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Q&A with Emily Best, CEO of Crowdfunding and Distribution platform Seed&Spark

Emily Best is the founder and CEO of Seed and Spark, a crowdfunding and distribution platform for film with the highest crowdfunding success rate in the business (75%!) and a pipeline of distribution to hundreds of millions of consumers across all major platforms. Emily was named one of the 2013 Indiewire Influencers, dedicated to people who are asking the big questions about what the independent film industry is today and, more importantly, what it will become.

Emily is touring film festivals around the world including Sundance, SXSW, Sheffield and Galway, to educate filmmakers in connecting with their audiences to build a sustainable career. Any question you might have for Emily, now's your chance to ask away!

Post your questions by Sunday 8th November, and Emily will answer them on November 9th.

  • How important is it to build a crowd BEFORE you crowd fund? I assume it's incredibly important. Given that, how does one build their own crowd?

    2 years ago
    • It's the MOST important. If you do not spend time building a crowd beforehand, you will do something called "Friendfunding," which is sadly what most who tackle crowdfunding do at least on their first attempt. It takes time the same way development takes time before you can go into pre-production. I have quite a long answer as to "how to build the crowd" all of which is in our handbook, here: cdn.seedandspark.com/sites/default/files...

      Just read elements 1-3 for a start - that breaks down how to start building a crowd!

      The short synopsis is: we live in the age of participation. It's important for you to learn about who wants to see your movie and start to interact with them online and IRL. You can find these people in myriad ways: because they liked a short you showed at a festival, because they liked things you are tweeting, because they're a fan of your genre, because they follow a blogger who wrote about you. You always want to make it easy for people to find you after reading an article, or after a screening and help them sign up for your mailing list. Why?
      Well, Social media is not a means unto itself. Getting thousands of twitter followers only proves you are good at getting twitter followers. Your end game is getting your movie made and seen: that means you need people to fund your project, watch your film, show up to your
      screening. Email addresses have a 3-5x conversion rate over social media platforms.
      Getting people’s attention on social media is great, but you’ve got to get them to get one level more deeply involved with you (ie, getting them to sign up for your mailing list) before you can really reliably ask them for stuff and expect them to help out or show up.

      2 years ago
  • Emily, how many months before you go live with a campaign should a team realistically be working on it. And for the most effective and "successful" campaigns you've seen go live, how many worked on it simultaneously while it was live? Thank you!

    2 years ago
    • This will really depend on the size of the project (how much you want to raise) and the extent to which you and your team already have a following. The research and engagement phase I don't think can be done well in fewer than 6 weeks, and that's if you have a bit of your own following. Most people aren't starting from zero (meaning they probably have some FB friends at least, maybe some twitter followers), but you'll want to spend some time testing how to get strangers' attention before you go out there asking for cash. You need to know you can amplify your message beyond your own network.

      Organization is absolutely everything. For more detail on that, check out Element 8 in the handbook here: cdn.seedandspark.com/sites/default/files...

      We always say there should be AT LEAST two people working on the campaign pretty full time - that way if one of you is a freelancer and gets a job that pulls you away from the campaign, the campaign doesn't die in the water!

      2 years ago
  • What is the most realistic amount to crowdfund for? ie what is the most easily achievable and most successful amount.i..e £2,000, £5,000 etc. What percentage of large amounts i.e. over £25,000 are realised?

    2 years ago
    • This is a common question that sadly simply doesn't have an easy answer. Here is what I can tell you about stats, which doesn't mean much: the average raise on Kickstarter is about $7500 and the average raise on Seed&Spark is about $20,000. The difference has nothing to do with the platforms, it has to do with the level of campaign preparation we require at Seed&Spark. How much you raise should have everything to do with how much you need to deliver on the promises in your pitch.
      My math is wrong, but here is a story of how you can start to think about your crowdfunding raise as about advancing your project and growing your audience rather than a "correct" amount to raise: www.youtube.com/watch?v=amktPFDxglI...

      2 years ago
  • I've seen friends films attempt to crowd fund, reach 35% of their target, start a new campaign for that lower target... And reach 35% of that, instead! I'm guessing 'all it nothing' backers play cautiously, and back by percentage, not amount? Any thoughts or comments from your experience?

