Our experience of crowdfunding a short film through Kickstarter

It’s been five days since the Kickstarter campaign for White Awake ended and we successfully reached our target goal.  It’s all a bit of a blur and nothing could have quite prepared us for the sheer amount of work that was involved in running the campaign.  We’d read beforehand that it would be a full time job, and it was.  We were burnt out by the end of it due to 15-16 hour days of managing the campaign around full time work.

You’ll find that there are numerous articles written about Kickstarter campaigns on the internet, but it’s hard to find ones written specifically about short films and the pitfalls of getting support.  So we wanted to share with you what we learned from running this campaign.

First, there is this illusion that once you hit the launch button on your project, you can passively sit back and pledges will trickle in from random people, as well as your family and friends.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Only 14% of our pledges came directly through Kickstarter.  You have to actively reach out to people and get eyeballs on your project from whatever source that might be.  We lost count of the sheer number of websites, blogs, and personal email, Facebook and Twitter accounts we contacted hoping they would take interest in our project.  More often than not you’ll be ignored by websites and blogs, but it’s the small percentage giving you the time of the day that could make the difference in providing you with that small amount of publicity.  In terms of personal contacts, we were genuinely surprised to receive pledges from people who we thought wouldn’t be interested.  Other than family and close friends, we were careful never to ask for money from anyone, ever.  Being very independent self-reliant people, the thought of asking people for money directly felt a bit vulgar, so we always made sure to ask people to share the project on their social media accounts.  Our mind-set was that if people responded to our enthusiasm, perhaps they would pledge.

You’ll no doubt have read about the necessities of creating a compelling pitch video, about devoting a significant amount of time preparing before you launch, but what is apparent is how little support you’ll get from film-related sources.  You really are on your own.  Kickstarter offers little support unless you luckily get selected as a “Staff Pick”, in which case you’ll get featured above the vast amount of film projects.  Film blogs and websites will more than likely ignore you.  We were lucky enough to get featured on a few fairly high profile blogs, but that was purely because of mutual contacts that allowed us to appeal to that personal connection.

You will get spammed by crowdfunding marketers a lot.  They prey on the very idea that Kickstarter campaigns, short film projects especially, are reliant on receiving traffic in order to succeed.  Many marketers will promise the opportunity of reaching and exceeding your target goal if you hand over a few hundred dollars to access their database of journalists, Facebook followers, whatever.  We were so close to handing over money to one such marketer, but something kept us clinging to the blind faith that we’d somehow reach our goal.  We’re glad we didn’t hand over money; deep down we felt that they couldn’t help reach the niche audience we were appealing to.

Ironically, even as we write this article, we have just been contacted for the fifth time by the same crowdfunding marketer promising easy assistance.  And that’s even after our campaign has ended.  Imagine what it’s like while your campaign is running.  These people are relentless!

The problem with running a Kickstarter campaign for a short film rather than for a physical product, is that you are essentially asking for people to part with their hard earned cash in exchange for an intangible product.  It really boils down to a sense of “selling” your enthusiasm and passion for the project, hoping that individuals would like to be a part of it.  That’s it.  The rewards you offer are just an extra “thank you”.  On the subject of rewards, we made sure that everyone would be able to see the film from one of our lowest tiers (£10) and up.  If you’re making a short film, your backers deserve this.

The biggest thing we had going for our campaign was that our pitch video reflected our sincerity and passion for the project.  We watched a lot of pitch videos for drama-based projects before making our own, and more often than not we didn’t have that feeling that the filmmakers cared enough.  The pitch felt flat.  It didn’t appeal to emotion, to passion, to the things that make films worth watching or supporting.

Some feedback we had on our pitch video was that it was possibly too long (6.5 minutes), but we honestly felt our project couldn’t be summed up in a quick 2-3 minute lowdown.  The next zombie horror flick maybe, but our short film needed more time to communicate what we were about.  We really urge people to make a pitch video that communicates that you simply have to make this film.  Passion and sincerity is infectious.

A tool that we found useful during our campaign is the website Kicktraq which tracks your daily progress and projections, and visualises that data on graphs.  Here is the final funding progress graph for our campaign:

As you can see, over the course of the 30 day campaign we encountered what most do: an initial surge of pledges at the beginning, followed by a mid-campaign slump, and one final surge at the end.  This visualisation was useful, but it also generated stress in the middle of the campaign when our final projection was below the target goal.  Try not to waste too much energy worrying that your projection is below the target goal.  The projection is merely that: a mathematical estimate of the previous days’ earnings over future time.

On a final note, organisation is key for your campaign to be successful.  It is imperative that you plan your day to day activities in advance.  We created a calendar in which we marked what details we’d release about the film on what day.  This was to maintain momentum and interest, especially during the mid-campaign slump.  Other than our daily Facebook and Twitter posts, we also made sure to post fairly regular Kickstarter updates that appear in the updates section of your campaign page.  Somewhere we’d read that posting regular Kickstarter updates improves your ranking and the likelihood of your project being found by casual browsers.  It also has the effect of inspiring confidence in your backers that your short film will deliver and you will keep backers updated.

We wish anyone looking to make a short film through Kickstarter the very best of luck and hope this will be of some use.