Kickstarter: A site dedicated to crowdfunding artistic projects, including independent films. I’m sure by now you’ve all had at least one friend send you their link, asking for support.
Try being “The Twitter Pimp Angel.” I get dozens of links tweeted to me every day.
How do I decide which ones to back and which to pass on? I have to believe in the person’s ability to deliver on their promise of completing a quality film, and I have to like the premise of the project.
Basically, I have to like their pitch.
When director Michael Bekemeyer and I decided to crowdfund our short film, Impasse, we knew it would be a marathon pitch. Sure, I’ve pitched before, from 5-minute pitchfest sessions to 45-minute studio meetings, but to sustain a 33-day pitch would require stamina… and a plan.
Every project starts with a script. You, the writer, know how compelling your script is, and your job is to convince other people of its value.
There are two ways to grab a backer’s attention: Your Kickstarter video and the text description of your project.
Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, and Once Upon a Time), Brad “Cheeks” Bell, and the cast and crew of Husbands, did a great job on their Kickstarter, raising $60,000.
Are you shocked someone of Espenson’s writing experience is doing crowdfunding? Don’t be. Other famous writers, directors and actors are too, such as Peter Riegert (Animal House, Local Hero, Traffic, Sopranos, White Irish Drinkers, etc) who launched his campaign for his documentary, Prospect, and met his goal in just a few days and will undoubtedly raise much more before his campaign ends.
If run well, crowdfunding works.
Some say our Impasse video was too fun and not enough about what the story means to us, or what it would mean to our audience. But we thought it was equally important to show our personalities and introduce ourselves. The reality is, that “fun” video got the interest of cast and crew because they watched and said, “Hey, I want to work with those two.”
Or maybe they just wanted our liquor.
We also wanted to keep the video as short as possible. When I click on any video, if it’s longer than five minutes, I rarely watch. Three minutes, you got a shot. So, we chose to keep it fun and use the written description for the story pitch. It was a gamble because people watch more than they read. Everything is about choice, and the choice is yours in your own campaign.
Another challenge is keeping the audience’s attention for 33 days.
While I absolutely believe in the power of my script, we didn’t want to post it. Instead, we chose to tease them with the actual tweets I sent out from the coffeehouse the day I watched the arguing couple that inspired Impasse.
But we made people wait until we reached $4,000 to post them. Milestones are important. They give a goal. People are typically goal-oriented. We posted the tweets publicly for all to see, not just the backers. Then at $5,000, we let only the backers read page one of the script.
We placed the backers in the mind of the main character without ever having to give out the entire script. That was our turning point. People now totally understood the tone and power of the film to challenge people to make the tough choices in life. Our theme was clear.
Side note: The reason we didn’t want to post the script is simply because we wanted the backers’ viewing experience of the film to be totally fresh and a surprise. I’ve read scripts of shorts I’ve funded, and every single time, the actual film, no matter how well-done, falls a bit flat for me because there’s no element of surprise.
Back to the pitch tease…
It’s not easy to keep 33 days of pitching interesting. How could we spice this baby up?
Perks! Giveaways! Sparklers! Oh my!
Since our project was born on Twitter, we turned to our Twitter talent for help.
Doug Richardson, screenwriter of Die Hard 2, Bad Boys, Hostage, etc. offered up e-books and paperbacks of his latest novel The Safety Expert. Best Selling thriller author, JT Ellison, chipped in five autographed copies of her new novel A Deeper Darkness, and The Great American Pitchfest offered us passes to their pitching event to give away as perks. Zac Sanford, development executive at Suntaur, offered development notes to a lucky winner once we hit $9,000. Even more supporters emailed us perks, allowing us to keep surprising our backers. It was the shot in the arm we needed to keep going.
With all those new perks, we hit the PR trail, posting them on Facebook, Twitter, our websites, and asking people to share the links. Before we knew it, press was coming. Michele Jennae wrote a piece for The Indie Timesabout our campaign, and then Film Courage contacted us, offering me to write a piece for their site. If you aren’t familiar with Film Courage, it’s simply the most amazing independent film community out there. They have a weekly LATalkRadio show, noon PST on Sundays.
Bottom-line, you need to be extremely creative to last through the race. There’s a bell curve, so when you’re at the low, it’s similar to when you’re deep into writing and trying to break the back of Act II.
One page at a time… one pledge at a time. Do. Not. Quit.
Above all, be appreciative. Thank people. Respect their support, whether it’s $1 or $100. Every penny counts. I mean every penny. There will be days a $5.00 pledge is so welcome, it will bring you to your knees in tears.
It’s a long haul. Baby steps will get you there.
Casting and assembling your crew is all part of the marathon too. Pursue the ones you want, don’t just take what’s easily available. Just because it’s low budget doesn't mean it has to be low quality.
Our number one objective was to push past our fears and make Impasse all it could be. My loyal readers know I never want to end my life saying, “What if?” If you don’t try your hardest to get the best talent and crew, when you’re submitting to film festivals or watching the rough cut, you’re going to wish you had. And then it’s too late.
Serve the project, but also serve your backers. If you are asking people to believe in you and open their wallets, you’d better do your best to deliver.
Finally, If you’re running a Kickstarter campaign, put your link in the comments and let us follow your progress. After all, we are a community of writers. No time like the present to act like one.
Break a leg… and break the bank.