June 25, 2012

Don't Hire Someone to Run Your Kickstarter Campaign: Or, Why Attitude is More Important than Aptitude

First of all, I want to start this post off by saying I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lucas McNelly. Not just because of the articles he's written for numerous websites, but also his A Year Without Rent project in which he traveled to work on indie films for free for a year, as well his free VODO film Blanc de Blanc (I haven't had a chance to see his other work yet). As someone who did my own year without rent, I feel an affinity for Lucas despite never having met him, and I think he's great for the indie film community. Lucas, this is not a personal attack on you by any means, and I'd love to get a beer with you at some point should we ever find ourselves in the same city or at the same festival. HOWEVER, I want to take this opportunity to talk about Lucas's criticisms of some Kickstarter campaigns -- mine included -- and how I believe attitude and criticism affects creativity and productivity. I'll also talk about the rise of the professional crowdfunding consultant. This is going to be a long, rambling post with a high risk of TL;DR -- don't say I didn't warn you.

Professional Kickstarter-starters

Lately we've seen the rise of a cottage industry: Kickstarter consultants. People who get paid to help filmmakers and others run their crowdfunding campaigns. On some level I think this is missing the point of Kickstarter: a crowdfunding campaign is supposed to be about putting yourself out there, and the DIY aesthetic of most campaign videos is a testament to this. You're supposed to work hard on your campaign, you're supposed to come up with rewards, you're supposed to communicate with your backers, and you're supposed to "kick start" your creative career -- not a consultant. This is why, despite plenty of offers after my Kickstarter campaign to be a paid consultant for others, I turned every offer down and instead tried to write a bunch of free articles to help others.

In this new landscape, with crowdfunding consultants and managers out there, I suppose it makes sense that there would also spring up a plethora of blog posts deeming some campaigns good and others bad. These consultants need to prove their expertise and advertise their services, after all, and what better way to do that than to scrutinize other people's campaigns? Nevermind the fact that the entire point of Kickstarter's "all or nothing" structure is designed for some campaigns to fail. Maybe if you don't make your goal, you're supposed to go back to the drawing board. Maybe your project didn't have as much appeal as you thought, maybe you didn't get the rewards right, maybe you should've run an Indiegogo campaign without the "all or nothing" ultimatum. Failure is sometimes a good thing. Something to learn from. In fact, I started this site as a result of recognizing some failures.

But here we are. Campaigns are analyzed and deconstructed by people who weren't involved in any way, and then those same people try to ensure the success of other campaigns as hired guns. I became aware of this a little while ago when Lucas -- who, according to the footer of his latest article, "consults on Kickstarter campaigns for a living" -- wrote a post about my own Kickstarter campaign.

Criticism of my Manchild Kickstarter campaign

Lucas penned a post entitled Why the MAN-CHILD campaign isn't as good as you think, which is a pretty self-explanatory title. I found out about the post when I was a guest on an episode of the excellent film podcast Film Courage, which is also where he published the article. Lucas's main point in his post was that there was "nothing unique or innovative or even all that creative" about my campaign. Feel free to skip my refutations and go straight to the header "Seth Godin's campaign" below, as this bulleted list is kind of extraneous to my argument -- but I supposed I feel a need to set the record straight. Lucas's evaluation of my campaign as "nothing unique or innovative" completely ignored the following:

  • The fact that I was doing a campaign very early, without a trailer or a frame of footage in the can, but just a script I wholly believed in (not unique, but uncommon).
  • The challenge of making an entertaining campaign video without any footage and without anyone else in the video. Manchild was just a script with no one attached, so I couldn't do a fun group video like my favorite campaign video of all time, I am I (a more recent example is Neal Stephenson's awesome Clang campaign).
  • The challenge of running a campaign 100% by yourself, without interns, assistants, PR people, cast, crew, consultants, or managers -- not to mention the fact that No Film School was still single-author at the time, and I kept up my daily blogging throughout. Oh, and also not to mention the fact that my script was participating in IFP's Emerging Narrative program (to which I recommend everyone apply next May), so I had dozens of in-person pitches during the campaign's final week... all of which was quite the time crunch.
  • The $1/frame perk, which Lucas points out has been done before -- once -- by Lemonade Detroit, a crowdfunding campaign (not on Kickstarter) that I had backed in the past. I've been totally transparent that their campaign was the source of my concept. Since it's been done before, I suppose that does not make my approach unique, technically; however there have been 17,000 Kickstarter film campaigns and to my knowledge mine is the only one that did a$1/frame perk, along with the fact that no one (not even Lemonade) has ever to my knowledge said "everyone who donates any amount will get the unique frame that they made possible." I think this "side perk" could be a bigger deal than most people realize, and I'm really looking forward to sending these frames when the film is finished.
  • The fact that my rewards, which Lucas called "boring perks," are almost entirely digital, which means that I haven't had to spend a substantial portion of the funds on making posters, t-shirts, and other physical schwag that are costly (both money and time-wise) to create and ship. Therefore more of the money raised is available for the actual production of the film itself... which is what this is all about, after all. This may not be something that an outsider can see immediately, but it is something that was very carefully thought out and for a campaign that "isn't very good," in his words, it's been tremendously helpful. Except for the requisite Kickstarter and Amazon fees, every single dollar raised is in the bank.
  • Knowing your audience is a big part of it. Kickstarter is a community of creative people. No Film School is a community of creative people. Despite not having a team and not having any resources to make my campaign video, I managed to film something by myself in my back yard that spoke to creatives, by putting two of myself in the video and casting one of them as the voice inside all of our heads that is our own inner hater. Lucas wrote, "this is a movie about basketball, and there's really nothing in the perks that reflects that." But that was also carefully thought out, because I wasn't primarily reaching out to basketball fans -- a lot more people know me as a filmmaker than as a basketball fan/player. I can't tell you how many backers watched the video and told me about their own version of that inner hater, and how many people identified with the quandary of wanting to make creative things but being badgered into unproductiveness by "that guy" (or gal). Have there been other Kickstarter campaign videos that featured two of the project's creator, much less one that's a universally-recognizable obstacle to creativity? Not to my knowledge. Besides which, we were able to reach the basketball community as well.
  • It's not always about raising the most money you can. Lucas used the Facebook-likes-to-number-of-backers ratio -- a dubious metric at best -- to suggest that I could've raised more money. I shared some very civil thoughts on that in the comments, but considering I made my goal on the very last day of the campaign, that's a questionable conceit -- along with the fact that the amount of money you raise is only part of the point of a campaign. You want fans of your work to still like you when the campaign is over, and if you badger them constantly (which a very small minority of No Film Schoolers already felt was the case) and try to squeeze every last dime out of your backers, this won't be the case. Your Kickstarter backers are your champions going forward, as they already took an almost unfathomably generous step of giving you money to pursue your dream, with no financial stake themselves beyond a DVD or similar reward. Don't milk them to try to get a slightly larger number.

