INDUSTRY INSIGHTS: 10 More Tips To A Better Kickstarter Campaign

By Mark Stolaroff, No Budget Film School

As I wind down the Kickstarter campaign for my new film The House That Jack Built, the second successful campaign I've run, I'd like to share with you some insights gained from doing this a second time. You may recall I wrote a piece two years ago during my first campaign for Pig called 10 Tips For A Better Kickstarter Campaign. Having consulted on several campaigns since then, donated to over 70 Kickstarter/IndieGoGo campaigns, and visited countless more, I can confidently stand behind those tips today, with a few caveats and updates. 

But completing the Kickstarter cycle once all the way through--predicting, planning, running the campaign, fulfilling the rewards, and nurturing the community--has given me new insight that I was able to use on this campaign. Now, I'm not going to tell you this Jack campaign was the greatest or most successful Kickstarter campaign ever posted--I mean Veronica Mars made $2 million in one day!--but considering what we had to work with, (our available time, our circle of influence, our personal networks, the kind of material we had, etc.), I'm happy with how the campaign turned out, (and there's still two days left!). Here's the link to the campaign for reference. And here now are 10 more tips to help you with your next campaign:

1.) Kickstarter vs. IndieGoGo? Kickstarter! This is one of the first questions I get asked and my answer, though not fully informed, (I've never launched an IndieGoGo campaign), is an unqualified 'KICKSTARTER.' You could probably look at statistics somewhere that compare how much more money is raised for film projects on Kickstarter; I don't know all that. My recommendation comes from using Kickstarter as a Backer and as a Creator. I think the Kickstarter interface is miles ahead of IndieGoGo for both Backer and Creator; certainly for the Backer. I give to both types of projects and go through that purchase process all the time, and Kickstarter's is much better. The updates you receive from projects are better with Kickstarter, too. Having leaned on the Kickstarter platform this time for statistics and keeping track of things, I can tell you it's very well-designed and is constantly improving. Plus now they have a great iPhone app. But here's the biggest reason: you're going to get more "stranger dollars" on Kickstarter than on IndieGoGo. I can't verify that, of course, but I'm confident it's true. I ask each and every Backer I don't know how they heard about our campaign, and several folks this time found us through the platform--some on curated pages (more on this below), some on Kickstarter's recommendation pages, some using search tools. Kickstarter's dashboard also shows you this information. At least three backers found us after giving to Veronica Mars. IndieGoGo does not have Veronica Mars on their platform.

2.) Launch Before or After Filming? Yes. Ok, sorry about the cheeky answer, but this one really depends. If you have some money to get started on your film, I like the idea of using Kickstarter for finishing funds, as I have done both times. If your story isn't easily explained or there isn't a strong reason for folks to want to give you money, or a way to connect people to the project, then waiting until after there is something to show helps. People will always respond to strong material--well-shot, well-acted, well-written material--no matter what the story or genre. If, however, you're making a documentary with a strong social cause, you don't need that footage to sell your project to friends and supporters of that cause. These kinds of projects do very well prior to filming. There is an important distinction, then, between the two types of projects. People like to feel they're helping in some way. If you implore people to give to the torture porn horror film you want to make, many are going to be turned off. But, if you shoot a very cool horror film that people can get a taste of while you're editing, they're going to want to be a part of it. 

3.) Choose Your Goal Wisely. I swear, some people calculate how much money they need to shoot or finish and that's the amount they try to raise. NO! As you know, Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, (that's one of the reasons it works so well, that, and a time limit). But you have to look at your situation--the kind of project you have, the amount of help you have, the number of friends you have (with money), etc.--and figure out a reasonable and likely amount you can raise. There are two downsides to picking the wrong number. If you pick too low, then it will be hard to keep people motivated to continue pushing your campaign once you raise your goal, (that's what's happening to us right now). But that is preferable to not reaching your goal. Besides all the hard work you've now thrown down the drain, and the money you won't have to make your film, you've also just set a bad and potentially humiliating precedent for your film, (of course, there might be several valuable things to learn from an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign--does anyone want to see this film? Are you talking about it correctly?). The perfect scenario is to choose something a bit out of reach, have someone standing by to help if you don't reach it, and then you can use the deadline to your advantage as you fight in the final hours to make your goal. I've seen projects rally in those last 48 hours and raise big money, in an effort to reach their goal. And remember, while many projects these days are raising 6 figures, they all have very specific reasons for being able to do so. You may not have those reasons. Raising $15,000, even $10,000 can be incredibly difficult. 