    2 years ago
    • OOF. Ok, so, momentum is absolutely everything in a crowdfunding campaign. It's odd because the actual stats (pretty much across platforms) is that 80% of projects that reach 30% in the first week are successful. 30% seems to be the tipping point to get new people to come contribute to the campaign. Which means the crowd-building you do before you launch is often the most crucial step. Most filmmakers do not launch campaigns fully cognizant of the research and preparation needed, or the full time attention the campaign will require. I'll post it again, here is one example of how a filmmaker handled the crowdfunding goal in relation to his film's goals: www.youtube.com/watch?v=amktPFDxglI...

      2 years ago
  • People often offer some kind of reward/service/merch for donations/pledges at different levels. Which of these actually work? Do people actually want signed scripts, t-shirts, DVD copies, dinner with the director, associate credits? What do you find people actually respond to the best (and worst!)? Are the successful rewards actually items with a high material cost, reducing the value of the donation (custom T-Shirt, DVD, postage on the above)? Do platform fees ever account for this, or just based on the headline gross figure?

    2 years ago
    • Since in advance of the campaign you should have spent a bunch of time figuring out who your audience is and what they like, you’ll probably have
      learned something about what will motivate them to get involved. The best
      incentives help to deepen your supporters’ engagement in your film!
      • What do you have to offer that you can DO rather than manufacture? Is your audience
      really interested in another t-shirt or tote bag? (If you're making a genre film, the answer might be yes...) Those items are expensive to ship, and
      don’t engage your audience further in the world you are trying to create—the way that a
      postcard from set, a TRIP to set, or an on-screen shout-out in the credits might.
      • You will be distributing the largest quantity of $10-25 incentives. These should be free
      for you – something you can make. If they are fun, personal, visual, sharable and immediate, you can turn your incentives into more crowdbuilding power. In fact, the best incentives also act as amplifiers. Our favorite example of this was for Sean Mannion's TIME SIGNATURE: a time travel short where as soon as you contributed, he wrote and asked if you could go anywhere in history, where would you go? Then he photoshopped you EXPERTLY into that place. (Here is the link to some of those: www.seedandspark.com/studio/time-signatu...
      I was one of the contributors who received this incentive and I loved it SO MUCH (he put me right at the signing of the Magna Carta!) I shared it all over my social media. I know that I was responsible for at least 7 other contributions. So he managed to turn my $25 contribution into $200.

      Also consider:
      • What is UNQIUELY yours/in the story world of your film?
      • A “Pre-Sale” of your film is BORING. “Early Access” is much sexier! People who
      contribute to your film want to see it. There are lots of ways to make that happen but
      make sure you reward these early supporters.
      • Consider how cool filmmaking still is to most people who aren’t filmmakers. Invites to
      wrap parties, premieres, walk-on extra roles, meals on set – things you take for granted
      might be your most valuable incentives.
      • Do you or anyone on your team have a special skill you can offer as a service or
      coaching? (Get your mind out of the gutter, kids.)
      • Make sure to consider the implications of your incentives for a potential distributor. Most
      (but not all!) distributors are okay with early access screenings, temporary private online
      viewings, or even day and date releases, but often won’t pay for the DVDs you
      promise. You have to budget for those. DELIVERY MATTERS.
      • So, yeah - Budget for delivery! Packaging and shipping is a real cost!

      ADVANCED INCENTIVES:
      • Matching contributions: If you know someone in your community might give $500
      or more, run a “matching campaign” for a period of time in which all contributions will be
      33
      matched by this generous supporter.
      • Contests: Can you get cities competing for your premiere screening by which city has
      the most contributors? Can you get folks competing with their contributions for the
      chance to name a main character? Or for the chance to shoot the pivotal scene in their
      home/neighborhood?
      • Short term incentives: The middle weeks of a crowdfunding campaign can be very
      slow. In order to combat the doldrums, offer short-term incentives like “This week only,
      a $10 contribution will get you a personalized limerick from the filmmakers father!” (This
      is a real short-term incentive that was very lucrative.)

      2 years ago
  • A couple of serious industry backers have told me that they don't even touch projects with a crowd-funded element. Have you come across this? Is it just an attitude, or are there financial (tax, etc) reasons you know of? Is it on the decline now crowd source finding is growing?