Okay, I'm done defending myself (even though it's several months later, I guess I felt a need to do so). My point in writing this post is not to talk about whether or not I ran a "very good" Kickstarter campaign, but rather to use the aforementioned criticism of crowdfunding campaigns to talk about an attitude that I see frequently in creative communities. An attitude that I find to be counterproductive, and an attitude that I find goes along sometimes with expertise (real or claimed). But since I've already written about myself too much, let's use someone else's campaign for reference.

Seth Godin's campaign

Bestselling author and marketing guru Seth Godin is currently running a (very successful) Kickstarter campaign, and Lucas wrote about his campaign this weekend:

In case you haven’t heard, marketing “guru” Seth Godin launched a Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming book. It raised $40,000 in 3 hours... [Godin's] first foray into Kickstarter is so bland, so middle of the road, so behind the curve, almost shockingly so. The perks are boilerplate. The video is dull. The text is a bunch of gibberish about proving to a publisher that Kickstarter is viable (intelligent people still question this?). Even the engagement metrics are below average. If you launched this campaign, no one would say you were a genius. No one would care.

The first thing that struck me as strange was that Lucas didn't actually link directly to Godin's Kickstarter campaign anywhere in his post. This might just be a simple oversight, so I won't comment on that. But since Lucas's post about Godin's campaign seemed to share plenty in common with his post about mine -- namely, that he's describing highly successful campaigns as "mediocre" (Godin's) or saying a campaign "isn't very good" (mine) -- I found myself wondering, "what's the point?"

From Godin himself:

Kickstarter appears to be a great way to find fans for your work. You put up a great video clip and a story and wait for people who will love it to find you. But that’s not what happens. What happens is that people who ALREADY have a tribe, like Amanda Palmer, use Kickstarter to organize and activate that tribe. Kickstarter is the last step, not the first one.

Exactly. So what if someone who has spent a lot of time building an audience -- days, weeks, months, years, maybe even decades -- capitalizes on those relationships with a video or campaign that isn't (in your own judgement) stellar? Kickstarter campaigns are about making something other than the campaign itself. If someone runs a "mediocre" Kickstarter campaign and receives funding to make something terrific, I'd rather have that than a great Kickstarter campaign that resulted in a mediocre creation. And that's why Godin's campaign is so successful so far -- it's not his video, which is basically just him talking to the camera in front of a bookshelf -- it's all the work he's put in up until now. Amanda Palmer's campaign video is great, but her success at raising over a million dollars is also a result of everything she's done to build an audience (as singer for The Dresden Dolls and Evelyn Evelyn) before the campaign even began. Not to mention she does things like let fans draw on her naked body (NSFW link) at shows. She has put in a lot of work and now she's being rewarded for it. This is how it should be.

Lucas says he hasn't read Godin's books. I have, and I even blogged about one here, as I think indie filmmakers need to be able to think like marketers if we're going to have a sustainable career in this business. I also previously talked about Godin's switch from traditional to self-publishing, and what that shift could mean for filmmakers. I'm a fan of Godin's, and that's why I backed his campaign. If the video was more inspiring, if the rewards were better structured, perhaps I would've sprung for a higher backer level. But first and foremost is the fact that I was already a member of Godin's "tribe," which is what Godin calls a group of fans.

So what's really going on here? In both Godin's and my case, Lucas is saying "their campaign isn't very good, but they already have an audience."  True. Kickstarter is not a miracle... there are no miracles. The secret is... there is no secret. We have worked for years to get to this point and that's why our campaigns did well. While one can certainly come out of nowhere and do great with a campaign for an appealing gadget or a terrifically entertaining video pitch, for the most part it's helpful to think of Kickstarter campaigns like anything else in life: years and years of hard work in conjunction with an idea are going to yield better results than an idea alone.

Which brings me to the title of this post, which is something I said on my 90-minute Vimeo panel with Brian Newman (though I was just repeating a line that I heard elsewhere): that attitude is more important than aptitude. Would you rather work with a so-called expert who tells everyone else what they're doing wrong, or would you rather work with friends who wholly believe in your project and are willing to do anything to help get it made? This is who I think should be on your Kickstarter team: people who believe in you and are ready to help with sweat equity. There are plenty of articles in this world and plenty of previous campaigns to research, which to me precludes the need to hire an expert helping hand. Here's a good place to start your research. Don't hire an expert to run your crowdfunding campaign -- work hard on your idea, inspire others, look at previously successful campaigns, and get your friends to help. On our panel, Brian (who is an expert on film financing) suggested the same thing -- "don't pay someone to run your Kickstarter campaign."