4.) Video Recommendations. Like I said in my last article, and it bears repeating, MAKE A VIDEO. There's nothing more damaging for a potential backer to realize than you don't give a shit about your own project. If that's so, why should they? So, you have to make one. There are some great, classic crowdfunding videos out there, (here's a recent favorite). Some go viral, which is the holy grail of crowdfunding videos. But those are hard to come up with and sometimes your project just doesn't lend itself to that kind of treatment, or maybe you're just not capable of coming up with the next great video meme. That's perfectly fine. A straight video (like mine) works perfectly well, even if it's not perfect. Mine is not, but it's working for us. Here's the thinking that went into our video. It should look as good as you can make it look without killing yourself or spending money. Ours looks, at best, ok; (moments of it look about as bad as video can look). It should sound great. Make sure you have a way to put a professional mic on your subjects, (a lav or a mic on a boom just out of frame). You should have the director (and/or others) talking directly to camera, directly to the potential backers. These videos work best when they're personal, honest, authentic and sincere. The "performance" doesn't have to be perfect as long as it's real. Having said that, though, a good performance goes a long way. It's REALLY hard to speak on camera like this; much harder than it looks. Henry in our video is pretty good, but this is after numerous takes and much cutting (cutaways/b-roll are crucial), and Henry is a professional actor. If you're on-camera person is not, rehearse. Work on it until they get good. We didn't have time to do that, but if we had, it would have helped. As I mentioned, have something to cut away to. If you've already shot your film, using your footage as b-roll is ideal and goes a very long way. But there are all kinds of things to cut away to. Look at what we used in the Jack video and the Pig video. And I am not an editor. I edited these in iMovie, so you don't have to spend money to get a decent video. The most important part of your video is to tell the story behind the story. You should have a good story behind the story, because fans, (and that's what you're trying to attract), respond to this. Sometimes that story is more interesting than the story in your film. Is my video too long? Absolutely! Kickstarter tells me that only 26% of people who have viewed the video have watched the whole thing. Then what was I doing? I was thinking about constituencies. Who is going to help spread the word about my film. After we tell what the film is about and what the story behind the story is, we then give shout-outs to various groups who I'm hoping will spread the word about the campaign. It's like advertising time. 

5.) Text Recommendations. The conventional wisdom is that people look at your video first, then maybe your text. So, the assumption might be to not put much effort into your text. NO! Again, it's all about looking like you give a shit, in every aspect. Your text, even if no one reads it, should enhance and expand upon the information you give in your video. This is also the place for information that you didn't have time to include in your video. It doesn't have to be overly long, but it should be compelling and attractive. Use graphics (you can add pictures and video, and you can add pictures that look like text, like this campaign did. You can see from mine what information I thought was important: what the film is about, the story behind the film; the team members; what the funds will be used for; how Kickstarter works; etc. Your text should include all your links and instructions on spreading the word, and I like highlighting some of your rewards, especially if you need more room to explain some of them. You can update the text throughout the campaign, but once the campaign is over, it's locked, so make sure to make last-minute adjustments right before then. These pages stay on the platform forever, and people will continue to discover your project even after the campaign is over. Give them instructions on how they can support you outside of Kickstarter. 

6.) The Science of Reward Levels. This is my own science, so please realize these Rules of Thumb are my own, based on my own experience and the experience of others I know. Have entry level reward levels, like a dollar or $5. You want people to give you their email address, (in fact, the beauty of crowdfunding in general is that people are paying you to market to them). Don't mail anything until $25, and then everything from $25 to $99 should fit in a 6" x 10" padded envelope or similar (I buy in bulk from here; these cost me $.11/unit); everything above $100 (until you get into big money levels) should fit in a 10.5" x 16" padded envelope (these will cost $.25/unit). I can fit DVDs, a script, an 8x10 photo, a t-shirt and more in one of these bigger envelopes. Postage and packaging costs are incredibly important to consider when planning rewards (see Postage below), especially if you use a cumulative reward approach like I do. A DVD is a great reward because it's usually what people want, it's small and light, and it's cheap to produce, especially in high volume. The key to rewards in general is to come up with things that have value to your potential backers, but don't cost you much or anything. So, like I did with Pig, I give away a free ticket to my No Budget Film School class at about the level it costs an attendee--$250. Someone donating at that level gets a $250 class, $340 worth of free software, 4 DVDs, a t-shirt, a CD, a tarot card reading and more. My out of pocket cost for all of that is about $15, maybe less. Kickstarter will tell you that the most popular level is around $25, so that means give something really good at $25. My rule of thumb is give the film away, at least, at that level. My statistics show that the same number of people have given to the $10 level as to the $50 level. That tells me there are a lot of people out there willing to give you $50 for something valuable at that level. Give them a compelling reason to give you more than the $25 they're already prepared to give you. The popularity of levels after $100 goes down dramatically, so you should be designing higher levels around people you know and what they might want. It's hard, though not unheard of, to get a stranger to give you $500 or more. Or $100 or more, for that matter. Like everything on your page, your rewards should show you give a shit--they should be original, clever, and if possible, say something about your film or help tell your story. As a friend of mine put it, you want to "bring the world of the film into the world of your campaign." Last thing I'll say, and this is not meant to diminish anything I've said above, many people are just giving to give and they don't care about the rewards at all. 13% of my backers have chosen No Rewards. Don't lean on this idea, though. Come up with good rewards!

