Back in September 2010, I was selected to participate in Cinereach’s Reach Film Fellowship, a program for emerging filmmakers making short films. I wanted to explore technology and its impact on our intimate relationships, so I developed xoxosms, a documentary about two awkward, introverted teenagers from two different worlds. The subjects of the film, Gus and Jiyun, found each other and fell in love on the Internet (see prior Cinereach guest post for how I navigated my delicate access to their love life). The film is about to premiere at the New Orleans Film Festival this coming weekend, but as I reflect back on the early days of the project, I think one of the most valuable things I can share is what I learned from my experience crowd-funding to raise a significant portion of my film’s budget.
The Reach Film Fellowship provided mentorship and a grant towards making the film, but we needed more money for post-production because we shot in multiple formats and needed motion graphics sequences to illustrate Skype and chat scenes. I chose to do a crowd-funding campaign to bridge the financial gap for a few reasons. First, I wanted to try online fundraising, which requires a new kind of trailer and telling the story of my film outside the immediate film and film-granting community. I felt that the topic of love and the Internet would catch peoples’ attention and help generate energy, excitement, and perhaps a community around the film.
Before production, we started a Tumblr blog called, “Without the Internet, we never would have met…” which drew inspiration from stories of long distance relationships (“ldr”) and Internet love that we found in online communities. The blog was not intended as a marketing site for the film, but as a place to highlight and explore relationships like Gus and Jiyun’s. We hoped people with a natural interest in the topic would find us.
I made a list of friends, family, and colleagues to see if I felt comfortable asking them for money—I did. I assessed the community around The Line Campaign (the multi-platform outreach component of my first film, The Line) to see if I could possibly migrate the community to support this new film. The Line Campaign includes an active blog and a crew of bloggers, 2600 twitter followers, a Tumblr blog, 2 Facebook pages with about 3,000 fans, and a newsletter with 3,000 subscribers. I had interns who could help spread the word about xoxosms, and a community of friends and colleagues in the sex-positive, youth media, new tech and feminist blogosphere that I hoped would be interested in the film. So, with a decent size network, plus a healthy dose of shamelessness, I was hoping to get the money needed to finish the film.
I chose Kickstarter as my crowd-funding platform because I knew it would be a good tool to rally potential supporters that were already in my network, but I was also drawn to the sense of community on the Kickstarter website. I spoke to Justin, who handles PR at Kickstarter about the “stumble upon” factor of their website and learned that over 100,000 new backers to Kickstarter campaigns return to support other projects. Additionally, 44% of all projects launched through Kickstarter reach full funding. There is also a weekly newsletter and snappy blog that highlights projects, and helps them stand out.
There have been some stunning success stories for documentaries and independent films on Kickstarter. For smaller projects like mine, these heights can seem insurmountable—the bar is so high. Don’t be intimidated! There is room for you, and you don’t need a full-time team or thousands of followers to get it done.
Below I’ll present some tips based on how I navigated my Kickstarter campaign as a case-study. If it captures your imagination, I invite you to comment and ask questions about how I did it, or share tips from your own experience.
1. Study Kickstarter!
How did the successful projects conduct their campaigns? What is the language and tone of the site? How do people structure their rewards? What kind of video do they use?
While I was studying the site, I looked at a diverse bunch of projects – books, theater, art, film, and tried to gauge what attracted me to them. I was trying to find the right balance between intimate, aesthetically pleasing, descriptive and urgent. The breezy and familiar tone of Coming and Crying, the “Awkward Erotica” anthology, impressed me. The writing spoke to the reader like a friend, or a diary, and you felt invited to participate in the making of the anthology. The community of writers and supporters were sure to follow, too. Disclosure: I know the gals who created Coming & Crying, but with their 785% funding rate, you didn’t have to know them to feel like you wanted to, or already did.