Attitude versus aptitude on a film set

Kickstarter campaigns are not films, however. They take place primarily on the internet and are just a precursor to the actual production. So I'm not saying attitude is more important than aptitude in every case, especially not on a film set. Let's take the Sundance-winning film Beasts of the Southern Wild (which opens in NY and LA this week, and more cities in the weeks to come) as an example. It's a wonderful, magical, emotional, triumphant film, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

In a Q&A following the screening I attended, producers Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald talked about their experience shooting for 50 days in the Louisana summer, with a cast of nonprofessional actors, children, and animals -- much of which was on the water. This is exactly what any expert in the movie business would tell you not to do. It was the first feature for the producers, it was the first feature for director Benh Zeitlin, and it was the first feature for most of the crew members (many of whom had never worked on a film before).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5d4IanzDG8

In trying to capture creative lightning in a bottle, Josh noted that while they brought down roughly 100 friends to live in Louisana, they also "tried to have at least one person who knew what they were doing in each department." An experienced line producer, A.D., and production designer... without these things the shoot could've been an unmitigated disaster (not to mention the fact that a real life unmitigated disaster, the largest oil spill in human history, happened on the first day of their shoot, five miles away). So I don't want to sound idealistic by saying "attitude trumps aptitude in every situation." However, would Beasts have gotten made if everyone on the crew wasn't up for an adventure? If on the set you replaced the motivated individuals who believed in the project with union crewmembers grumbling about missing second meal, would the film still exude the same creative spirit? If the producers had hired professional actors from New York instead of local citizens, would the film feel as authentic to New Orleans? Sometimes the answer is not to hire an expert. Embrace the indie.

Beasts is a great example of a film in which attitude almost certainly affected creativity. They made the judgement call that interest, motivation, and attitude were more important than expertise, experience, and aptitude -- for many of their positions. When it comes to who you're bringing on board your crowdfunding effort, I believe this same judgement call applies: attitude is more important than aptitude.


Have any of you worked with a crowdfunding consultant? Have you run a campaign with your friends? What about working on a film set -- what have your experiences been in terms of crewmembers' attitudes and how that affected the production?

Your Comment

80 Comments

I think handing over the keys to someone else and saying "go do it" is a dumb idea and defeats the whole purpose. I think offering a percentage to someone very experienced with what may or may not work is a personal call. Anyone looking for someone else to completely run their campaign is just being lazy and looking for the easy way. Many non-profs hire professionals to help run their fund raising campaigns for a percetange of the raised amount.

I'm not sure what was wrong with your campaign. I jokingly tweeted you once saying "your video about the voice in your head makes the voice in my head question my video" - your video captured everything any creative person deals with: self doubt and if I had found it before it ended, you would've gotten my money. A piece of advice I've received was to make the project/campaign about YOU and not your project. I think you did that very well, and I think that's the key. Too many film makers think people actually will care about their unfinished film, and honestly no one probably does, they care about you and your vision, again which you captured perfectly.

Damn, now I'm rambling.

June 25, 2012

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I've worked on many productions, from tiny freebies to multi-million dollar SAG productions. Unequivocally, attitude budget every time. As far as aptitude, well, you can't make a film with no ability on set. That said, I'd rather have one talented and smart crew member leading 20 enthusiastic newbies than 20 experienced crew who didn't care.

June 25, 2012

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Also just wanted to mention, as someone who has spoken with Lucas McNelly and listened to his advice - while he does offer to basically run your campaign, he never suggests that the runner of the campaign disappear and let him do everything.

June 25, 2012

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Embrace the Indie. What a great phrase. Everything I love about nofilmschool seems to live by this motto. For me that's the most exciting part of being a filmmaker today.

June 25, 2012

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Koo,

Excellent post, I appreciate you really digging into this question. I contributed $24 to your movie. It really had nothing to do with the movie itself, it was all you and what you'd done with your site to this point. You really have cultivated a wide following. You create a ton of value on your site. And your video was extremely genuine; it did make me want to help out.

Looking at Kickstarter, I see that most of the biggest successes have been video games and gadgets, where people's donations are actually pre-orders for a cool product. Films and other pieces of art have a harder go of it, because the question "what's in it for me" isn't as clearly answered. So it is an intangible something that people actually "get" from giving money. I think the perks are secondary.

The recent phenomenon of the Bus Monitor fund on Indie Gogo reaching over $600,000 should factor into this. People aren't getting squat from that except an emotional charge from contributing to something they feel strongly about. And that campaign did not represent any aptitude at all. Someone took a video of something happening on their phone and someone else posted it and was like "let's help this woman out!"

People buy emotionally and also contribute to things they like or find inspiring. The heart is more powerful than the marketing research survey.

I don't think anyone contributes to a film project just for the perks; to actually have someone take out their wallet it's gotta be a project that touches or inspires them in some way. And to that point it is really attitude.

Keep up the good work!

June 25, 2012

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As someone who is routinely asked to "run" other people's campaigns, I can completely endorse this post. I don't run other people's campaigns. I provide strategies, tips and best practices that I've picked up along the way helping intimately on dozens of other successfully funded projects, including my own.

But more importantly, I inform people who ask me to run their campaigns that what they're asking is one of the worst mistakes they can make when attempting to crowdfund their project. Why (they always ask)? Because crowdfunding is a golden opportunity for them to reach out to their existing fans and build an audience of more fans who you can turn to again and again. I can't reach out to your fans as effectively as you can and I can't do it with the same conviction. If you want to run a truly successful campaign, you need to run it and you need to be the face of it.

