For all my budding microbudget filmmakers and video producers, I say augment crowdfunding next time you need to raise $10k+, unless you're Chris Pratt, in which case you could easily crowdfund north of 6 figures.
Think about it.
How many times do you see that desperate Kickstarter campaign that's trying to raise $60,000 for somebody you've never heard of and they end up getting maybe $50 donated to it?
It's absurd to think that just because you open the cash register people are going to come and help you out.
Let me reframe it this way: when you are an unknown, which is most of us short of Morgan Freeman, is it easier to ask 40,000 people for help or 10?
And that 40,000 is not arbitrary: with a 1% conversion, if you could reach 40,000 people with the message of your movie or short film, then you could expect and hope for 400 people to support your campaign. The average crowdfunded donation is about 50 bucks per person so you would need to reach about 40,000 people to get 400 people to donate 50 bucks apiece to reach $20,000.
Or you could ask 10 really close friends and family and other people to each chip in on average 2,000 bucks. Or 10 people to chip in $1,000 each to reach 10k.
People you trust.
People who trust you.
People who want to see you succeed, and are willing to support you if you show them that you're going to put in the hard work it takes to pull off a film of this caliber (that is, a 10k+ budget).
Whatever your budget is, work harder as though it is a bigger budget. I needed $14,713 at the end of the day, but I worked the whole time as though I was raising $25,000. Aim high. Aim low and you accomplish little. If you only need to raise $1,000, start here.
Note: It's much easier to convince a business they need a video than it is to convince others to support a microbudget film. A business has a 75% chance of seeing an ROI. Your film's backers have about a zero percent chance of a return. But that's okay, right? You're asking for an investment in YOU.
Disclaimer: Neither Church Films nor any of its officers/members can guarantee results. The responsibility lies with YOU and your team's efforts to raise funds. This article can only offer suggestions.
BONUS: Stick around after this whopper mega post (8k+ words) and I will show you the exact treatment that I gave to people, modeled after the WUNDERBAR Diego Contreras treatment that went a long way in raising the capital for this project Powers & Principalities.
1. Quiet Time
This looks different for everyone, but there's one thing that I know you must do or you will not do quiet time: you must treat this like an appointment every working day. And I would go one step further and say you need to be sure you are committing to quiet time at least six days a week.
Step 1: Read
I start off every morning reading from/listening to the Bible. I want to be a better leader, husband, and father, and there are so many good stories and so much wisdom to draw from in both the old and new testaments. So I spend one Pomodoro in the Word to jumpstart the day.
This is a practice I do anyways, but when trying to do a 5-figure story of this magnitude, I definitely need to stay rooted and grounded. If God puts a story on your heart, then you just need to go for it, and keep it before Him. One of the many ways we can continue to understand His love for others and how you can be a part of what He is doing it is to spend time in the Word.
Step 2: Learn
A lot of times, I use this as a another Pomodoro to listen to the Bible on audio (especially any part of the New Testament - Jesus didn't play it safe and neither did Peter or Paul - those are guys I want to learn from), but sometimes I also listen to a sermon or a talk from somebody like Todd White. Grant Cardone is all about taking massive action when it comes to sales and running your business, and I've found that I really like Todd White because of his zeal for sharing Jesus. He too takes massive action.
If you are committed to doing something big with your film, then you need to learn from people who are committed to big dreams and don't play it safe. That's what I love about both of these guys, especially Todd lately.
Step 3: Walk
Every working day, I take a walk. You should too. Leave your device at home. Use it as an opportunity to listen. To be quiet. And most importantly, to get a little movement in your body so that you're not standing or sitting all day. I can't begin to describe all the benefits there is in doing this. Go by yourself or take the dog or your toddler and a stroller. Anything that will allow you to listen and not gab with someone.
Step 4: Think
I have to give John Maxwell credit for this. Every day, you should take time to not accomplish tasks but to think. This is your big picture block. Do it. Again, you need to treat this like an appointment. You can't begin to grow or work on your creativity if you don't allow yourself time to just think. Write down at least two new ideas every day, write down your goals every day, and on top of that, do not compromise on this block.
2. Put a date on the calendar
This one's easy, at some point you just have to put a date on the calendar and commit. Honestly, I think this is the most important step after the first one. You can talk all day about doing your film, but until you have a date on the calendar and start telling people, "we are shooting on the 28th of October," or whatever date you end up shooting, it's just an idea. Having a date and sharing it with your people makes you accountable to them.
If you're considering doing any big project, especially one of this caliber, then this is probably not your first rodeo so you can best gauge how long you are going to need to prepare. I think a good rule of thumb is, the larger the budget, more time should be spent in pre-production. If you are working with a super micro microbudget, then you will not spend as long as Peter Jackson did with the Lord Of The Rings trilogy before stepping into production.
3. Script that bad boy
Started writing? Good. You may not think this is essential to raising funds, but you're wrong. ANYTHING you can show to investors that communicates time and intentionality is a plus. That includes storyboards, and while optional to your directing, I recommend them (below).
Step 1: Scripting
I use Celtx for all of my scripting. Even the free version allows me to export PDFs and it's super user-friendly in terms of its formatting. I have been using it now since 2011, and I don't plan on changing. Go ahead. Sign up. It takes five minutes to learn how to use it.