2. Get Ready for Your Close-up: why you have to be in your Kickstarter video
Because your passion for the project is a critical selling point, you need to put yourself in the video. Every successful Kickstarter campaign for a film (and pretty much any project) had a video featuring the person heading up the project talking about why they were passionate about making the film. The word passion comes up a lot on the site, including here in the FAQ. It was clear to me that successful Kickstarters knew a good video was an opportunity to engage with site visitors directly about why they were making the film, show some beautiful and compelling footage, and explain why they needed the Kickstarter audience to help them complete their visions.
I scoured the site for documentary videos, and decided to merge the Angela Tucker and Jacob Krupnick approaches. In her (A)sexual pitch, Angela Tucker intros the piece and then lets the footage from the film speak for itself too. In Girl Walk // All Day, Jacob gives a brief intro, and then narrates throughout (over footage from the film, explaining what the film will do, who the character will meet along the way, and what the audience will see). Both filmmakers come off as direct and honest, with compelling film subjects. My take-away: be real, speak the truth, and keep it short.
3. Start The Presses: how/why you can get some
For xoxosms, a 21st century love story about teens, the Internet, and relationships, I targeted my existing list of sex bloggers, tech lovers and teen-culture folks, hoping they’d take interest in the story, and direct traffic to our Kickstarter page once we launched. For an extra hook for the media, I launched the project on Valentine’s Day. I sent a general press release about the film with a link to the video on our launch day to a large list of journalists who write about tech issues and young people. I also sent personal letters to folks that I know, either because they wrote about The Line in the past, or through other professional channels.
Within a week of our launch, we were profiled on IndieWire, Social Times, Break-up Girl, Kickstarter Blog, and About.com. We were also project of the day on Kickstarter (but see #8 on how we may not have maximized that opportunity). The press attention lent credibility to the project and attracted some donors that were not already part of my circle of contacts.
4. Three Touches: timing, and roll out
30 days is the average time it takes to get a Kickstarter project funded. It’s also a long-enough-but-not-too-long period that gives you enough time to email blast and pester friends, family and lists about three times (do you know that creepy marketing term “3 touches”?) without overwhelming them. I recommend personal emails first, then group emails.
30 days is also short enough to provide your potential supporters with a sense of urgency about making their donation. A 90-day campaign would just be torturous. You’d have to pester people for a longer amount of time, and wait with your stomach in knots for that much longer.
The 3 touches is very important. Be prepared to ask everyone you know and love AT LEAST THREE TIMES THROUGHOUT THE MONTH. We are busy, flakey, cheap, procrastinators. Most of us need to be kicked and nudged. In the FAQ of the Kickstarter site, it talks about average time and duration of campaigns. Notice, in the chart below, how large numbers of backers kicked in towards the end:
Here’s what I did during my 30 days to make the most of the time:
I begged my close friends/family first so when I launched the counter wouldn’t be at zero.
Facebook blasts – driving friends to my Kickstarter from my personal page and xoxosms page
Twitter blasts – direct messaged everyone, asked explicitly for RTs.
Rolled out the ask on our Tumblr blog
Emailed friends w/blogs or podcasts an abridged version of the press release with the critical details, video and link.
I recruited a friend who had offered to donate a generous sum to the project to set up a funding challenge to inspire others to give. I gave her a key list of friends, close ones, and she emailed them offering to match their contributions. She nudged and pinged and kept them engaged in funding, and got them to ask their friends.
I blasted The Line Campaign newsletter, a group mostly focused on healthy relationships and preventing violence, about my newest project and how the film relates to their work. I was concerned that the topics were too far apart, but we received a great response from the list.
I begged my crew to reach out to their networks as we approached the home stretch. I got an awesome intern to re-email everyone on Facebook and round out the final asks. Late in the game the Documentary Doctor (Fernanda Rossi) offered a consulting session as a gift for a $150 donation and another friend donated a photograph for $250. Both got snatched up immediately, fetching high prices.