There's a ton of good advice online today about running campaigns. That said, running one campaign doesn't make someone an expert or mean you can take their advice to the bank. I personally don't think anyone with immense social capital (read Seth Godin, Amanda Palmer, et al) is capable of running a truly innovative campaign. Clever, quirky, interesting, entertaining..yes of course, but not innovative. The platform is innovative, not necessarily what someone with a massive built-in audience does with it.

I do think there are plenty of fundraising experts who can appropriately earn money helping people to successfully fund their projects. This is perfectly normal in any industry and clearly crowdfunding is no different. Many would-be project originators take comfort in having an expert (hopefully someone who can provide case studies based on their own projects) hold their hand along the way. If anything, that consulting practice is most valuable well before a project is launched. A couple hour long-phone calls, a Skype "master-class" or a crowdfunding lecture are great ways to get the attention your project might need.

I don't consult for a living, but I have helped raise a lot of money using kickstarter and I would never rob someone of the opportunity to experience what it's like to run their own campaign.

June 25, 2012

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Thanks Nathanial -- I think everyone should do research and that can definitely involve asking others for advice (I give out a lot of advice over email and in person). I just happen to think you shouldn't "hire" someone, which is why the post puts that in the title. And I suppose there's a lot of gray area between "asking for a little bit of help" and "hiring someone to run the entire shebang," which maybe I don't do a great job of exploring in this post. But that should definitely be part of the discussion going forward, and I look forward to hearing from people who can better define what exactly being a crowdfunding consultant typically entails.

June 25, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Ya, the hiring part is sticky bit for me as well. I've never charged anyone. I've also never taken a cut on the back end. Both of these practices I think are common, but I've never managed to work it out in a way that made sense to me and I'm usually helping on projects that I'm passionate about or for colleagues or close friends/family. It may be that I already have a business, so why complicate my life with another one, but while I haven't charged, I think if done in the right way (phone consultation or a one on one master-class of some kind) it could be a good value-add for the person looking to succeed.

But ultimately, I'm of the strong opinion that they should run their own campaigns.

June 25, 2012

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If you don't have a fan base or an audience, then what do you do?

June 25, 2012

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Not care? If you make movies for recognition you shouldn't be making movies.

June 25, 2012

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john jeffreys

I make movies to have them seen. And having them seen enables me to make more. It's the circle of life.

June 26, 2012

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brett

That is a completely ridiculous thing to say. Yes we make movies for personal benefit but why make movies if no one will see them or you will not be recognised for doing it. For most people here film making is their source of income, and for income to grow people need to recognise the creator as a worthwhile investment.

June 28, 2012

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Latham

I think the most important thing when approaching crowdfunding is being reasonable about the amount you can actually raise. Anyone can raise $5K from their network (however small) of family and friends if they approach it with a little creativity. $10k is a much bigger stretch for many people but very possible. I raised $12k on my first project and that felt like a massive stretch for me and my network, but was I able to find matching contributions from NGOs that were following my campaign. They contacted me after I finished and I effectively ended up with $36k. I didn't have a huge fan base or following, but I managed to get my film completed and delivered (http://www.theeldersfilm.com). The beauty is I attracted 200 or so new "fans." That's an additional 1/3 on top of the group of core individuals I was reaching out to when I started so next time maybe I'll go for $15k!

Reasonable budgetary goal + committed network of contacts + a few key people willing to evangelize your project to their networks (that are different than yours) = success in most cases and this formula is scalable.

June 26, 2012

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This guy sounds like he is just trying to promote himself and the fact that he knows a lot about Kickstarter. Counter intuitive to use successful projects if you ask me. Advertising 101, don't ridicule the competition, focus on your own strengths. It's a turn off when big companies do it in commercials and it's petty when individuals do it.

June 25, 2012

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Luke Neumann

I'm not sure if i'm "this guy" you're referring to, but if so that wasn't at all my intent.

June 25, 2012

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You're not, Nathanial (I think). Sometimes comments are hard to follow even though we've got threading here.

June 25, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

No! The guy in the post. Sorry, should have made that clear :)

June 25, 2012

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Luke Neumann

phew ;)

June 25, 2012

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And yes...I completely agree that a good attitude wins out...especially an attitude of gratitude to everyone who helps you accomplish your goal!

June 25, 2012

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I'm going to respond in full later, but there's 2 important points that I feel should be made now:

1) If Ryan had taken the time to go to my website (cryptically hidden as it is), he would have seen this, on the page where I talk about what I do, "yeah, I run your campaign for you. But you're going to be involved. You can't just walk away and come back 30 days later. Because ultimately, a crowdfunding campaign isn't successful unless you as a filmmaker build a better connection with your audience, and you have to be present for that to happen. If you don't do that, you've failed, even if you've raised your goal."

2) My article about Seth Godin's campaign links to 19 different places that link to Godin's campaign. So to say I don't link to his campaign, which technically true, is kind of misleading.

-lucas

June 25, 2012

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I saw on Twitter that you felt this was a "hatchet job," Lucas, and that really isn't my intention. I thought I made this clear in the opening paragraph, but either way I'm really looking forward to continuing this discussion on both of our web sites and it seems like others are as well. I think there aren't enough disagreements in the film world, both online and on panels, and that disagreements can be far more productive than agreements.

1) Where do I say that a filmmaker walks away when working with a crowdfunding consultant? You say "I run your campaign for you" and that's exactly what I'm talking about.

2) That's why I said "This might just be a simple oversight."

