EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article originally ran in May of this year and is being republished here. Special thanks to writer Meri Hilalian.
You may be wondering, what’s the most important part of running a successful crowdfunding campaign? The answer: to develop a direct connection to your audience. At least according to Gerry Maravilla, Head of Crowdfunding at Seed&Spark. Founded in 2012, Seed&Spark is a one-stop streaming video service and crowdfunding platform that seeks to provide members an effective action plan for creating long-lasting, direct relationships with audiences.
On April 24, Maravilla returned to our offices to offer curious Film Independent Members some useful audience-building tips to help engage with potential viewers and encourage their financial support. “We [Seed&Spark] have the highest success rate in the world, which is 75% [successfully funded] across the five years that Seed & Spark has been around,” he said. “This year so far, we’ve had an 85% success rate for all projects that have launched.”
Seed & Spark is also, of course, a streaming platform. “We try to acquire and look at films that have gotten great love on the festival circuit, but maybe aren’t being purchased by some of the larger platforms,” Maravilla said. “We’re always looking for new films and projects to accept on the acquisitions side”—benefitting not just a single project, but also a filmmaker’s entire career.
“If you are an independent creator, sitting around and waiting to be picked by a large festival, or a distributor, or a production company—whoever—that doesn’t feel true to the nature of independence,” he said. To that end, here are ten helpful tips for kick-starting (or IndieGoGo-ing, or Seed&Spark-ing, or whatever) you indie film crowdfunding efforts:
Identify your audience. Don’t forget: crowd comes before funding. “Crowdfunding starts pretty much right away, in terms of when you have your idea and the way you start to think about it,” said Maravilla on the process of building a strategy for potential audience outreach. “If you use crowdfunding, you’ll have a lot more than just a guess of who [your] audience is.” So make sure to find your crowd before those fundraising efforts begin!
Data is key. A huge part of crowdfunding is finding your audience and getting their information. “You get their email addresses. You get the location of where they are. That way, when you’re planning your festival run, you’ll know where your audience is.” Maravilla continued: “If you own your IP as an artist—and if you also own that direct pipeline to the audience—then you’re much more empowered in any negotiating room to dictate what’s best for you.”
Connect with your audience. “In terms of the email address, that becomes a very important factor because outside of direct face-to-face communication, email address is the next closest indicator of having a (closeness of a) relationship with somebody.” Maravilla added, “And in crowdfunding, the highest conversion numbers come through email.”
Be social. Social networking sites and apps are helpful tools in amplifying, promoting and reaching new people. However, Maravilla says, “When it comes to getting funding, it comes down to those email addresses.” Don’t be afraid to be persistent with your email check-ins. But if by chance you’re told off, simply cease to continue emailing that particular person.
Be specific. When thinking about your film, often “the smallest thing will help you [target] who your audience is,” Maravilla emphasized. Follow that hunch, because it may lead you to joining an organization where, for instance, you might meet the future members of your creative team—not to mention investors. This is a more practical way of resolving the universal question: How do I find my audience?
No seriously, be specific. “We’ve heard filmmakers say a million times over, ‘My movie is for everybody,’” said Marvilla. And while that’s true of multi-million dollar studio movies, it’s not a helpful way to market an independent film. “If you don’t [have the money] you have to think more specifically in terms of who the audience would be.” That means thinking about your actual audience—the email addresses you’ve accumulated for crowdfunding purposes.
Expect low yields. “What we’ve seen is that for each dedicated team member”—those actively working on a project’s crowdfunding efforts—“statistically, just 30% of that person’s email address will contribute or pledge to the campaign. So don’t fall into the idea or the myth of ‘I have a lot of Twitter followers, so crowdfunding will be easy.’” That’s not the name of the game. You have to go outside of your comfort zone (and Followers) when audience-building.
Branch out. “You have to get out of who your immediate circle is. You don’t want to just rely on your friends and family.” Because that’s not exactly crowdfunding, Maravilla emphasized; more like friend-and-family funding. “You can’t really have a sustainable career if you keep hitting up your friends and family all the time for the project you’re making,” he said.
Be active. Don’t just network with your filmmaker peers. “Other filmmakers are also trying to find money and grow their project in front of their collaborators,” said Maravilla. So look to different networking events relating to a key aspect of your film. Find organizations, communities and meet-ups related in some way to your film’s subject, setting or characters.
Social media, again. Let’s face it, when trying to grow your campaign, you must engage with social media. “It’s about finding a way to use [social] that matches your lifestyle,” Maravilla said. For example, “If you’re someone who’s very visual, a cinematographer, maybe Instagram might be the better route for you because you can be very visual in your communication.” Social media is a powerful tool, so have fun engaging it in creative and strategic ways!
What are some other key takeaways? First and foremost, think about what your film is really saying. Then, practice your pitch. Be persistent in your efforts and patient in seeing results. Lastly, think outside of just individuals. “Think about your partnerships, your influencers, ambassadors—people who are going to help get the message of your film out there” on a larger scale, Maravilla concluded.
So get out there, be outgoing and don’t be afraid to sell yourself. Let people see your project the way you do, and you’re halfway there.
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