During all of these new pushes, I continued to reach out to friends, family and networks. I sent personal emails three times, Facebook emails three times, and twitter blasts three times, at the beginning, middle and end of the Kickstarter campaign. I made sure to use multiple platforms because everyone uses these platforms differently. Putting it everywhere (three times!) makes it hard to ignore. I promise, the self-loathing does subside! Remember to give yourself time to make the asks and do the pushing, and don’t get mad at people that don’t give. They are just overworked and/or broke, like you are.
5. Backer Updates: how to say thanks, ask for more, and keep backers engaged
People who back a project get backer updates from the filmmaker through Kickstarter. These are little messages about the project they supported, its status, screenings, and events. I kept mine short and snappy. I included comments from new backers, about how the story reminded them of their lives, and also frame grabs from the video footage of the film as we were editing. I tried to give a blow-by-blow of where we were in the editing process, and how the money coming in was actively helping. My goal in crafting these updates was to keep an authentic connection with them alive. I wanted them to continue to feel invested and proud of the thing they were helping to make as it built momentum. I wanted to make it fun and rewarding.
6. Attitude and Mental Health: how to be pushy and zen
Be prepared to go under for those 30 days while your Kickstarter campaign is active. You don’t roll out a Kickstarter campaign while your’re in the middle of tons of other stuff or really burned out. Kickstarter is not easy. I did not follow my own advice (I was editing my film while Kickstarting), and it was exhausting.
Warn friends and colleagues that you are about to be the most annoying person they know – but it will be worth it. Get excited and people will get excited. Be “that” person – the one always asking for posts, re-posts, tweets, re-tweets, and money. It will be over soon, and you can throw your backers a fun thank you party.
7. What Worked, What Didn’t and Metrics
What worked: Our trailer. Everyone loved it and got excited. Invest time and energy in pitching your project well.
What didn’t work: Image choice. My initial thumbnail photo for Kickstarter was way too dark to pop off a busy Internet page. When we were project of the day on Kickstarter, the image was too murky and had a sad vibe, I think we got lost:
I swapped out my initial shot for something bright that would leap of the digital page. Red was a better choice:
Overall Backer Metrics:
188 backers donated. We surpassed our goal of $8,000 and hit $8,538
132 of the backers were friends, family, and colleagues from The Line Campaign, twitter friends, and friends of my partner, Isaac Mathes.
56 were friendly strangers; 54 of them were backing several other projects.
We wrapped, locked and onlined xoxosms, in the months following our campaign. As I mentioned above, we’re excited for this weekend, when we’ll screen at the New Orleans Film Festival (opening for Angela Tucker’s feature doc (A)sexual). We can’t wait to share our Internet love story with a larger audience, and see what kind of conversation gets sparked. We plan to gather responses using Storify.
We are crafting our Internet outreach strategy with live events and festival screenings to make sure xoxosms reaches a broad audience. Check out our new website, and please to join the discussion: Can online love work IRL? Send us your thoughts about “digital intimacy,” online dating versus in the flesh, and whether technology connects us, isolates us, or both. Use the #xoxosms hashtag so we can find you on twitter. As I learn from my adventures, I’ll be sure to check back in with Cinereach and share more tips with you.
Nancy Schwartzman made xoxosms as a Reach Film Fellow at Cinereach, working with mentor Francisco Bello. Recently named one of the “10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2011” by Independent Magazine, Nancy makes work that explores the intersection of sexuality, new media, and navigates the complexities of modern relationships. In addition to xoxosms, she is the director and producer of the documentary film The Line (Media Education Foundation, 2009). Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Daily News, Gawker, Jezebel, Alternet, MTV and more. The Line Campaign, an interactive, multi-platform audience engagement campaign, has been highlighted by the Center for Social Media in Designing for Impact and by the Fledgling Fund in From Distribution to Audience Engagement. In addition to Cinereach, Nancy’s work has received funding from the Fledgling Fund and the Playboy Foundation. She is currently developing a feature documentary about young women in Kabul, Afghanistan, among other projects. Nancy lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn with her partner, Isaac Mathes.