I'm pretty surprised you feel this is a "personal attack" when you use language like "If Ryan had taken the time to go to my website (cryptically hidden as it is)." You're the one who wrote an article about my campaign saying it wasn't "very good" or "innovative" or "creative." I didn't take this as a personal attack, and felt no need to write about it until several months later when I read your piece on Godin this weekend -- that's what inspired me to write this. I say I have a tremendous amount of respect for you but that I disagree that criticizing someone's crowdfunding campaign using words like "mediocre" is productive for anyone. Yet somehow this is a "hatchet job" and a "personal attack?" I don't get it.

June 25, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

My first short film was 65% crowd-funded. Except this was done way before kickstarter and indiegogo existed - in fact all the way back in 1998. The "crowd" in this case was folks in my local creative community and anyone else who we crossed paths with along the way. We had the scheme of "dollars for feet" whereby you could buy 1 foot of film for $10 - pledgers received a certificate thanking them for their contribution which had a strip of film attached to it. We produced a short promo video (shot in all the magnificent glory of MiniDV!), got some press out of it because nobody had done anything quite like our campaign before and waited...

We ran "dollars for feet" throughout the course of pre-production and production and turned our wrap party into a fundraiser with a ton of donated raffle prizes etc, performances by local artists etc. Of our total $24,000 budget $15,000+ of it was raised privately through our crowd funding and it worked entirely because of our attitude.

I have to say that Lucas McNelly is coming off as a little self-serving - why criticize SUCCESSFUL campaigns? Perhaps because he'd have us believe that with his paid consulting he could do better.

I contributed to the Man-child campaign in part because you gave a professional, honest and sincere pitch but mostly because of all the things you've done for free by way of this site. I figured you'd earned some karma the other way. I look forward to seeing the completed movie.

June 25, 2012

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Neil

That's awesome, Neil.

June 25, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

I just watched your "Man Child" video for the first time. 4 Broken Ankles? Can't fall for the cross over! :)

Any way to give to the project still? Love the site and more importantly, the knowledge you guys share. Would love to do my part and give back.

June 25, 2012

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Luke Neumann

Thanks for the support Luke! There's a continuing campaign here, all the rewards are still available except the unique frames.

http://nofilmschool.com/manchild-paypal/

Oh, and as for the ankles -- all four of those fractures happened when I was on offense (landing on pesky defender's feet in the lane). You know, I was flying so high... just kidding.

June 25, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Awesome, donating now. It sucks when injuries stop you from playing, I got a herniated disc but can still tough it out in City League play (yippee!). If you don't mind me asking, how did you get Phil Jackson on board??

June 25, 2012

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Luke Neumann

I didn't, but one of the backers/community did! With this initiative:

http://nofilmschool.com/2011/09/man-child-midpoint-video-trending-twitter/

June 25, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Interesting debate. Lucas McNelly is innovative in his own right that he was able to create a career based on apparent deficiencies from his clients. He is perhaps not the only entity profiting from such an endeavour. As this dissertation could grow larger and more visible it will be interesting to see what, if any, impact such arguments will have on fundseekers who hire the likes of McNelly. Conversely, if Koo's camp is victorious, the McNellys could be out of business and who knows, maybe Kickstarter will kick out campaigns run by hired guns (or embrace them if Kick$tarter's tummy gets resultantly fatter).

June 25, 2012

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marmot_264

I agree almost 100% with this post, but since I was involved on the panel where this came up, let me clarify something. While I don't think you should hire someone to run your Kickstarter campaign, I've been involved as a consultant on many of them in the past year, and I ran one for money. As I tell everyone - you can find this info for free online, but if you want me to walk you through it, I don't work for free. After running the one successful campaign for a fee (which would have been waived if not successful), I decided to never do it again. This particular film needed the help, and the filmmaker could have never raised the money without having a team to help, but it's just not the best strategy. If you have no clue about how crowdfunding works, read up on it for free online. Too lazy to do that - you're probably too lazy to run a campaign, but paying a consultant for a little advice is fine. Save your money though and hire an intern to help mail the rewards and do the campaign yourself. It's a much better route.

June 25, 2012

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Thanks Brian. Obviously everyone is free to take their own approach. Part of my point is philosophical re: Kickstarter. I guess the bigger Kickstarter gets the more we're talking about "big money" and so there's space for professionals in the realm. Maybe I just liked it more back when people were figuring it out on their own.

June 25, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Your response to Brian is visionary. Kickstarter is "big money", as is teaching, of which NFS is a part of. It seems people are less interested in figuring out things on their own, they prefer specific guidance. However, guidance could be evil, as it quells innovation with defined rights and wrongs. There are more and more filmmaking courses, workshops, etc., than ever before, and many "veterans" have jumped on board as paid, often highly paid, consultants and teachers breeding their set ways into their followers. Is this to say there's more revenue and success in teaching filmmaking and talking shop than there is in producing a film? Maybe most students who pay big dough for guidance will never make a film. Take the money and run!

June 25, 2012

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marmot_264

Ryan,

Aptitude and attitude are not mutually exclusive. For those at the top of their game in the film industry it is a must to have both. If you make the judgement call to choose one over the other it is because you don't have the budget or enough favors to have both. Not because you have to choose just one.

Better advice is to not hire someone with a bad attitude regardless of their experience. But I would always start with appealing to the best (experts with a great attitude). Even us experts help out those without a budget once in a while because MOST of us started out INDIE.

June 25, 2012

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Totally agree! Of course if you can have both...

June 25, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Campaigns on Kickstarter which reach their goal are successful campaigns. Peroid.

Its nonsense to take the position Lucas is taking unless the intention was to use such criticism as a part of a "jumping off" point for his own success.