    2 years ago
    • This is an old school mentality and I do not know a single distributor in Hollywood of ANY size that hasn't picked up at least one crowdfunded film this year. There are no tax implications unless the filmmaker has failed to get a good accountant on board and receive the crowdfunding income correctly. That said, as the filmmaker you want to be aware of any incentives that might conflict with a distribution strategy should you get picked up by a distributor. In that case, you simply shouldn't expect the distributor to set aside or cover the cost of DVDs you may have promised, for example. You always want to be sure YOU are able to deliver the incentives you promised no matter what distribution deal you get.

      2 years ago
  • I think film crowdsourcing only really works now if the movie is especially interesting, or something with a cult following that cannot get sufficient backing through usual channels.

    Crowdsourcing for small budget indie films was cute a few years ago but now there are new projects springing up on Facebook groups almost every day practically begging for money like charities and offering very little evidence that the end product is going to be anything worth shouting about. £1000 for dinner with a director and a slightly familiar actor? Awkward. £25 for an advance order on a DVD copy of something that looks likely to turn out mediocre at best? I've got Netflix for that. £3000 for a meaningless Exec Producer credit and an unearned IMDB entry? There are real charities in the world that I would rather throw that sort of money at.

    Back in July I was crossing Embankment Bridge from the BFI and I passed two frail-looking homeless men and a film director with a bucket of coins raising money for his next feature.
    I've not been able to take film crowdsourcing seriously since.

    2 years ago
    • Crowdfunding done badly is...bad, I agree. But crowdfunding used as a part of a much longer term audience engagement strategy can be elegant, generous, and fun. I don't want anyone to ask for "help" with a "donation." That implies that art is not an essential human need - we all know that it is - and perhaps storytelling more than any other. Filmmakers who can convey passionately a sense of what they have to offer to an audience whose needs and wants they understand...They can give the audience a chance to contribute something to making a film they want to see. Crowdfunding should be about creating opportunities for audiences to participate, not about begging for change. If you're making something you have to beg people to pay attention to, then you should take a second look at what you're making. Interestingly, crowdfunding does not favor the "classic rom com" - star-driven Hollywood style rom coms have tried and failed with crowdfunding. The crowd is hungry to get involved in making stuff they would never otherwise see, like Lily Amirpour's incredible native black and white Farsi language vampire skateboard western A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT. Crowds are eager to get involved with storytellers who are doing things differently and excellently.
      A great crowdfunding campaign conveys really clearly why this film needs to get made - why it would hurt if it didn't.
      Here's an example of a campaign for a film I think conveys this "why" really well:
      www.seedandspark.com/studio/i-am-thalent...

      (My mother watched this video and said to me "What kind of person would I have to be not to contribute to this film?")

      Here's a narrative short that really focuses more on the why than anything else www.seedandspark.com/studio/all-exchange...

      In the end, I don't think bad crowdfunding campaigns mean no crowdfunding campaigns can be good. But your experience is a great cautionary tale: you have to DEEPLY respect your audience and their willingness to participate in order to make crowdfunding fun for everyone.

      2 years ago
  • The term 'Crowd Funding' is pretty generic, covering quite a broad spectrum of methodologies. Companies that have been set up purely to facilitate crowd funding, such as Kickstarter and Indigogo and the intriguing Seed and Spark associated with this conversation, whose model I hope to explore thoroughly very shortly, have differing 'rules'. Personally I have no use for Kickstarter because they demand that 'all or nothing' time limited restriction that is not only wrong for most projects but can actually be very damaging to projects that are then labeled 'Kickstarter failures', and the purpose of which, it seems to me, is entirely for the expedience of Kickstarters business model. Other companies such as Indigogo allow the option of 'stretch goals' whereby one can have differing targets for essentially the same project. As with any serious proposition though all goals need to to be properly costed with clear budget plans provided for each stretch goal. Additionally one needs to cost the pros and cons of each company's percentage commissions against the benefits such as fund handling services, Paypal costs, legals etc. Every campaign needs its webpages that will be hosted on the company's website; does the facilitating company provide any added value in that respect?