The key here is to just get the first draft done. Done is better than perfect, and you will have ample time to do revisions and get feedback from your trusted circle.
Step 2: Read-throughs
Which leads us to the next important step of this journey and that is to have friends, family, distant acquaintances, and people that don't know you at all come and read this with you.
Don't just settle for friends and family - though you do need to ask if they want to read it. Send it to them! This is what I did to get my closest family and friends involved:
This is kind of like a cold email. Obviously these are the people that are closest to you so it's not truly a cold email, but if you are just now introducing them to this idea, then it is a cold idea, and I recommend keeping the questions to a bare minimum: only one.
Then when they said "yes," I sent them the script and only asked one more additional question (and I only sent the script to one non-reply out of my group - everyone else I waited for them to give me the green light):
If my closest friends and family sent back any kind of feedback, even if it was neutral, then I was able to decide who to send my pitch deck to (more on that below). I can't take credit for this refining process - it was influenced by the man to learn from if you are trying to engage people through email, Bryan Harris.
Headsup: they (family/close friends) might sugarcoat the truth. Make sure you get strangers involved.
If your closest friends and family will go through this script and offer some kind of feedback, even if it's a nondescript "it's good," then they are much more likely to respond to the pitch deck that you send them with a handwritten note (more on that below).
Lastly, where possible, make sure you do a reading with actors, and another read-through with some/all of your crew. Make sure your best friend, if that's your spouse, great, reads your script with you. Someone who is not afraid to give you honest feedback and see the gaps for what they are - you need that person to read through this with you a handful of times.
There's nothing like doing a live reading with other actors and even non-actors. They will bring input to the table and you must be willing to receive it. It's natural to get defensive, but be slow to speak and quick to listen. Take notes. Be open to constructive criticism, always.
Step 3: (Optional) Storyboards
I'm going to borrow from my book, "The No Budget Guide To Filmmaking," for this part:
In my nearly 31 years, I’ve never heard of a director who didn’t use storyboards with the exception of two. If you can cite 24 different instances, give yourself a pat on the back. Personally, I only know two examples, and the second one I learned in October of 2015. There was a 2005 Hollywood film that had the distinction of being one of the last major theatrical releases to see life on the dying technology that is VHS (you youngin’s can’t appreciate VHS like us millennials, gen Xers, and baby boomers). I don’t recommend it though; the title is enough: A History Of Violence. The director pieced the whole movie together, allegedly, without storyboards. Stephen Spielberg pulled this off with the WWII film Saving Private Ryan. Can it be done? Yes. I did it too with my microbudget feature 12 Til Dusk.
Ever since shooting 12 Til Dusk, I have since used storyboards about 50% of the time. The reason is as I grow as a filmmaker, it forces me to be a better communicator. My team needs to know the vision, and seeing it is often helpful. But with our microbudget feature, I didn’t storyboard. If you’re shooting a short video for the office, do you need to storyboard? Probably not. I would say if your crew is more than 3, yes, you should as a rule of thumb.
4. Build your crew
Already have a crew? Great. Skip this section.
Otherwise, if your crew is not 100% fully staffed, then all aboard! There's a more detailed, more in-depth look at just this part of producing: do's and don't's of building your crew.
Why does this matter in raising funds?
1. It gives you an idea of crew budget.
2. They *might* know some people you should get your proposals in front of.
First, you need to vet references when you find a crew member. Facebook groups are a great place to find crew - you can also post jobs on StaffMeUp.
There's a fantastic book called Who: The A Method For Hiring by Geoff Smart that you should read because chances are you have limited experience with hiring people, even if they are working as independent contractors. It is INVALUABLE.
Questions the book will have you consider include:
1. Rate your work on a scale of 1-10.
2. What were some low-points on your last gig?
3. What were the high-points on your last gig?
Then, per the book's suggestions, you should ask a person's references these questions too (e.g. what was the low-point in working with her/him?).
These questions alone act as a screener. If people are too lazy to answer these, or if their references are AWOL, stop, do no collect GO.
Following the advice in this book led me to working with 4 totally new crew, and I thank them dearly for their time and energy on this project. More on the references in this section later.
Step 1: DP
You can't shoot a microbudget short film without a solid director of photography (DP).
Justin is a fellow filmmaker in Las Vegas, and his YouTube channel is gaining steam with his After Effects tutorials and his short films. After working with him on a small business video ad, I asked if he would do DP work for this pilot. He said "yes."
It's simple really. He's got the hard skills in spades, he goes above and beyond what's asked, and he has a great attitude →
Something profound he said in this video, which will always stick with me, is a very humble quality that I like about him and it's this: as filmmakers we should be willing to help each other out as often as possible regardless of title or position.
Now only if more groups in life did this!
If you don't already have a good relationship with a DP, consider finding one nearby and inviting him or her to lunch. Where possible, do video production with them and make it look as cinematic as possible for a business in your backyard. It's an excellent way for you guys to work together before either of you sign up to do a longer project like a short film.
Step 2: Location Manager
Finding locations is hard. This post-9/11 culture we live in makes everyone scared of cameras, surveillance, etc. Thanks Patriot Act.
