Posted by Stephen Follows
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto

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!

RB

 

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…

 

  1. Firstly, that if you have a passion project which lacks a business case then it is still possible to raise the money you need.
  2. Secondly, that getting press coverage is essential to raising large amount of money.
  3. Finally, don’t accept a gift until you know where you’re going to put it.

 

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…

  • You don’t have to pay it back
  • You don’t have any interest to pay
  • No-one controls your film
  • You keep 100% of the film’s profits
  • You will have started to build a loyal following way before the film has even been made
  • It’s open to everyone.

 

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…

 

  1. Preparation. You need to be spending at least as long as your actual campaign in the pre-launch phase, if not longer So if you want to run a 30 day campaign then you need to spend at least 30 day before you launch full-time laying the ground work and connecting with people.
  2. Pitch. You need a compelling story as to why the audience should become backers. And “I really want to make this film” does not cut it. You need to enrol them in the aspirational idea of what it means to be a backer and what they will get out of it. The story they want to hear is not that of your movie but of you trying to make it. You film is a MacGuffin.
  3. People. You can’t do this alone. You need a team of people to help at every stage including experienced advisors, creative idea generators, designers, other filmmakers and advocates. Plus the core collection of heroes who are willing to dedicate a month or two to grinding away every day in the service of getting the word out there.
  4. Publicity. If you build it, they won’t come because they’re not f**king psychic and can’t possibly know it exists. With close to 1,000 new film projects being launched every month on Kickstarter, you chances of raising your money by passing trade are close to zero. But this doesn’t mean that the solution is to constantly pester your Facebook friends every hour of the campaign. You need a well-researched marketing and outreach plan prepared before you launch.
  5. Past lessons. All of the film projects ever launched on Kickstarter are still accessible. This is a goldmine of knowledge, showing what works and what doesn’t. I see so many filmmakers making the same mistakes which they could have avoided by even a few hours of cursory research into past projects similar to theirs.

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…

 

  • Head over to stephenfollows.com and read the three articles on there.
  • Stay tuned to the Stage 32 blog for more articles coming very soon.
  • Sign up right now for my online course ‘A Crash Couse In Crowdfunding for Filmmakers This is a three-hour introduction to crowdfunding and gives you the basics of what you’ll need to know. It’s around $45 (save 10% with code STAGE32) and if you sign up with the Stage 32 advanced course, we’ll refund you the full cost.
  • Join the three-part Advanced Crowdfunding live course on Stage 32 next month. I’ll be delivering each three-hour lesson live and we’ll go into detail about the things you’ll need to know in order to raise your film’s budget via crowdfunding.

Like this blog post? Please share it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email etc) by using social media buttons at the top of the blog. Or post to your personal blog and anywhere else you feel appropriate. Thank you.

Have any crowdfunding questions? Bring 'em! Stephen is available to answer any questions you'd like in the Comments section below...

 

 
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