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Inside a crowdfunding project – and some tips learnt by experience - by Michael Ney and Tim Maddocks

Michael, the writer/director: 
At this week's (27/2/2012) OzDox event (www.ozdox.org), Russel Porter (www.humanobeing.org) shared with us his amazing project, "To Be A Human Being". Due to the project’s unusual nature he was steering it away from commercially driven forces, or mainstream broadcasters who cater to the widest market possible, or lowest common denominator. His strategy was to push for many film festivals and niche audience outlets. This presupposed an extremely low budget - but a wide audience base, as it draws from many locations around the planet.

Seemed to me that if he'd started a year earlier with a crowdfunding campaign, the project would have been able to raise a larger budget and an even larger audience, and possibly gather even more audience engagement. Nevertheless, it is an amazing TV series and certainly one to be proud of. Yet today, the reality is that the social media networking facilities, the dwindling opportunities for broadcast, the scarcity of Government funds, the ever-increasing rise in web video (streaming, pay to download, VOD, etc) are obviously having an impact on the way filmmakers do business, and in turn, how they create their films. I won't even go into the format warping world of transmedia.

For the last several months, producer Tim Maddocks and I have been working on a documentary called "Peace Angels - walking light". In making a documentary, capturing the unfolding of events in anyone's life is always challenging, but add other elements such as your subject is actually a large group of people, with many key creative leaders, and various events all out of your control, capped off by the fact that the program is also dealing with spirituality and the self-development process the group is involved in ... all makes for a very interesting ride. Joyful and satisfying too... but this doesn't translate into broadcaster interest or any funding. That's where the idea of crowdfunding began to loom large in our strategy. Check out our campaign site which gives more background on the project, and :-) please tell your friends (http://peaceangelsdoc.pozible.com).

Now, I am director, cameraperson, editor, writer, etc. who really only wants to make his film... and I'm sure many others are similar. So, what do you do to get into crowdfunding - without the expense of working with a high level marketing company, or even any of the new boutique social media businesses, who seem to be so busy that even getting a reply to your email may be a long wait. So, it falls back into the hands of the filmmaker to take on the challenge... and then comes the need for a new range of other skills. I want to share some things we have found so far - and it is still very early days for us. We hope to report back later with good news... we're learning every day.

Firstly, diving in the deep end with websites like Pozible (www.pozible.com) or IndieGoGo (www.indiegogo.com) are relatively straight forward. Kickstarter, for Australian citizens, is somewhat trickier as you need to have US based associates with US credit cards and mailing addresses, so I will leave it aside for now. However, it does seem to have the largest subscriber base, and thus chance of supporters.

The main difference between Pozible and IndieGoGo is that Pozible requires the campaign to reach a set amount in a set time before triggering the payout, whereas IndieGoGo will pay whatever amount is pledged even if your goal is not reached, but that costs you a little more. Our campaign on Pozible has been smooth thus far, their interface is easy to use; but the burden of being relentless in outreach is a bit of a stretch if you are not used to it. Tweetdeck, facebook, linkedin become frequent visits and posts. Blogs are soon to take over my life too... that will be fun.

Here are some crowdfunding tips to start with...
1. Prepare all your TEXTS well in advance - synopsis, treatments, director's and producer's statements, quotes from cast and other items that will become food for the social media hunger; 

2. Have a good range of VIDEOS ready to roll out in a serial fashion - your potential audience wants to see what you are up to... AND for crowdfunding the personal approach is recommended, ie your passionate statement direct to camera; 

3. Even before you launch your campaign have many PERSONALISED LETTERS OR EMAILS ready to send. This of course takes much time and depends on your network - but it can make a difference;

4. Work out a great swag of Rewards to engage and interest your potential supporters - give as much as you can, without breaking the bank. Budget the rewards carefully as hidden costs can jump up to bite you.

5. Have various sizes of web-ready and print-ready PHOTOGRAPHS - as the more materials you have on hand the easier and quicker it is to respond to requests or keep your posts alive.

5. Use a dictyinary - doh! ( http://dictionary.reference.com ) and it is always a good idea to have someone who knows your project to read through your materials ahead of time. Writing can easily eat up your day, so share some of it with colleagues.

6. ENGAGE - that's the buzzword and it seems to be the main thing with drawing in your audience. The program has to pique their interest, and hopefully that will result in their support with funding.