Outsource this bad boy. Can't? Try again. Really can't? Use AirBnb for houses if your own circle doesn't have the locations you need, if not the resources from your state's film commission website. Call everyone. Call 50 churches if you need a church. Call 100 Del Tacos if you must get that shot in the ball crawl. But I STRONGLY suggest you outsource this role.
I once spent a day and a half landing a house. ONE HOUSE.
That was NOT working smarter.
This time around I hired a location manager, Kim. You should too. She was my second addition to the team. Without locations, you cannot shoot your film. Get this person onboard and spell out expectations.
Tangential: speaking of expectations, this was my biggest learn during this whole shoot - make expectations crystal clear, including duties, deadlines, budgets, and more, and over-communicate every single one of these to every person on your crew. If you fail in any one of these areas, you can only blame yourself. Take responsibility for your film. It starts with you.
Step 3: Casting Director
My wife Shalom is the most amazing person. While she is very much a gifted leader, and I say that because of how much she cares for the people in her charge, she is also amazing at accomplishing the work that needs to be done behind the scenes. While neither of us are the best at administrative tasks, we can tackle them, same as you or Uncle Bob. With our microbudget feature that we shot in Utah in 2013, she showed that she has a flair for discerning who is a good fit for a role and who is not. We knew going into this pilot that I might be too subjective when it came to casting decisions, nor should I try to do everything myself. Invariably as a director, you will have oversight in a lot of different areas, and I encourage you to delegate even more than I did. I'm not perfect at delegating, but I'm growing. This was definitely one area I needed to delegate and hand the ball off. Throughout the whole process I had to remind myself that in order to do that, I needed to fully trust her decisions, and I absolutely did. She has wonderful intuition for onscreen talent.
If your production team has an email account, then set one up for your casting director or just set it up so that you can forward all mail to her personal mail and so that her personal mail can work as a user on behalf of the production account. That's what we did for Shalom's gmail so that she was deputized to correspond on behalf of the company slash production team.
I helped put casting calls on the local Facebook groups, and she went right to work at sorting and sifting through auditions and headshot submissions.
I recognize that for some of you, letting go of an important area of the production like this might be hard for you, but we have to grapple with this or we will never grow as filmmakers. I grapple daily with letting go. I'm under construction!
It's worth repeating: delegate casting. One, you can't do everything yourself. Two, you absolutely must be impartial, and if you have been in your town/area for any length of time doing films and videos, then you will already have a few people that you know from the acting community and vice versa. Be very clear, and be direct: I am not the casting director, and I am strictly focusing on directing this next film.
Even when you make that announcement, and even when you communicate that, you're still going to find some of your folks will reach out to you directly, people that have worked with you in the past. Be tactful, and be direct. You cannot please everyone, and if you think that you can, you will stunt your growth as a filmmaker. By handing off casting and refusing to make final decisions on this because you are going to trust your casting director, you are likely going to step on Actor John's or Actress Sally's toes. Be quick to show grace and love, but understand that you need to focus on directing (and producing if you must).
Step 4: AD
Make this a priority (Assistant Director) if you are working with large amounts of people.
For Powers & Principalities, I had several scenes with dozens of people involved. I needed an AD - bad - and she (Ashley) was a lifesaver. This unedited shot (MOS), for example, wouldn't have been even remotely possible without her help:
The AD can handle a lot if she/he is a seasoned AD. Mine was, and I'm eternally grateful for all she brought to the table:
1. Releases signed
2. Midnight runs for food
3. Time management
4. Ensure each dept. is ready to go (sound, camera, etc).
5. Interacted with extras waiting around
6. Made sure I ate and had H20
7. A+ attitude (especially considering I dropped the ball and didn't complement her with a PA)
My AD was confident too - when I asked for raw feedback, she gave it, and I learned a whole lot which (like many items in this post) will be shared in future posts.
Step 5: Sound
Don't forget sound. I knew from the get-go I would do ADR, and while I do value sound, I will take picture over sound any and every take if I must.
Two reminders from this short film on working with a new sound guy:
- Trust their judgment; also, remind them it's okay to step on your toes.
- If they tell you the sound is awful, but you have to move on, reassure them it's on you. If they've advised, and if you ignore their advice, IT IS ON YOU.
I worked with a young man named Carlos and much to my surprise, he came packing. Not just a boom/mic but also lav mics for lead actors. He also took wild tracks (pickup sounds) without being solicited. #OverDeliver
Step 6: PA's and Grips
I had two PA's I was in talks with, but I made excuses and didn't do the final due diligence to bring them onboard, and that's on me. Did our production suffer? No. Did it make life harder? Sometimes, and the fault lies with me and it won't happen again. I told you, good, bad, or ugly, I will share it all in this journey because I want us microbudget filmmakers to grow in our leadership.
Grips - I was intro'd to an amazing man (Rad) who also served as a 1st AC/2nd AC/PA/all-around-great-guy. Not everyone will find such a hard-working, valued member on their team, but I pray you try nonetheless. He would strike the camera, lights, he'd slate, he'd grab this, Hollywood that (where you hold a bounce card/gel/etc. instead of securing it with a C-stand, C-47 or other contraption).
My ole coworker Dale from the mega church we both worked at shot a microbudget feature in 2016, and he was able to refer me to Rad because Rad helped Dale out. So for you, don't just rely on the web - talk to your circle and see who they know. I would have never met Rad if I hadn't asked Dale for help. We have not because we ask not.
