Failing at crowdfunding, documentary edition
Sheri Candler has an excellent post called “Top 5 Ways to Fail at Crowdfunding,” and in that she speaks of not only timing and scope, but also of giving a funder a reason to support you over all those others clawing for money.
The keys are building some sort of identity, and not being too greedy. Sheri also notes how many people come to her having lacked any definitive plan.
I have been hit up many times lately about supporting, advising or donating to various crowdfunding initiatives. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t quite a complaint because I have been known to support many campaigns by doing any one of these things (ask anyone else offering their advice if they have done any of these things by the way, the answer could surprise you). I do get frustrated by the ones who contact me because they have embarked without thinking through the strategy or they are very close to the time limit and very far from their goal.
Her post speaks of film generally, and perhaps there are some additional thoughts for documentary film. So, further ways to fail in crowdfunding documentaries:
Don’t find a subject that hasn’t already been done to death. Documentary filmmaking seems deeply trend-driven, always with a topic of the moment that seems to be wallpapering film festivals and other outlets. A filmmaker can certainly bring a unique and superior look to an all-too-familiar topic, but at the beginning, it’s just the topic.
Don’t create samples that can help funders visualize an outcome. Asking funders to support work sight unseen is a way to not get money. Successful crowdfunders such as Nathaniel Hansen did shooting that showed the tone, look and intent of his project “The Elders” that allowed him to successfully bring in his funding goal. Nathaniel’s pitch video, at the bottom of this post, even used the lighting style and tone of the eventual work.
Don’t document a topic with a specific passionate following. The author Toni Morrison once said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” In the same way, there are constituencies who would change that to “you must be the one to fund it.” There are groups so committed to a topic or cause that they will support efforts that support their cause.
Don’t offer an outcome. As Sheri says in her post, “I can get t-shirts for $5 and a DVD of a film I have actually heard of far cheaper than a donation at the $50 mark. Get creative on what you can give donors that they will actually like, need, and most importantly, talk about.” The outcome for a documentary funder might include some connection to some outcome pleasing to them. That might include not only a clear plan for getting the film out, and seen, but also perhaps events that connect funders of like mind. People connected by interest in a topic will be interested in one another. Create synergies.
No doubt there are many other ways to fail, and succeed, at crowdfunding. But documentaries and say, horror films, will take markedly different paths to finding crowdfunding success. But Sheri’s post makes sense for any filmmaker.