Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kick It With Kickstarter

Seems like almost everyone I know has jumped on the crowdfunding bandwagon. There's Robert from Brooklyn who raised $3,000 to fund his spectacular annual free Halloween show; Brian the makeup effects artist who's soliciting funds for his post-apocalyptic horror free-for-all; and Jessica, who played Lou Ferrigno's daughter in LIBERATOR, looking for funds to launch her new 13-episode web series. And they're just the tip of the iceberg. I have one word for it: awesome!!!!

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGogo have indeed returned the power to the creators' hands. No longer is our messed-up corporate media the be-all and end-all for whether a movie gets made, a book gets published or a band gets their music out there. Hell yeah!

But word to the wise: these sites are not instant, free, easy money. They are amazing tools to be sure, and they can sometimes yield dramatic results. Hell, we raised almost $25K in finishing funds on Kickstarter for LIBERATOR. But the process is, frankly, a monumental pain in the ass. So if you're planning on crowdfunding to raise money for your project, go for it, but keep a few things in mind...

Our Kickstarter Liberator campaign main page.
The PBS model for rewards doesn't work. Sure, Public Broadcasting can give away a free light-up key chain with your $250 contribution. But on the crowdfunding sites that is not going to fly. Contributors expect something cool, unique and valuable in exchange for chipping in. A free DVD is fine with a $25 contribution, but for $100 you'd better give out a T-shirt, a cameo appearance, an original screen-used prop and a 45-minutes of Shiatsu from your second AD. Okay, maybe that's a bit over the top, but know this well: the better your rewards, the more likely it is that people will invest.

30 days doesn't cut it. Kickstarter recommends a 30-day campaign. They feel that people make snap decisions and thus a ticking clock works in your favor. I say: bull. It takes time to build momentum and followers.  As well, people are either going to contribute right now if they like your project; or they're going to watch and wait, and jump in at the end if they have to. Either way you've got 'em. Elect a 60-day campaign and use that time to spread the word and pimp the hell out of your project.

Plan on 30% of your intake going out the window. Yeah, this one really bites, but it's true: it costs money to print T-shirts, DVDs, stickers, and mail all that crap out. Kickstarter's take is about 10%. (Note that if you do not hit your goal, with Kickstarter you don't get a dime. With IndieGogo, you can collect whatever has been contributed, but for a higher fee than if you hit your goal -- around 14%.) In other words, if you need 10 grand, you'd best ask for 13.

Oh, did I mention that these funds are also considered taxable income?

There is no "Kickstarter community." Kickstarter says you need to create the most appealing sizzle reel you can in order to appeal to the Kickstarter community. While the first part is very true, this statement makes you think that there is a large group of individuals, perhaps bored at their 9 to 5s, who browse crowdfunding sites much like they do and eBay, looking for cool new projects to invest in. Yeah, not so much. I mean, there are a few, and they did indeed come in at the end and help us with LIBERATOR. But probably best not to expect this massive groundswell of support from people you don't know.

"Gray State" won big with their killer, FX-laden trailer and by appealing to activist groups.
YOU have to do all the work. This is the messed-up secret no one wants to divulge, but here it is. None of these sites do jack to help you, other than simply giving you space on their server. It's up to you to create the campaign and broadcast it. That means relentlessly hounding your friends (they love that) for contributions, tweeting, Facebooking, trying to get publicity however you can, and providing constant updates for contributors and potential investors. This, by the way, is inordinately time-consuming.

Social media is key. We hired a social media consultant because we had zero Twitter presence, and everyone says Twitter is the key to a successful campaign. So in the space of less than 3 weeks, Erika built us up from zero to over 500 Twitter followers. And some of them really became invested in the project, spreading the word for us. It really did start to snowball. But Erika spent a LOT of hours getting to know each of those people so that they became part of the family. If you have thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers to start, you've got a leg up. If not, you'd best hire someone to help you, because otherwise you will not hit your goal. Which, by the way, means another chunk of dough off the top of your take.

Most of the money you raise will likely come from your friends and family, by the way. So why do we need these sites then? You don't, really. You can build your own fund-raising website if you are so inclined. Or just have a big potluck and make a nice speech and pass the hat.

Stack the deck in your favor. Browse through any crowd-funding site and you will see great campaigns, shitty ones and everything in between. Study the great ones, obviously. Check out their sizzle reels, how they present the material. Your stuff had better look slick and pro. Check out Gray State, above, for a great example.

Did I mention, by the way, how much time it takes to put together a slick, professional presentation for crowdfunding purposes? If you're starting to get the impression that crowdfunding is anything but easy, you're beginning to get my point.

One other thing: a LOT of projects out there have no name actors attached. This is because most of us assume we can't afford "real" actors. This is nonsense. You may not be able to afford Brad Pitt, but you may well be able to get a few folks who mean something to genre fans, like we did with LIBERATOR. Hell, you're raising money online anyway. Add in an extra 10 grand for talent. There is a big difference between how a project with no names is perceived versus one that has some. And getting them is easy. Make your list, then contact their agents and make an offer. Some may laugh in your face, but others may be interested. At that point it's up to your script to seal the deal. Make sure it rocks.

Now go kick(start) some ass!

Jim C.

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