If you saw Kickstarter’s Best of 2012 recap highlighting some of the year’s most successful projects funded on the site, you might have noticed that Film & Video projects raised almost $60 million in pledged support over the last year. If you did a little more research, you’d find that documentaries were the highest pledged film subcategory, raising over $42 million in 2012.
It’s exciting to see how many projects that meet their fundraising goals through Kickstarter become featured at festivals across the world and even get shortlisted for Academy Awards (See: Detropia, Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry and The Waiting Room). But that doesn’t mean that using Kickstarter to fund your documentary project is a sure fire way to get all of the money you need.
I asked the teams from three documentaries that exceeded their fundraising goals on Kickstarter in 2012 – I Am Big Bird, The Waiting Room and Money for Nothing – about their experiences running campaigns.
I Am Big Bird is a documentary about Carroll Spinney, who has worn the Big Bird suit and propped Oscar the Grouch in his trash can since the beginning of “Sesame Street.” The film raised $124,114 on Kickstarter, reaching 124% of their goal. Executive Producer Clay Frost and Co-Directors and Producers Dave LaMattino explained what they learned from their experience:
Dave LaMattino: We were amazed by the feedback we got… It was like having mini test screenings every time we released a clip. We learned what people connected with, which actually has informed and shaped the rest of the filmmaking process. A lot of times when you’re working on a film like this, you’re trapped in a dark room without the ability to get important critical feedback. Having people comment on these clips throughout the campaign was one of many unexpected benefits of Kickstarter.
Clay Frost: Be flexible with your rewards and be willing to shape them during the campaign to meet the demand of your backers. Find a way to give them what they want, which might not always be what you thought they’d want when you started your campaign. If you can do this, you can capitalize on the interest.
The Waiting Room team turned to Kickstarter in order to self-distribute their film, which documents the fight for quality health care by patients, doctors and nurses in an overwhelmed ER in Oakland, California. The Waiting Room exceeded its $75 thousand goal with pledges by 801 backers and the film was short listed for an Academy Award this year. Producer and Director Pete Nicks shares his thoughts:
Pete Nicks: Kickstarter is much more than a funding platform. It is a way to gather true believers – fans & backers – around the project. Because in the world of social media it is not how many fans you have. It is the quality of them. And at the beginning of the project it is incredibly valuable to have a critical mass of supporters around you who can help not just by giving you $50, but by being evangelists, connecters and emotional supporters.
The best way to approach Kickstarter campaign is to think beyond money. Think of it more like the creation of a super-board-of-directors for your project. Be prepared to dive into that group and solicit ideas, follow their wisdom, draw from their inspiration. The money should always be secondary.
Money For Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve aims to illuminate the role of the Fed in our everyday lives, exposing the world’s most powerful financial institution. The team turned to Kickstarter to connect with its core audience in hopes to finish post-production and get the film prepared for release. They raised over $100 thousand dollars pledged by 706 backers. Director and Producer Jim Bruce tell what he learned from the experience:
Jim Bruce: Prepare extensively for your campaign before launching it – especially by identifying and developing relationships with 3rd parties who already have a connection to your core audience. The main reason our campaign was successful was that we had some really fantastic allies – people like John Mauldin and Doug Kass, for example, who write about investing for large online audiences who are very interested in the story of the Federal Reserve. So when John and Doug spread the word about our film we were able to connect with a huge number of potential donors and introduce our project to the future audience for our film.
Kickstarter can be an incredibly effective way to forge a relationship with your core audience and create a lot of awareness about your film, but it can also be a very stressful and time-consuming process. So the most important thing is to do as much work as possible in advance of launching your campaign so that you aren’t overwhelmed by the process of the campaign itself.
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