    However facilitators need only be one part of a campaign; the world and the world wide web provide all sorts of more sharply targeted networks and connectivity that can add significantly to success. Our little company has crowd funded three factual features so far, one of them predating the term 'Crowd Funding', raising about £100k in today's Sterling equivalent, without involving any facilitating company, so we got 100% of it. We have two considerably more ambitious projects developing which will use independent networks in addition to a facilitating company, yet to be decided. The fourth film, concerning a quite narrow interest, already has a connected inner network of 30,000 people and an 'outer' network of some 4.5m world wide, all of whom can be contacted independently, commission and rules free. This sort of freedom is near impossible for an otherwise ethos lacking action/zombie movie. The fifth film has even bigger inner and outer networks. Both films funding campaigns are designed around stretch goals because it's near impossible to know how big a success they may achieve, certainly seven figure sums are realistically possible but we are ready to go with considerably smaller budgets if that's the mandate the funders give us

    As I've suggested before, purely egocentric arts fiction films are unlikely to achieve viable budgets unless they have very compelling added values, such as big names attached. However brilliant, original and creative campaigns with a real insight to the mood of its target audience and perfect timing can confound such dogmatic opinions as mine!

    2 years ago
  • I was just wondering if there were any responses from Emily yet? Her presence would likely stimulate more discussion and make this a better conversation!

    2 years ago
    • Here I am! A Day late but hopefully not a dollar short. I am getting to the questions as quickly as I can but also want to answer in sufficient detail!

      2 years ago
  • Emily is due to respond on the 9th Paddy; I'm very much looking forwards to it; especially if it becomes a conversation rather than a series of cul-de-sacs.

    Now that I've had a chance to visit Seed and Sparks excellent web site I'd be interested to explore the possibilities with Emily further. Seed and Sparks offer has much to appeal to many. The term 'Independent Film Maker' however is becoming an increasingly blurred and somewhat meaningless reference. Perhaps the original use of the term, as first applied, might now be better labeled 'On a wing and a prayer and running on vapours Film Makers' because many 'Indies' have become viable entities while remaining 'Indies' outside of the business structures of the old cartels or limited by the spheres of wisdom that they often cleave to.

    Just as a point of interest, as I'm statistically a 100% successful crowd funder, does that make me a more successful crowd funder than Kick Starter or Indigogo? If I were to specialise only in micro budget projects, would it be OK for me to call apples oranges?

    I was going to mention fishing expeditions, and now I have.

    There's nothing wrong with fishing expeditions, they're a great way to catch opportunities, I do it as often as I get the chance. It's a business thing. Business is business; charity is not.

    For me the very best business relationships are those based on maximum mutuality and transparency. None of these observations are aimed at anyone in particular, but, as with a few other stalwarts on SP, I'm an old codger who's been in business of one sort or another since 1968 and variously in the film, TV, Music and Theater business since the early 70's, I'm quite familiar with the 'great and the good' and can drop names until the cows come home, I've partied with them and done business with them. As lovely as they mostly are, I've not yet confused any of them with the likes of Nelson Mandela or the Dhalai Lama.



    I was going to end with a famous quote about statistics, but that would not be entirely fair. Nevertheless, due diligence is a wonderful thing, especially when done with due wisdom.

    2 years ago
    • I'm not sure if there is a question here. Here is what I will say: every single project that submits to Seed&Spark has over a 75% chance of success. Every single project that submits to another platform has less than a 39% chance of success. And all of stats mean nothing if you as the filmmaker treat the development and preproduction of a crowdfunding campaign as diligently as you would with the development and preproduction of the film. The success stats simply reflect a level of preparedness.
      What interests us at Seed&Spark is that filmmaker understand how difficult crowdfunding successfully really is, and that if all they get is money, that's missing the point. When leveraged well, crowdfunding is one step in a deep, lasting, sustaining relationship with an audience. A direct connection to your audience is the only proven path to actual independence. It's also the only way to future proof a career in media making. No matter how the distribution landscape changes, you will always be able to monetize if you own the connection to your audience. That is what we help filmmakers build and maintain.

      2 years ago
  • Hello, I would like to ask what she recommend to do a crowdfunding for two targets in different languages? Which it's the best way?. If for a documentary film the main character it's a Latino baseball player who just to play for the mayor leagues baseball. Thank you.

    2 years ago
    • Oh! Interesting! One filmmaker we worked with wanted to pitch in Spanish and English, so she made her video with subtitles and wrote all her updates in two languages: www.seedandspark.com/studio/color-thief#...

      You also want to be aware of the cultural challenges: not all countries are as excited about online transactions, and in fact, you may need to use two different crowdfunding platforms in order to best reach your two audiences separately. That's never ideal, so if you can find one that works well for everyone, that's best. (And DONT EVER RUN TWO CAMPAIGNS SIMULTANEOUSLY!!) I would spend some time researching and talking to people about how comfortable they are with online contributions. The filmmaker of the project I posted above raised funds from the US and Spain without problems with her bi-lingual approach!