Step 7: Send thank you notes
Each convo with a reference took me about 4-5 minutes. Very few were longwinded and went over. Most don't know you, and they're grateful to get on with their lives. At the end of each phone call (do NOT do this over email - you don't want manicured responses), ask each reference for their office address.
1. It's less creepy than asking for their home address (they likely don't know you).
2. It'll shock them that you want to send a thank-you note. They aren't expecting it, which ties back into 1.
3. This is a small industry - make an impression now and don't quit (time is the one ingredient we can't skip in the journey from videos and short films to the next big-budget passion project (e.g. Interstellar - even Nolan had his start in short films before Memento).
As mentioned earlier, shell out the $10 for a book of 20 stamps and send old-fashioned snail mail to thank your references. They didn't have to give up their time to chat with you just because you're some Joe Schmoe. While most phone convo's with them should last no more than 5 minutes, including the time you need to ask and double-check their office address, it's a small gesture that goes a long way to show appreciation. Snail mail > email + verbal thanks.
Not everyone will give you their address. Some references were so sheepish, they insisted on a thank-you email instead. One reference even sent me a thank-you note for my thank-you note!
5. Build an exhaustive pitch deck
I'm talking 20 pages and more. Use full color; include sections for the film, its edit, its cine work, budget, cast, crew, food - be thorough.
Print the pitch deck out.
Include a handwritten note for each recipient. Seal the note.
You must communicate that you're serious about this project. Email is super lazy these days, and sending a digital copy of your pitch deck to somebody is nowhere nearly as effective as sending a hardcopy with a personalized note, especially when you have kept these folks in the loop leading up to this moment (sharing the script with them, soliciting feedback, etc.).
Step 1: Diego Contreras your treatment to the max
Diego was one of my last podcast interviews in 2016, and his post remains to this day (June 2017) the most popular post on this site because of his content upgrade, which is what I have modeled and have included my pitch for you at the end of this post. His aforementioned pitch deck is immersive, exhaustive, and very detail-oriented.
Want to shoot big motion pictures? Let's level up.
I used Google Slides to get my presentation going and then exported the whole slideshow as a .pdf, and that is your bonus if you stick around 'til the end.
Don't want to build your own slide deck from scratch? Drag and drop and change up the text and pics on my pitch deck - this digital download is available in the store.
Step 2: FedEx
Remember Kinkos? If you're from this next generation (those after my millennial generation), you may not remember this company. Well, they're FedEx these days, and you can do everything small-business-related at a local FedEx. Print jobs, binder creations, canvas prints, posters, etc. While they offer a discount for larger purchases (I bought 4-5 of these comprehensive pitch deck print jobs), you can expect to drop about $20 or so on each print job if you want heavy paper stock, full-color printing and binding with a clear cover and black backing. They might even let you keep the quality-control print job on the house. They did for me.
Step 3: USPS
Now you *can* mail these pitch decks right from the FedEx that you print them out at, but they charge big bucks.
THE GOOD OLE USPS is an option, and if you bring a book and a positive attitude, you're set. Just remember, bring your own tape, bubble wrap, etc. They're more than happy to sell these goods to you, but if you have 'em, pack 'em with you.
Friendly reminder: include a personalized, sealed note for each investor you're sending this pitch deck to. Mail both to each person in one bundle. Follow up with them as needed to make sure the recipient a) received the package, and b) they're onboard. More on this in a little bit.
My note asked them to call me about supporting the project. I then had to follow up by phone, email, SMS, you name it for a few folks, no different than in the sales process I've learned over the past year in doing video production as a business. Be creative with your followups. Don't just send message after message asking for help. Vary it up.
7a. Fiscal sponsorship?
Your backers may not ask for this (I offered, but all declined), but it communicates that extra detail you're putting into this project.
Because film is still an art form, you may qualify to get your funds routed through a nonprofit interested in the arts in exchange for a cut, say 5% of the gross proceeds. They in turn are set up to possibly give your donors the benefit of a tax deduction.
I wouldn't just go to any 501c3 off the streets. Find one geared towards film. Then do your homework to see if they are good stewards of the money they're given. If their income is pequeño, well, they'll either be really hungry to help you or they'll be so small and disorganized they can't help you.
I heard about Filmmakers Collaborative through Seed&Spark, and while I followed the instructions to the letter, I never did hear back from them after my submission. I only have myself to blame - I only did 3 followups, all by email (big no-no). On the other hand, I did 8-10 followups with just one backer through snail mail, a contact form, email, phone, SMS, and Amazon (shipped a gift). Grant Cardone always says it takes several followups to "close a deal." He ain't lying.
NOTE: If you're not doing sales training every working day, you need to start if you want to make it as a filmmaker.
Here's my attitude: what do you have to lose? If they don't require a fee upfront, submit your materials to them - you already crafted them in the previous steps. Email/mail them a copy and follow up!
7b. Send that pitch deck to your inner circle
Okay, back to your inner circle. As mentioned at the top of this post, this is where a chunk if not most of your funds will come from. Identify a core group of people. Start with
family → close friends → friends
Save acquaintances for crowdfunding. I'm hard on crowfunding, but it does have its purpose.
