Today's guest blog comes from one of my favorite people on the planet, Stephen Follows. Stephen is not only a filmmaker, screenwriter, producer and educator, but also a master statistician. In fact, I first became aware of Stephen when I discovered (and found myself lost for hours in) his incredible blog where he chronicles the results of his extensive research into data and statistics related to the film industry. So taken was I by Stephen's work that I sought him out prior to my trip to London for the Raindance Film Festival and requested a meeting. Not only did Stephen accept, but he kept our meeting in spite of a horrible cold, ultimately spending 2 more hours than planned. That's the kind of guy Stephen is.
But his mind, as you are about to discover, is another story entirely.
I'm thrilled and honored to announce that not only will Stephen be contributing a number of columns for the Stage 32 Blog, but he will be teaching the first ever Stage 32 Master Class in early 2016. Stephen's Master Class will be on crowdfunding, and I promise you it will be the most inclusive, insightful and factual (backed by more stats than you could imagine) class ever taught on the subject.
It's an honor to welcome and introduce to you, the incredible Stage 32 community, my friend, Stephen Follows.
Enjoy the ride!
In 1885 the US found itself in the embarrassing position of being given a lovely statue by France but they had nothing to put it on. So the American Committee of the Statue of Liberty established a crowdfunding campaign to raise the $100,000 needed to build the all-important plinth. After it was featured on the cover of Joseph Pulitzer’s The New York World newspaper, they finally really did it, raising $101,091 ($2.4 million in today’s money) from over 160,000 donors.
In 1885, crowdfunding for the US Statue of Liberty raised $101,091
Although crowdfunding has changed since 1885, there are lessons to be learnt from this story…
In the modern era crowdfunding is considerably easier, with a whole host of site and services offering to help you raise the money you need. (That said, if Kickstarter had been around for the Statue of Liberty campaign then I have no doubt that the top reward would have been to have your face used as the model for Lady Liberty).
The money you raise via crowdfunding is the best form of film financing possible…
The vast majority of crowdfunding sites don’t charge up-front fees, preferring instead to charge a percentage of the money you raise (typically around 5%). Whilst projects trying to raise a lot may need to spend money creating a slick campaign, these costs are optional and you can usually substitute financial costs for time and effort. So all you really need is an internet connection and the drive to work incredibly hard.
And that’s at the heart of how crowdfunding works – you convert your time, effort and passion into money. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out. There is a common misconception that in order to raise film finance via crowdfunding you need to already have a bunch of rich friends and family members. While there’s no doubt this helps, it’s not the main reason why successful campaigns work.
Very few of us have a large (or rich) enough base of loved ones to fund our next project, let alone the one after that. However, we are storytelling experts who seek to delight and entertain strangers via compelling narratives. We have chosen a life of crafting stories which make people laugh, cry, jump and think. And that’s f**king catnip to the kinds of people who back crowdfunding campaigns.
Pity the poor technologist who has invented a new type of drone which talks to your coffee maker to ensure you have coffee waiting for you when you get home. Sure, they have an awesome product (I’d buy one) but they have to learn from scratch how to emotional connect with strangers in order to raise their funds.
We, filmmakers, have been practicing for years – We write in cafes, shoot at dawn and cut in the dark. We can save the cat, hit the mark, check the gate, over-crank, flash-forward, flash-back, jump cut and all without ever crossing the line (although some things will be fixed in post).
We make people pay attention and give a damn and you’re telling me that there’s a way of using that to raise money I never have to pay back? Yippie Ki Yay, master filmmakers.
So how do you do it?
Well, this is where I have to change tone from Braveheart to The Passion – it’s a long, arduous road.
The vast majority of film crowdfunding campaigns which failed did so because the filmmakers behind them failed to follow the five ‘P’s of successful crowdfunding…
How do I know this? I gathered data on all 47,809 film projects on Kickstarter from when it launched in 2009 to the summer of 2015. I’ve crunched the numbers and looked at patterns and correlations with success. I have also interviewed over 50 filmmakers as well as representatives from major crowdfunding platforms and services.
I have already started blogging about what I’ve found at stephenfollows.com but I have also agreed to team up with Stage 32 to give members a deeper insight into what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
So, if you want to arm yourself with as much crowdfunding knowledge as you can then there are a few things you can do to learn more…
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Have any crowdfunding questions? Bring 'em! Stephen is available to answer any questions you'd like in the Comments section below...