Can Crowd Funding Help "Seize the Power"?

Crowd funding is a tremendous marketing tool, but that's really what it is: a tool. If we go in with any sense of entitlement, lack of follow-through, or weakness, crowd funding will probably not enable us to "seize the power."
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Recently, an aspiring filmmaker who I never met in person (though who friended me on Facebook) sent me an invite to contribute money to a feature film he wanted to make. It wasn't a personalized invite. There was no trailer to view. Just a few paragraphs about a fairly generic-sounding story and asking for cash. This irritated me. There was nothing compelling. It wasn't even a sales pitch. It was a dude with a bullhorn in one hand and an upside down hat in another. "Stuff cash in here so I can be an artist!"

I couldn't help but think this guy was a new media douchebag. I didn't say it to him; instead I wrote back and asked if there was a teaser trailer to view, what contributing would translate to for investors, etc.

He never got back to me. I lost no sleep over this.

Anyway, I attended an excellent 2-day event at LA Film Festival last weekend called "Seize the Power: A Marketing and (DIY)stribution Symposium." (IndieWire wrote a great recap here.) It was highly worthwhile for indie filmmakers and aspiring indie filmmakers. I consider myself both, as I have one ultra-low budget feature under my belt, and I'm looking to direct/produce more.

It was a real treat to be in such close proximity to Ted Hope, Peter Broderick, and other humble kings of the film marketing world. Nothing gets the brain cells percolating like hearing respected experts in a field you love discuss current and future trends. Maybe I'm a nerd, but this is exactly how I like to spend my weekends.

Peter Broderick and Yancey Strickler (co-founder of Kickstarter) did superb jobs at explaining to the audience what crowd funding is all about.

I still had questions, and I asked plenty from the crowd during the two days. Since the weekend, I've been borderline neurotically obsessing over the notion of crowd funding and what it can mean for truly independent filmmakers looking to get their passion projects off the ground.

I am all for anything that can help empower independent filmmakers, but I think we need to be careful if we're going to be embracing crowd funding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo en masse.

I consider crowd funding online an exciting and new means, but not an end to attracting attention to our projects. Crowd funding is a tremendous marketing tool, but that's really what it is: a tool. A great tool for reaching out, finding your audience, and scoring money to get your project off the ground. (According to Broderick, the $ shouldn't come first here, and I completely agree.)

If we go in with any sense of entitlement, lack of follow-through, or weakness, crowd funding will probably not enable us to "seize the power."

Our crowd funding campaigns need to be thought out like real advertising, marketing, and PR campaigns in 2010. They need to be compelling, not new media douche-y, half-assed, or desperate; or we run the risk of being seen as a group of lame, delusional, selfish, wannabe-artists.

I think if you're trying to score money to produce a feature film, you should at least have a quality teaser trailer. And that requires flexing some production muscle. You don't have to break the bank, either. This excellent teaser trailer for "Cemetary Junction" from Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and Ralph Fiennes, was a big hit at the Golden Trailer awards a couple of weeks back and could serve as a solid example.

Are you offering incentives for contributors? Could a $10 donation mean a digital download of your feature once it's completed? Could $20 mean a signed DVD and poster? Are you planning to donate money to a charity related to your project? What makes your project worth funding?

Also, why do you need XX,XXX amount of money? Production tools have never been cheaper. You might need less than you think. Find out what you really need. Budget your project. (Maybe even upload the spreadsheet of the production budget as an image for potential contributors to see?)

Crowd funding really is a great tool to show what you can bring to the table, not to beg for scraps. If all that's separating you from making it happen is some start up $, show why you deserve it.

The idea, which I didn't come up with, of D.I.Y. indie filmmakers essentially needing to sack up and "open the lemonade stand" is a great one. But if you're asking for money to finance lemons, sugar, filtered water, a table and chairs... well, it's just lame. Sorry. Offer at least a Dixie-cup sized free sample of your delicious lemonade, and tell your audience about your brand and why it's an awesome alternative to Minute Maid. Communicate with the people who are interested in your brand and be you, the antithesis of spam. Am I missing anything? (Please let me know if I am, because I want to know.)

My first feature film cost little to make, and I wasn't in tune to crowd funding when I went about attaining financing. I only needed low 5-figures to cover all expenses, but I still put together a teaser trailer before asking anyone for money. (Seriously, it's awkward asking for money. Make the best case possible!) Fortunately, I got my project financed.

If I need to embrace crowd funding to get my next feature off the ground, I will, and with zero shame. Promise I'll do my best to give you something awesome and not come off as clutter in your life, either.

Here's my DIY approach to getting a first project out there, sans crowd funding:

My first feature, Bad Batch, is a dark comedy about 3 college students who can't handle a pot brownie high one night. Cinematical said it "has an early Kevin Smith or Richard Linklater vibe, and lends itself to the small screen."

You can check out the trailer and watch the full feature for free, in 3 sitcom-length parts, for FREE. If you like it and want to consume more, the movie costs $4.20 download. (DVD's and t-shirts are also available.)

It's not the easiest time to be an indie-filmmaker, but since when is anything worthwhile meant to be easy? Let's empower our own projects and seize some real power.

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