Three Ways to Get a Crowd Into Crowdfunding Your Indie Film

If you’re familiar with my work in crowdfunding for independent film, if you’ve read my very popular blog post “Three Ps for a Successful Indie Film Campaign,” which paved the Path to my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign, then you know I’m all about the pitch, the perks, and the promotion to get filmmakers to a successful crowdfunding experience.

Well, at least I used to be.

When I did my TEDx talk “Crowdfunding Today, Tomorrow, Together,” I did away with these three Ps because I realized that I had to preach the fourth “P” of personalization as a way to make the pitch, perks, and promotion seem less businessy and more, well, human. On that day, I unveiled what I’m now calling my “Three INs,” as in the three ways to bring in your audience to the world of your indie film and get them to want to give you their attention, their time, and ultimately their money to take part in helping make it happen.

The “Three INs” are the Invitation, the Incentives, and the Interactions, and where my TEDx introduced them, this piece will expand on them.

The Invitation: Because a First Impression Means Everything

Your campaign, or Invitation, video is the single most important part of your campaign because it’s the one and only chance you have to tell us about yourself and your indie film project. And yes, there is a formula (that works very well with creativity and improvisation), and it goes like this:

  1. Introduction: a short intro into who you are as a filmmaker
  2. Invitation: a brief description of the film (logline), why you’re coming to the crowd (purpose), and what you’re offering as a thank-you (incentives)
  3. Showcase: a short display that you are, in fact, a filmmaker
  4. Call to Action: tell us what you’d like us to do next to help your campaign

Like any good recipe, you can tweak this formula up and make it humorous (like the video for The Etiquette of Sexting) or make the entire invitation video your showcase, the way Kenney Gee did for his short film The Body.

But make no mistake, filmmakers: You can get as inventive with your campaign video as you like, but you must be in your invitation video. People give to other people more than to their projects, and they like to know not where our hard-earned money is going to, but to whom it’s going.

The Incentives: Because Crowdfunding Isn’t About “Asking for Money”

Anyone who thinks crowdfunding is about “asking for money” should honestly not be crowdfunding. At least not yet. Those folks are simply not ready. Crowdfunding is about inviting people to become an integral part of the independent filmmaking process and incentivizing them to contribute. Therefore, Incentives, or perks or rewards, are the most basic part of crowdfunding — I give you money, you give me something in return. It’s that simple. Coming up with the right balance of incentives, though, that’s anything but simple.
The way I see it, there are three types of incentives you can offer potential contributors to your indie film’s crowdfunding campaign, and they are:

  1. standard definition (sd): what I call “The Mandatories” — a digital download, DVD/Blu-ray copies of the film, social media shout outs; T-shirts, mugs, and other merch are also included in this category
  2. Hi-Def (HD): the experiential incentives, such as thank-you and producer credits, dinner with the filmmakers, Skype sessions with actors, set visits, invitations to the film’s premiere, and early access that make contributors feel they’re getting exclusive access that’s not offered at the sd level
  3. Three-Dimensional (3-D!): incentives that are personalized to your contributors and relevant to your indie film, which include things like social media thank-you videos, signed merchandise or props, disposable cameras filled with random set photos, and any other incentives that bring the contributors deeper into the world of the film you’re making and the campaign you’re running

While there’s nothing wrong with offering sd and HD incentives only, it’s much more meaningful for contributors to receive rewards that have that personal touch, whether it be between contributor and film, contributor and filmmaker, or contributor, filmmaker, and film.

A timeless example of a 3-D! incentive is the acrostic poem perk from my Indiegogo for Cerise. Originally, I offered a social media shout out at the $10 perk level, I offered a shout out on Facebook and Twitter. My fiancée Marinell suggested I write each funder a poem. I’m a poet, Cerise is a film about words, and I wrote those funders a poem using the most important word they’ll ever know: their names, which forged an instant connection to myself, my short film, and the whole universe of Cerise. Years later, I still see some contributors, now friends, using the poems I wrote for them as their profile pictures all across the social mediascape.

This brings up one other very important point about the incentives you offer, 3-D! or otherwise: price these incentives appropriately.
We all know that a digital download isn’t worth much more than $15 (the iTunes/Amazon standard), so we can’t expect people to pay much more than that during a crowdfunding campaign, unless we get to download the film before anyone else — then we might pay $25. Unless you have a YouTube-sized subscriber-base, a T-shirt offered at $75 will turn most folks off if the T-shirt is all they get; if you add value to that level by including some or all of your previous perks at that T-shirt level, then you’ll have more folks contributing at the $75 level.

In my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, I have two “crowd studies” in the back of it that showcase some truly amazing incentives for Cerise and my friend Brendon Fogle’s campaign for his short film Sync, so check those out.

The Interactions: Because Crowdfunding is Another Word for Communication

Actually, it’s one word that takes the place of two — community building — which I’ve written about time and time again.

I know I’ve said this at every event at every film festival I’ve ever spoken at, I’ve written it in my blogs and book, and I write it a few times a week in emails to the campaigners I work with at Indiegogo: crowdfunding is a full-time job. Those who say otherwise probably did not have as successful a campaign as they could have had they given it their all.

A successful crowdfunding campaign demands around-the-clock interaction with potential contributors. In today’s technocracy, that means Tweeting consistently, updating your Facebook status relentlessly, emailing folks up the wazoo, striking up telephone conversations at 2AM, going on a sleep strike and an occasional hunger strike, if need be, and doing whatever else it takes to keep you, your film, and your campaign on the minds of your friends, family, and fan base.

It also helps to actually have that fan base first. Which is why we’re not talking about promotion anymore, because for every one Tweet you post about your campaign, you should be posting at least three Tweets about other things of interest, else you’ll soon discover how quickly you can lose friends, family, and fan base while running an ill-wrought crowdfunding campaign.

And even when you Tweet about your campaign, you should be having some fun with it, keeping your audience engaged with update videos and other kinds of content. Timo Vuorenola certainly had blast with his promotional videos for Iron Sky: The Coming Race, right down to the titles, like “Dance, Vladimir Putin!” and “Jesus Attack!”

Then there’s my friend Steve Anderson and his ingenious (and fun) interactions during his original Kickstarter for his neo-noir thrill-ride This Last Lonely Place. In between his more standard promotional Tweets, Steve would infuse famous movie lines with a “Kickstarter” twist, as in “Here’s looking at you, Kickstarter!”

In fact, it was these “Famous Kickstarter Quotes” that helped Steve attract the attention of one very influential supporter — The Humphrey Bogart Estate — which not only contributed a substantial amount of funding and support to the campaign, but also matched every contribution up to its $75,000 goal, and then went on to release the film to the world through Indiegogo.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship, for sure.

There you have it, folks — a new vocabulary for crowdfunding your next independent film, because what’s most important is not how to get your campaign out there, but rather how to get it in here (and I’m pointing to my heart as I type this with one hand).

And don’t worry — if you’ve bought my book, or if you’ve stumbled on my “Three Ps for a Successful Indie Film Campaign,” which both talk in terms of pitches, perks, and promotion, you can still use those, too. (Crowdfunding for Filmmakers is actually the only evergreen book on crowdfunding for independent film, though there is a second edition in the works.) They are still relevant to what it takes to run a successful campaign, so long as you remember that fourth “P” of personalization, which is what my “Three INs” have natively imbued within them.

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