Act Smart! Crowdfunding like a smart actor

Before you try to raise a dime from anyone for your film (or play, or webseries), you need to ask yourself one critical question: what’s in it for them?

Just under a year ago, I successfully crowdfunded over $50,000 in under 50 days. I did it on behalf of someone else, not to promote myself or make a film. But I got at least as much from it as the nonprofit who got the money, including a better understanding of how to get people’s attention. (Plus, you know, an amazingly low-maintenance haircut.)

In the year since, I’ve learned even more about what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to raising money via sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter.

Do make a really good video

There are all kinds of statistics about how much better campaigns with videos do than ones without. Besides, you’re an actor—like you’re going to miss a chance to perform?

“Really good” is the differentiator. At a minimum, this means a video that’s powerful enough to grab people’s attention—and persuasive enough either to part them from their money, motivate them to share the campaign with others, or (hopefully) both. Trailers don’t work as well as a specially crafted pitch video (although if you have a trailer, you can certainly link to it somewhere further down in the campaign pitch).

What works is keeping it short (the research says 1-2 is golden) and compelling. Outside of that, you can and should be breaking all kinds of rules, because what worked before has been done. If you want to think of it in acting terms, imagine the difference between you playing Hamlet, versus you mimicking another actor’s portrayal of Hamlet. (Needless to say, this goes double if you are raising funds to mount a production of Hamlet.)

Do spend a lot of time getting your copy ship-shape

I see a lot of campaigns with looooooong copy, fuzzy copy, or plain old boring copy. Your central copy should read like the world’s greatest magazine article: it should be impossible to stop reading, filled with surprising twists and turns, and something that makes you want to find out more about the author or the subject. (You don’t have to be grammatically perfect, either, but do make sure it’s understandable.)

Ditto for the copy on the perks—make them so well-written, even someone who is only going to give five bucks wants to read every perk, down to that last, gargantuan one. Which brings us to…

Do offer fabulous perks

There’s an art to crafting perks, just like there’s an art to pricing them (or to pricing in general). Remember always that while your goal is to get money, your immediate goal is to get people to want to give you money or to pass along word of your campaign. A series of awesome perks at a range of price points can entice people into supporting you twice. A crappy, boring, and/or overpriced perk inspires no action at all.

Oh, and one small note based on experience: make the perks easy and cost-effective for you to fulfill! I did okay on the latter, but I grossly underestimated how long it would take to handle fulfillment. My pain = your gain!

Don’t fire until ready

One of the stranger and sadder stories that I’ve seen play out over the past year involved a team that had their amazing video go viral on YouTube and gain all kinds of press, only to see the subsequent crowdfunding pitch fall completely flat. The problem? They’d floated out the video as a “test” to gauge interest before launching the actual campaign: all that viral interest (millions of views on YouTube and Facebook), and nowhere for people to contribute.

By the time they got out there with the campaign and the “real” video, it was too late, not to mention too confusing. Their response looked like panic—they quickly linked to the original video in the Kickstarter campaign, and emailed everyone who’d donated, asking them to help spread the word. Clunky and inelegant.

There is a moderately happy ending: a subsequent campaign to raise post-production funds was successful. But just barely. Make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row before you hit “go”.

And finally…

Don’t pester people

By all means, ask your immediate friends and family for support, but don’t ask them over and over. At least, not in the same way. Figure out a way to be funny, charming, and interesting in the way you ask. And if the answer “no”—or crickets—move on.

I’m not the last word on this; I’m just one person who did enough right to get good results. Do your own research, and go with your gut—all-out! And if you’ve run a campaign that you’ve learned from—success or failure—I’d love to hear from you!

* * *

CAMPAIGN OF THE MONTH: Speaking of crowdfunded films, the team behind DOG BOWL has done an exemplary job with the video, the copy, and the perks. One of which—the custom-written monologue—was, amazingly, still available as of this writing. If I were still acting, I’d be all over that perk! [UPDATE 1/27/13: Long gone, of course. But still, this is a great campaign to check out for seeing Stuff Done Right.]

 

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