Enthusiasts making documentaries, short or full-length feature films, find their biggest obstacle to achieving their ambition is finance. In the digital age, crowdfunding could be the answer but with an overwhelming choice of companies offering the service there are three main questions: How does the method work? Which are the best companies? What are the incentives required for people to invest in film projects?
There are several good books offering guidance. Carole Lee Dean, in her ‘Foreword’, www.amazon.com/Art-Film-Funding-2nd-Alternative/dp/1615930914 in The Art of Film Funding: Alternative Financing Concepts, 2nd Edn. (Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese, 2012) www.amazon.com/Art-Film-Funding-2nd-Alternative/dp/1615930914 explains that in recent years a revolution has created the new norm of independent films and filmmakers, while a revolution in methods of film-funding, primarily through digital technology, supports these independents. New investors range from a large number of average citizens making low-level investments to billionaires using them to sponsor fiction and non-fiction films. In her ‘Introduction’ she says the most important stage of a film’s production is the pre-production funding, which will determine if the film has a chance to survive, where it will be seen and who will see it. She has researched the subject but also writes from experience, financing three grants each year that total approximately $300,000. Critical approval for this book includes a testament by a professor at Columbia University, Maureen Ryan, author of Producer to Producer: A Step-by-Step Guide to Low Budget Independent Film Producing (Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese, 2010) www.amazon.co.uk/Producer-Step-Step-Independent-Producing/dp/1932907750 saying that Carole’s book offers essential advice for independent filmmakers.
Crowd Funding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign (Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese, 2013) http://www.amazon.com/dp/1615931333/ref=rdr_ext_tmb by John T. Trigonis, is highly recommended by Slava Rubin, CEO and co-founder in 2008 of www.indiegogo.com which claims to be the largest global crowdfunding company. Slava says the book will empower readers to evolve their ideas into action, money and success. In his ‘Preface’, www.amazon.com/dp/1615931333/ref=rdr_ext_tmb John says that crowdfunding levels the playing field, giving passionate, creative filmmakers the opportunity to see their projects come to fruition.
In The Kickstarter Handbook: Real Life Success Stories of Artists, Inventors and Entrepreneurs www.amazon.com/Kickstarter-Handbook-Real-Life-Inventors-Entrepreneurs/dp/1594746087/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=51iF5XvAHGL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL320_SR210%2C320_&refRID=1YJFHMYP5BBTPVH3N5D7 author, Don Steinberg, explains the history, concept and some success stories of those who have used www.kickstarter.com including filmmakers. There is an in-depth guide to the potential success of using their service, including how to judge the correct financial target, creating your backstory, gaining attention for your project using media and social networking sites and the art of choosing rewards for your backers.
The online blog https://stephenfollows.com/film-crowdfunding-kickstarter-statistics/ is a series of articles offering advice on every aspect of the crowdfunding industry, followed by the opportunity to purchase an online course, https://stephenfollows.com/course/crowdfunding-for-filmmakers/ at a cost of £59.99, which is a series of lessons on everything a filmmaker would need to know to run a successful crowdfunding campaign.
The blog’s articles are created from in-depth research with statistics compiled by studying film projects on crowdfunding companies, including Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Using Kickstarter’s new film projects as an example the statistics show how the system actually works. From its launch in April 2009 to October 2015, there was an average success rate of 43% but short films reach 59%, with 15% based in LA. The most active months are March, April and June, with Tuesday being the most popular day to launch and Sunday, the most unpopular. Sunday deadlines have a lower success rate than a week day deadline and the most popular time of day to launch is 2pm. 47,809 were launched, of which 24,943 were successful in achieving their target and 18,504 failed. Therefore, the overall success rate was 42.6%.
The system is that a filmmaker is required to state a target goal and a deadline date.
During the live campaign, people known as ‘backers’ pledge money in return for rewards such as t-shirts and DVDs or just show their enthusiastic support for the project to fulfill its potential. When the deadline has been reached, the pledged amounts will be deducted from the backers’ credit cards, the project creator receives the amount, minus the company’s fee, and the creator is obliged to provide the rewards to the backers. If the final pledged amount is less than the target goal then the backers are not charged and the creators of the project receive no money.
During the researched period, the average target was $61,766 but that was mainly a high target for a small number of high value projects. The majority of targets were for much smaller projects and their average target was $6,800. The success rate for a project of $1,000 or less was 53% whereas targets of over $50,000 had a success rate of 11.6%. These statistics can be cross-referenced with Kickstarter’s live data www.kickstarter.com/help/stats and http://web.archive.org/web/*/https://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats
A crowdfunding success story on this site was Veronica Mars (Warner Brothers: Rob Thomas, 2014) www.imdb.com/title/tt2771372/?ref_=nv_sr_2 in April 2013 https://stephenfollows.com/kickstarter-film-goals/ raising their original goal of $2 million in just ten hours, and continuing until they had raised $5.7 million from 91, 585 backers.
For crowdfunding tips https://stephenfollows.com/film-crowdfunding-tips/ the same data research shows that those with a membership of over a year were on average 49% successful, whereas those launching a project within a week of joining were 74% unsuccessful. The average rewards offered were 8.6 but those offering 30 rewards were 63.9% successful. Campaigns with a video were twice as successful as those without and the optimum video length was 3-4 minutes, with a success rate of 51.9%, and the most successful campaigns ran for 18 days.
The advice is to study the site carefully before jumping in with a project launch. By browsing previous campaigns, it is possible to identify what worked and what did not. There are also specific search tools to make browsing easier.
For potential success, follow advice available in books and on websites, taking time to study recommended companies’ websites. Understand what works, what does not and be thoroughly prepared before launching a project in a crowdfunding campaign.