Crowdfunding can be a powerful tool for independent filmmakers to raise funds for their next project, while at the same time also doubling up as a marketing exercise to build an audience and generate a buzz. Both Indiegogo and Kickstarter are international crowdfunding platforms for reward-based projects and donation appeals that originated as platforms for creators to raise funding for creactive arts projects. The sector has made significant advances in the just over ten years since they launched, and the crowdfunding process has become more sophisticated. We’ll explain more about this.
There are still some people who believe that crowdfunding involves creating a pitch and shooting a video, loading it all on to a crowdfunding platform, and then sit back and watch the money roll in. Nothing could be further from the truth! Twelve film and video projects on Kickstarter have raised over $1 million – it doesn’t happen by accident or just good fortune. Here are some essential steps to leverage crowdfunding to finance an indie film. Or for that matter, most types of arts projects.
Choose the right platform
There are several crowdfunding platforms available, starting with the international Kickstarter and Indiegogo platforms that are used for many types of fundraising purposes. Many countries have their own equivalent(s) of this type of reward-based platform. In the UK, where I am, the leading home grown reward-based crowdfunding platform is Crowdfunder UK, and it has a vibrant array of films seeking funding. There are dramas and comedies for a commercial audience, documentaries, films to record an event or a festival, animation, and personal films to commemorate a loved one’s memory.
In the US, the total crowdfunding sector is large enough to support specialist crowdfunding platforms for aspiring filmmakers. Seed&Spark has been in business for 10 years, and there is also Slated. The overall success rate for film and video projects on Kickstarter is 38%. The specialist filmmaker’s platform Seed&Spark claims a double success rate of 84%. They “green light” and pass on the funds raised if a project reaches at least 80% of its target. The platform has fewer people who back projects, but they are there for a more focused reason.
Each platform therefore has its own features and benefits, so filmmakers should choose the one that suits their particular project’s needs and goals.
Set a realistic and achievable target
Before launching a crowdfunding campaign, you need to determine the total budget for your film project. This will help you to set a realistic funding goal and to calculate the amount of money you need to raise.
At the same time, don’t be over-ambitious. Kickstarter has hosted 31,762 successful film and video fundraises (as at 16.5.23). Over two-thirds raised under $10,000. On the other side of the coin, more than 50,000 projects failed to reach their target, and under Kickstarter’s All-or-Nothing rule received nothing.
Also allow for the fees and transaction charges payable to the platforms, plus the costs and delivery of any perks for backers. However, what makes the specialist filmmakers’ platform Seed&Spark unique is that it no longer charges its fundraisers a fee, it relies instead on tips from the film backers.
Beyond providing a critical infusion of capital to would-be filmmakers, Seed&Spark also created in 2022 a Patrons Circle. The Patrons are established filmmakers and industry veterans who have accepted an opportunity to bring their expertise and creative guidance to the independent film community through mentorship sessions. The sessions are open to everyone, with special opportunities for creators fundraising on Seed&Spark.
Create a compelling campaign
To attract potential backers, filmmakers need to create a compelling crowdfunding campaign that showcases their project’s unique selling points. Crowdfunding an indie film will include a well-written pitch video, high-quality images, and a detailed breakdown of the budget and production plan.
Seed&Spark provides workshops for fundraisers on a range of topics from building a crowd to begin with, how to run their marketing support, and through to how to distribute their films when they are completed.
Offering rewards to backers is a great way to incentivize people to contribute to a project. They can be tiered in levels of exclusivity to match contributions. At a starter level consider postcard size film posters. Build up though offering DVD copies, exclusive access to behind-the-scenes footage, signed posters, tickets to the film’s premiere and perhaps a post-screening opening night party, invites to attend filming on set, and a name check in the film’s credits for the biggest donor. Merchandise that can be distributed early, such as branded t-shirts and caps, will contribute to the overall marketing activity.
Remember to cover the costs of all the perks within the overall target budget.
Promote your campaign, and start with a bang not a whimper
Crowdfunding an indie film requires promotion through social media, email marketing, and word-of-mouth. It’s also advisable to reach out to local media outlets to generate coverage and increase visibility of a project. Maybe invite some of them to the set to see what goes on.
This marketing effort should start before the crowdfunding project goes live. There should be an aim to secure pledges of support beforehand, so that when the crowdfunding project does go live there will be an early inrush of support. It may well involve some in-person selling – crowdfunding isn’t totally an online activity. A rush of early support can be impressive to other people who are looking for film projects to support and want some reassurance they are backing “the right ones.”
Engage with your backers
Stay engaged with your backers throughout the campaign and keep them updated on your progress. This will help to build a community around your project and keep your backers excited about the film. Some of them will be pleased to help with word-of-mouth support, happy to wear publicity merchandise, and encourage their friends to also donate and lend their support.
Remember, crowdfunding is not just about raising money. It’s also an opportunity to build an audience, generate buzz, and create a community around your project. With a well-planned crowdfunding campaign, you can leverage the power of the crowd to bring an indie film project to life.
Our thanks go to Frances ‘Frankie’ Rubio who heads the marketing side of Seed&Spark for her help and input to this article. All the team at Seed&Spark has hands-on experience as a writer, director, producer, or some other role in film making. Frankie’s experience has been as a producer. The platform is keen to extend beyond film making in to other creative areas including podcasts, comic books and fashion design, whilst extending the understanding of why it is important to support a diverse independent film sector.