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Kickstarter: You’re Doing it Wrong

Script consultant Julie Gray is the author of Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter's Atlas. A veteran story analyst for some of the biggest production companies in Hollywood, Julie will be appearing at the London Screenwriter's Festival on October 25th. Contact Julie here.

How many Kickstarter campaign requests do you receive in a given month? You might be very involved in a filmmaking or screenwriting community and receive several. You might be working on your own right now. I receive about four to six requests a week.


You and I are not so different. You have a day job, I do too. My day job happens to be working with prose and screenwriters. Your day job might be in the entertainment industry, it might not. It doesn’t really matter. Like you, I have a busy life. Like all of us, my time is my most precious commodity. There never seems to be enough.

To write a script and/or direct a teaser for your short or feature film and then to create a Kickstarter Campaign for the project takes amazing dedication and tons of precious time. You have nothing but my respect.

But I am not excited about your Kickstarter project.

Because you’re doing it wrong.

When I began consulting with screenwriters in Hollywood over a decade ago, screenwriters were driven by the brief phenomena of bidding wars and Shane Black paychecks. Everybody wanted to break in to Hollywood. A very few did. Most did not.

Those who did not (and do not) “make it” in Hollywood often fall under the category of writers who are not a fit for a Hollywood in which creative decisions are made by corporations betting on overseas DVD sales and merchandising. Nobody wants to take a chance on unproven writers with funny ideas about originality.

Enter Kickstarter, one of several popular crowd funding platforms to help filmmakers raise the money for their own projects. Crowdfunding is a brilliant way to support independent filmmakers.

Supporting independent creatives is just plain good karma because the whole world benefits. This is an extraordinarily exciting time for art, film and literature. More of us can express with more freedom and less barriers than ever before.

Here are two very simple but crucial things to know about Kickstarter:

1. Poor quality campaigns will never succeed.

2. Spamming for support will never succeed.

One: Quality Counts.

While Kickstarter lowers barriers to entry as never before, it is still competitive. There is somebody out there who’s Kickstarter, in other words, is better than yours. It’s still entertainment, folks, it’s a competitive world, and there are other filmmakers nipping at your heels and taking your dollars.

Check out this Kickstarter for a short noir film called The Last Hurrah. The campaign itself is in the noir style. It is playful, it is expertly produced and it makes me want to support the writer and director, Keith Tutera, because he obviously invested a huge amount of effort into this campaign. This makes me believe the completed project will also be excellent. Isn't that the point of your campaign? To instill faith?

But I have seen scant few of the Kickstarters of this quality. If there is ever a time you should invest 200% of yourself, it is on your campaign. Low production values, amateurish looking interviews or clips do not get anybody excited. They just get deleted.

And - how did I receive the Kickstarter for The Last Hurrah? I asked to see it. Between the lack of hard sell and the quality of this campaign, who would not be inspired to support this filmmaker? Actually, this is a short film that I story consulted on which brings me to another point - don’t be shy - definitely ask those you worked with to support the campaign! Why wouldn’t they?

No matter how high the quality of your campaign is, you still have to enlist support carefully. Why? Because…

Two: Spam Sucks.

Recently I was faux-personally emailed three times from a person whose name wouldn’t ring a bell for a thousand years. “Faux” meaning the email used the good ol’ “Hey, FILL IN NAME! How are you these days FILL IN NAME.”

I was so annoyed that I searched my computer and finding nothing, emailed the filmmaker and asked him to cut it out. But we’re on LinkedIn, he said, we have twelve connections in common! That’s not enough. This is spam.

Yes, it’s great you’re making a documentary film about human rights abuses in Thailand or your very first film! It’s really great – I truly mean that. But if we haven’t met, please don’t pretend we have. I’m not your family, or your friend, or your work mate.

  • Send your Kickstarter to people who are personally invested in your success in one way or another. Close friends. Family. Maybe you went to an improv class and your classmates know you were working on a film. Maybe the people at your day job will kick in a little bit here and there.
  • Then send your Kickstarter to people you admire, who might be in the position to not only help financially but by spreading the word.

Butter these contacts up a little – personally - tell them you really enjoyed taking their class at the screenwriting event a few years back, and mean it. Tell them that you read their Script Mag column, or that you read their book or saw their film. Everybody likes a compliment or two, and to know that through your correspondence, that you actually are taking a moment to be authentic in asking for support.

Just because you can automate your Kickstarter Campaign to send reminders every 10 days, to a list of hundreds of contacts, does not mean that you should. You only need a few “yes’s” but why throw every contact at the wall and in doing so alienate some? It’s not worth it. If you have never spoken to me before and suddenly you send me a Facebook message about your Kickstarter, I am disinclined to help you out. Wouldn't you be?

If you are really serious about a career as a filmmaker, slow down, use your connections and relationships with care, be strategic and make your campaign every bit as exciting and high quality as your project will be.

Get more advice from Julie Gray in her book
Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter's Atlas