My circle was made up of 8 people who could impact this film. I sent 4 of them hardcopies of the super detailed pitch by mail.
Then I waited a few days before checking on them.
Then I had phone calls with folks. Like I mentioned earlier, I followed up with one backer several times. Another, a few times less.
Yet another backer sent the pitch deck back to me after contributing - their idea.
Once fundraising started, four people contributed directly and accounted for 48% of the total budget.
That's an average of $1,778 per backer.
Powers & Principalities
You can't get big (per donor) results from crowdfunding unless you have a super unique campaign trailer with a big name attached to it (think 2015's Kung Fury) or you've already amassed a huge following (a la Pratt).
Immediately send those folks handwritten thank-you notes - at bare minimum. No excuses. Too lazy? Well, you won't raise $8,500 let alone $15k or more.
8. Send that pitch deck to grants/A-listers
Grants typically want dough. The massive list of filmmaking grants that nofilmschool.com publishes quarterly is a great reference point if you, like me, don't know who to go to or where the deuce to start.
The problem is... most are funded by Joe Q. Public and Uncle Bob.
If you and Uncle Bob both submit $50 as an "application fee" and so do 20, 100, or 200 other Uncle Bobs across the world, they've got an instant pool of $1,000, $5,000, or $10,000 to dole out by way of a "grant." They - the givers - get new email signups and backlinks to their site. That's internet gold there mateys!
There's another name for this "pooled" system, and if this type of microbudget "grant" wasn't so microbudget, it'd work on the same principles, probably using annuities to comp the bill: the lottery.
But, for all intents and purposes, at our level of microbudget filmmaking, this kind of "grant" is a glorified "raffle."
Now, I did submit the pitch deck to the Panavision program (in the aforementioned nofilmschool.com list) to see if they'd lend some nifty 50's or something. After all, what do you have to lose at this point? The information's already packaged - send it!
Did they roll out the red carpet with this super pitch?
Nein. Ende gut, alles gut.
But a good friend from my ole stomping grounds in (the new film capital) GA suggested looking into the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
Why not? I've seen "Superman Returns." If they have grants of up to $10k, what's there to lose?
This whole time, during this whole pre-production phase of Powers & Principalities, the one consistent word from the Big G was "courage."
I sent the pitch deck to them, and weeks later I received the blanket email to bid "adieu" this time around - maybe next time kid. I'm not sure what happened. I saw a clip on Netflix once, and I know Kevin Spacey is busy running the country.
I should have spent more time following up. Worse yet, I did not delegate this phase of pre-production.
Double fail, both of which are my fault.
See how easy that is? Assume responsibility. It's really easy, and you'll grow as a leader, which is a must if you and I are to level up as a filmmakers. Those who seek to save their lives will lose their lives. Start practicing ownership now.
An actor shows up late? You didn't over-communicate. Your fault.
I had students that learned slopes (Algebra) in one lesson. There were other kids who needed all of high school, college, and then a hundred lessons on slopes to understand what the heck they were. Some were lazy; some were super high-rep learners.
Be responsible: text, email, call, and send telegrams, instagram videos, billboard messages, and smoke signals if you have to.
Swallow your pride and practice these words right now: that's on me - sorry about that guys. 'Cause guess what? It is on you! You're running the ship Cap'n! Act like it! Keep people accountable and set expectations, but at the end of the day, remember it's your responsibility, especially when things go south.
More time should be spent in pursuit of funds, and if you can, hand this part of producing off to a dedicated team member. You can't do everything by yourself, and you aren't equally skilled at everything. Let some stuff go. You have to at the 5+ figure level or your ship will sink. This film would never have worked if I hadn't involved 6 others in crucial roles that I am below average at (at best).
Learn: have a dedicated team member to find grants and own crowdfunding.
9. Use a separate checking account
Already have a video production business with a separate checking account? You're golden.
Want to launch your own video production business? You can - today.
If you truly want a business bank account, you'll need an EIN and articles of incorporation to bring to your bank/credit union. Click that link above on starting your video production business, and more information can be found there or in my book The No Budget Guide To Filmmaking, available in the Church Films store.
Let's assume you already have this account. GREAT! Use this account to deposit/receive funds.
You, my budding microbudget filmmaker, don't want to commingle funds! This - commingling - is where you use business funds for personal expenses, like groceries and your spouse's anniversary gift! Don't do it!
Go to your local credit union, and you can probably set up a business checking account for nothing and have zero maintenance fees.
10. Make it easy to receive funds
Use Paypal. Share your account and routing number if they (your close-knit backers) want to do a transfer.
I can't give that info out!
Yes, you can. Frank Abagnale isn't going to swoop in and steal your identity. This is your closest circle, remember? They're investing in you, not your short film (more on that in a minute).
Take checks. Someone wants to pay in Bitcoin? FIGURE IT OUT!
11a. Crowdfund to augment your fundraising
I originally was going to use Seed&Spark to crowdfund. I started working on the campaign, bit by bit, piece by piece, even before building the mega pitch deck. After all, I did a writeup on them long before I ever went with them on WHY we as microbudget filmmakers should support their site. In the future, that post will more adequately reflect my experience using their platform, but as of June 2017, it is does not.
