What do Justin Simien’s Dear White People, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Dana Nachman’s Batkid Begins all have in common?
They all raised a portion of their budgets through Indiegogo, the global web-based crowdfunding website headquartered in San Francisco.
Ten years ago, financing a project through crowdfunding was just a budding concept; now it’s a ten billion dollar industry. For many young, up-and-coming independent filmmakers, crowdfunding is proving to be a viable option.
“It’s not just about raising money,” says Marc Hofstatter, Head of Film for Indiegogo. “If that’s all you’re looking for, not to insult you, but you’re being shortsighted.”
Last week, Hofstatter spoke about crowdfunding with Film Independent Members and elaborated on how to tackle the three primary elements to a successful campaign—or as he calls them, “the three p’s”—the pitch, the perks and the promotion.
“People come to Indiegogo to raise a portion of their budget,” says Hofstatter. When it comes to feature films, raising your entire budget via crowdfunding is very rare and rarely successful. “If it’s a short film, you should be able to do it. If it’s a documentary, that’s possible too. If it’s a narrative feature, you’re looking at a lower budget feature.”
Indiegogo has seen feature projects reach goals from five thousand to 4.5 million dollars. But having a higher goal doesn’t always mean raising more money. How much a project raises has more to do with what Hofstatter calls “the magenta bar effect.”
“People want to give to successful projects,” says Hofstatter. The magenta bar he’s referring to is the one on the top right corner of every Indiegogo page that tracks a project’s progress toward its goal. “Eighty-seven percent of campaigns [on Indiegogo] that hit their goal exceed it. They [often] end upwards [of their goal] by 30 or 40 percent. So it’s in your best interest to be conservative.”
It’s also important to deliver a well-developed, brief pitch video. Hofstatter said campaigns with pitch videos raise 370% more than those without videos.
Hofstatter encourages filmmakers to get over their discomfort in front of the camera and make their case. “The era of a shy, auteur filmmaker is gone. If you want to be a filmmaker in the 21st century, you have to have an online presence.”
But no need to get long-winded. “We talk about the elevator pitch. You get a little longer, about three minutes.” Hofstatter reminded the audience that attention spans are shorter today than they were ten years ago. “So historically, [longer than] three minutes is where people tend to have a negative impact on their campaign.”
As for the written pitch, “People like visuals. Don’t make it all black text.” Hofstatter compares this to economical screenwriting. “When you see a whole page of action with no breaks between paragraphs—no one’s going to read that screenplay.”
“This is where you get to be fun and creative,” offers Hoftstatter.
But you also have to be careful, especially with physical perks. “The last thing you want to do is spend time and money building, packing and shipping these items that will eat into your bottom line.”
Digital perks are ideal. “Downloads, behind the scenes footage, wallpapers, Instagram video thank-yous… The more personal you can make it the better.”
Recognition is also a simple, personal, inexpensive perk. And Hofstatter said there’s no need to limit it to a list of names in the credits. You could also work a supporter’s name into a scene. It could be shouted in a crowd, or it could appear on a door or could be written on the wall.
Experiences can be a hassle, but they are very effective, especially when they’re personal and unique. If your film is about a yoga instructor or a musician, you can offer a lesson. You can also give set visits, if the contributor lives nearby.
Hoftstatter stresses to “really do the math on fulfillment.” Perks can be a real draw, but if they’re not planned properly, they can end up costing your project.
And poor planning, according to Hofstatter, is what hurts a campaign most. You can launch your campaign within minutes, but that doesn’t guarantee success.
“A typical campaign can take 4-6 weeks to plan, sometimes longer. It all depends on how much you’re trying to raise and how much of a team you have. And how much access you have.”
It’s critical to figure out where you can garner support. If you’re making a project about skateboarders, you should reach out and connect with the skateboarding community.
One campaign Hofstatter pointed to that’s doing a great job with its outreach is As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM.
“It’s about electronic dance music. It’s about PTSD. It’s about addiction. It’s about music in general. Those are four different categories the filmmaker and his team were exploring before they launched they’re campaign,” said Hofstatter.
This level of preparation has paid off for the team behind As I AM. As of this blog’s posting, they are seven days into their campaign and 73% funded.
“Don’t leave your campaign to chance,” said Hofstatter. A major step in that direction is starting strong. “You should be striving for 30% funding in the first 24-72 hours.” You can do this by already knowing where that 30% is coming from ahead of time. Find early supporters and get them to commit. “If you can get that momentum, you’re going to hit your goal. I can almost guarantee it.”
“Crowdfunding isn’t for the weak.” But Hofstatter’s suggestions provide a lot of fortification. Understanding how people behave socially online and in general, and applying this information to your campaign—that is how you get the momentum to reach your target. “People get it. This isn’t a foreign idea to people anymore. People are doing it at record levels.”
Daniel Larios / Film Independent Blogger