FailStarter: Why Your Crowd Funding Campaign Will Succeed Anyway

Hey, I’m not saying Kickstarter is a bad deal, it’s brilliant. Crowd funding is an amazing, often successful method of financing various projects. What I am saying is, when it comes to indie film, Kickstarter has become a corrupted, warped version of itself.

The basic idea of Kickstarter is that you set a goal for your fundraising and must meet this goal to receive the funds. If you do not meet your goal, the funds are returned to the contributors, no hard feelings. The goal setting does a couple things, it lets your contributors know you are serious, and assures them that if you do reach your goal you will spend the funds to complete the project they contributed for, not for a quickie vacation to Vegas for you and your girlfriend.

The problems inherent with Kickstarter and even Indiegogo have been discussed in depth by others, so I won’t beat a dead horse here. What I am asserting however, is that crowd funding is a failure for most indie film makers, even if they do reach their goals, that it is a distraction rather than a help, and is actually detrimental to the user.

In case you’re not familiar, this is the standard crowd funding campaign by an indie film maker:

  • Announce to your friends and fellow film makers that you are going to make the most amazing film ever. EVER! All it takes is ten thousand dollars.
  • Offer all kinds of cool incentives and swag. Make it quirky, like giving them a free clown costume from the film, or acting lessons with one of the producers.
  • Have your aunt make the first donation to seed the process.
  • Post every day on Facebook about how worthy your film is and how great it’s doing, only nine thousand left to go!
  • Wax poetic about how awesome each contributor is on Facebook and plug their acting career or film project.
  • Put in a thousand of your own money anonymously and praise the generosity of the anonymous contributor.
  • As you get near the deadline, offer increasingly sweet incentives to contributors that make your initial incentives seem lame by comparison.
  • Guilt people on Facebook in a desperate fashion and tell them that this film is so amazing, if they don’t support it, the terrorists win.
  • At the 11th hour, put in the remaining five thousand yourself. Out of a personal loan from your mom.
  • Proclaim success! Go on a three day vacation to Leavenworth on the proceeds. (You deserve a vacation after all that hard work and after all, most of it is your money anyway.)

“Look, Ben,” you may say, “stop being a douche nozzle. We made our goal. It worked, and we get to make our film.” Number one, I cannot stop being a douche nozzle. Secondly, while it did work, it worked for the wrong reason.

Crowd funding campaigns usually target one’s social network, and if you are an indie film maker, your social network is made up of mostly other indie film makers. We are all broke. Ignoring that for now, what this means is we are basically begging our fellow film makers for help making our film. Fair enough, we have probably helped them on their film, it’s about time they repay the favor. Some actors may be inclined to donate so that you will notice them and cast them in a role they covet. Here again, this is another issue, a sad, sad, pathetic issue, but back to the topic at hand: if our crowd funding is financed entirely by pulling in favors from our friends, why not just ask them? Instead of going through all these histrionics and putting on a show of a legitimate fund raising campaign, why not just call them up and say, “Dude, remember when I helped you on that film all weekend? Can you spare fifty bucks? I’ll give you this shitty t-shirt with my logo on it.”

We all know indie films are mostly self funded and that we all lie shamelessly and commit fraud when using Kickstarter. Why pretend otherwise? The fraud inherent in Kickstarter is particularly noxious when it comes to indie film, not because it is unethical, but because many indie films never make it out of post. (See my previous blog: Why Your Indie Film Will Never See The Light Of Day.) ¬†If you set too high a goal and have to seed it with your own money to capture the donated funds, that is a good sign to me that you have poor budgeting skills and and will probably run out of money the minute you hit post. When someone donates to your film they have a vested interest in seeing a finished product, they are owed that. They don’t want to see you make expensive business cards for every member of your family (read: producers), or limited addition coffee mugs with the faces of your actors on it. (By the way, that actress–the one you are banging–very hot. No, not your wife, she’s hot too.) Bottom line, your contributors want the fucking film they paid for.

Indiegogo is different in that you have no preset goal that you have to make to capture the funds. In my opinion that simply causes film makers to shoot too high with their fundraising goals and count their chickens before they hatch. They start making budgeting decisions (that is given that they actually know how to make a budget) based on the perceived amount of money they will receive, rather than on the actual amount generated by the campaign. I’ll give you a hint, they never make as much as they had hoped. If they do make their goal, it’s because they made up the rest of the difference themselves to save face.

So back to this problem of product. Or lack of product. The problem most indie film makers face is that they are begging for funds on a project that has little or no extant content. It’s hard to say what the finished product will be like. Will it be any good? Will people like it? Is it worth it? Sure, a person can get some promo pictures together and a poster or two, maybe share out bits of the script, but how can you really tell? Most indie film makers do not have much of a track record to look at and say, “This guy made a good film last time, I bet this one will be good too.” In fact, most indie film is complete shite, so asking someone to back you based on your last shitty film is a bad move. Best leave them in the dark.

Where some indie film makers get it right is that they create the content and fan base before they launch a campaign. That’s right, BEFORE. That’s a wild idea, right? But that is exactly what many indie film makers are doing. The basic idea is to figure out what your budget is and make the most compelling bit of entertainment you can with it, even if it’s three minutes long. Put it out to the world the best you can and see if they like it. If it’s brilliant, people will beat your door down to get the next installment.

A good example of this is Seattle’s own Journey Quest. After they built a loyal, somewhat rabid fan base with their first season, they launched a kickstarter campaign for the second season. The fans responded, and the Journey Quest Kickstarter made well over $100,000.00. Let me spell that out so your realize how much that is: over a hundred thousand dollars. The reason they succeeded? They had a product people wanted desperately, and they used Kickstarter in the fashion that I think it was intended. It’s also worth noting that they had several other products prior to Journey Quest that helped build their fan base. In other words, their success was no accident.

So this is how I think the crowd funding sites are a distraction, in that they give indie film makers a false sense of security when it comes to funding their project and turns them into  supplicants, rather than  entrepreneurs who are providing a product people are clamoring for.

Also, I think it encourages the film maker to stay within their own social network to fund their project, rather than seek outside of it. As I pointed out before, indie film makers are broke. Broke ass, broke. You may as well crowd fund amongst the homeless community, incidentally the two overlap at times. What we should be targeting are high net worth networks and individuals that are outside our immediate network who are desirous of our product.

One last thing: I always wondered why indie film makers always make films for other indie film makers. It’s because the films are funded by other indie film makers.


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