What I didn't know was how their process worked. I thought I could hit publish and wait a day or two and then poof! I'd be live.
Now, I was flippant and decided I would hit my campaign goal at a dollar, and anything extra would be appreciated. After all, crowdfunding was never my sole strategy. It was always meant to be an add-on and a way to vet Seed&Spark. It was never a big deal since anything I put on their site could be used in the mega pitch deck and vice versa. Again, we have not because we ask not, right? So... I might as well launch!
I wrapped up the Seed&Spark campaign and hit submit. Not long after, I got an email from one of their guys, whom I'll call Frank:
Thank you so much for your submission! "Powers & Principalities" sounds like a really interesting project.
My name is Frank Helmut. I look forward to working with you on getting this project launched.
Can you please confirm your campaign goal as it will help me provide the best feedback possible? I'd just like to confirm that you are aware that you must raise at least 80% of your goal to receive your funds on our platform.
I also see that you've previously run crowdfunding campaigns. Can you let me know a bit about that experience, what you learned and anything you'd like to do differently?
Below, you'll find some notes and videos on your Pitch Video, Wish List & Incentives, as well as some notes on Education & Outreach.
Your pitch video has a lot of really great energy and elements. However, I think it'd help if you provided me with some additional context about your project and its goals so that I can give you the strongest feedback possible.
Right now, you have one item listed as $1. You want to ensure that the Wish List provides your audience with a solid, visual breakdown of what you'll be raising for. You should get as specific as possible in regards to equipment and locations in order to take advantage of our Loan feature.
Feel free to take a look at the other campaigns on the site for some ideas.
You have some good incentives to start off with.
I do recommend exploring a visual, shareable and more instant incentive at the $25 amount. $25 is the most common amount contributed and offering something visual is a great way to turn your supporters into amplifiers of your campaign.
Check out this video from our Crowdfunding to Build Independence Online Class: Creating-Incentives-for-Your-Audience
Education & Outreach
In case you haven't, we highly encourage you work through the Crowdfunding to Build Independence Handbook to make sure you're getting the most out of your crowdfunding campaign. Look closely at the audience building and outreachsections.
The number one thing that you can be doing right now is very targeted outreach- which means being able to answer the questions:
1. Who is Your Audience?
2. Who is this Movie for?
3. How do you get to them?
4. How big is your current network?
What do your other networks look like? Historically speaking 60-80% of people who will contribute to your campaign know you or know about the film already. How many people do you have a direct connection with who are interested in what you are doing and want to be a part of this.
The first 30% of your campaign needs to come in the first couple of days and this will come from your direct community and therefore there is a lot of direct outreach that needs to happen right now. Now is the time to write to people and personally let them know about the campaign and ask can you count on them in the first two days and for how much.
The reason that 30% is so important is that it tells the general public that there is momentum behind this project, that the people nearest to you are excited and trust you, and that there is a good chance this film will get completed.
These emails should be short, visual and exciting and should entice people to join the journey and share with their community- even if they can only contribute $20.00.
If you have any questions, please let me know. We're here to help! And when you have a new version of your campaign ready for me to review, please let me know via this e-mail thread.
Thanks so much!
Whoa! Crazy feedback there Frank!
I was surprised, so I went along with it:
Here's a video message: <inserted a YouTube link of me talking instead of typing out an email>
P.s. I'm making changes. Please review tomorrow. Thanks monsieur!
Then I wrote him a day later after taking his advice to heart:
all of my desired changes are in place. Thanks for the detailed feedback - let me know when it's live.
Two days later, The Frank Strikes Back:
Thanks for your response and video response. That's definitely been a first!
To confirm, your new campaign goal is $2,117?
Understanding that, I'm able to provide much stronger and detailed feedback. Take a look below:
The Pitch Video as it stands does a good job of outlining the themes of the project and social importance, but we've found that audiences come to learn specific points about a project before deciding to contribute financially or follow. Take a look below:
The pitch video needs to be something that stands alone so that if someone were to only watch a 90 second video they would have all the information on the film and the filmmakers. It should open with footage from your film as the purpose of a pitch video is to "show and not tell" your audience what the film is going to look and feel like.
Videos heavy on direct address to camera historically do not do as well.
The quality and care that you take with the pitch video is what your audience will assume will be reflective of your finished film.
The pitch video is a combination of WHO, WHAT & WHY.
WHO- you and the team are
WHAT- the project is
WHY- you're making it, why we should care, why you need the money and why right now.
The WHO, WHAT, & WHY should happen as quickly as possible!
This all needs to happen in under 2 minutes. People will stop watching at 90 seconds so anything important needs to happen before that mark.
Keep in mind: Who is the audience for this film? Who will this excite? Why will they get excited? The first 15 seconds of the video should SHOW them the stuff they're excited about FIRST.
I highly recommend watching this video first: Don't Make Another Boring Pitch Video
Great breakdown! I'd encourage to get as specific as possible in regards to equipment and locations in order to take advantage of our Loan feature.
Appreciate your note on the incentives. Would you mind sending along a screenshot so I can pass that onto our tech team?
I also wanted to take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of getting that first 30% in the first 3 days of your campaign. Do you have commitments from people to contribute in the first 3 days? This will provide the necessary momentum to bring your campaign to the Green Light.
