It's tough for women in film these days. We hate even mentioning it, because we don't want to be women filmmakers. We'd so much rather just be, well, filmmakers.
But the truth is, this year, not a single film in competition at the Cannes Film Festival was directed by a woman.
So, a few of us decided to take matters into our own hands. We started our own production company, Bicephaly Pictures, last year, right out of grad school, and now we're embarking on our first feature film, Days Of Gray, that we started filming in Iceland this summer.
To get ourselves started, we ran a Kickstarter campaign that successfully raised $50,000. We learned a lot during that month of Kickstarting—including a few things we really wished we had known before we launched. Most of these apply to pretty much any kind of crowdfunding platform, and fundraising in general, so without further ado, here’s a rundown of the advice we’d give to new Kickstarters.
1. Set Aside Enough Time
Campaigns can be very short (as short as a day!) or stretch out over two months, but Kickstarter suggests (and we agree) that 30 days is the perfect length for a campaign.
That said, for a considerably-sized campaign, ($30K and up), plan to spend at least one month ahead of time preparing. Then, once the campaign begins, set aside four to five hours a day to run and manage it. The biggest mistake you could make is to go live expecting money to pour in on its own. Fundraising takes time, and it's work!
2. Do Your Research
There are many wonderful Kickstarter guides out there, and Google is full of advice. But what's more important than reading guides is spending time on the website you'll be using, whether it’s Kickstarter or another platform. Look at other successful campaigns in your category, and learn from them. Study their wording, their updates, their rewards, and their auxiliary websites and social media. And don’t be shy about borrowing ideas and strategies, especially from big campaigns—if a project is aiming for $100K (and is well on its way to getting there), chances are high that the campaign is run by a team of paid marketing pros who you can learn from! Belle and Sebastian’s movie God Help The Girl and the film The Sisterhood of Night were two that we looked to for guidance.
3. Don't Overestimate Your Crowdfunding Abilities
You can always get over-funded, but Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, so if you don’t reach your goal, you won’t get anything. The best way to estimate how much you could raise is to count the people you know who are likely to donate. Go through your phone and email contacts, tally up an estimate of likely backers, guesstimate that they’ll give $25 each, and calculate your possible total. Then drop that total by 15-20%.
If that amount still sounds daunting, consider a different platform (some, like IndieGoGo, will let you keep what you raise, even if you don't hit your goal). We thought the pressure of a very high goal would motivate us, especially given the fact that we're looking to raise $300,000 to make the film in its entirety—but being very far from our goal until the last few days was incredibly stressful.
4. Pick Great Rewards
People don’t necessarily give to your project just to get the reward, but having great rewards might entice someone to give more than they were originally planning. Think of offering a range of things that appeal to different audiences, but most importantly, try to pick rewards that you’d actually want. Also, think of swag that moonlights as advertising for your project! Tote bags are rather useful “walking billboards.”
Also keep in mind that these prizes (and their shipping) will cost you in both time and money, so don’t forget to factor them into your budget. Keep rewards digital as much as possible—it’s better for your budget and for the environment!
5. Make a Great (Short) Video
Your video is basically an audio-visual summary of your whole campaign, and you want it to be an introduction that incites viewers to pledge right away. Of course, you also want viewers to read the rest of the page and see how funny you are, what wonderful prizes you have to offer, and all that jazz—but people are busy. If you can sell your story in under a minute, you’ll be much better off.
To get started, write a script addressed to your audience (that’s your friends, family, and the internet) to explain who you are, what your project is, why it’s going to be amazing, why you’re fundraising, and how you’re going to use the funds. Then, read it out loud to a few people who don’t know much about your project. Does it make sense? Does it inspire them to get involved? Do you sound natural and convincing? Keep working on it until it’s perfect.
If you feel uncomfortable in front of the camera, you can always use voice-over with other footage or images from your project.
6. Plan Your Outreach
Before you even think about hitting the launch button, draft individual emails to everyone you think would like to hear from you. And make them personal: If you’re writing to an older, less tech-savvy crowd, explain what Kickstarter is and how to make an online donation; if you’re writing to a broke young friend just out of college, ask her to spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. Also reach out to anyone you know who writes for a blog, website, or magazine and might be interested in talking about your project.
Doing this prep work ahead of time will save you endless trouble and worry down the line. Plus, you'll need every moment after you launch to send thank you notes, post updates, and reach out to people you don't know!
7. Love the Internet
Telling your friends and family is the first step, but taking to the internet and all its social networks is the next one—in all, 20% of our pledges came from social networks, blogs, and websites.
Build a community around your project, starting with the websites you already use (most likely, Facebook and Twitter) and branching out to new ones: a blog, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and more. Look for people, blogs, and media in your industry, as well as your project’s area of interest, to connect with—and think broadly. Days Of Gray’s scope covered not just indie film, but also music, fashion, art, Iceland, travel, silent film, women in film, and more!
And where possible, use photographs to tell your story—pictures are by far the content we like to share the most!
8. Say Thanks—and Not Just at the End
You’ll want to say thanks to everyone who pledged, but don’t wait until the campaign is over—when you get new pledges, thank them on Facebook or Twitter. Not only will your backers appreciate the timely recognition, a personalized and public “thanks” also spreads the word to all of that person’s connections.
You can also use Kickstarter as a social network: Message thank yous to your backers, encouraging them to check out your Facebook page, Twitter, and blog and spread the word both online and off. Then, see what other like-minded projects your backers support, and reach out to their creators. Offer to spread the word about their project, and have them do the same for you!
9. Keep in Touch
Once you've made it (we know you can!), celebrate! But also, remember to keep your backers and supporters posted on how your project is coming along. Fundraising is just the first step of your project, and chances are high that your backers are also your audience. They’ll be rooting for you to succeed, and if you do, they’ll likely follow you through all your future endeavors.
So, stay in touch, plan out how and when to send out rewards, and stay organized to make sure you've thanked and rewarded everyone. You can keep sending Kickstarter updates indefinitely, so remember to invite your biggest and earliest fans to come on board for your next project.
But first, go make this one.