Nine Crowdfunding Don’ts for Filmmakers

Don’t guilt trip your friends

Yesterday I launched an Indiegogo campaign for my next film, Words to Live by. It's as good a time as any to post this list, which I wrote some time ago, back when I thought I was hot stuff because I was history's first crowdfunded filmmaker (which I now equate with being history's first panhandler). Things change, but these tips are still relevant. And before you ask, yes, I've done nearly all of these don'ts myself.

  1. Don't believe for a moment that your campaign might go viral. You'd think people would be realistic about this by now, but living in LA, I assure you that unrealistic dreams of fame and fortune are alive and well. So of course there are still filmmakers who think their awesome Kickstarter is totally going to break the Internet and raise millions. It won't happen unless you've got an A-list – and I mean A-list – star attached. At which point you won't need crowdfunding, as studios will be calling you.
  2. Don't delude yourself over how much money you can raise. As I like to put it, "crowdfunding" should really be called "friendfunding". Most of your backers will be friends, family, and acquaintances. Be grateful for their generosity, and accept that there are folks who think the world of you, yet will not donate $500 or $50 or even $5 to your campaign, for whatever reason. How much, then, should you expect to raise from your circle? How much is too much to ask for? Well, I'm trying to raise $12,000, so I'll soon find out.
  3. Don't use "flexible funding" when you're trying to raise a ton of money. Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo allow you to "flexibly fund" your campaign, meaning if you don't reach your target amount, you can still keep whatever money you raise. So you tell the world that you need nothing less than $100,000 to make your film, and you wind up raising... $5,000. What are you going to do with that? You know what you'll do: you'll keep it, and never make a film, and piss off all the people who supported you. If you think – nay, if you know – you can cover the rest of your budget yourself, then go the flexible funding route. (That's what I'm doing with Words to Live by.) Otherwise, the "all or nothing" approach inherent to Kickstarter, et al, is more fair to your backers.
  4. Don't set unreasonable price points for your perks. Ah, the backer perk. For many crowdfunders, it's the hardest thing to devise. What unique, desirable object will entice someone to back your campaign? That's up to you, but I can at least say this: Don't set too high a price for it. I have seen many filmmakers set a perk level of $50 just so the backer can watch the finished film. That's absurd. Factor in your costs of producing each perk, but don't go overboard. $10 to see your film is fine. $40 for a tangible object like a T-shirt is fine. For $100, you'd better be offering some really cool stuff, and I don't mean a signed script or a behind the scenes video. Don't think you can raise enough money without sky-high price points? Then maybe you should be funding a lower-budget film.
  5. Don't offer DVDs or Blu-rays as perks. People always say no one watches DVDs anymore. I, in fact, still watch DVDs: 90% of the films I want to see on Netflix remain DVD-only. But look: no matter how delightful your film is, most people won't watch it more than once. Save the time and money it would cost to produce physical discs. Put your film online and give your backers a password to watch it.
  6. Don't offer Twitter follows or retweets as perks. The same goes for Instagram, Facebook, etc. Unless you have literally hundreds of thousands of followers, this perk is completely worthless.
  7. Don't act like you're a charitable cause. Some documentaries will appeal to online communities who feel passionate about a particular topic, so those filmmakers can work that nonprofit angle. But more than likely, you're hoping your film will advance your career. The people in your circle already understand that, so don't try to guilt trip them into donating.
  8. Don't promote your campaign by saying "Support indie film!" Again, indie filmmaking is not a charity. It's not even a dying art form, although the dearth of distribution opportunities may make it feel like one. "Support indie film" is one of those overused and pointless phrases like "Thoughts and prayers". You're supposed to be creative, so promote yourself creatively.
  9. Don't ask people to spread the word. Sense a theme here? Basically, I'm telling you not to patronize your friends. It's so tempting to say "Spread the word about my campaign!" but so annoying to be on the receiving end of that mandate. If your friends are willing to vouch for you and your campaign, they will do it without you having to nag them. Friends of friends rarely take the bait anyway – although I myself have, on occasion – so it's not worth the badgering.