Last night, SIFF brought Emily Best to Seattle to talk about crowdfunding for films and my pal Brad Wilke of Smarthouse Creative was able to get me into the sold-out talk. (Thanks to the Seahawks Monday Night Football game and Joe Biden’s traffic-snarling tour of Seattle, there were a few seats still available.)
Emily is the CEO of Seed & Spark, a unique platform for crowdfunding and distributing independent films. While I haven’t done a crowdfunding campaign (yet) I’ve been tutored by the best—Zombie Orpheus Entertainment‘s Ben Dobyns who has the whole Kickstarter thing down to a science. (Seriously, ALL of ZOE’s projects get funded and successfully delivered. I don’t think anyone has a track record like Ben.) Even so, Brad ensured me that I would learn a lot from Emily’s presentation and he was absolutely right.
Seed & Spark is currently on a multi-city tour (Sept 17-Nov 18, 2014 – click here for details) to reach out to filmmakers and educate them about crowdfunding for films and, of course, the S&S platform. The workshop is free. Sometimes these presentations end up being one long ad for the service with very little valuable info sprinkled about for appearances sake. (You feel like you’re going to end up buying a timeshare at the end.) But Emily’s presentation was the opposite—almost entirely about dropping knowledge filmmakers can actually use.
Crowdfunding is becoming a mature topic at this point, so there are a lot of basic primers out there. Emily’s presentation covers the basics quickly for the uninitiated but it generally assumes a level of understanding about the topic and she spends most of her time on those small points that make a real difference between success and failure in a campaign. Here are three great bits I picked up.
1. Identify your key audience members and interview them
Look past demographics and find real people you know or can reach who you think make up part of your core audience. Then go interview them. (If you don’t know any actual people who would constitute your core audience, that could be a red flag.) Ask lots of questions (Emily gives you a list): What web sites they go to? Where do they watch video? What time of day can/do they use social media? What other movies in the genre do they love?
These questions take your understanding of your audience past the general and into the specific. They reveal a lot of great ways that you can better engage with your potential audience and get them on your side as contributor and promoters of your project. What you learn doing this should form the basis of your campaign.
2. Fully engage with every contributor
Emily gives some great examples of how filmmakers she’s worked with make each contributor feel really valued. Not only does it keep your backers on your side but it also gives you a chance to help turn them into promoters. Giving something cool and sharable that relates to your project lets people really share the hell out of your project. That sounds a bit self-serving, perhaps, but the crux is that crowdfunding is a two-way conversation with your future audience. You want to thank them for their support and keep them engaged with you so they feel part of the process.
Another great tip Emily offered in this vein is to reach out to people you expected to help back your project—but who didn’t. Have that hard conversation about why they couldn’t contribute or promote it. Is there something about the campaign that hits the wrong note? People like this can be your best way to monitor where you’ve gone outside the intersection of your interest and your audience’s.
3. Have a plan and schedule that you can hand off
One thing I do know about crowdfunding campaigns is that they are a job unto themselves. Emily suggested several ways (and offers free project templates and schedules) to schedule your campaign before launching. No one thinks you can “set it and forget it” but having the bones laid down means you don’t have to be creating the whole plan and assets while your campaign is going on. You can front load a lot of this–especially some crowdfunding videos.
The other piece of this suggestion was really surprising to me: be able to hand off the campaign to someone else. Emily’s point is that shit happens, and if it happens in the middle of your campaign and you can’t create a smooth transition, then your project is likely to fail. So have a Veep who can pick it up if you get an unbelievable freelance gig or catch mono or something mid-campaign.
The Cross-country crowdfunding workshop
Seed & Spark’s national tour continues. The tips above barely scratch the surface of the two-hour event. If you’re looking at launching a crowdfunding campaign for a film—even if you think you’ve learned everything there is to know about the subject–you should check out the workshop. It’s free, which is a bonus, and the information is straight from the trenches.