Here's the thing:

Targeting successful campaigns for derogatory comments and criticism, especially of high profile people, is either misguided positive intention or the ideas of someone who hasn't really thought through the effects of an otherwise clever marketing ploy. Sincere people who mean well can sometimes miss the mark in how they distinguish themselves in a market.

Controversy is an easy sell and engages people. But fabricated controversy can't be sustained and is bad marketing.

There is room for professional consultants and hiring folks to help with crowdfunded campaigns. But it has to be done right.

For anyone who is part of the growing crowdfunding market, you can distinguish your services without ripping on other people who are successful without your services. And that is smarter.

June 25, 2012

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I don't think he was ripping on Koo's campaign so much as he was saying that Koo's success was due to a pre-existing fan base due to this website more than anything else. He came to this conclusion due to the amount of Facebook likes Koo's Kickstarter received in relation to the amount of backers etc..

So he was making the argument that Koo could've made probably three times his goal due to the existing fan base he has. He would've achieved this through a more interesting video and better rewards. That's what Lucas was saying. I think Koo's video was awesome.

June 26, 2012

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I don't know who this Lucas guy is (so sorry Lucas!) but he sounds like an idiot.

The point of a Kickstarter campaign is to raise the money for something cool you want to do.

Did you raise the money? Congratulations, that's a successful campaign!

Why would anyone care about how unique it is if it raised the money you needed to raise? Nobody is going to respect you as a filmmaker because your Kickstarter campaign had really sweet perks. They're going to respect you as a filmmaker because your movie was good. Anyone who is looking at the campaigns themselves as the end product is entirely missing the point.

Now, if this guy is a Kickstarter consultant, I can see why he'd be missing that point. But I think that's misguided. I ran my own successful campaign a couple years ago, but if I were looking to do it again now, I certainly wouldn't be paying for help from some jackass who is criticizing successful campaigns for not doing something right. Why not? Because I don't give a f*ck whether that guy thinks my campaign is unique, I just want to get the money I need to make my film. And if that guy is criticizing a campaign that's 587% funded rather than trying to learn from it -- even if the only lesson there is BYO Audience -- then he's an idiot.

June 25, 2012

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Thank you Ryan, for a very real, very genuine, write up that albeit verbose and a bit rambling (two things I can appreciate since I tend to be both), in itself distinguishes itself and yourself as original thinking. As someone about to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary I truly believe in, it gives me a lot of hope but also "in the trenches" insights; a point that dovetails directly into why I think Lucas is quite the opposite....

I've always believed, and heard it from the truly successful; the long term successful; that in personal failure comes the most valuable lessons. At the core, through the act of finding fault in people lucky/skilled/hardworking enough to succeed at Kickstarting something Lucas takes this adage, strips it of all humility, of the humanity of firsthand failure and loss, of any genuineness, and turns it into a black-hat style marketing tactic that's a calling card for hacks, and the immature. I won't go so far as to say that everything dude's ever done is garbage because I haven't enough time to analyze some random person's contribution, moreover it's not my place, which I think is exactly my point. Whatever happened to being a quiet professional? Whatever happened to being shocking good at what you do, because at one point you were shockingly bad, and unlike the other warm bodies occupying this doomed existence, you decided to drag yourself out of the ooze long enough to benefit someone else?

Lastly, far be it from me to hold myself as some ivory tower example. I run a boutique-y marketing firm comprised of a couple friends with more hyperbolic faux "your cool be-tatted consultant guy" on our website that would choke a donkey. However, as arrogant and no doubt overconfident as I may be at times, I don't set off to take someone, anyone, down a notch for my own gain. The advice I give clients, employers, and whoever else is immobile enough to not flee before I harpoon them, is at least the end product of MANY missteps, false starts, and colossal failures, of my own. Lucas would pull far more weight with this kind reader if he completely ditched all the faux after action reports on other people's work and laid bare all his own project's failings and pockmarks solely. But then he'd also have to spend a lot less time writing on the blog and more time creating more than an elementary analysis with Excel.

June 26, 2012

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Ryan, be cool and don't worry. You have your money. Concentrate, on your movie.

June 26, 2012

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I am... if I write an editorial on a Sunday afternoon it does not mean I'm not concentrating on my movie...

June 26, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Is it just me or the words of Lucas about Seth Godin campaign sounds totally disconnected? I really feel that he is disconnected when he say: Godin's first foray into Kickstarter is so bland, so middle of the road, so behind the curve, almost shockingly so. The perks are boilerplate. The video is dull. The text is a bunch of gibberish about proving to a publisher that Kickstarter is viable (intelligent people still question this?)
Focusing on this kind of detail sounds just like counterproductive, it's just negativity like the one you heard from the hater, there's no tangible analysis and it sounds totally out of place regarding what kickstarter is, who Seth Godin is...very hard to debate with someone who seems to don't know what he is talking about.
Wow amazing...

June 26, 2012

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Paul

Lucas loves attention. Stirring shit! Fine, he's defined that as his job. He called Paul Schrader's campaign crap too. (Successful campaign) I will be slightly biased here because he is in the group of the four types of people that I don't find cool. Critics, Consultants, Marketers, Politicians. Sure, we need them. Well, that's debatable! But who really likes them! Fine, we all make the world go around! It's not a world where we all need to like each other. However, you get more respect if you have put in your 10,000 hours. Outside that, you're not even on my radar with whatever you do!

Anyway, to the point. These are "successful campaigns" he trashes! The big picture is this. There's a depressing pattern here in the indie film community as a whole. Gary Veynerchuck talked about it in other sectors too. Where the level of success of raising money is more celebrated than the actual project. I clearly see that in many campaigns.

