Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kickstarter is a Game Changer

For any new reader to my blog, I welcome you. For those of you returning, thank you for coming back. I have gotten an overwhelming response to my previous blog which I really wasn’t anticipating. Though certainly exhilarating. I do not believe what I am writing is revolutionary. It is just my take on things from the shoes that I am in, while sitting here typing on a computer in Sunland, CA.

We are all looking for answers to how we can sustain our film careers. This posting and my previous one represent some of my answers. (I didn’t cover Merchandise which is a major part of the equation, George Lucas was way ahead of his time. I also recommend what Filmmamker Zeke Zelker has written over at the New Breed.)

I am really excited about what I have for you today, so I am hoping you take the time to read it all the way through. This is really what I wanted to get to in my last blog but I couldn’t fit it all into one posting.

For those of you just tuning in, this is a follow up to my previous blog “Build The Audience and The Movie Will Come.” I ended that blog with this statement “...and it is something that I now believe becomes essential for every independent filmmaker before they make their next film.”

In that posting I also stated The Game Has Changed. We are all well aware of that.

Let’s go!

Kickstarter is here and it is a Big-Time Game Changer. (If you are not familiar with Kickstarter please visit Kickstarter.com) Your life and my life as an independent filmmaker is no longer the same. From here on out it is imperative that every independent film begin a Kickstarter campaign. I do not believe we have yet wrapped our minds around the power of this new tool.

(By the way, I do not have a Kickstarter invitation and I would like one, please help me.)

I will be admit that I have been skeptical of Kickstarter as I didn’t see it for the Tool that it really is. I also admit that I can be foolish. I am working on identifying tools that can help me earlier and earlier. I should have caught this earlier. If you are wondering why I am not including IndieGogo...? (I know there have been many others also...) Well, I believe KickStarter has perfected Crowdfunding (My brief explanation of why KS over IGG is located near the end of this post). Please allow me to elaborate as I have some valuable insights I would like to share.

Let me start with some of my story and then I will bring it back to Kickstarter.

I recently asked myself how can I sustain myself with my filmmaking. This is what everyone is asking themselves isn’t it? We are terrified by the current distribution model.

To bring you up to speed as to where I stand. My first feature film Night Before the Wedding is currently screening semi-theatrically in select cities in the US and we are working on finalizing the DVD before we release it in June. This project has thousands of dollars that we need to recoup. I have seen no money from the film and it will be some time before I do.

In addition to that, I am also juggling my second feature film (Goodbye Promise) which is designed to be another ultra-low budget film. Originally I was going to edit this second feature to save on money. This is no longer the best option as I do not have the time that is required.

Here is the bottom line for me right now. NBTW will eventually make it’s money back. It may take a year, it may take two but the investment will be recouped. With Goodbye Promise, I am in a position where I will have to take on an additional $15,000 to make the film. This is money I know I can make back but this additional debt is something I would love to avoid.

Let me add that it is a long, long journey recouping investment money in the independent film world. It doesn’t matter whether that money comes from investors or from credit cards or wherever else. It is money that needs to be repaid. That means that it will most likely be years before any money comes back into my pockets. I cannot sustain myself this way. (I can easily go off on a tangent here about distributors, middle men, self-distribution, etc. but it will take me too far off the path of what I where I would like to go with this blog.)

The answer for me right now might be an answer for you. Instead of turning to investors who believe in my vision at a price, or creditors who only care about my credit rating and their interest payments...

The Answer is that if the money came right from my audience, if it came from my fanbase in the form of a pledge/donation in advance...because they care about me, or the actors in my film, or the subject matter...this is my answer. This is Kickstarter.

I am not saying this is revolutionary. What is revolutionary is that there are now enough tools in place which make Kickstarter a viable and powerful tool. The way that Facebook and Twitter have connected us in real time...along with many other tools we have access to, we can really embrace the power of Kickstarter. These tools were not in place 2 years ago.