Strangers will only begin to pay attention once momentum has grown through your work. There's a misconception that crowdfunding is a "if you build it they will come" event, when actually you will need to identify all the people you want to target, how you're going to reach them and what you're going to say ahead of time.
Let me know if you have any questions. We're here to help!
In other words, my campaign was on hold. I was toast. I threw in the white towel:
I'm all for creating a super-niche community of filmmakers, and because I wouldn't adapt to their requirements, it's on me for not launching on their platform.
See that? It's my fault - not theirs. They wanted Cold Stone. I was too cheap and wanted a half-gallon of vanilla from the freezer section. The courtship was over.
Pros: super curated community of filmmakers with built-in checks and balances to maximize your campaign with them.
Cons: not handy in a pinch, when you just need to hit the switch to "on" for your "OPEN" sign hanging above your checkout lane, which is what I needed to do.
With another failed relationship on the books, I called an audible. I used Indiegogo back in the spring of 2013 to raise a few bucks for my microbudget feature, and with their flexible funding (you can keep what you raise), I looked true north to my old point-of-sale system.
11b. Good ole Indiegogo
I won't do a detailed primer on setting up your campaign here. Just follow the questions and prompts. It's pretty user-friendly.
What I didn't know about Indiegogo is the instant publication. There is no review. Click submit and poof! You're live! It's the exact opposite of Seed&Spark.
My first Indiegogo pitch video was super basic because I knew my mega pitch was going to do the talking for me, which I strung out for the info sections on Indiegogo. I did this short pitch video for us visual learners only (some people don't read/can't read):
From studying Grant Cardone, over-selling, I realize, is very a real thing.
Don't do a 2-4 minute crowdfunding pitch video just because everyone else is. For decades, commercials have been 60 seconds or less. Crowdfunding is way newer. Follow the commercial pros; keep it to the bare minimum with more info (below) for those who need it. People drop off like dead flies after 30 or more seconds when it comes to video; darn the internet and all its shiny bells and whistles.
And for Pete's sake, get a Google Voice number and share that with people. It costs nothing, and it adds the peace of mind of being able to reach someone. Include that in your pitch video and in your description below it. A real business includes multiple points of contact for people that want it. Act like one. I had three or more folks call the office because a) I shared the number and you guessed, b) they wanted more info.
I set the Indiegogo goal high - much higher than what I needed because every shoot has wants. Ours was renting the Alexa mini for a top-notch picture. It was by no means necessary, but it was a goal nonetheless.
12. Green Inbox
Credit has to go to our fellow microbudget filmmaker Christopher Shawn Shaw for telling me about this service "Green Inbox," henceforth Green Inbox, with no quotes or italics.
It's simple. Hand them cash (starting at $29 give or take), and they will help you email everyone in your inbox in timed batches (so you don't hit too many spam triggers). It takes the pain of sending a message to 500 people out of the equation. I did this process 2-3 times, once for my Facebook contacts and another for Gmail contacts.
Trick is, you need to do some heavy lifting yourself. Get $100 and 4 donors to back your campaign, and they'll be willing to put their bums on the line for you. Their "guarantee" is super simple and statistically, I'm sure it darn near always works in their favor: you'll raise more money using our service than what you spend on it, if you meet our four basic guidelines (two of which are the $100/4 donors), effectively paying for the service and leaving you some leftovers. It's brilliant really, especially if you're using Indiegogo.
I blasted a lot of people in my inbox, especially friends and acquaintances. Many jumped in immediately - and they would have likely never heard of this campaign if I hadn't emailed them, and I wouldn't have emailed them if I hadn't used this service.
I'll throw my email I sent folks in as a part of the bonus upgrade at the end of this post. It worked for me - adapt it as needed!
Note: I did not use Green Inbox for B2B relationships. I used the free version of woodpecker.co to reach out to everyone in my sales pipeline in Vegas. I offered the car, a half-eaten meatball sammich, and other bonuses to get them to do an advance to help fund this film.
I had zero bites; I'm always learning sales and pitching.
Back to Green Inbox: they will even guide you through the process of using Yahoo! to collect your Facebook contacts, import them into your Yahoo! inbox (do you still have one? It's almost as "retro" as an AOL email... hyuk hyuk), and then download that list of contacts/emails for use in your real inbox, whatever that might be.
13. Even when the going is slow... blast those updates
I knew I was asking people to invest in me. Indie films have such a small chance of recouping their budgets, and short films have a next-to-zero chance of recouping their budgets, so from the start, this pilot promo was always meant to be the most expensive business card I've ever paid for.
And I always pitched, even in my mega pitch deck, the investment was in me, not my story.
The end result wasn't and still isn't to recoup the money but to have a solid hook, a super-sized sledgehammer for when I do get in front of decision makers who can expand this story into a full-blown show.
Figure out what your goal is with your short film, and tell folks WHY they should invest in you.
And keep the updates consistent, keep them interesting, and use the platform where you get the most engagement.
For me, it's my personal Facebook. Every Friday, I post a movie question, such as "What’s your favorite movie where the main character is a dad and a husband and he doesn’t compromise his family with his actions or inactions?" It always generates a lot of great feedback, and I pray it's a refreshing break from the avalanche of narcissistic posts we all get when we log in to Facebook.