Now we are seeing a situation where raising your target is not even good enough anymore, its "how" you raise it! Look, I don't give a damm if you start a Meth clinic, or get your ass injected with drugs like Rodriguez to fund your work. Like Sam Fuller said, it doesn't matter a damm where you get the money, its what you do with it. Filmmakers in the past robbed their grandmothers, friends, family for film production funds! I am sure some even robbed staged heists at some point in history! Now thats an exciting campaign to watch!

The whole movie industry has been bankrolled from all sorts of dodgy dealings! In the time we live in today its hard enough to get any money to live, so if creatives raise their your target! Bullseye! You could have an interesting campaign, but your work is dull. You could have super cool perks, but we never hear from you again, because most filmmakers will die away in this new world.

Shrader has contributed a huge amount to american cinema, Godin has built fans from his work, so they show the love back, and Ryan has obviously done the same from all the free advise, content on this site. Good job! SIMPLE! They earned it! Also, as a filmmaker, you should be learning and be in the driving seat of every area of your work today. If you are not, you are not going to last in this new world. The consultants are going to fight their corner of course. But when they start downing people like Lucas does. Fuck them all!! I mean, really! Come on! Filmmakers, take charge of your own lives! DO it, study it, make mistakes, try again!

June 26, 2012

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Hey Ryan!
Thanks for the article, just would like to throw in an comment and a thought:

1.) I completely agree with you that if you have build an audience for years there is nothing bad about capatilizing on it through kickstarter. If someone buys your film or gives you the money in advance through Crowdfunding there isnt so much of a difference, despite it brings much more freedom to the artist. He can concentrate on the work without having to worry how to sell it later to recoup his debths.

2.) Although I embrace all these new possibilities for filmmakers I'm wondering how many jobs I can do by myself. Ok, I'm a filmmaker, these days I'm supposed to be my own marketing campaign manager, my social media communication manager, my own distribution agent... this list can go on. So why is it a bad thing if a filmmaker concentrates on his job and gets a consultant for his kickstarter campaign? I'm a little sceptical on the whole DIY-paradigm of crowdfunding. Of course its just amazing everyone now can make his own little dream project come true with crowdfunding. But for a professional filmmaker, who used to spend a couple of years on a feature, he can now add another year to plan his CF-campaign and another year to plan his distribution tactic. Wouldnt it be a relieve to hook up a consultant to share that work?

June 26, 2012

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That's a great point Rusch, and that's something I hope Lucas will address in his follow-up to this. I view this as the beginning of a discussion and I sincerely hope it doesn't become some sort of thin-skinned prickly debate. Being a multihyphenate is great, but I completely understand that at a certain point there are only so many hours in the day and only so many hyphens you can add.

That said, Kickstarter is called Kickstarter for a reason -- it's supposed to be a tool you use to GET STARTED. When you have a film in production, when it's ready for distribution, when you're further down the road... of course you should (if you can afford to) hire marketing people and consultants and ANYONE who can help your work get seen. I feel a little differently about Kickstarter because it's supposed to be the DIY jumping-off point. As Nathanial notes, he did a campaign for $12k which was a stretch but he feels anyone can raise $5k. In that case maybe the campaign should just be $5k and not something much larger where you bring on a consultant and try to blow it up! People start looking at these successful campaigns -- it seems every week nowadays someone is crossing the million dollar mark -- and suddenly it's about "how much can we raise?" not "let's raise what we can to get started."

June 26, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Hey Koo!
Thanks for that viewpoint! I have to say I havent seen it from that direction, but using Kickstarter to kickstart makes sense! :-) I'm preparing my own campaign and it gets bigger and bigger every day what makes the planning process longer and longer. Mayve reaching for a reasonable budget to get started and in the best case use the attention from the kickstarter campaign to go futher with the project is the best option! Thank you so much for your thoughts!

June 27, 2012

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I'm waiting for the when the little flame under crowd funding gets blown out by the "professionals". Face it there alot of people who want to support something, be a part of something small and watch it grow. We all want a sense of tribe, community, to be a kindered spirit in our own sense of humanity. The problem is starting to grow, in that there is a saturation of requests, plus professionals are entering the indie world, and that is going to quickly deplete the energy behind public and private support via these the various new crowd sourcing models. When people start to make it a living and professionalize the process of collaborative idea structuring and funding then I think you will see an exodus of "investors". Yes this is a great time for anyone to drop a dream on the internet and have a good chance to see it come to life. But before too long Joe Schmo indie is going to be squeezed out of getting into the spotlight, and he is going to have to fight even harder and be more innovative than the professonals. Right now he has to be just better than the other Indie or let the project stand on its own. Keep in mind the professionals are trolling for the next "new and fresh" idea that they can "model" for a clients campaign. Once you start organizing and turn this into a business of how to get funding and marketing of your project, then it is no longer an Indie world. A project, good or bad is now so pumped up and marketed, that it becomes the next Transformers or Avatar to the public. How can you compete? Well then the next question in a free market is, do we need every little dream out there? Why not let the project/ campaign stand on its own merit, after all the professional campaigns will have to fight for that same segmented piece of the pie along with the DIY campaigns. I personally don't want to see that happen, where crowd sourcing becomes less about the project and more about the mechanics of marketing the campaign. Maybe in the end the information is there in a form that equalizes the playing field. It is very well possible the DIY campaigns can benefit from observing how professional campaigns are launched and somehow grab a piece before it gets swallowed up. Time will tell.

I know I feel fortunate to have completed two Indie features so far, one privately funded and the other funded via kickstarter. But I've had two other film projects struggling to find support and both failing on thier initial first launches.

I'm curious the current success rate on projects launched by genre. And from those successful campaigns how many of those projects go on to see a return on the investment?

