Indievelopment: The Crowdfunding Finish Line

See that image over there? That’s our Kickstarter page, the small corner of the web that has been the centre of my life for the past month, as of 5:48PM yesterday. $8,500 pledged of $8,500 goal.

Tesla vs Cthulhu KS pageFunded. There are no sweeter words to a crowdfunder. You know that look you see on a marathoner’s face when they cross the finish line? It’s like that.

So, assuming people don’t suddenly reduce their pledges, we did it; our film will get funded and it will get made. (And if, as you read this on Friday, the total is LESS than $8,500, I’m probably fetal in the corner.) I thought I’d be writing about those last few days, the terror of wondering if you’ll make it… but out of nowhere came our fourth biggest day and an impromptu Twitter party as we crossed the finished line.

Okay, so it worked. WHY did it work? (Translation: What do you think you can use for your own crowdfund?)

The goal made sense.

I know my reach. I don’t have 5000 Facebook Friends. I don’t have 200,000 followers on Twitter. You need to be realistic. Yes, some have raised five, six, seven figures through crowdfunding (heck, we will see eight figures someday soon from a Hollywood type). But be sensible; look at what has worked for others and realistically decide how they compare to you. And be honest, no matter who you are; some celebrities were a bit shocked to see that they weren’t Veronica Mars after all.

The pitch was strong.

I’m here to give you the straight bill of goods, and that means telling you when things go wrong. However, it also means telling you when things go right, even if my Canadian soul rebels against self-aggrandizement. So, national modesty quashed momentarily: I was told by multiple people that the pitch video was one of the best they’ve ever seen. Give it a look if you haven’t yet. It wasn’t some expensive movie; it was a combination of stock footage, After Effects, footage of me, sound effects, an awesome track by our composer, Rob Gokee, and a selection of the amazing illustrations of our designer, Stephanie Malone. Total shooting cost, cash out of pocket, about $50. Total gear involved: an $800 DSLR, a good quality mike, and the filmmaking software I already own. The footage of me was shot when I was home by myself, at my dining room table using available light, my DSLR sitting on a tripod and a shotgun mike taped to an old Rock Band mike stand because I didn’t have a boom op or a proper shock mount.

So yeah. Not exactly Hollywood.

But it showed people what the movie would FEEL like. It’s eerie. It’s moody. And people know I didn’t spend $5K on the pitch video for an $8500 project. At least, I hope they do. So for those that are concerned with that sort of thing, they see that I can do a lot with a little (and that’s a key part of being an indie writer, producer, director, craft services person, you name it). They see how I’m approaching the subject matter, and they get a taste for what kind of filmmaker I am. My team is awesome, and I literally could not do this without them; however, they are all looking to me for guidance on how this story will get told so backers need to get a sense of who that person, that one driving the particular bus, is. If you don’t show them who you are, why should they back you? If you don’t have After Effects or Premiere Pro or the rest, fine. You’re pitching your creativity. So go be creative.

The feel of the Tesla vs. Cthulhu project wasn’t just in the video. The updates also included fiction; nearly every day, backers got a fragment of “The Diary of Elaine West,” which slowly pulls people into the events of the story. There was a steady supply of art, where people could see what they would get if they backed us: T-shirts, diplomas, patches, you name it. Backing a project is a leap of faith, and the more you can show people, the better. It shows you’re prepared, and prepared in the film biz is critical. (In an early column, I said you’ll always be underprepared for crowdfunding, and that’s still true. But don’t confuse “underprepared” with “unprepared”.)

I did not abuse my hook.

I had thought we’d get Tesla and Lovecraft fans in roughly equal measure, but if my informal impression is anything to go by, Team Tesla is in for a whuppin’ when it comes to backer numbers. I expect we got some Lovecraftian fans we might not have otherwise due to the inclusion of Tesla, but by and large, it’s Team Cthulhu who has carried the day in getting this film made. And one of the things I’m hearing from the Lovecraft fans is they like how I’m approaching the subject matter. This is not Pacific Rim (which I love, by the way, but that’s a different column); Tesla will not create giant robot suits to punch Cthulhu in the head. Elaine West will not mow down Azathoth with a death ray. It’s still Lovecraftian, and what makes it that is that the bad things are BAD THINGS, and coming face to face with them is virtually-certain doom/insanity/death/all of the above, concurrently or consecutively. And I know this because I’m a fan myself. I’m not just someone who saw “Cthulhu” in some successful Kickstarters and jumped on the bandwagon, the Lovecraft wiki open in his browser as he wrote. So if you have a hook, if you’re connecting to some aspect of pop culture, be it Tesla or Trek or Tarantino, do it honestly or the fans will tear you apart.

