Though it has been made much more doable thanks to crowdfunding platforms, securing funding and navigating the process to maximize your return can be tricky. DP Katie Maul and the team of filmmakers working on the indie doc Trichster, have run a total of 3 successful crowdfunding campaigns for the film, and Maul has shared some tips on how you could approach your next fundraising efforts.
This is a guest post by Katie Maul.
Recently, I find myself feeling like the Talking Heads, wondering “How did I get here?” in regards to our film’s third successful round of crowdfunding and my changing life as “real-life” film co-producer.
In the past two years, our little team’s big dream of producing and independently funding our first film is becoming a reality. Every person on our five-woman creative team works in “the industry” in some capacity, but we've never gone so far as producing a full-length film from the ground up -- until now.
Trichster is (or more accurately; is well on its way to becoming), a documentary focused on seven people living with trichotillomania, a body-focused repetitive behavioral disorder that causes them to uncontrollably pull out their own hair. We've been working on the film for two years, and it’s now finally reached the rough cut stages. David Byrne’s voice is ringing in my head again as I think, “How did I get here?” The short answer is: hard work, a lot of hours, incredible support, good luck and a fair amount of wine.
I certainly don’t claim to be an expert in any of this, but after three successful crowdfunding campaigns, I figured I’d share some of what I’ve what I learned.
Don’t think of it as begging; think of it as finding investors.
During our first round of crowdfunding, I felt like the stereotype of the grasping millennial, asking friends and family for money to work on this project that I was passionate about. And I hated it. I hated admitting I was crowdfunding. If you don’t admit it, how do you get the money? The answer is: you change your mindset.
The film we’re producing is important to a lot of people. The trichotillomania community has been waiting for this film or something like it, and they are happy to support it -- to INVEST in it. Find the people who are interested in your film being made, and you won’t feel like you're begging, you’ll feel like you’re giving them a return on their investment. This perception of crowdfunding is crucial to success. When you look beyond your inner circle and find that target audience, they’re happy to feel part of the film and are literally and figuratively invested in its success.
Got your audience? Keep ‘em happy and more will come!
Once you start seeing “likes” and tweets from people with whom you don’t share a last name, apartment, or pet, things start to get pretty exciting. You’re building your audience! The trick at this point, is keeping them engaged. They’re supporting you, (some of them financially) while you're continuing on this wild and crazy ride, and you have to show them you’re grateful. People love feeling like they have access to “secret stuff” like behind the scenes footage, sneak peeks, and pictures of the director with a tape mustache -- that sort of thing.
The great thing about putting out this content (which can seem like an overwhelming task while you’re trying to edit hours upon hours of footage), is the more you put out there, the more people find you. Social channels are integral to keeping and building your audience, so whenever you’re at an event, shoot or meeting, remember to take a few pictures or tweet out a quote to keep your content fresh and engaging.
Networking is super important -- and so is getting good at it
Never burn a bridge, and always squeeze as much knowledge from experienced people as possible. People are generally happy to impart what they've learned, especially to fellow filmmakers. Yes, artists can have a difficult time being “business-y” but it’s a trick that must be learned for the trade. Perfecting a pitch is a necessary evil, though something else may be even scarier: the moment you realize you love pitching. When that switch is flipped, a room full of people with nametags and glasses of wine is a thrilling and exciting experience!
Admit you’re a novice, take advice and criticism but have confidence in your art.
Don’t be a know-it-all (because you don’t know it all). Be open to much-needed advice, but don’t get walked all over. That person who has made six films that went to Sundance? Their advice should be mainlined into your brain, dissected and discussed. That one slightly bitter person from film school who snarked all over your idea? Listen, thank them, and move forward in the direction of YOUR choice. The beauty of indie film is that it’s independent, the choices are “yours and yours alone,” (after collaboration and considering worthy input, of course).
“Do you want to go to this free screening of an indie horror movie about a balloon-riding serial killer with lobster claws?” “Yes.” You never know who you’re going to meet, what you’ll learn at a post-screening Q&A, or how awesome a seemingly absurd film will be. You’ll always learn something, even if it’s, “Lobster claws and balloons are not a good combination.” (Side note, I truly hope this film exists out there in the beautiful world of Indieland.)
Sometimes you just get lucky.
And that’s awesome. Take it in, love it and rejoice, but don’t expect it all the time. Don’t become entitled or lazy just because you happened to be at the right places at the right times with the right people. You can’t lean on luck, but when it happens, enjoy it! Then get back to work.
Money isn't everything, but it helps.
Equipment is expensive. Professionals are expensive. Time is expensive. If you get the right mix of people, who happen to have equipment, and are willing to invest time into your project -- you can do incredible things. If you can’t, setting and meeting realistic expectations for that first crowdfunding campaign can give you the confidence and coin you need to jump in to the project.
Our film started out as one woman’s dream to raise awareness for a cause close to her heart. Through a combination of time, hard work, luck, lessons and support of fans and industry professionals, our film will be a full-length, color corrected, documentary with an original soundtrack and an inspiring story. All this happened with no fiscal sponsor, no grants and very little experience. We are still riding the wave of crowdfunding success into shore where we will have to deal with a new reality: Festival Applications. Let’s hope we continue to learn about things we know very little about and that our film starts speaking for itself.
Katie Maul is Co-Producer and Cinematographer on Trichster, a documentary about seven people living with the little-known disorder, trichotillomania. The film is currently on Seed&Spark She works full-time as Marketing Strategist and Content Producer at Critical Mention, a media monitoring company. Katie pursues freelance projects on nights and weekends as a producer, editor, and videographer.