June 26, 2012

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bob

Bob, I'm in complete agreement -- and I guess this is what I'm lamenting: "Once you start organizing and turn this into a business of how to get funding and marketing of your project, then it is no longer an Indie world." I suppose this is inevitable, but that doesn't mean I have to like it...

As it happens, Kickstarter recently added a stats page by project type. This won't help us understand which genres are more successful, but if you haven't seen it you may find this page interesting:

http://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats

June 26, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

If there is a statiscal database then we can see the overall impact of change as professionals get deeper into crowdsourcing. With bigger names entering the foray it may also bring more of the population to the current funding sites.

I know I haven't invested into any of the campaigns monetarily other than my own, but originially they werent my project until I signed as labor. That may be the most valuable aspect, sourcing of talent willing to work for the sake of the art. I would love to see film industry people start to join on as advisors and mentors for campaigns,vs those seeking to profit. I'm not a filmmaker with some dellusion to getting famous and rich. I just like the medium and the comraderie of a single purpose. I hope that Indie will still be Indie in some sort of traditional sense.

June 26, 2012

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bob

I'd like to address the point of the "crowdfunding consultant" issue. As someone who successfully kickstarted a first feature, I've been asked almost daily to help others with their campaigns. I also did a TEDx talk on crowdfunding (I'm a professional speaker, although I have more speaking experience on teaching than I do with filmmaking. I'm a new filmmaker). And I have been fundraising for various causes since I was a little kid, including Greenpeace, Canadian Feed the Children, the Sierra Club, Youth Challenge International, etc. Asking people for money is just something I feel particularly good at. I speak about why in the TEDx talk if you're interested: http://youtu.be/YY5EfaF61hI

So, that's my background. I'm a teacher by training and now I'm producing feature films with my writer/director sister. And I like to crowdfund. To me, it's fun. And I've made a tonne of mistakes with my own campaigns and I'm sure I'll make more in the future.

I'm not an expert and I don't think Lucas, nor Koo are saying that they are either. But saying that no one should hire a crowdfunding consultant is like saying no one should hire a DP. You should shoot the thing yourself right? Or an editor. Shouldn't you know how to edit it yourself? Right now, you think I'm just being silly, but that's where this whole crowdfunding thing is taking us - we need the people like me, and Lucas and all the others out there that actually look at the big picture & strategize it. It's not whether you've raised $100000 and spent years building your audience. There are loads of people crowdfunding that are starting out who could use the help. Like me and my sister. We crowdfunded a feature without even having a short under our belts.

We're hiring a PMD (Producer of Marketing & Distribution) for our movie right now. I would argue that the PMD is the most important person to help us launch our movie at this stage (we're doing final sound mix). So, at the time that we launched our kickstarter campaign, I was the most important person as the one with the most experience & the most gumption for crowdfunding. The rest of the time my sister is the most important (the writer/director) and yes...we all work as a team.

Which brings me to my point. It's a team. Now, Koo I get that you're mad at Lucas as a critic, and that's fine but I think criticizing all crowdfunding consultants is a bit off. Yes, people should do their own research. Yes, they should actually run their own campaigns. But let me tell you - a LOT of people don't get crowdfunding yet. 40% of campaigns succeed. That's low. A LOT of filmmakers don't know how to edit. A LOT don't know how to shoot. And that's fine. You bring on the people into your team that help your movie succeed as a whole. If you get crowdfunding, and have been building your audience, then guess what - you're the person who should do it. But if you are just starting out, or you're extremely busy making your art and paying the rent, then hey - hire someone. They won't run your campaign - that's NOT what we do. We advise. We study. We analyze. We look at the stats and what works & what doesn't. That's consulting for you.

Now, I say "we" but I will be honest. Every person that has asked me to consult on their campaign has been turned down so far. I won't work on anyone's campaign that I'm not 100% behind - just like I won't produce a movie I can't sell down the road. And I don't charge a fee (neither does Lucas I gather), but rather a % of the raised amount. So if they don't raise their goal, I don't get anything.

I had someone try to hire me a few weeks ago. They wanted to raise 1.5 million for an alternative energy campaign. I turned it down. I would have made a tonne of money if it was successful, but it didn't feel right to me. I think Lucas would have too. And I have enough faith to believe that any other consultants out there would have also said no. It was a venture capital thing, and not really a crowdfunding campaign. I couldn't see what the perks could possibly be (but maybe one of you out there will see them clearly - that'd be awesome).

June 26, 2012

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Hey Victoria,

Thanks for the comment. I think my reply to Rusch states some of the same things I would say in response to you, but yes: I totally get it. People don't have time to do everything themselves. Most people should absolutely have a team (I didn't, but... special case). But I'm not arguing against having a team, I'm lamenting the philosophy behind hiring a professional consultant to run one's Kickstarter campaign. The whole point of Kickstarter -- and the reason most videos are the creator talking to a webcam -- is it's supposed to be someone with an idea asking for help from the crowd. Once you've got a professional consultant on board it feels like we're getting away from that indie spirit. This is what I'm lamenting in this opinion piece, and people will continue to hire consultants and maximize their raise and all of that... but it doesn't mean I like it, and I thought I'd use that sentiment to start a discussion about crowdfunding consultants. It's not a topic I've seen discussed a lot but we were asked about it at the Vimeo fest... so here we are. Thanks again for your thoughts!

June 26, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Wow quite the thread.

Quick question, if someone can help, I backed a very successful campaign and they have not delivered the promised rewards and now have stopped responding to emails. I've been nothing but extremely patient and polite I might add.

Any advice Koo? It really leaves a bad taste in my mouth and makes me feel like never backing another campaign.

Best

Lliam

June 26, 2012

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Lliam Worthington

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