February 3, 2014

What Can You Learn from 8 Sundance Films with Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns?

From projects that banked $12K to upwards of $3M, quite a few films that just premiered at Sundance Film Festival were supported by very successful, but very different, Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. (And most were launched long before the filmmakers knew they would be premiering in Park City.) In the breakdown below, check out which ones were the most successful, and pick up tips for your next crowdfunding campaign.

By looking at anything from the number of updates made to the types of perks offered, you can tell a lot of about the strategies of the following films and their crowdfunding campaigns. Take a look at these eight films paired together because of similarities -- or differences -- in their endeavors. (Click on any title to see the original crowdfunding campaign page.)

From High Brow to Low Ball Success

Here's a look at two campaigns for narrative films that were successful with completely different strategies. Dear White People raised their funds primarily through inexpensive twitter shout-outs from a sizable audience of 1,318 funders, while A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night succeeded with a fraction of the supporters who donated for high value rewards like classy soirees and rare posters.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Campaign Tagline: "An Iranian feature film starring a Vampire, a Prostitute, a Drug Addict, and the Persian James Dean..."

  • Raised on Indiegogo: $56,903
  • No. of Funders: 290
  • Highest Grossing Perk: Nine backers chipped in $500 to attend a private wrap party sponsored by a Hollywood club.
  • Updates: 33 in 19 months

Dear White People

Campaign Tagline: "A satire about being a black face in a very white place."

  • Indiegogo Total: $41,405
  • No. of Funders: 1,318
  • Most Popular Perk: 340 backers threw down $10 for a shout out on twitter. Think of what they saved on postage!
  • Updates: 14 in 20 months

The takeaway: There's no hard-and-fast rules of how many backers you need or how much your perks should go for. Instead, try to imagine what your particular audience of potential backers will get on board with.

Internet-Based Community Campaigns

If the most ardent supporters of your would-be film are, say, a community of cheese farmers with dial-up, you might not have as much luck using a web-based crowdfunding platform as a film whose audiences are a diverse network of savvy programmers and bittorrent bessies, like the following two campaigns. Not a big surprise, but digital downloads outnumbered any other perks (outwinning hard copy DVD three times over) with these titles. Somewhat of a surprise, neither campaign was big on updates.

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Schwartz

Campaign Tagline: "An investigative documentary from director Brian Knappenberger about the life of the internet pioneer and activist Aaron Swartz."

  • Raised on Kickstarter: $93,724
  • No. of Backers: 1,531
  • Most Popular Perk: 680 backers will get an advance email with a DRM-free digital copy of the final movie for $15.
  • Interesting Note: You don't always see backers throwing down big money for an "Executive Producer" credit, but in this campaign, four people pitched in $10,000 each to be one.
  • Updates: 7 in nine months.

Clouds

Campaign Tagline: "a documentary exploring creativity through the lens of code"

  • Raised on Kickstarter:  $34,123
  • Most Popular Perk: 325 backers downloaded the interactive documentary as an application for Mac or Windows for $25.
  • Interesting Note: The $200 Easter Egg perk -- where backers work with the Clouds team to insert a fun concept, sound bite, or meme into their application -- sold out.
  • No. of Backers: 765
  • Updates: 6 in a year.

The takeaway: When you have an engaged audience that feels powerfully about an area, like the future of code or the tragic suicide of a promising freedom-of-information advocate, and you can give them a way to genuinely participate, they will. Especially if you know where to find them on the world wide web.

The Celebrity Stints

On one end, we have a turbo-charged campaign from Zach Braff, tapping into what people want most from this kind of Kickstarter -- to show everybody else they were a part of it! And on the other end of the arena, you've got Stuart Murdoch giving away his only copy of  the first "white label" press of Tigermilk and writing personal postcards until his hand goes numb. Both successful, but to different degrees.

Wish I Was Here

Campaign Tagline: "Hell, there are no rules here -- we're trying to accomplish something. - Thomas A. Edison"

  • Raised on Kickstarter: $3,105,473
  • Celebrity: Zach Braff
  • No. of Backers: 46,520
  • Most Popular Perk: For $40, exactly 9,952 backers will be getting a WISH I WAS HERE T-SHIRT along with goodies like a film screening and production diary.
  • Updates: 43 in nine months

God Help the Girl

Campaign Tagline: "Musical feature film about a long lazy summer in Glasgow, Stuart Murdoch (Belle & Sebastian) directs, Barry Mendel (Rushmore)"

  • Raised on Kickstarter: $121,084
  • Celebrity: Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian
  • No. of Backers: 1,334
  • Most Popular Perk: For only $15, 160 backers got a printed version of the thank you postcard by Graham Samuels, personally signed, sealed, delivered by Stuart. (OK, minus the delivered part.)
  • Updates: 42 in two years

The Takeaway: Whether you're a celebrity or not, sometimes the best crowdfunding launch is where you can use your campaign as a built-in way to market and publicize your film on a limited budget. Notice that every perk $10 and up for Wish I Was Here contains a weekly production diary? Zach Braff basically just added 46,520 people to his newsletter, that clever boy.