In my case, if I raised $15,000 through Kickstarter, it would literally be a miracle for me. This not only would allow me complete my film, but once it is completed it is paid for by my audience, so any monies generated from that point forward become a revenue stream that will help me sustain my life as a filmmaker. I do not have to spend another My life would be forever be changed.

We tried to raise the production budget for NBTW through fundraisers and through Pre-Order DVD sales. We attempted to get our fans to support our film before we made it. We did have some success and we were able to raise funds this way, but no where near what was eventually required to make the film. We really could have used Kickstarter 2 years ago. Though I didn’t have the audience I now have and I didn’t have the tools I now have either.

I am not done yet. Please stay with me here as I am going to drive home why a Kickstarter campaign is imperative for all indie filmmakers.

Going back to my last blog and the idea, Build Your Audience and the Movie Will Come. I believe this idea will continue to emerge as a law for filmmakers who survive this new world.

It is easy for me to say “build your audience first.” But how do we measure our audience? What is the gauge? When we will know it’s time to make our film? 

Two Points about Kickstarter.

Number 1) Kickstarter is an Audience Barometer. It will let you know how hot your idea is with your audience. It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t hold any punches and it isn’t going to blow any smoke at you. It is black and white. You are either going to raise money for your film or you are not. It is going to give you a fair barometer of your current audience. You either have an audience or you do not. At the end of your campaign you will know the current pulse of where you stand with your fanbase.

You can ask Filmmaker Gregory Bayne how powerful this tool is. He reached his goal of $25,000 (actually raised $27,210) in just 20 days to continue his production of JENS PULVER / DRIVEN http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gregorybayne/jens-pulver-driven-a-documentary-film-about-a-le?pos=1&ref=popular Gregory’s story is just as inspiring as the content of his film. He used Twitter, Facebook, and Kickstarter in synergy and raised $27,000 in 20 days. This is astounding to me.

Whether or not we reach our fundraising goal through this site, it allows us to measure the current marketplace for our film. On one level we gauge our audience, on another level we gauge the interest in our film’s content. Do we have the right ingredients? Is it a winning combination? Are we selling our project in the right way. Are we putting enough energy and work into it? Does our idea reach beyond our immediate friends and family?

You see, even in failure of reaching our fundraising goal, we obtain incredibly valuable information. For instance, what if your goal was to raise $50,000 in 90 days and after 90 days you raised $500. What would this tell you about your current audience and the public’s interest in your film? You would learn that your reach isn’t as big as you think it is. What you believe is a $50,000 film is proving itself not to be. Your work is cut out for you. You are not ready to make this film, even though you may think you are.

On the flip side, where does Gregory Bayne stand now? He now knows that he is working on a film that an audience wants to see. He has a brand new support system and a new level of awareness towards his film that did not exist before his Kickstarter campaign. It helped him build an early audience.

Number 2) Kickstarter is an Audience Builder. Whether you reach your fundraising goal or not. You have created awareness in your film. Those of you who have supported a Kickstarter campaign might be able to relate to the magical underdog force that goes with it. Just as rooting for an underdog becomes emotional...for a Kickstarter project you believe in, you find yourself following along and doing all you can to help it succeed. Imagine if it was your project creating this energy and synergy amongst those who believe in you, your talents and subject matter. In the end you will have built a positive, supportive community base for your film. Folks who want to be involved. These same folks are likely to become advocates for you and your team as you move forward.

There is a lot more I can write. I did not cover it all, though I feel like I have rambled enough. I do not want to discourage anyone who may not have a successful Kickstarter campaign. If you come up short on your goal. At least you will have an idea of where you stand. Learn from the process and use the information to evaluate what level of film you should make. (Do not dive into a $500,000 film if you cannot raise $1000 through your current audience) I also realize that you can build your audience as you make your film and that a leap of faith will be required. Overall, I believe Kickstarter is a tool that allows us to be smarter about these decisions.

