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Future of Film: 10 Tips for Crowd-Funding Newbies

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After 22 years of work, filmmaker Jennifer Fox found that she had a completed film with no way to pay the bills and fund the distribution. With no hope left, she reluntantly turned to Kickstarter to ask for help (read more details of her story here). Future of Film wanted to tell more of her inspiring story, which came with some very useful and inspirational advice. Below are 10 things she learned while trying to reach a six-figure funding goal on Kickstarter.

By Jennifer Fox

1. Reach Out to Family and Friends
Unlike what many will tell you, I must say that for me family (and friends) are more about getting emotional support than money. It is very dicey to ask people you know and love to give you their hard earned funds. I had some friends tell me that they felt offended that I was emailing them about our campaign. Discussing this with them led to some very interesting insights about why I feel this is a democratic and legitimate way to support the arts. But I am not here to proselytize. I immediately backed off. In a way what they are saying is true: they don’t ask me to fund their passion, why should I ask them to fund mine? However, that’s not exactly how I see it: I believe that the film project, My Reincarnation, has a greater good for humanity and is a contribution to people’s lives. Hence, it must be seen and is worth funding.  

2. Build a Team
Filmmaking is a collaborative experience, but so is fundraising. It takes a lot of brainstorming and thinking out of the box. It takes multiple skills that one person rarely has all of. Without a team you just can’t get the traction and the reach into the world. But also it helps with the fear factor. I don’t know about you, but this kind of public fundraising scares the sh*t out of me. My team kept me from losing it. Having a team is also essential for Tip #3.

3. Brainstorm the Campaign as a Rollout with Different Phases
Our team, Katherine Nolfi, Lisa Duva, Stefanie Diaz and myself, discussed how the campaign would start and how we would keep rolling out new facets over time. This included building email lists, adding new incentives, and creating regular new videos for our website, Facebook and Twitter that could be linked with our consistent updates on Kickstarter.

We saw our campaign as having three initiatives: the web campaign; seeking out and approaching larger private donors to become Producers; and setting up “Sneak Preview Benefit Screenings” in key locations. The screenings were part of our plan because we had a unique problem: we were fundraising for a film that was technically finished, but that no one had seen. We hypothesized that people might need to see the finished film to give it money. In the end, festivals also helped on this account. But I also learned that the film’s trailer was often enough for people…

4. Make a Good Trailer
Of course “make a great trailer” is common wisdom for any kind of film fundraising. However, My Reincarnation was such a difficult film that I didn’t edit a trailer during the fundraising process. When I looked for funds, I always showed edited scenes assembled in a half-hour or hour format (which is probably why we failed miserably much of the time). Once we finally cut the trailer, right before launching at festivals, it was rather easy to do because the story arc was so clear. Now I’ve been told by some people that they cry when they watch our trailer. It has helped many people to make a donation when they haven’t seen the film yet.

5. Incentives
Since you can’t really put many images on your own Kickstarter page, Stefanie created a full brochure of pictures of the Kickstarter incentives on our My Reincarnation website so people could see what they were getting. She used the PBS pledge images as her model. We gathered a mixture of incentives, some Buddhist oriented and some film community oriented. One thing that we did very early on, even before the Kickstarter campaign began, was to offer a Limited Special Edition Pre-Release DVD for sale on our website at a very high price: $108. We started to sell this a good six months before our Kickstarter campaign to help keep our office running during the festival release. When we put up the campaign, we decided to offer the DVD in two ways: the Commercial DVD in 2012 at $25 and the Limited Special Edition Pre-Release DVD in September 2011 at $108. This was our most successful incentive.

For higher priced items, I raided anything I could find in my home: there are two of my own museum quality paintings by a very well known Buddhist Painter and a beautiful antique Tibetan chest that my parents gave me. I even put up a limited edition watch I received from being on the Zurich Film Festival jury last year. Basically nothing I own was off limits. It’s been a great Buddhist teaching to struggle with–and let go of–my attachment to my objects (that chest is one of my favorite possessions)!

6. Write, Write, And Write
Early on in the process, I would send my eblasts to my team to edit. We thought one page, max–so they cut and cut (my writing style can be a bit longwinded). Then we noticed that we were receiving the most donations following longer, more personal messages. They received overwhelmingly positive feedback. What at first seemed like a weakness, turned out to be one of our strongest tools. Writing became fun. As some of you may know, being on the road with a film can be the one of the most uncreative jobs one does over the course of film. But suddenly, writing these weekly Kickstarter updates and email blasts became a creative outlet for me.

7. Reach out to Appropriate Partners to Help Blast for your Campaign / Befriend the Tastemakers
The first tier we reached out to were listserves connected to the students of the film’s protagonist, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. Rinpoche has centers around the world, so we regularly wrote new, special updates to be blasted to their membership. These letters were less chatty than the ones I send to the general mailing list or post for our Kickstarter patrons.

We started a web series called Outtakes From the Film (O.F.F.) that we edit and post online and in our Buddhist eblasts to give those communities new video to enjoy, and entice them to become more involved with the project. These videos have helped assuage Buddhist students around the world, who are anxiously waiting to see My Reincarnation and are not so happy that they have to wait for the distribution rollout. The other thing we did–but could only do with the Sneak Preview NYC Fundraising screening–was offer incentives to appropriate organizations to blast their membership on behalf of our campaign. We gave the heads of each organization a free ticket to the screening in exchange for sending out an announcement. And of course, this laid the groundwork for establishing partners and building an audience for the film down the line.

8. Use Web 2.0: Facebook, Twitter, Bloggers…
This is absolutely obvious in today’s world. We posted updates on social networking sites many times a week. We worked hard to build up our Facebook and Twitter pages daily. We also posted on other organizations’ and individuals’ pages and walls – searching for related topics like “Buddhism,” “Tibet,” “Spirituality,” “Religion,” and “Yoga” – with information about the Kickstarter campaign, new videos, incentives and screenings.

9. Blast Often, Regularly, and Best at the Beginning of the Week
Get those eblasts out on Monday or Tuesday. Later in the week they get lost in people’s over-loaded inboxes. It’s important to keep up the pressure. It’s hard to know what the “tipping point” is for someone to make a donation. It can be the first letter or the twentieth letter that brings them over to the Kickstarter site.

10. Go Beyond Your Limits
Every step of the way on this journey, I had to go beyond my comfort zone to publicly ask for money: on the web, in emails, in person, on stage – over and over again. At every point, I had to push through my reticence, fear and a general “I just don’t want to do it again!” attitude. Facing these inner demons is necessary if you are going do this type of campaign. Believe me, crowd-funding certainly pushes those buttons, but it also requires you to let go and not listen to your ego so much.

My motto is, “Never say die!” Despite years of experience facing rejection, it can still be hard to pick yourself up each time. Somehow we have to find a way not to take rejection personally and move on. Of course, with some potential funders, you just have to give up, back off, and try somewhere else. A person who says no today may still say yes tomorrow. And if you give them new evidence to change their mind, they often do.


All of Jennifer Fox's helpful tips were posted originally on Hope for Film.

Stay tuned for her insights on how to round off a successful campaign.

Jennifer Fox is an award-winning filmmaker and educator known for her ground-breaking features and series, including Beirut: The Last Home Movie, An American Love Story, Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman and My Reincarnation. She recently co-wrote the half hour television pilot The Good Egg, and is developing the feature script The Horse's Tale. She has executive produced many films, including Love & Diane and On the Ropes.

The Tribeca Future of Film blog is a place where leading filmmakers and experts within the film industry share their thoughts on film, technology and the future of media.