Film financing: the seemingly elusive holy grail of independent filmmaking that we all know we need but nobody seems to know how to get. In the old days financing meant hitting up the film markets in hopes that a distributor would find some potential in your project among the thousands of others out there, or begging for funds from private investors or equity firms. The last decade has brought some new advances that make raising funds for projects much more accessible to the average independent filmmaker, and one of the most valuable of these newer methods has been crowdfunding. Minneapolis Producer Ryan Strandjord is no stranger to the topic–in the past two and a half years he has managed crowdfunding campaigns for two different film projects and several food-industry related projects, raising a total of over $270,000 primarily through Kickstarter. In fact, one of his most recent projects, the Herbivorous Butcher, was featured in the New York Times. We talked to Ryan and he shared some of his best tips on how independent filmmakers can hack Kickstarter to raise funds and build an audience for their projects.
GFS: You’ve successfully raised funds for multiple projects over the last couple of years. Can you tell us-what are the pros and cons to raising money via crowdfunding versus through conventional financing?
Stranjord: Some filmmakers feel like there is a stigma with using crowdfunding because the conventional wisdom was that you “need” to have traditional investors for your film. But with that route it’s kind of putting all of your eggs in one basket–financiers want to see a return on their investment, so a lot of times filmmakers lose creative license because the funders want to have a say in what happens with the film. Film financing is pure mathematics–there’s a profit or there isn’t, and if there isn’t then they don’t want to support this or future projects.
Crowdfunding is something that is really a long term strategy. Every filmmaker should run a crowdfunding campaign, even if you’re fully funded. What you’re really doing is finding your audience, and learning how to speak to them about your projects. It can be scary, but it’s an essential skill to learn as an independent filmmaker today.
In crowdfunding your audience wants you to succeed. People fund projects because they believe in them and the person that is creating them, so it’s a great way to find out who it is exactly that’s going to be interested in the project and connect with them early on in the process. It also gives you a chance to see what things people are reacting to so you can refine your verbiage to make sure it resonates with that audience. You do need to put yourself out there-sometimes it’s hard to ask for money from friends and family, but it’s a great way to build momentum on a project so others will want to fund it as well.
GFS: There are a handful of crowdfunding platforms out there now including IndieGoGo and Kickstarter–is there a particular one that you recommend, and why?The most exciting perks are the ones that actually connect the funders more closely to the project Click To Tweet
Strandjord: I’ve used both–IndieGoGo is good because you do get to keep all of the funds you raise, even if you don’t hit your goal. I used that to raise money for festival submissions for a short film project because we knew that even if we didn’t hit the goal we would just use whatever money we did raise to submit to as many different festivals as possible. Kickstarter on the other hand is all or nothing–if you don’t hit your goal, you don’t get any of the money. But I prefer Kickstarter because it’s still the platform that brings in the most money. In fact, Kickstarter is pretty much synonymous with the term crowdfunding in general. There’s a bigger audience and it’s a name that people are familiar with. Also, the press is very familiar with Kickstarter so there’s a much greater chance of getting media coverage that will get you highlighted with even more exposure for the project.
GFS: How have you used social media paired with Kickstarter helped you to raise funds?
Strandjord: The first step is always to make sure you listen and do your research. Be objective about where you’re at in your career, and try to seek out filmmakers that are in a similar place or find campaigns for other projects similar to what you’re doing. Sometimes filmmakers don’t really understand their market value, which can be a big problem if the amount of money you’re trying to raise doesn’t really match up with your body of work and experience. Find similar projects and dissect what worked and what didn’t work for them when it comes to raising funds.
It’s a necessity to hit up your social media audience and your personal contacts when crowdfunding. Actually list by name the people who you think will donate to your project, and how much you think they’ll contribute. Also write down the best way to contact them, whether that’s by email, a text message, or in person at an event. Make sure you can explain why you think each of these people will be interested in the project, and think through what you are going to do in order to stand out to them.
GFS: Gearing more towards filmmakers–what are some of the perks you’ve offered funders that really get them excited to fund projects?
Stranjord: The things that make the biggest impact with funders are exclusive experiences that can only be earned through the campaign. Things like DVDs and Blu-Rays and posters are cool, but people really want to see what they look like before they give money. And those things have certain material costs, printing and packaging costs, and can be an investment of your own time, but a lot of the experiences you can give a funder are free. Some of the most exciting perks are the ones that actually connect the funders more closely to the project–things like special screenings, or inviting funders to a cast & crew wrap party. When you’re putting together your list of potential donors, think about the things that they would personally be most interested in.
Also, it’s a good idea to have several levels of funding below $50 to really help maximize your revenue. Your friends may not be able give you $100 or $1000, but they may be able to kick in $10 to help you out. If you don’t have options for funding smaller monetary amounts, that’s a lot of money you could potentially be missing out on.
GFS: At what stage would you recommend a film project be in when you start to raise money? For example, do you need a complete script, do you need storyboard, should you shoot a trailer, etc.?
Strandjord: Raising money during post is always a strong choice because you have a lot of materials you can use to promote the project, and it’s a time where you’ll usually need a lot of finishing funds for things like effects and marketing.
Now if you’re raising money for actual production work you obviously won’t have things in the can yet. In this case it’s important to have a strong script in place already. You should also be able to talk strongly and concisely about exactly what the film is and what it means to you. It’s not vital to have a teaser at this stage, but you definitely want to showcase your previous work, especially work that is similar to the project you’re raising funds for. Sometimes it’s actually better to not have a teaser–you definitely don’t want to make a bad teaser or people won’t have confidence in the project.
GFS: Can you take use through the timeline for a typical Kickstarter campaign that you’ve run?
Strandjord: So much success is actually dependent on what happens before you launch. This is where you’re really going to need to get the word out to your personal contacts and friends and family so when launch day comes people are already prepped and ready to donate. Think through the things you can do to get people excited about the project when you do kick things off. You really need to start strong or people think you won’t hit your goal. As a general benchmark, you should be looking to be 30% funded in the first three days of your campaign, otherwise you’re at risk of not raising enough money in the allotted time.
I’ve personally found that 28 days is a solid amount of time for the length of a campaign. Of course it’s important to promote throughout the time period, but most activity tends to happen in the first three days and the last three days–nobody cares about the middle of the campaign, so make sure you bookend your promotions and activities accordingly. You could potentially have a shorter timeframe for the campaign, but only if you’ve already built up an audience, have a strong following, and have strong but limited perks for funders.
GFS: Are there any words of wisdom or resources you’d like to recommend to filmmakers trying to raise funds for their projects?
Strandjord: It’s going to be harder than you think–treat this as a 24/7 project or you won’t raise the money. Don’t be making the film while you’re fundraising. You should create content to help promote things, but don’t be caught up in the middle of production, focus on the fundraising portion.
Make sure you do your research–find similar campaigns, contact other filmmakers through Kickstarter, and check out film forums to find out what other people are doing. As a filmmaker, you really should be running a crowdfunding campaign even if you don’t need the money. It helps you connect with your audience. It’s a scary prospect, but a huge and important part of your career as a filmmaker.
Ryan Strandjord is a Minneapolis based filmmaker, producer, crowdfunder, and community organizer. He has raised over $270K in funding over the last couple of years in crowdfunding campaigns. Ryan was the Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project Producer and was previously the Education Director for the Twin Cities Film Fest, Education Coordinator for the Out Twins Cities Film Festival, the Film Programmer for IFP Cinema Lounge, and a staff member of the Twin Cities Actor Expo. Learn all about Ryan and his projects at http://www.ryanstrandjord.com.
Originally written for the 48 Hour Film Project