06/15/2012 01:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Crowdfunding 201: Matthew Lillard Talks Campaign Secrets of 'Fat Kid'

By: Lucas McNelly

Last year, on my very, very long road trip, I stopped in Seattle to work on a movie called Fat Kid Rules the World, directed by Matthew Lillard. I did 9 days on the film, working in a bunch of different departments, as needed, and wrote up the experience. The best of the posts is probably this one.

One of the first things you notice about Matthew Lillard is that he's got a seemingly endless supply of energy and enthusiasm, so when he told me he was thinking of self-distributing the film on Kickstarter, it struck me as a pretty natural fit.

A big challenge in someone transitioning from the studio world to this New World Order of talking directly to your audience is that people tend to not grasp what that entails exactly. It's kind of like going from Downton Abbey to Deadwood. The old rules just don't apply. But you do get to curse a lot more.

But Matt sort of intuitively grasps that (scroll to the very bottom), so I knew he'd be just fine.

And they're running a good campaign. There's perks that span the resources they've got at hand, from Pearl Jam gear to the chance to have Shaggy record your voice mail message and a bunch of other stuff.

Contrast the Fat Kid campaign to the Bret Easton Ellis campaign for The Canyons. While it's tempting to be wowed by the bigger dollar amount, the Fat Kid campaign is easily the more effective one, pulling in almost twice the audience reach and 50% more backers. One reason is Lillard and company are putting in the work. They've posted 5 times as many updates, and their campaign hasn't been running as long. That's the sort of thing that pays off, not just for this project, but the next one as well.

I tracked Matt down via email to grill him about the details of the campaign.

McNelly: Talk a little bit about the decision to put Fat Kid Rules the World on Kickstarter. At what point did it become a realistic option? What was the thought process behind using it for self-distribution?

Lillard: I think one of the main reason's Rick Rosenthal and Whitewater PIctures decided to "get in bed with me" on Fat Kid was because I came in with a strong business plan as well as a creative vision on how to make the film. Our discussion started around the notion of putting a micro budget film on the VANS Warped Tour and taking it directly to the kids it was made for. So I guess you can say we were very grass roots/DIY to begin with. Then when we didn't find the opportunity to support the film like we thought it deserved after SXSW [Ed. Note: where it won an Audience Award] we were like "screw it, what do we have to lose?" We believed in the film and thought it deserved a chance. Plus at the end of the day we had nothing to lose because the offers we received weren't very good and we'd have to hit a home run to participate in any real way. I don't blame big companies at all. It takes a fortune to sell a film and we're not that big of a movie. It'd be hard to turn a profit on us.

So we all knew Kickstarter was there, we felt like we had a very large base to pull interest from (Pearl Jam, Award winning YA book, Warped Tour, fans from our festivals), talked to you and a couple of other people, and decided to have at it. We set a HUGE number and are still climbing the hill....fighting the good fight.... whatever cliche you wanna use, we're on it.

McNelly: Right now you've got over 1,200 backers and 4,200 Facebook "likes" for the campaign. What sort of impact do you think that'll have on the future of Fat Kid, as opposed to if you'd just put it on the Warped Tour?

Lillard: Well our pitch to our audience is we made this film for you. YOU should come out and see it.  Those tags, the "likes", are the first step in generating awareness and we think its vital to our success. One of the things you don't know yet, I'm breaking the news here first which seem appropriate given our history and your unwavering support of the film... is that we've just done a major deal with TUGG.COM to release the film via their innovative new platform. We deliver our film on demand in the theatre of your choice anywhere in America!  We're thrilled about the potential of this and think we're on to something very new and exciting. So to us, motivating our base is everything!

McNelly: One of the cool things about your campaign has been the involvement via video of a lot of the Fat Kid team, from DP Noah Rosenthal to Jacob Wysocki (the titular Fat Kid) to KL Going (author of the novel) to composer Mike McCready and on down the line. Was that difficult to coordinate? What sort of impact do you think it's had?

Lillard: It wasn't hard really, I think it's all in the planning. When you're making an independent film what you don't have in time and money you have to make up with creativity and diligence. We assigned a point person (Nick Morton, one of our associate producers) early in the process and maintaining the campaign has been his priority for the past 5 weeks. He's doing an amazing job of it.  In the end I don't know if it's been useful to be honest. I think we generate good will with our backers, I think they can see we're serious about our goals. We're also in a bit of a different position then most other KS projects in that we have a finished product and we have really cool materials to share. We're not pitching a "it might look like this..." project, we've got the end result and a lot of shiny things to show people.

McNelly: Talk about the Reddit session you did. I've heard about it from people who have no idea I worked on the film, which tells me you probably did something right.

Lillard: WHEN we achieve our KS goal, it will be because of those 3 hours and the millions of people that played along that day. I think our campaign was on the 25th day and we had raised 52K? After that session on, we were at 87K! It was epic, that's the only word I keep using to describe it. It was a session called an "AMA" (Ask Me Anything) and I went there and had a blast. I'm not sure why it was so great for the Reddit readers, but for me I found an opportunity to talk about me and my career, and Fat Kid in an organic way with people who really wanted to know. I laughed out loud a lot. I can't wait to go back and do it again. It was also the first time in my life I witnessed, first hand, the power of the internet. They are the ones that are responsible for getting Fat Kid to the people.

McNelly: How has the Kickstarter experience played out in contrast to your expectations? What do you think has worked really well? What do you wish you had done differently?

Lillard: I've learned a lot, that's for sure. Umm...the big surprise for me has been how difficult it's been translating eyeballs and people loving the film into donations. I knew because of our exposure in the world, the social media numbers we have behind the project, that we'd be able to spike awareness around the film and I assumed that would mean we'd generate enough interest in our story to give money. That has not been the case. Facebook, Twitter, etc. is about awareness but it's been direct contact with people that's made the greatest impact on our campaign.

McNelly:This is where you write whatever you want. Final thoughts and stuff.

Lillard: I think indie filmmaking is at an amazing crossroads right now and I'm excited to see where it goes. Now, more then ever, we have the ability to make films for almost nothing and that's broken down all barriers of entry. I think it's a new golden age of filmmaking. With that, there needs to be the ability to recoup investment dollars, people need to make money.

Extra Credit

We took last week off, but the subject of the week prior to that ends on Friday the 1st. They"re still short of their goal....The week before that, we looked at The Anniversary, which rallied to hit their goal...Andrew Brotzman is raising money for post-production for his debut feature Nor'easter (another film I worked on).

Lucas McNelly is the filmmaker behind A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. He consults on Kickstarter campaigns for a living. He hasn't lived anywhere in a long time.