The Film Business

Raise $10,000 in 48 hours for your film

I received an email recently from Zak Forsman, tweep of mine, announcing his crowdfunding campaign for a film he is working on called Down and Dangerous. It’s based on his dad’s exploits as a drug smuggler. Crowdfunding is an increasingly popular way to raise funds for projects, with platforms like Kickstarter having funded over 10,0000 projects. Of those 10,000 the 2nd most successful type of campaign is for film and video, being narrowly beaten by music. I have been watching Zak’s campaign and was astounded by how much money was being pledged in a really short period of time. So I figured I’d ask him. Below is the outcome of that conversation.

FP: What made you decide to embark on a crowdfunding campaign for this film?

ZF: I had no choice, really.  We wanted a movie we could do this fall — something fun for our friends and fans.  I did not have the money to put up on my own so I looked to crowdfunding as a means to determine if there was a desire out there to see this from us, and to expand the awareness level around the project and to raise the budget by effectively pre-selling it in the form of HD downloads and DVDs to the audience.  That last one, I think, is not exactly how it’s playing out though.  I don’t think people are generally getting on board because of the tagline or synopsis or that they’ve been dying to see a crime thriller about a smuggler.  They are getting on board because they want to see me, the cast and everyone at The Sabi Company do something we are excited and enthusiastic about.

FP: Did you consider any other platforms besides Kickstarter? If so which ones and what made you decide on Kickstarter?

ZF: I have a target number that is the bare minimum that I know we can responsibly make ‘Down and Dangerous’ for.  Anything less, and you start to lose essential pieces that hold the whole thing together.  Privately, I’ve had a good number of people tell me they are frustrated by the notion of a filmmaker raising half or less of their goal and taking that money and leaving the project in limbo, or trying to make it with less than they said they needed. I feel like Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing method puts aside the fears of anyone who has been burned in the past.  Frankly, I count myself among them.  If a campaign is not all-or-nothing, I have to be extremely invested in the artist for me to contribute.

FP: What’s your strategy/approach for this campaign and how did you prepare for it?

ZF: For weeks I struggled with the question of “what am I giving back to anyone that pledges?” Finally, I asked some people who regularly participate and pledge to a lot of campaigns. And it was revealing to learn that they weren’t necessarily backing the project, rather, they were backing the person or persons behind it.  That was eye-opening and I quickly realized that the campaigns I’ve donated to fell into the same arena.  So, it’s not really much of a “strategy”, but I decided I couldn’t offer a perk more compelling than expressing my enthusiasm and personal connection to the movie’s subject matter. And further, to acknowledge that I am a filmmaker on a path — learning with each project to be a better storyteller, a better director, a better cinematographer.

FP: Is it very time consuming? How many hours per week do you dedicate to this campaign?

ZF: Since the day we launched I have spent nearly every waking hour in front of the computer, either thanking each donator personally, writing to people asking them to spread the word, cutting update videos, sending out updates and of course, fostering the conversation on facebook, twitter and google plus.  It is truly a full time gig.

FP: You have 23 days to go and you are already 63% funded. To what do you attribute your success…social sharing, emails, other?

ZF: I’d say that primarily (and there ARE exceptions) the bulk of contributions are coming by way of places where there is a dialogue about the movie, a conversation.  That kind of thing is only happening in the comments on facebook, twitter and within the filmmaking community at dvxuser.com.  By contrast, anywhere that I am essentially talking AT the person, like via email blasts, little to no action has come of it.

There have been a few surprises along the way and I’ve learned a few lessons from them. First, was the appeal of John T. Woods, the lead actor in the movie.  If you know him, you know he is one of the most likable, sincere and amiable people on the planet.  And that has translated to a groundswell of support from his friends, family and fans.  People know he has the chops, but beyond that, he’s someone you want to see succeed.  The backers that kicked in contributions to support him have been significant to say the least.  Now looking back, I’ve had ideas about attaching a certain actress I’ve worked with in the past who has 90,000 twitter followers, thinking it would help to raise the project’s profile.  But somehow, I think John’s ability to connect with people in the real world speaks volumes about the value of authenticity and face-to-face, tangible interactions with people.  It’s something you’d easily overlook if you only gave consideration to how many people follow him on twitter. That number is 252, by the way.

Beyond that, I learned that quite a few people are watching that I didn’t realize were watching. We’ve had one $5,000 pledge that was not planned before the campaign — actually we didn’t line up any pledges beforehand. And when I woke up that second morning and saw it, I nearly fell out of my chair. This person who I’ve never met in person read about the campaign on DVXuser.com and told me he wasn’t backing the project, we was backing me.  Before launching, I had questioned the value of offering Associate Producer and Executive Producer credits and have been pleasantly surprised that quite a few backers have stated how attractive that was for them as a way to say “I’m not just putting money in, I want my name on it!”  And I think that’s wonderful.

Finally, a smaller lesson was not to be too afraid of talking about the campaign with people for fear of exhausting them.  I’m mindful of it, because I’ve definitely experienced crowdfunding exhaustion from the other side and quite honestly expected my followers on twitter to fall off a bit.  Surprisingly, they have grown by more than 100 in the last two weeks and I have personally connected with a host of new e-friends, that I hope one day to meet in person.  I have to attribute that to the humbling support we’ve had from our advocates in the online indie community.  I’ve never been retweeted so often!

FP: How did you choose the length of time for a campaign? Is there recommended number of days a campaign last for?

ZF: I read an article where Kickstarter’s founder, Yancey Strickler, said 30 days was the sweet spot and that longer campaigns were actually less likely to be successful. Like my dad, I prefer to go into something knowing the score, reducing risk, and that was the plan I followed — to run it for the month of August, making September 1st the last full day of the campaign. However, I still found the prospect of raising $30,000 in 30 days to be daunting and when I found I was ready to jump in about a week earlier than anticipated, I leapt.  When all is said and done, this will be a 36 day campaign. Sometimes, I wonder if that was a mistake because I fear that lull in the middle everyone experiences. I naturally worry we won’t survive it even though, statistically speaking, we have passed the milestones that give us a 9 in 10 shot at meeting our goal. So far, we’ve tapered down a bit but are keeping a pretty good pace with at least a couple hundred dollars being pledged each day, at a minimum. It’s true that every dollar counts.  The additional week may just prolong that inevitable lull however, working against the incredible momentum we’ve had in our first 14 days.

FP: Is there any advice you would give other filmmakers before starting a crowd funding campaign?

ZF: Well, maybe we should wait until we know if I was successful or not at funding this movie before offering advice.  So take this with a grain of salt. I think I can speak to what went into raising $10,000 in the first 48 hours.  And that, as counterintuitive as it might seem at first, is attributed to the fact that I don’t “network.”  I’m not a salesman and I’m generally not out there shoving DVDs of my movies in people’s hands and handing out business cards to everyone and their mother and sizing up what each person I’ve met can do for me.  I don’t do that, or I should say that I learned years ago that it doesn’t suit me.  I’m not inclined to live my life that way.  I’m much happier and genuinely interested in making friends everywhere I go.  I’d rather have a new buddy than a new business partnership.  And while I can’t apply any kind of real metrics to that, I think it is at the heart of why you see such strong support for filmmakers like Gary King, Gregory Bayne and others who come across as authentic people using crowdfunding as a way to connect with the community, and not just as an opportunity to raise some dough.

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1 Comment
   Bcbg said on February 10, 2012 at 1:55 am

We wanted a movieBcbg we could do this fall — something fun for our friends

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