Friday movie questions have been great for reconnecting with old names, and it's been great to be a part of such a community.
Don't post your next meal or what you're listening to or political rhetoric ('tis a stick o' dynamite regardless of your beliefs or lack of beliefs - if you must hold the dynamite, make it about film) or news blurbs. Go all in on film, and let your social media reflect that. Heck, if you made it this far in the post, there's a strong chance you're all in too.
Your personal posts should only reflect your filmmaking, and those posts should more often than not solicit engagement (questions are great to this end).
Identify your best platform, then make it interesting. Don't just do "Support my film" posts. Vary it up! Here's another I did - a byproduct of pre-production, a teaching moment:
If you don't vary it up, your outreach is lazy, boring, and people will unfollow you.
Even the Son of Man had His guy, His three, His 12, His followers, then His crowds and everyone else outside those groups. Aim for the followers/crowds, give (yes, give) them something they'll enjoy (such as a chance to share their opinion), and understand only your "12" and some followers will go deeper with you. Most won't show up. Of those that do show up, many of them just want fish and bread. Make it happen.
To blast attention on Powers & Principalities, I used my personal Facebook and the Church Films Twitter with the help of a steady queue of posts, courtesy of Jooicer (a poor man's Buffer).
On day 1, I had one donor. After all the prep work, there was the temptation to retreat. That one percent was looking like a pipe dream.
Don't. Have courage. If you believe in your story, you'll go all in. Again, "Uncle G" Grant Cardone says to take massive action. I agree, and I didn't even take massive action, but I knew after listening to him retreating wasn't an option.
A lot of times, people release a creation into the world, and when it fails to gain traction, people shut down.
Crush that fear. God didn't give it to you.
If you truly believe you're on a mission, then go with God. Burn the boats behind you if you must.
Think of it this way: if you fail to keep regularly posting, people will assume you're aren't sold on your own creation, so why should they care, if they've even seen/heard it? It's a crowded world out there.
Day 2 saw some pickup, and then silence.
Don't panic. Keep posting. Do it for your crew, your talent, and your other backers. Do it because you have to tell your story.
By the end of the 14 days, it was time for production, and $1500 and some change was raised, before fees. And we smashed the 1% and managed to eek out about a 2.7% conversion:
That's money the film wouldn't have raised if I hadn't given people a shout and a way to checkout. Thanks Indiegogo for following the K.I.S.S. principle and a HUGE THANKS TO ALL OF YOU BACKERS FOR MAKING THIS FILM POSSIBLE.
Learn: make the crowdfunding last through production (30 days) and keep posting. I didn't (settled for 14), so after production wrapped (two weeks after after the end of the Indiegogo campaign), I opened another round of Indiegogo.
I cut together another quick pitch video and opened the cart again. My thought process is that $50>0.
The results were abysmal because I didn't water the second campaign. The second campaign needed even more attention to take root because like any normal distribution, there's a time for buzz and excitement for the next big, new shiny thing.
My window, my best shot was in pre-production. Once the film's production was over, it simply needed even more attention than it did before to move the needle, which is why it's wise to have a committed team member to own this facet of producing. Don't be unwise like me in this area and try to cobble funds together yourself.
Remember comic book fans when new Logan trailers were dropping? It was exciting! Now it's 3 months after the film's premiere, and it's a distant memory; we're already looking forward to next year's blockbusters.
14. The balance
So far, so good, ja? Only there's a balance in my case. Thankfully, I had about 30 people in all contribute to this film. I was pumped! Still, I had to wrangle funds for the balance.
The film's budget was a lean $14,713.
The balance is something you have to be creative with if you're in a similar situation. I hope and pray you all far surpass my funding, and let me know when you do below in the comments!
I sold my '07 234 cc bike for $1100 even and made an owner investment. Ever since my boy was born, it was something I wanted to do anyways (sell the bike). That brought the raised funds to almost $10k.
Final step: I wrote IOU's for everything I took out of Mary Samsonite's briefcase.
All levity aside, I don't like being a servant to debt. It has a purpose in the business world, but for personal finances, debt can be another stick of dynamite. Thankfully, this film is a Church Films LLC project, and in many ways, its flagship project.
And thankfully, I have great IOU's - remember your circle? Lean on them.
15. Send thank you notes - again
We already talked about stamps. You can buy a pack of 100 blank notecards off Amazon for as little as 10 bucks. The value of the handwritten note in this day and age of all things instant gratification, well, you just can't put a price on it. Snail mail is not dead. Anybody who spouts this kind of nonsense about it being dead probably hasn't found a real, personalized letter/card in their mailbox in some time.
Cast, crew, and sponsors – you should send/hand them at the very least a thank you note. Yes, even if your handwriting is awful, make it handwritten. If it is truly atrocious, just say with a super big font:
And that'll do. Go shoot your film.
BONUS: Ready to raise some funds? In need of a blueprint to get the wheels turning? Have no clue what to say to your investors? Here's a .pdf that you can model, plus an email script you can use in reaching out to your contacts (followers/crowds).
This pitch deck will help you cover:
- Timeline for all phases of production
- Crew Bios
- Contact info
And if you want an editable pitch deck, there's a link at the front of the .pdf that'll take you to the store.