This featurette relates the ups and downs of the two crowd-funding campaigns run for my short fantasy-drama Stop/Eject. Producer Sophie Black and I discuss the various methods we used to solicit donations, from the mundane (Facebook posts) to the surreal (threatening the lives of innocent pets). We also talk about the kinds of people who contributed, the rewards we offered, and the emotional rollercoaster of an all-or-nothing campaign.
If you want to know more, read my blog entries evaluating the first and second campaigns.
To finish my look back at the decisions, successes and failures of the Stop/Eject crowd-funding campaigns, here are my ten top tips based on the sum of our experiences on this project:
You need “elements” – aspects of the project which have an existing audience base, such as a name actor or a director with a strong social media following. Sometimes people will donate because the film is being shot in their home town, or maybe it’s about a subject they have an interest in. Whatever it is, figure out where that existing audience base is and what they want, and create your rewards and promotions accordingly.
Work out in advance how much your rewards will cost to produce, and reject any that aren’t cost or time efficient. I suggest they should consume no more than ten percent of your budget.
Make your pitch video professional – tightly edited, well lit, well shot and with broadcast quality sound. No-one will sponsor a filmmaker who can only be bothered posting a five minute ramble shot on a webcam. Your “elements” should appear in the video.
Whether building your own crowd-funding platform or using an existing one, make sure it’s extremely quick and easy to donate, with a minimal number of clicks.
A longer campaign doesn’t necessarily mean more money raised, but it does mean more work for you promoting it.
If you take a day off from promoting your campaign, people will take a day off from donating. You cannot sit back and expect the money to roll in. It doesn’t work that way.
Keep reminding people about your campaign, but do it indirectly by publishing new content like blogs, behind-the-scenes videos or storyboards. Most sponsors will have to see your campaign several times before deciding to donate.
The internet isn’t the only way to promote your campaign. Go to events in the real world and plug it. Take a donations bucket or hand out cards or flyers with the campaign address on.
Make people feel involved in your project, both during and after crowd-funding. Run competitions, invite feedback on things like poster designs, issue updates and answer questions.
The endorsement of a well-recognised person or entity can give your campaign a massive boost. BBC Midlands Today putting a Stop/Eject report on their Facebook page worked for us, but the holy grail is getting a celebrity to retweet your campaign link.
You can’t just post on Facebook every day of your crowd-funding campaign (particularly if it runs for eight months as ours did) asking for money. You have to find other ways to remind people of the project’s existence without directly holding out your begging cap.
One way to do this is through uploading content like blogs and behind-the-scenes videos. As previously discussed, our system of public rewards hampered this to some extent, but we still blogged regularly about the project’s progress, also updating people via the Facebook page, Twitter and emails to the sponsors. Any time we did any interesting work on the film we took photos or video and shared them with the community we were building.
Speaking of community, you have to nurture it by allowing them to engage with the project. For example, we ran a poster design competition and later invited the public to submit interview questions to be posed to the cast.
Whenever we needed additional crew, those shout-outs served not only as a form of crowd-sourcing but also as promotion of the crowd-funding.
You shoudn’t neglect “real world” promotional opportunities. I gave a couple of talks about Stop/Eject during the campaign, each time encouraging audiences to donate. It’s best to provide a bucket for cash by the exit, because if you tell people to go home and donate online, the vast majority of them will forget.
Georgie helped a lot, making her fanbase aware of the campaign, and we tried to seek out Worst Witch sites and communities to post on too. In fact all of the cast and crew helped to spread the word.
We discovered it was the 50th anniversary of the invention of cassette tapes halfway through our campaign, but too late to do much about it except get interviewed on BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester. Sophie and I also managed to get some local newspaper coverage, but our biggest coup was Sophie’s appearance on BBC East Midlands Today. That didn’t lead directly to any donations, but a Stop/Eject article on a website about Matlock, one of the towns we shot in, did lead to a few.
The final part of my evaluation will take the form of ten top tips for crowd-funding, based on our experiences with Stop/Eject. Watch this space.