I valued my team.

The first part of that is easy. My wife is one of my fellow producers on this, as she is on everything I do, and while I could go on for days (and have done) about how amazing she is, suffice it to say that I wouldn’t be doing any of this without her. But it wasn’t just her that was critical; the other producer in our ranks, Brad Johnson, was vital, both in his actions and in his advice. As was Stephanie Malone, our graphic designer, Rob Gokee, our composer, Yong Jin Kim, our DP, Michael Zigerlig, our graphic novel illustrator… this isn’t intended as an Academy acceptance speech, though. I could then tell you about the people who retweeted us every time (one friend and I even made a game of it; we’re not allowed to repeat any variation on “Thank you” and “You’re welcome” until the end of the campaign). The people who interviewed us, blogged about us, shared us on Facebook, the amazing people who donated perks… and those fantastic folks, 125 strong as I write this, who placed their hard earned money down, be it a dollar or four figures, and said “I want you to make this movie.” (Many people fit into several of the above categories.)

Every single one of those people is part of the team. From your fellow producers all the way to the  person who retweets once. Value them. Thank them. (I try to thank every single retweeter or Facebook sharer; I don’t catch them all, but I try!) They are the crowd; they are the one who made this happen. You started it, but they see it through with you.

What’s next?

First, we finish the campaign. Two days to go as I write this (by the way, I’m still writing these at 4AM, and I still want to know if anyone wants to buy a fuzzy poorly-set alarm clock, aka my cat). Two days, and we want to raise more if we can. We have stretch goals to make that happen, so let me give you a quick rundown on what those are and how you can use them. Stretch goals are those beyond your initial goal. This update talks about ours. Don’t make them things like “Cover our Kickstarter fees” or “Get a good camera,” because the first should already be in your budget (stern glare) and the second is kind of insulting; were people pledging to get something shot on a crappy camera before? Upgrading the production is fine, but don’t make them doubt the quality of what you’re doing at your base goal.

Why do them? Well, in our case, we want to tell more stories; Tesla vs Cthulhu is a transmedia project, so there are e-books, graphic novels,  radio plays, and more. It’s also practical. Pledged does NOT mean locked down. People can lower or cancel their pledges at any time right up to the last second, so you could find yourself going from over-funded to zero in the click of a mouse if the wrong backer pulls out at closing time.

What’s next for us once the clock flips over to 11:00:00PM on Friday? Well, I’m going to fall on my face for three days (the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend). My average day on this has been 12-16 hours, more or less full time, since September 9th. So yeah, a few days to just do nothing. Then, it’s time to go to work. There’s a movie to shoot, perks to prep, and 125 people (and maybe more) to prove ourselves to. They had faith in us; it’s time to show them it was justified and knock this out of the park. And possibly the park next to it too.

What’s next for this column? I’ll take you through the next step; I’ll do a short series of columns that cover the nitty gritty of getting a calling card short film made. Shorts are, more and more, being used as calling cards by writers as well as directors and producers, so you’ll find out what’s involved. I’ll cover everything from pre-production right through to releasing.

Of course, if you want the entire picture and it isn’t after 11PM on Friday October 9th yet, you can still become a backer of Tesla vs Cthulhu and get the backers-only info as well. (Did I mention one of the rules of crowdfunding is always promote your crowdfund?)

It’s been quite the ride. Thanks for joining me. Are you SURE you don’t want a cat?

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3 thoughts on “Indievelopment: The Crowdfunding Finish Line

  1. Jeff RichardsJeff Richards Post author

    Thank you both for the kind words! I think it’s always important for film crowdfunders to demonstrate their creativity and the tone of what they’re doing. I know the campaigns I’ve believed in have been based in giving people a feeling of what’s possible for the film itself, and doing a lot with a little is an important quality of indie film.

    The support we got was fantastic, and we’re definitely looking forward to sharing our stories! Thanks again, and glad the info was useful!

  2. robertswww

    Jeff, congrats on reaching your funding goal for your indie film project! Also, thank you for your crowdfunding insights and tips along the way. Tesla vs. Cthulhu sounds like it will make for an interesting story… best of luck on the film production!

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