Lastly, in case you are wondering, Kickstarter is not paying me. I have had no contact with them. And the reason I prefer Kickstarter over IndieGogo is because you cannot beat the power of a deadline. There are not too many motivators more powerful than a deadline. Hopefully someone will send me a Kickstarter invitation. As soon as I can, I am going to set up a Kickstarter campaign for Goodbye Promise. From there I will find out what kind of audience we have. I have no idea whether or not we can raise $15,000 but it is certainly a challenge I am up for.

Okay, one last thing. I know my current project is a tiny one. Do not laugh or make fun of me. I guarantee right here, right now that we will see a Filmmaker raise six figures for their next project through Kickstarter this year. I do not have that audience yet, but there are Filmmakers who do...


Philontilt said...

Game changer, indeed! We saw Gregory Bayne complete his Kickstarter campaign just the other day! It was amazing, watching facebook and twitter blow up with comments. The deadline was the real key though. I work better with a deadline, it motivates me. The Kickstarter deadline motivated people to contribute now instead of saying "oh, I'll send them something later." We all know 99% of the time "later" means "never." The final day or so of Greg's kickstarter was very cool to see. Thanks for writing about this, David. And since this is David's blog hook him up first, but if there are two Kickstarter invitations out there, I'm looking as well. ; )

Film said...

I'm head of a distribution company and see that we need to try and reorient how we do business in a changing world. We're trying a new experiment that will put filmmakers films on Netflix with the proviso they need to drive fans to pre-queue the movie in order to get a decent buy from Netflix. More info at

Mark said...

You don't need an invite. I just emailed them and told them about my project and they hooked me up.

Our Transmedia Campaign

We're starting one for our transmedia effort. I think the interesting thing is how it's captured peoples' imaginations. For years, you've been able to partner with a fiscal sponsorship and then offer tax deductions for donations. Kickstarter is not able to offer that, but it seems to be getting some steam. Besides Greg Baynes, I know another pair of artists who had their book funded this way.

The hardest thing we struggled with was what to offer as rewards. We ended up trying to do things that would include people in the process, as it seemed that people really enjoyed getting in on the process.

So, we'll see...

Miles Maker said...
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Miles Maker said...
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Miles Maker said...

What's essential here is audience; filmmaker credibility, audience loyalty and the influencers and their six-degree connection to other influencers. Any call to action is only as effective as the audience it engages and their sense of urgency in response.

I say this to say that although Kickstarter is a beautifully crafted platform with lots of incidental traffic, I suspect the majority of those who fund projects are trafficked to the destination by a heartfelt and compelling campaign--so whether or not it's Kickstarter, Paypal or a 1-800 line it all boils down to the same thing: audience. It's not what Kickstarter can do for US; it's the audience we bring to Kickstarter. Case in point: the second comment posted by "Film" defines the filmmaker's responsibility to drive fans to a pre-queue. However if credibility is an issue donors may feel comfortable and confident to contribute to a facilitating entity as opposed pledging monies directly to the filmmaker (back to credibility).

What do I think of Kickstarter's platform? Lovely! Are most filmmakers ready for Kickstarter? Hell no! Too many filmmakers lack the fanbase to capitalize on the opportunity. Ted Hope recommends amassing a following of 5,000 before making a film. Sounds about right to me--as long as they're the RIGHT 5,000...

(Miles Maker is a story author, content producer and Auteur whose dynamic media ventures encompass three current web/tech sector megatrends: mobile, social, and real-time @milesmaker on Twitter)

Gregory said...

Good stuff, David.

Just to be clear about my campaign, to a certain demographic, the subject of my film is a certified legend, which is what initially opened the door to the amazing support the project has garnered.

That said, if that audience hadn't responded to the trailer I produced, I don't think I would have been able to sustain any kind of momentum, or have raised the funds. I guess my point is, when coming out of nowhere, it does help to have either a subject, or a subject matter that an audience can key into. In my case, I lucked out with both.

