Intimidated by the thought of running a crowdfunding campaign alone? Why not try running one with a group of filmmakers for a handful of films! The more filmmakers involved, the bigger your network, and the more likely your campaign will be successful -- at least, in theory!
Of course, a group crowdfunding campaign is not without its own pitfalls. With more people, it can be harder to get everyone together and to communicate about who is doing what -- everyone is accountable and no one is accountable at the same. Having just finished a $20K+ Kickstarter campaign for 12 short films by 12 different filmmakers collaborating under the BUREAU of Creative Works about a month ago, Erica Hampton learned quite a few lessons and sat down with No Film School to share information that might help you on a similar endeavor.
NFS: When you're running a collective crowdfunding campaign, how different is the dynamic from your average campaign?
Erica Hampton: When working in a large group of filmmakers, each person is going to bring different things to the table. It is important to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your group to make the most of everyone’s contributions. Throughout our campaign, some of our ten filmmakers were able to work everyday, for example, to push us forward on social media. On the other hand, some of our filmmakers were able to do big pushes at key points during the campaign or made strategic moves that turned the tables in our favor. If you approach everyone with a cookie cutter expectation of how much or in what way they should be contributing, you may not get the results you are hoping for.
NFS: How, and how often, did you communicate with the filmmakers during the course of the campaign?
Erica: With twelve people spread out across the globe, you’re bound to find it difficult or near impossible to get everyone in a room at the same time. What we did was to be clear from the beginning of what everyone should expect. First, we made up a filmmaker handbook that outlined exactly what our goals and expectations were from ourselves and our filmmakers before we launched our campaign, to make sure we were completely transparent about everything. Then, throughout the campaign, we had a few video chats and occasionally hopped on an old fashioned telephone conversation, but the most successful way of communicating was to keep up email threads. That way, people in different time zones and schedules could chime in when they were able to.
NFS: How much work did each filmmaker have to put in?
Erica: In the beginning, my fellow BUREAU co-founder Mike Ambs and I wanted this campaign to be as worry free as possible for the filmmakers involved. This idealistic approach came from a nice place in our hearts, but we ended up needing to change tactics. We couldn’t do it all on our own! Lucky for us, our filmmakers are amazing, kind, and helpful. (Tip: don’t work with people if they are not amazing, kind, and helpful.)
Before launch, we thought we had a great editorial calendar, media connections and personal network to pull off a $22,725 Kickstarter campaign -- we were so wrong. We quickly realized that working together with our filmmakers and reaching their networks was the only way to bring our project to life. Keep in mind, most people are happy to help if you just ask. In our case, it took us a bit to figure out what we needed to ask for.
Allowing your team to course correct you or point out things that don't seem to be working is also helpful. Every few days one of our filmmakers suggested ways we could up our game. We wouldn’t be where we are without that feedback.
NFS: So what ended up being the most successful way of reaching people's networks, and getting actual contributions from them?
Erica: We thought the posts and updates alone would bring in the backers we needed to make our goal. We realized during the campaign that what we really needed was to be making real connections and reaching out to people directly, as in, through emails. Don't put posts and updates above reaching out to personal connections in your network. This may seem like a bunch of obviousness, but our BIGGEST mistake was that we put to much faith in the content of our editorial calendar (i.e. our posts and updates). A solid course of action is to email all the friends/family you think will support you and get some promises of support before hand. If I had to do this all over again, I would not launch without those promises of support that added up to 20% of our goal.
When there are only 40 days on the clock to convince hundreds of people that your project is amazing, you begin to realize that 40 days is not very long. Also, expect that at some point after your launch, time will decide to speed up and cause a severe shortage of hours during the day. Without a big launch, the rest of your campaign is going to be painful, it’s going to make you feel behind every day of the next 40 days of your campaign. Get in touch with media and let them know what’s up ahead of time (because 95% of media will fall through at the last minute, it’s just a thing that happens.) Keep in mind press serves to legitimize your project but often doesn’t translate to backers. So, don’t stress out too much about media attention. If your campaign calls for it, schedule some events or stretch goals, plan out Q&A’s or any other marketing ideas that you have - in other words get as many little ducks as possible in a row before you launch.
NFS: With this many filmmakers involved, would you say this Kickstarter was less work than ones you had done solo?
Erica: No! A crowdfunding campaign is a full time job no matter what, even with more people. However, we have learned a lot about how automation can be your friend. We created a editorial calendar that had our plans for what post would go live on what day, and we used tools like Buffer and IFTTT to make the process more manageable and paced. Buffer allows you to connect various accounts and then schedule posts for days or even weeks in advance. IFTTT monitors and takes actions on various accounts.
For example, one important workflow for us was our photo updates that highlighted each of the incredible filmmakers working with The BUREAU. These posts started on Instagram, and much like Kickstarter, Instagram is a fully manual step in outreach. We used IFTTT to monitor our Instagram feed, whenever a new photo post went up, IFTTT created a queue in Buffer for Facebook and Twitter. We kept that Buffer queue pretty, well, buffered, so that we had time to always go back into our Buffer queue and re-word any post. Instagram has no character limit, but Twitter obviously does, so we'd find ways of shortening the post, as well as take the time to properly tag or @mention relevant people. Same went for Facebook. IFTTT and Buffer allowed us to not only streamline the number of times we manually posted and typed out descriptions for updates, but if also helped stagger what we shared and where we shared. Post that went up on Instagram were immediate, Twitter came a day or so later often (as that was our most active profile), and Facebook followed up a few days after that. Despite a lower percentage of engagement on Facebook, most of our social-media-driven Backers came from Facebook (around 15%).
NFS: So there is still plenty of room for error even with a group -- the BUREAU had some slumps during the campaign. What's your advice if this happens?
Erica: Turn to your group when your plan falls apart. It’s ok! That’s what the best laid plans do! Stay flexible, well rested and hydrated - everything will be ok. One of the best things about running a crowdfunding campaign with multiple filmmakers is that you have the support and brainstorming abilities of a whole group of people. If you fail, you fail together. But with a group of creative, talented filmmakers working towards the same end goal, odds are you will come up with a way to succeed together.
Thank you, Erica!
I was involved as one of the filmmakers in the BUREAU Kickstarter campaign, and I can say, it was a lot of fun! I would definitely do it again. If you'd like to make a film for the Bureau of Creative Works, you can apply for one of two remaining spots left in its inaugural year. (The deadline to apply is now December 11th.)
Have you had experience running a crowdfunding campaign for a group of films? Or would you consider running one?