One of the key lessons learnt from Stop/Eject‘s first crowd-funding campaign is that people don’t tend to donate unless they have a pre-existing connection to some element of the project, e.g. they know the filmmaker, it’s being shot in their home town, it has an actor in it they like, or it’s about a subject they’re interested in. That first campaign was very much dependent on people knowing me and wanting to support me, as we had no other “elements” at that stage.
When, a week prior to shooting Stop/Eject, we cast Georgina Sherrington in the lead role, the last thing on our minds was crowd-funding. But her cult status as the former child star of ITV’s The Worst Witch provided a new “element” when we came to launch our second campaign.
We found that sponsors of the second campaign generally fell into two camps: Georgina Sherrington fans, and sponsors putting in larger amounts who were either doing so purely philanthropically or who wanted custom rewards to help them with their own filmmaking endeavours. Other than these custom requests, the rewards aimed at filmmakers were unsuccessful (most of them got zero sales, so aren’t included on the above graphs), proving beyond a doubt that I was not the major “element” in this second campaign.
The “Memoirs of the Worst Witch” reward was added after our campaign had already been running for a few months and the total had been stuck for a while around the halfway point. It was a download of a 20 minute interview with Georgina about her time on The Worst Witch, and it turned out to be one of the most popular rewards in terms of units sold.
In an effort to combat the disadvantages of a campaign without a deadline (see part 5), we introduced “Collections” – groups of four new rewards that were only available in limited numbers and for a limited time. These helped keep awareness of the campaign up, but didn’t bring much money in.
In general, several of the rewards required a ridiculous amount of time (and in some cases money) to produce in relation to the amount of sponsorship they brought in, most notably the glossy photo books. If I had to run this campaign all over again, I’d offer a smaller number of rewards, and most of them at the lower price breaks (£10-£50), with just a couple of suggestions for custom rewards at maybe £100 and £200.
Next time I’ll talk about how we promoted the campaign and engaged with the audience, before summing up my overall thoughts and feelings on crowd-funding Stop/Eject in the eighth and final part.
We knew we didn’t want to use crowdfunder.co.uk again, because it required an off-putting number of clicks for people to donate – so one of the first discussions we had was about what platform to use instead. We quickly ruled out the “all or nothing” sites. Now that the film was in the can, the important thing was to get at least some money to finish it with; the possibility of getting none at all was too risky.
My intial thought was to use Sponsume, but producer Sophie Black and my wife Katie both believed we needed to try something completely different. In the end we decided to run a campaign with no deadline, since it didn’t matter how long it took to finish the film.
We also came up with the idea of “public rewards”, so that as well as individuals receiving (for example) DVDs or premiere tickets when they donated, additional rewards would be published online for every £100 the total went up. These mostly took the form of video podcasts documenting the shoot, though a few were special blog entries breaking down the production design, lighting or budget.
As for the individual rewards, I decided to offer two options at most of the price breaks: one related to Stop/Eject, and one aimed at other filmmakers – since they had made up a significant proportion of the sponsors in the first campaign. The former type included the obvious things like DVD or Blu-ray copies of the film, invites to the premiere and glossy photo books. The latter type included a budget breakdown of my last feature film, script feedback or storyboards for your project, homemade sandbags for weighing down lighting stands, and a Skype chat with yours truly.
The public rewards and the lack of a time limit meant that no existing crowd-funding platform was suitable, so I had to knock up our own website – www.stopejectmovie.com – with a bit of simple Flash and PHP scripting and some Paypal buttons. One advantage of doing this is that only Paypal are taking a cut of the money, but a disadvantage is that a visitor to the site has less reason to trust that everything is above board.
We launched the campaign in late May of last year, with a target of £1,500. This was simply the amount we needed; it wasn’t compromised by any considerations of how much we thought we could raise.
I’m not convinced that public rewards were a good idea. When the total got stuck for a long time we were unable to use what could have been our best tool to encourage donations – releasing a podcast – because we had set up this system of releasing them only when people did donate. On the other hand, there was a knock-on effect whereby one donation would trigger the release of a public reward which would in turn trigger further donations.