7.) Understand How Postage Works. As a corollary to the above Tip, you need to be familiar with how the US Postal Service works BEFORE designing your reward levels, or you will get killed on the postage when you fulfill your rewards. I will probably write a whole article about this in the future, but become familiar with how first class, priority, priority international, flat rate envelopes and packages, etc. work. I can't quote you the specific costs now because they've changed since I did Pig, but I know roughly that my $25 and $50 reward packages will fall into First Class mail, saving me money. Once you exceed First Class weight, then they charge more depending on where it goes. Also, don't send posters at low levels. They're expensive to mail, expensive to print, and a pain in the ass. You have to put them in a separate (and expensive) container, which means you are mailing to the same person twice! A big no-no! Everything you send someone should go in the same package. That's why you have to wait for all your rewards to be created before you can send any of them out. Manage expectations and make sure your backers realize this. Kickstarter asks you what the expected delivery is when you create your reward levels; pick the date that corresponds to the last reward you will create in the level.

8.) Spreading the word. Here's where my age gets the best of me. I am not a social media maven. I'm over 40 fucking years old! I'm an email guy. I collect email addresses and send bulk emails out all the time. It's my preferred mode of communication and it works well for a lot of people I communicate with (other old people...). But I realize that Facebook and Twitter are the preferred modes of communication for some people and they're excellent platforms for spreading the word. Bottom line is, you have to use both, you have to use all of it. Some of your potential backers won't even be online. You may want to print flyers or postcards in some cases. My strategy: in the couple of weeks before launching, tee up your best friends and your cast and crew about the campaign. Let them know that you are counting on them for their support. After you launch, but before you tell the world, contact those best friends via email and tell them to give you something to get the ball rolling. Yes, TELL them. These should be the kind of friends you don't have to ask. You want to prime the pump before you start blasting to everyone else. Once you've got around $1,000 or more raised, then start emailing your other friends and supporters. You should think of your personal network as a series of concentric circles. The bullseye are people you send that first email to. The further out from the center someone is, the later you want to contact them, (see Tip #10 below). And you don't pitch to everyone the same way. Some people get the hard sell, some get the soft sell, (like, you don't even ask them to donate). You should contact some people individually, especially potential big-hitters, and some can be included in an email blast. Once you're off to a respectable start, then you can start leaning on Facebook and Twitter, which happens organically anyway. Start a Facebook Event for your campaign and invite all your friends and add your cohorts as hosts to the event, so they can invite all their friends to it too. You can also use Facebook to message your friends, but do it individually, not in groups of people. Ask them to help you spread the word (don't ask for a donation) and give them some text they can use to post on their wall. When someone donates to your project, thank them on their wall and link back to your film's page and post the link to your campaign. 

9.) Try everything. I didn't get to do this on this campaign like I wanted to, I was just too busy finishing two films, getting my next class off the ground, and running a WonderCon booth, but I'll tell you a little story that illustrates why you should try every idea and run down every possibility, (and also why Kickstarter is so great). Jack qualifies for Sundance's curated Kickstarter page (the writer, director and two producers are alumni). I spoke with them about this and after we launched, I realized we weren't on there. Even though I didn't expect anything to really come of being on the page, I hounded them to add us and it took me about two weeks to finally get on their page. About a week later, I received a $2,500 donation from a Sultan, (no less!). It turns out he is a very generous film lover who regularly donates to pages he likes on Kickstarter. He found our film on Sundance's page. 

10.) Misc. Odds and Ends. Everyone loves a winner, so front load your donations. Get support early from big hitters. All the statistics show that projects that get off to a strong start usually make their goal. Be gracious. Be humble. Be forgiving, (not everyone you know will support your campaign--let that go now). Thank EVERYONE. Use the Kickstarter platform to message them a thank you and ask them how they heard about the project. Engage with them now and keep up that relationship as you go forward. You're building a community, not just raising money. Do something everyday for your campaign. Plan those things in advance. The bottom line is you have to want to do this. You have to be comfortable pushing your work, selling. Most of us aren't, but if you can't find your way into doing this, find someone else on your team to run the campaign who is. It just doesn't work if you can't put yourself out there. And frankly, for all the hard work, it's actually a lot of fun. I've connected with so many people in the last 29 days. Old friends I haven't spoken to in years. People I've never met. If you believe in your film, it's very gratifying work.

Ok, so there are some more tips I hope you find useful. Now, go out there and make your no-budget films. You really have no excuses anymore.