The other thing to understand is a campaign like this is hard, hard work. I tend to agree with Miles, it's not so much where you wage it, but how. Although, Kickstarter.com provides an amazing venue, and great tools with which to dive in.

Kickstarter posted a blog about my campaign today that includes a Q&A explaining most everything I did to keep it going, and finally hit the mark. You can check it out here:


Lastly, I would just say, the most important part of all this is not the completion of the funding goal, but delivering on the promise made to your backers. I take this very seriously. I have 410 people that took a chance on me, and supported my film. I owe them a good one if I plan to sustain any future work in this manner.

Sheri C said...

This is a great post David.

I know of a few people who have used Kickstarter for projects, mostly for less than $5K, and reached their goals. I know of one who needed much more than that and did not reach it too.

You all are right, it only works as long as you have a reach and a hook that audiences can appreciate. If you don't (and I don't know that 5,ooo people is the magic number), then the project shouldn't be made until you do. You just have to work harder on spreading your reach within that community, find out why the hook doesn't resonate and try again when you find those things.

It is good practice because raising the money is only the first hurdle in a very long road to distributing a film.

JBMovies said...

I agree. I know many filmmakers who just haven't had the results to crowdsourcing. To things are needed, atleast on of them or both: reach or popularity and the other is as is the hook. I see everyone's comment seems to resonate what I was already thinking.

To go back to my comment on the last post on film courage you need to find a way to draw in an audience to like the concept first. My airplane sequence will work. The next short film project I've been discussing could also work to draw it in. Why? The hook and also people want to know you can actually do what you claim you're going to make if they donate.

There's way of doing this. Find others who are trying to get exposure too. There are a lot of people in the film biz who are looking for work and trying to get their name out there. Tell them what you're going to do, connect, and make a small piece of the project or something related to it. Then show that. Build tons of interst, then the options are in your hand. You can then decide whether to pursue investors or crowdsource.

The problem is that without real serious audience interest in what you're doing you ultimately fail.

Kickstarter is a tool. Twitter is a tool. Facebook is a tool. The Red One is a tool. I could go on and on. I was so tired of people telling me that social media was going to change the indie film biz. Really? No, it's not. The reason indies have done well and will continue to grow and thrive is because they have passion and think like guerilla fighters. They don't allow themselves to be boxed in and have to do it like the big guys. Now the improvise, adapte, change.

But kickstarter isn't a game changer... we are.

(but I love the blog post David!!! Thanks, you continue to bring us all new info and intersting stories of determination in the film biz.)

Cfallsprod said...

This is a good concept but there is a too-good-to-be-true aspect and it will be interesting to see how it evolves. Problem is that while Kickstarter is a great concept now, soon the volume of need for funding vs the finite pool of money will result in a small fraction of projects getting funded. This is good to the degree that David points out that this is a weeding out process but the fact is that ultimately the demand will far exceed the supply.
For now, it's a great opportunity for those who can get a project off the ground but I hope this model will evolve into one that is sustainable once the newness wears off and the first-dollars have been committed.
Perhaps tiers of financing will develop, something like micro-financing for small businesses. Would be a good way to raise perhaps a few thousand for something like hiring a composer or editor rather than counting on Kickstarter to fund an entire project for $50K.
Either way this is a very good thing, definitely a step forward.

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Director said...

I know I'm a little late to this conversation, but I just wanted to add that I too think it's a game changer. With this fundraising platform, and the cost of HDSLRs bringing interchangeable lenses and that sought after "film look" to the ultra low-budget and no-budget worlds, the cost of entry into serious independent filmmaking is dropping substantially.

But don't forget -- none of that matters if you don't have an engaging, original story to tell.

My own project was just approved for a Kickstarter campaign today and I can't wait to see how it pans out.

Great post!