Idiosyncratic Independents

Capitalizing on quirky aspects of their story, from vintage 1970s baseball postcards to scintillating titles, here's a look at two films that had fun with their campaigns.

 

No No: A Dockumentary About Dock Ellis

Campaign Tagline: "The legend of Dock Ellis includes LSD, hair curlers & beaning batters. We explore the man behind the legend and his legacy."

  • Raised on Kickstarter: $38,006
  • Most Popular Perk: 98 backers got a digital download of the film with a silk screened POSTER featuring the art of Lil Tuffy and designed & hand-printed by Billy Bishop for $50.
  • No. of Backers: 353
  • Updates: 16 in 19 months.

The Foxy Merkins

Campaign Tagline: "The filmmakers who brought you the indie hit CODEPENDENT LESBIAN SPACE ALIEN SEEKS SAME are making a new comedy about lesbian hookers!"

  • Raised on Kickstarter: $12,802
  • Most Popular Perk: Titled, HAND-JOB LEVEL, for $25, at least 42 backers get a hand-written thank you note or Sundance postcard from the leads and the director of the film.
  • No. of Backers: 246
  • Updates: 19

The takeaway: if your film features a quirky theme or character, your campaign should too.

***

As we've mentioned before, many films that premiered at Sundance in 2014 were also support by established granting agencies or had recognized executive producers behind them. Crowdfunding is a way to break out if you don't happen to have those resources (or even if you do). But it's hard work, and even good projects fail. There are even more Sundance films that used crowdfunding, and if you want to see more, check out the full list from Indiewire.

What is the one thing each successful project above had in common? Every campaign had a different plan, but one thing was the same: they each understood who the audience for their film was, and therefore, where to look online for the audience members who would back the film -- not to mention what kind of campaign they would respond to.

What do you think of the campaigns above? Have you had a crowdfunded project that looks like any of these, and what was your secret to success?

Link: How Did the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Filmmakers Crowdfund (If At All?) -- Indiewire

Your Comment

7 Comments

I wish you guys would post more about this sort of thing. Clearly crowdfunding is going to be huge for indies in other countries as well, and the information we get on "how to run a crowdfunding campaign sucessfully" are generally not very useful. This is okay, but too short to be truly great.

It's one of the reasons I keep myself subscribed to this site, even though I hardly shoot live-action anymore and I am specializing in vfx. I really think I'd love to do a crowdfunding campaign one day, but have no idea how exactly. It has to do with marketing, I get it, but a complete and utter breakdown would be great. Something like "How to Run a Crowdfunding Guide" ebook would be great.

February 3, 2014 at 10:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Noted Rafael. A complete guide to crowdfunding is an interesting idea. As you can see from the examples above, the main aspect of a successful campaign is understanding who is most likely to support your film, and how you can reach them. But figuring that out can be pretty daunting if you don't know where to start! There are some basic guides out there from the platforms themselves, namely a useful Indiegogo guide that can get you thinking practically about your future campaign. Here's the link: http://landing.indiegogo.com/iggfieldguide/

February 3, 2014 at 3:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Shooter/Editor

You forgot "The Babadook", which was easily my favorite Sundance screening of the year. They raised $30,000 on Kickstarter.

February 3, 2014 at 2:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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There were at least 26 films at Sundance this year who had successful crowdfunding campaigns, so I only picked a few that were relevant for comparison. Sorry I left out "The Babadook" for ya! I will say that I enjoyed the fact that their campaign offered a gel skin for iPad/iPhone type devices (even though only three backers took them up on that one.)

February 3, 2014 at 3:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Shooter/Editor

"Rich Hill" which won the documentary Grand Jury prize at Sundance was also a kickstarter project.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1901192863/rich-hill-feature-docume...

February 3, 2014 at 3:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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modfodder

True: Find your audience.
Opposote is true also: I had a project, that failed because I did not get to the right audience. (well, try getting to bookworms that read E. A. Poe on the Internet;)

February 8, 2014 at 11:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Indies in the UK can also now make use of equity crowdfunding with participation for investors from as little as £10. Films of London just closed funding for a development slate on British ECF platform Seedrs.

February 11, 2014 at 2:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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