Indievelopment: Before Crowdfunding, There’s Crowdfinding

So, you’ve written scripts. You’ve submitted to managers. Maybe you’ve signed an option or two.

But damn it, you want to see your words on the screen! Hear actors speak the lines, see how a director (or maybe you yourself!) chooses to frame the shots…

Photo by Paul Holloway

Photo by Paul Holloway

You want to make a movie. Good!

“Wait, Jeff, I thought you told us not to?” Yeah, I did say that… but I do it. Lots of others do it. You probably want to, or even already have.

More and more, this is the era of making things happen yourself, and there is no better time to make your own films. The equipment is cheap; in fact, if you have a computer and a smartphone, you can shoot a film right now. Go ahead; I’ll wait. Done? Cool. So upload it; the distribution is free. You can access a potential audience in the billions just by uploading to YouTube. Just a decade ago, NO ONE could do that for any amount of money. Not Lucas, not Spielberg, not Sony and Warner Bros and Universal all together. So… what’s stopping you?

You don’t know how to make a movie? Well, you didn’t know how to write a screenplay, and you learned that. So read up, take a course if you wish, but most of all, go shoot something! Learn by doing! You don’t need pyrotechnics or teamsters or car chases or…

Well, you do need lights, probably. And a microphone and some sort of boom pole. And even if people volunteer, you gotta feed them. You just HAVE to. (Seriously. Feed your peeps. Break any other rule. Not that one.) You can DIY all sorts of stuff, improvise, beg, borrow and steal, tape your mike to a painter’s pole, shoot with work lights from your garage, but at the end of the day… there are going to be some costs. It might be the gear you can’t borrow. It might be insurance on the gear that you can. (You REALLY don’t want to have to replace a good camera and lens set up.) It might be reimbursing people for parking and taking them to Subway. It might be post production or marketing (you ARE considering marketing, right?) It might be that you are sick of the DIY “look” and you want to do something that looks pro. Regardless, there are always some costs, and maybe you can’t cover them all on your own.

Enter crowdfunding. Right? That’s for money, right? Like an ATM!

In the immortal words of Lana Kane… NNNNNOOOPE!

Crowdfunding is, yes, a way to finance projects, but it’s also crowd FINDING, and that’s really the more important part. Who wants to see this? You aren’t making a swing set for your backyard or a tea cosy for the kitchen. You’re making art, and the purpose of art is to be experienced. The greatest thing about crowdfunding isn’t the money you’re getting (no, really, it isn’t, I swear); it’s the people who are saying “Yes, Person Who Creates, I want to see you create this.”

Why am I talking about crowdfunding? Well, it is very much top of mind for me. On Monday the 9th of September, I’ll be launching my own crowdfund so I thought this was a good time to talk about this new form of financing: what can it do, what can’t it do, and how to avoid stepping in the biggest of the mine fields. Between now and October 11th, every Friday I’ll give you a from-the-trenches report on how we’re doing and what we’re learning. And you’ll be able to simultaneously watch how my campaign is doing and see if my ideas work or not. (Thanks to my kind editor who is letting me do these near-live and therefore adding to her own crunch-time workload!)

So what’s my crowdfunding campaign? It’s a transmedia project that will start as a short film, with a possible radio play and graphic novel depending on how successful the campaign is. The goal is to build up an entire transmedia world, including feature films and games. It’s called Tesla vs Cthulhu, and if you want to find out more details, visit TeslavsCthulhu.com. It does a few things I think are important for any crowdfunding campaign:

1) There’s a hook. This might be a celebrity, it might be someone with lots of followers, it might be a reinterpretation of something a lot of people already know (or, in my case, two somethings), but there should be some reason for a stranger to click. Filmmaking is not a charity; you have to interest your audience, whether they’re buying tickets at a multiplex, clicking on your Kickstarter, or watching a free YouTube video.

2) It’s achievable. My first crowdfund was a disaster. I raised… let me see. 4% of my goal, I think? I listened to people who had done their own crowdfund and who felt KS was an ATM, and I was an idiot. My second one had a more modest goal, and I was 300% funded. So that was awesome. This goal is significantly higher, but still very achievable.

3) It leads to something. This can be a lot of things; it can be greater social awareness of your subject matter, or future stories in the same universe (like mine), or even a vital stepping stone in your career, but most people who back crowdfunding projects like the feeling of being part of something, of making a difference. So give them something that isn’t just a pure one-off. Show them how they’re helping to change the world, even in a fun way. With Tesla vs Cthulhu, I’m looking to create a genuine indie genre franchise, and the Kickstarter is the first step. So people really feel they can be a part of that, and hopefully, one day, a few people will be able to look at an epic film and say “That wouldn’t have happened without me.”

Throughout this, feel free to ask me anything about the process, either here in the comments or on Twitter. So, if you are curious about crowdfunding, the next six weeks will hopefully be helpful… and, speaking on behalf of my team, hopefully successful!

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