7. You will need to join many SOCIAL NETWORKS, so create a text file with all your new login names and passwords - or use a specialised app for that purpose. It is very easy to loose track quickly and a time waster if you need to go through a reset for numerous sites.

8. WEB SKILLS become important too. I also keep text files for all sorts of code snippets for referral buttons and a very useful widget is ADDTHIS (http://www.addthis.com) to connect all the various sites. You may decide to pass all this to your web person, but be warned you will need to know what is going on. If the web scares you then don't dive in.

9. One thing that I wish we'd done earlier is WORK OUT A REALISTIC SCHEDULE. All of the above preparation is best tackled BEFORE your crowd hits your funding site.

10. BRANDING. It is good to have consistency in web names, email addresses and blogs. Something short that reminds people about your film. Be wary of odd spelling as it can backfire sometimes with people not remembering it, which causes confusion.

Tim with producer's point of view:
In Australia we are fortunate enough to have funding bodies in each state as well as the federal body Screen Australia; however, as anyone who has applied for these funds knows, competition is fierce. The chance of being given the go ahead range between 2 in 50 or more for production funding. While 4-6 projects may get development funding, that is from 100-200 applications. With these sorts of odds stacked against filmmakers, there is no point being bitter about not being greenlit, or funded. So now, it is up to the filmmakers to impress and entice the audience BEFORE the film even gets made, and if they can't seduce that early, the film may struggle to get made, and ironically may ultimately be better off not being made anyway. Now, crowdfunding is an idea whose time has come.

One of my early shorts, The New Life, was with director, Daniel Giambruno, and when preparing the shoot he said "We could rush and do it now, or take our time and get it right, and we would spend the same amount of money to make a bad film..." They were wise words indeed. Our short film went on to play over 40 festivals and win several of them, so while it may be harsh to those who don't get funding maybe it is a good thing to take a step back and re-assess the idea.

It has been said many times that cream rises to the top, and crowdfunding gives those who can present their idea and spread the message, the best chance of making their project happen. Communication is an important element because even if you have a great film, it still takes a lot of effort after it is made to get traction at festivals and from there build a media presence and fan base. Crowdfunding gives you the discipline to understand the time it takes to market a film well. Whether you're making a short, a documentary or your first feature film, they are good skills to have.

Films such as the soon to be released Iron Sky took their crowdfunding numbers to the market to attach experienced industry people to the film. People, used to working the "old way", but visionaries like Australia's Cathy and Mark Overett, saw the potential as did sales agent Stealth Media Group and they got behind it to attract the traditional funds needed to make the film. Now, the release is being rolled out in line with the demand from fans making the marketing more targeted and effective, and I think this is the future of how crowdfunding can be used to trigger larger projects.

Finally, there are many resources online to help guide you and one of the best starter packs I have found is at:
* Heidi Allen, in Sydney, gives a great practical overview of social media tools and tips (http://heidiallen.id.au/digital-social-media-strategy/social-media-strategy-series/)
* Iggy Pintado has written a good starter guide to online connections too (http://www.iggypintado.com.au/connectiongeneration)

Also check out US based consultants:
* Sheri Candler ( http://www.shericandler.com ) has some excellent in-depth articles on crowdsourcing
* Stacey Parkes (http://independentfilmblog.com/topics/financing/ + http://www.filmspecific.com/)
* Peter Broderick (Paradigm Consulting) is well known to Australian filmmakers as he visits here regularly for SPAA. One of the original proselytisers of self distribution and now crowdfunding strategies. (http://www.peterbroderick.com)

He says "Paradigm Consulting enables filmmakers to explore forbidden realms, avoid dangerous pitfalls and predators, and discover uncharted new frontiers." My last piece of advice is take your time learning it all - but do jump in the water; its warm and friendly and may just be what your film funding requires.

Published March 1, 2012

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Michael Ney

Tim Maddocks

The authors:
is a digital media director/ producer/ consultant, filmmaker, editor, cameraman, theatre lighting designer, writer, photographer and social networker.
Facebook: "Sensory Image"
Email: michael@sensoryimage.net

is an independent film producer who has travelled to many markets and festivals here and overseas - 4x Cannes times, 4x AFM, Sundance, Tribeca and Palm Springs and SPAA conferences in Australia. He is also an experienced filmmaker willing to go the extra mile and has supported many films via crowdfunding.

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