Guest Blog: Brendan Cleaves

Posted January 26th, 2017 by Matt Turner

In this guest blog, SP member Brendan Cleaves talks about his process, struggles and successes raising funds for his short film Roger via Kickstarter. Some vital, honest input on the ups and downs of short film production, and some insightful tips for those looking to crowdfund.

In May 2016 myself and co-writer Stuart Foreman successfully funded the post production of our short film Roger on Kickstarter. Our initial goal was £10k but we raised a total of £11,688. The short is now on the festival circuit and has just secured a distribution deal.

May 2016 was probably one of the most stressful months of my entire life. It was full of sleepless nights and the campaign was a barrage of constant ups and downs. For example, a guy put in £1000 to become an associate producer then pulled out a week later. We soon realised that we had been trolled and this guy had a hobby of doing this on the platform. Not the most honourable of past times, but whatever flicks your switch I guess. We’d like to thank that guy for giving us our drinking problems. There is nothing more demoralising than seeing that line graph go negative. Chin up, though.

I wish someone would have sat down with me before we went live to tell me what stood before me. I’d have told him to shove it, the film is happy to be on the cutting room floor for the next ten years.

Jokes aside, Kickstarter is a revolution, it’s an amazing platform and without it, Roger would have been collecting dust and I wouldn’t be writing this. I could seriously sit down and talk about it all day and since the campaign I have done with producers looking to embark on the Kickstarter adventure.

Seeing as we don’t have all day I’m going to give you my top tips. These were either learnt personally during our campaign, things I wish I would have done and other things I read about on the web that actually worked for us.

In no particular order.

> Make your page look professional. This is an easy one. Just look at what other successful campaigns have done. Pick out what you like and what works for the style of your project. This will also help you get a Kickstarter Staff Pick and in their newsletter. This injected our campaign with a nice bump in pledges. By looking at other campaigns you can see what style of rewards sell and what don’t.

> Create excitement. Build your fan base and social media before your launch. We gave it about two months but looking back I’d have given it six. This also gives you time to build content for your Kickstarter page. We were lucky, we had already shot the film so we had BTS images and some footage, but concept art and interviews with cast and crew would have done a similar thing.

> Thank every pledger personally. Someone has given you their hard earned cash, at least you can do is thank them –  and don’t send a bulk email. We had a handful of people increase their pledges because we did this. One of our executive producers was from LA. We constantly messaged him with private updates and in the end, he got a mate of his onboard who became another producer, this happened just because he liked us.

> People are investing in you as well as the film. Be honest in your video and update the project regularly. Make it personal. I spent my life savings shooting Roger and I told people this. It showed just how passionate I was about the film. Our first video we wrote a little comedy sketch about how our cast had gone out on a bender and spent all the post budget. Although this was funny it just made us look like muppets. Instead, we opted for a more traditional Kickstarter video that that seemed to work for us.

> Have a plan to shift your larger rewards. You know you will be getting a few quid here and there from friends and family which shouldn’t be sniffed at as every penny counts, but make sure you spend time with the big money. We made about 60% of our funding from six pledgers. We had about two hundred in total. I wish we had started trying to sell sponsorship for the film before we even launched. Which leads me to…

> Rewards. Make sure you know how much each reward will cost and deduct this from your total. Our rewards probably cost us about 15% of the total amount we raised. Stagger out the price of each reward efficiently. Having one for £50 and one for £55 for us felt pointless. Before the campaign, we were told by an apparent ‘Kickstarter Expert’ that we would make most of our money on dvds. If we would have done the maths at the time we would have realised that this was unrealistic. We would have had to sell about 1000 DVD’s to make our total. It was the producers and sponsorship rewards that helped us the most to reach our goal.

> Facebook Ad’s. This is a tricky one. We spent about £400 on Facebook adverts during the campaign. It did drive traffic to our page but if we hadn’t have made our goal we would have been £400 out of pocket. We took the risk and it paid off. We had a friend who worked in PR to help us with the targeting, I would strongly recommend doing this if you can pull in a favour. A side note to this – as soon as we launched our campaign we were inundated with PR and marketing companies trying to sell us their business. We never contacted any back so cant really comment too much but I’m more a fan of getting people you know and trust.

> Do your research. There are so many articles online about Kickstarter now. Pick out the wheat from the chaff. Look at the facts and figures. When is best to launch? How long should my campaign last? What will work for your specific campaign? There was something that I read before we launched that said ‘Most successful campaigns raise 15% of their funding in their first 48 hours’  We raised 6%, this was a reality check, not to mention a kick in the nuts.

To finish, we had a couple of other things happen during the campaign worth noting (in addition to the troll). We got featured in a national newspaper with a readership of over a million people. We didn’t get a single pledge that day or the day after.

Just to add to the stress hole we were in leading up to the deadline, we had lots of pledgers cancel in the last few days. Nice. Welcome back negative line graph. Be prepared for this, at the time I had no idea this would happen and it’s a punch in the gut with every pledge retraction.

We almost had the film sponsored by a large UK coffee shop chain. I emailed them and told them we had been using their cafe’s to write in over the last three years and had spent well over a grand on their coffee and tea so we wanted some payback. They thought it was hilarious so tried to push it through their marketing dept, but unfortunately, due to the short duration of the campaign, they couldn’t make it happen in time. Damn!

You only have to look at the film section on the Kickstarter website to see how many unfunded projects there are – so many sitting on 1%. The simple fact of the matter is this: you get out what you put in. The ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality, wont work. Funding a film on Kickstarter is a lot different than selling a new product. People are buying into ‘your’ dream not buying the latest gadget. This makes the process very different and substantially harder for filmmakers on the platform.

If it wasn’t for Kickstarter and all our awesome pledgers we would never have been able to complete ‘Roger’ to the high standard that the funding allowed us. The only reason our project got funded is because we constantly worked extremely hard on the campaign. Not only the month that it ran but the two months leading up to it and the two months after.

Don’t be one of the 1%-ers.

Shooting People has a partnership with Kickstarter, connecting our members to Kickstarter’s outreach team. If you have a Kickstarter project that you are considering launching, please get in touch with us. Each month, we’re helping connect filmmakers with those behind the platform, to launch better and more effectively on the platform.

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