      2 years ago
  • Emily I have two questions if I may? (that wasn't one of them).
    Is it possible to sustain making a film or two per year for your core audience via crowd funding and if so I was wondering how many should be in my crowd funding team to accomplish this?

    My 2nd question: I was thinking my 'rewards' scheme would be from a small walk on part in the film maybe as a zombie who gets it's head chopped off by the lead hero, up to a small character speaking role for one day filming.
    So I guess my question is, would you say a more personal involvement within the film, where possible, is a good way to go with crowd funding, compared to offering a signed script? I understand it would only suit certain productions and my core audience is silly action sci-fi horror.
    I personally don't think many people care about a signed script from a group of unknowns, I don't mean that to sound harsh as I class myself in that same group, but maybe it's true.

    2 years ago
    • To the first point: Yes absolutely. Gorman Bechard is an American filmmaker in his 50s who has run 31 successful crowdfunding campaigns and has made 13 films (the last 5 or 6 of which were totally crowdfunded). He has a small core team of three, I think, himself and two others, and then hires who he needs to make the films (he makes docs). He cuts everyone in to the back end and handles distribution almost entirely himself because he has developed a deep and sustaining relationship with his audience through his dedicated use of crowdfunding - and then the fact that he makes what he says, every time. The size team will always depend on the scope of the project. More and more we are seeing "pods" of filmmakers make work in collectives, driving the production costs WAY down (to under $50,000, even for narratives) and sharing in profits through distribution. I got off the phone today with a filmmaker in LA who just made a feature for $30K plus crowdsourcing and they have several distribution offers. I've asked him to write a case study to help us all better understand how he structured the profit sharing. Gorman is planning to write something for us soon as well - stay tuned!

      See above as I answered a question about rewards at LENGTH. You're right: the best thing to do is spend some time talking to your potential audience in advance and finding out what they like, looking at other successful campaigns and the most popular rewards they offered. Personal tends to win. (Again, see above for more detail on this!)

      2 years ago
  • Will Emily be responding one-on-one? Or on the bulletin
    board?

    2 years ago
    • Hi Tony,

      Emily has been sent the questions and will be responding directly to filmmakers, here on the Discuss page.

      Thanks,
      Xenia

      2 years ago
    • @Xenia Glen Did I get to everyone?

      2 years ago
  • Just wanted to say thanks, some of your answers have made me join some dots in my head! Will you pop back to answer follow-up questions, do you think? We'd love to see you again :)

    2 years ago
    • Yes you bet. I will check in to answer questions and you can always check in to the Filmmakers section of seedandspark.com where we have posted as many of the things we know as we possibly can!

      2 years ago
  • Thanks for taking the trouble to offer some great advice Emily. I think that the sort of films mostly affected by your sector of crowd funding are essentially arts fiction films that are of interest to a certain type of funder. Indeed I marvel that there are people out there, presumably with no personal connection to the film maker, who want to support such projects. Why!? The average $20,000 raised underlines that this type of project is going to be limited in scope and audience; that's just £13,000 in British money. Very, very, very few micro budget films are in any way viable beyond the worthy and commendable purpose of helping talent to evolve. I imagine that occasionally a great talent or a developable idea is discovered among these projects. Among the long list of industry notables associated with Seed and Spark, listed on the web site, there would no doubt be some keen to help talent towards sustainable success, on at least some degree of a mutually beneficial basis. Would it be true to say that the average age of contenders is 'youthful'?

    I do wonder, considering the significant amount of work your candidates are advised to do, just how rewarding £13,000 is?

    It must be relevant to note that whilst Kick Starter and others have a great many failed and 'ultra micro' budget films on their books they also have a great many, by industry standards, low budget (not micro budget) successes, by which I mean raising tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars and even a few between $1m and $4.5m. Being able to harness either ethical passion, or a fair chance of a profit, is the difference between what are often vanity projects and those that can attract a viably large crowd.

    2 years ago
  • Well in my opinion £13,000 is plenty to fund a good short film, which can raise awareness by itself to the director, producer, actors etc or can win a BAFTA or Palm d'Or in its own right in theory. But as you say John, most important it helps new talent evolve and may lead onto to gaining notice from a larger investor for a future feature or web series etc etc

    2 years ago