Diary of a Reformed Kickstarter Skeptic

I have to say that when the online fundraising hype-machine first got started, I didn’t buy it.

I remember sitting in the back row of a presentation on grassroots fundraising for films listening to leaders from Kickstarter and IndieGogo talk about their biggest success stories. They told tale of films that were able to raise upwards of $90,000 –  $100,000 all thanks to their miracle service and a little sweat equity on the part of the filmmaker. The throng of eager filmmakers with whom I shared the room, brightened at the thought as they were all just searching for any possible idea on how to make it work. But I had to be the one to bring the mood down. I raised my hand and asked the less romantic, more practical question:

Stories of $100,000 successes aside, what is the median amount that film projects raise on your platform?

The answer was a much less exciting, but still useful, $5,000 – $10,000. Now, as we all know, ANY amount of money you can secure for your project can go a long way and $5,000 can help you get a fundraising trailer made that can then help you go out and raise some real money. But $5,000 is a far cry from $100,000 and I’m all about having reasonable expectations (so as not to set yourself up for failure).

What bugged me most about Kickstarter was that it seemed like filmmakers would be using their own contacts and marketing know-how to get the word out there and Kickstarter collects 5% for the privilege. Seemed like a way for Kickstarter to make money off of a filmmaker instead of a filmmaker making money on Kickstarter. And so I kept my eyebrow raised in the general direction of these fundraising services whenever I heard about filmmakers trying to fund their films in this way.

But then I tried it for myself. It is still the best way to learn, I’m happy to report.

I’ve recently been involved in two Kickstarter fundraising efforts. One for the film STREET FIGHTING MAN (I’m on the producing team for this project) and the other is for The DocYard – the documentary film series at the Brattle that LEF co-produces with Camden International Film Festival and Principle Pictures. With STREET FIGHTING MAN, we exceeded our goal of $6,500 and raised $8,151 using the platform. What surprised me most was that there were a few large donors that were outside of the pool of filmmaker/producer contacts. Somehow, using Kickstarter helped to legitimize the project at this early stage more than our own website could and that vetting process led to funding. With The DocYard, the Kickstarter campaign has served as a press event in and of itself. More people are looking at our schedule and buying season passes to the program because of our profile on the site. Additionally, Kickstarter highlighted The DocYard as “Project of the Day” which definitely generated more attention. And though we are only halfway to our very modest $2,500 goal, The DocYard is now getting donations from people none of us know and who live too far away to actually attend. They are just supporting the concept, which is part of what Kickstarter promises its community.

So, while I still think that these campaigns require much on the part of the filmmaker to make them work, which is true of all successful fundraising efforts. I believe it’s important to keep your goals modest and targeted (keep the campaign focused on a specific goal, like creating a trailer, or funding travel to locations, as opposed to the film in general which may take a year or two to produce). Your Kickstarter campaign can be a healthy part of a “balanced breakfast” of different fundraising strategies. With reasonable goals and expectations of what you can do with Kickstarter, you CAN raise some needed dollars, raise the profile of your project significantly, demonstrate the community support for your project and link new fans to your creative work.

So, I guess my nay-saying days are done. I politely return my eyebrow to its previously designated spot.

And if you have a moment, check out The DocYard’s Kickstarter campaign here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1738989608/the-docyard-season-2

We appreciate your support!

 – Sara


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