How to Crowdfund Your Film
What is crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is a way of raising money for your film by asking individuals for financial donations in exchange for small tokens of appreciation, depending on the size of their donation. Literally it means asking a crowd of people to support your film or a specifically indicated part of the production process. For example, it is possible to raise funds for the editing process alone or for the music licence.
A benefit of crowdfunding is the instant audience it creates. All your backers will want to see the film, otherwise why would they bother? On top of this you don’t have to compromise on your creative vision. The audience, of course, can give its opinion on the project (crowdfunding platforms often form a useful tool to get responses to new ideas) but by no means does their donation mean they have any editorial influence.
There are various ways to crowdfund. You either set an all or nothing target, which means that when you don’t reach your target you get nothing. However, when you do then you pay lower fees to the platform that is hosting your campaign. Or you just take what you can get and pay a higher fee.
There are various reasons and structures and the advice we can give you is to check out the platforms at the bottom of this list to see which funding structure best suits your needs.
Why is it growing in popularity?
Crowdfunding seems to be the word in the film industry right now, with not just trade publications mentioning it everywhere but even the national press giving it a lot of attention. There are three main reasons for this:
- As you know, traditional film funding is extremely hard to come by so crowdfunding is a way of bypassing the industry’s gatekeepers.
- The advent of mainstream social media has made it possible for filmmakers to cast their net much wider in search of potential backers, and even reach celebs and the media.
- The final reason that crowdfunding is popular is that even if a filmmaker feels able to get funding from a more conventional source, crowdfunding, as said, is a way of ensuring greater editorial control over a project and, possibly, a better rights position.
Does it work?
That depends. With Kickstarter currently reporting a 40% success rate for film and videos you could say that the amount of successful projects is certainly rising compared to a few years ago. Early 2013 some crowdfunded films even made it to the Oscars.
But, to be realistic, many filmmakers fail (the other 60%). This can be down to a number of things. The simplest of reasons is that your project just isn’t very good or not good enough. This is why it is important to ask for honest and reliable feedback first. Perhaps a little tweak is all it needs (for more reasons on why a project can fail or be successful, see below).
One famous example of a successful crowdfunding project is Franny Alexander’s award-winning film The Age Of Stupid. Released in 2009, the £450,000 film (which in the world of crowdfunding equals millions) was made possible by 223 individuals who donated sums from £500 to £35,000.
A more recent success is The Spirit Level, a documentary based on the bestselling book of the same name. The film, directed by Katherine Round, was crowdfunded via popular platform Indiegogo and managed to raise £70.000, which is £20.000 more than it had hoped for. Down to their topic, good pitch, level of engagement and a vigorous social media regime, the small team behind the film created a real buzz even before they started shooting. Curious? Take a look here.
Why would anyone part with their cash?
Various reasons. The first will always be the affiliation with your idea. But that alone is not enough. The public will look if you have potential as a filmmaker (or team), they will quickly assess the likelihood of you making the target and they will look at the perks you are offering in return for their donation.
When Oscar-winning filmmaker David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) raised funds to make a feature-length storyboard with sound effects for his animated film The Goon, he offered people some interesting benefits.
Donations were possible starting at $1, giving you an invite to a special screening night of the finished reel, and went up to $10,000. If you pledged $25, which overall is the most donated amount on crowd funding platforms, you'd get digital downloads of the comic, plus access to the production blog. If you donated $50 or more you would also get a pdf of the pitch and a T-shirt. $10,000 got you a personalised work of art, "a faux-bronze sculpture of a gorilla-shaped mob enforcer", plus a private screening with the filmmakers in California ("travel expenses paid by donor").
Check out the campaign here on Kickstarter.
Can anyone crowdfund?
Yes they can. You need to make sure though that you give the potential backers something that shows them that you are a good investment. Platforms allow (some insist) for a video in which you, as the director, can explain who you are, what you have done, why you are raising these funds, what you are intending to do with them and how you are intending to do this. You can see that it obviously helps if a filmmaker already has an audience that likes their work, however, the novice filmmaker has also been known to succeed. You just need to try harder.
What factors make the difference between success and failure?
Well, we have named most of them but here’s your ‘must not forget’ list:
- You have a compelling project with a clearly-defined audience.
- Make a great pitch video (if you can’t do this as a filmmaker, who’s going to trust you?).
- Offer three or more perks to potential funders.
- Update your campaign page every few days.
- You need to be realistic with your goals, both for your project as well as for your funding.
- Post media to your campaign page gallery. Show people what you are getting on with.
- Campaign less than two months. Most pitching websites give you a maximum of two months to raise funds, this ensures it won’t be an on-going saga, backers know what to expect.
- Get the initial part of your funding (roughly 20%) from family and friends before you reach out to the rest of the world.
And one vital thing to remember is that, just like in the mainstream movie business, marketing is crucial. A successful campaign requires a creative approach to social marketing in the hope that the project is exciting enough to go viral (via Facebook, Twitter etc). It’s hard work but hopefully the one or two month investment will pay off.
Reach out to blogs, film buffs, organisations that share your film’s visions, perhaps even celebs and a friend or twenty who have a decent online footprint to help promote. Most platforms will also offer you support as long as they see that you yourself are working hard to get the funds you need. If you’re putting the effort in then they can feature you on their homepage, which in turn will mean more donations due to visibility, and sometimes they will even highlight your project to the press.
Where can I start?
There are a ton of crowd funding platforms out there but notably some of the biggest in the UK are Indiegogo, Kickstarter, Sponsume, Crowdfunder and Peoplefund.it (the last two are set to merge in 2013). All these platforms are different. They have different approaches, guidelines, pricing and audiences. Ensure you pick the one most suitable for your project. In order to do this you need clearly defined goals and a good browse around to compare the offerings.
Any further reading?
There’s a relevant article by Terry Green at Filmmaker Magazine. In this piece, Green is pretty sceptical about the role of crowd funding and provides interesting arguments as to why. His views generated a strong backlash from people who are pro-crowd funding, with the result that there is a lively debate under comments.
The opposite view can be found here in an article by Forbes’ Ilya Pozin who is outlining why even the traditional Hollywood focussed industry is starting to come around to thinking that crowd funding has a future.
Have you ever crowdfunded a project? Are you planning on raising finance for your film? If so why not tell us about it via our Facebook page