that story they were initially interested about, but for every story we want to tell.

And what is the best way to make sure people won’t be here for the long game? Ask for an outrageous amount of money for them to get to see your film.

In the times we live in, finding people willing to put their life on pause to watch our long format story as opposed to the thousands and thousands of other stories available on any medium and format is not an easy task.

So when we do capture people’s attention, we better make sure it is going to be easy for them to want to back us. We need to make our film (or final story) affordable.

Because the Truth is, We Are all Unique, but We Are Not Special.

Sure, if we were all given the same script, and the same budget, we would all come up with a different film.

Because we are all unique; and that’s the beauty of being a human. But that doesn’t make us special, because also are seven billion storytellers fighting for attention and love.

And the same way no two filmmakers will make the exact same film, two people watching a film will react differently to it too.

Even if they agree on the overall feeling (I liked it…/I didn’t like it…), they probably took a different emotional journey to reach the same conclusion (…because XXX/…because XXY).

What that means is that to find ten people loving your film, you’ll need to show it to much more than ten people.

Of course, our worth as artists is not based on people liking our story or not. But the impact our story can have is based on how many people can have access to it.

The more people we touch, the more chances we have to find more people who will connect to it and ultimately to us.

Shawn Coyne believes that a publisher’s job is to get a writer’s book into the hands of 10,000 readers. Based on his experience, 10,000 is the number of readers that gives a book a fair shot to make it over time, thanks to word of mouth.

Word of mouth is a real phenomenon. If you have doubts about it, think about how many times you’ve decided to watch a film you knew nothing about because it was recommended to you by either a trusted friend or a critic, as opposed to out of cheer luck. That’s right; you need a good reason to try something new. A recommendation from a trusted person or filter is a good reason.

So, to find the people who will want to recommend your film, you need to make your film seen by as many people as possible.

For books it’s ten thousand. I wouldn’t be surprised if films needed at least that number. And ten thousand people is not a small number.

Your Campaign As a Tool to Start Finding Those 10,000 People

The beauty of a crowdfunding campaign is that people will pay in advance to help us make our story. Which means that if we do a good job at building a connection with them, keeping them involved during the process; and if they like our final story, you can bet they will recommend it to whomever they know and is willing to listen. Because our story is also part of their story now. This film they liked or loved that we created has been made possible thanks to them.

When we ask $50 for our backers to get a copy of the film, we make the number of people who can spread the world shrinks dramatically.

Why ask for 4 or 5 times what someone would pay at the theater to give them the “privilege” to see our film? By doing that, we are sending the wrong message. We are telling people that they don’t deserve to watch our film unless they can pay what is essentially five months on Netflix. We are telling people that we are special.

Sure we need a lot of money to make films, but we need to accept that hijacking the Established System comes with more work not less.

If you want people to give $50 to your campaign, create additional perks that are worth that extra money. Be what you claim you are, creative.

Let’s not insult people’s intelligence (and abuse their kindness) by offering them a shout out on Twitter for $15.

Let’s use crowdfunding campaigns to share our film with as many people as we possibly can, and increase our chances to have it seen, enjoyed, shared and talked about.

Stories can have a deep impact on individuals, and sometimes even have a direct impact on the world we live in, but none of that is possible if we don’t make our story affordable and accessible for others to see them.

So, when we set up our campaign to get funds and tell our unique story, let’s not forget that we’re competing with hundreds of other storytellers in our field only, who are also trying to tell their unique story.

We are not special.
And that’s ok, because we are unique and that’s plenty.

Let’s consider instead making it easy for people to have access to our film, by putting them as affordable perks.

Let’s inspire those people to become our FANancers.

Let’s try to touch them with what touched us, so that they can share it after with others, so that they can come back the next time around when we will need their help, and so they that will have money left to help others who are also trying to make a difference in their own unique way.

This article is a prolongation of an article I wrote about how successful crowdfunding campaigns can backfire on storytellers.

Like everything else I usually publish on, my goal is to share what I have learned with the hope that it will be the start of a healthy conversation.

I expect my thoughts to keep evolving as the industry and the world do too. This is an ongoing conversation that I share with over 10,000 people on my weekly newsletter and that you can join here.

Thank you so much for reading until the end, 12 minutes is not a small amount of time to give me! If you found this post interesting, it would mean a lot to me if you scrolled down and clicked the recommend button below.

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