I’m not sure a campaign without a deadline is something I can recommend either. In fact, I’ve since read that there’s statistical evidence showing that longer crowd-funding campaigns do not raise more money than short ones. Without the urgency of a looming deadline, many potential sponsors will say to themselves, “I’ll get around to that later,” and never do. There is also the risk that people will get fed up of being tapped for cash repeatedly over a long period.
In the next instalment I’ll look at who donated and why.
With Stop/Eject now fully financed, we’re working to create the rewards for the many sponsors who contributed to the project. Most of these rewards – invites to the premiere, DVD copies and so on – can only be completed when Stop/Eject itself is finished, but not all of them.
Sponsors who picked the Unit Publicist reward will receive, among other things, a very nice hardback book of the script with production notes and a full credits list, all lavishly illustrated with photographs from the shoot. This book has been beautifully designed by Worcester-based Andy Roberts of Speakersfive – check out his website at www.speakersfive.co.uk
When your crowd-funding campaign is over, it’s important to show your appreciation to your sponsors by making sure the rewards you create for them are really high quality. And if you ever need to raise money for another project, people will know that they can contribute with confidence that they’ll get something special in return. Here are some sample pages from the book:
Hooray! We’ve smashed through our crowd-funding target for post-production of Stop/Eject!
Huge thanks to everyone who’s contributed since we launched our first campaign back in November 2011. Across the two campaigns you’ve given us almost £4,200. Without it, Stop/Eject could never have been made.
As well as reaching our grand total we’ve passed two public reward targets. The first one, the sound design podcast, you’ll have to wait a little while for, as work on this aspect of post-production has yet to begin. The second one is the People’s Choice Reward, so leave us a comment on the Stop/Eject Facebook page with your suggestion of what we can create and upload as a thank you for all your donations.
If you’ve been meaning to donate but haven’t got around to it yet, we’re keeping the rewards open for one more week. That means you’ve got until midnight on February 7th to secure yourself an invite to the premiere, a copy of the DVD or Bluray, an illustrated script book or any of the other lovely goodies. After this date these gifts will never be available again. (We hope the film will be available to buy in some form or another after its festival run, but that’s a couple of years away at least.)
The other big Stop/Eject news this week is that we’ve locked the edit, which is a watershed moment in the post-production of any film. Stay tuned for more info on that soon.
A thank you from Georgina Sherrington and an announcement about an exciting new reward for Stop/Eject sponsors: access to an exclusive 20 minute interview with Georgina about her experience of playing Mildred Hubble in the popular ITV children’s series The Worst Witch.
The hat appears in a winter scene in Stop/Eject, as Kate (played by Georgina Sherrington of The Worst Witch fame) enters the mysterious charity shop on a cold December day to once again use the time-travelling tape recorder. Behind-the-scenes footage of Georgie wearing the hat can be seen in this podcast from day two of the shoot:
“I had discussed colours with Neil,” explains Katie Lake, Stop/Eject’s costume designer, “and we liked the idea of yellow and blue for Kate – more yellow when she was happy, and more blue when she was sad. For the winter scene, as it was set in the darkest days of Kate’s emotional journey, I knew I needed to dress her in dark or drab colors. I had chosen a navy dress, but wanted to avoid making her look like she was dressed for a funeral, so when I found an off-white coat, I knew a light or medium grey hat would be perfect. The lighter colours wash out pale skin, like Georgie has, making her look even more drab and depressed.”
The hat was handmade especially for the production by Kerryblueknits, a New England-based crafter. “I have knit many a custom hat, but this was my first for a film,” says Kerry. “It was really exciting! Katie wanted a small hat, in light or medium grey, and something that an artsy person would have. At first she was thinking something slouchy, but that can be hard for petite women to pull off. We decided in the end on this beautiful lacy pattern – something that a young professional might have gone for, but in a subtle color.”
Kerry knitted the hat with an 85% wool/15% alpaca yarn. It is a size small and should be hand-washed and lain flat to dry.
* Shipping/postage will be charged at £2 (UK) or £4 (rest of world) on top. The winning bidder will be instructed how to pay via the Stop/Eject website. If he/she doesn’t pay within 48 hours of the auction ending, the hat will be offered to the next highest bidder. Bids received after the closing time will not count. Direct message the Stop/Eject Facebook page to bid anonymously.