Crowdfunding is a great way to raise finance for any creative project – especially film. You can prove your concept, create audience awareness, and, at the same time, have the support of people that want to share the filmmaking journey with you – with no investors breathing down your neck trying to take creative control. It gives you freedom. But is it all worth it?
My name is Tim Lea and I am the writer/director and one of 3 producers on the new independent film 54 Days
54 Days , a psychological thriller about 5 people trapped in a 1960’s nuclear shelter after a nuclear and biological attack. As food and water begins to run out, they are forced to reach an impossible decision – either one dies or they all die.
The movie has just been launched on Video On Demand for digital rental and download, and was financed primarily through crowdfunding . In early 2014 we successfully raised $54,000 via crowdfunding for the production budget and I want to share with you the three phases our crowdfunding campaign went though – that most campaigns go through – so that you may know what to expect and how to deal with it.
First off, crowdfunding is tough and if you think it is easy you are in for a big shock. In a previous professional capacity I was involved in Corporate finance and banking and was used to raising millions of dollars for companies. Raising $54,000 through crowdfunding was one of the hardest finance raising exercises I have ever been through – period! It was tough – and was subject to perhaps one of the most unpredictable effects – the vagaries of human nature.
Essentially there are three distinct phases for a crowdfunding campaign, which lead to the “U-curve effect”, which has 3 defined phases:
- The wave of enthusiasm
- The doldrums.
- The mass frenetic panic of the looming deadline At the beginning of any campaign there will be enthusiasm all round – from you, your cast and crew and your supporters. It’s new, it’s different, it’s exciting! Jane Eyre once said “it is the expectation of happiness that is happiness itself” and this is so true of the first phase of Crowdfunding. Everyone wants you to succeed – there are people, enthusiastic people who want you to take on Hollywood, create something new; something different. Latch on to that initial enthusiasm and milk it for everything that you can get – preferably try to bottle it and sell it! Joking aside, It is essential that you capitalise upon this enthusiasm – because enthusiasm is infectious and it develops momentum – a crucial component of any Crowdfunding Campaign.
Phase 1 – The Wave Of Enthusiasm
Unless you are Zack Braff off Scrubs, who controversially raised Crowdfunding for his movie, the early enthusiasm will be from those that know you – your core influencers; your core supporters – your friends, family and contacts. We knew we had to build an initial buzz and interest. So we arranged a crowdfunding launch party.
If you are clever about it, your launch party need not cost you anything – in fact you can turn it directly into a fund raiser – not only in terms of telling people about your crowdfunding campaign but also by having some fun and games on the side.
For us, we launched our party at the Golden Age Bar in Sydney, a boutique art-deco bar that has a 62 cinema attached to it. In order to make the crowdfunding launch less of a cold, hard sell we actually turned it into an event that people wanted to go to and that the crowdfunding pitch was just a part of an interesting event.
We charged $20 a head to come to the launch, which included :
- Free popcorn, which we negotiated with the bar.
- A free glass of wine from our product placement partner, Rosnay Organic Wines, who donated wine for the party and products for our auction – in exchange for a placement of their wine in the movie (We challenge you to actually “see” the product placement in 54 Days – because the placement it is actually a core plot point – a key twist so it blends like a chameleon into the story – without it being – “ah look there is that Coca-cola machine conveniently placed in shot !”).
- The chance to see our award nominated short movie – to show our potential supporters what we had achieved with little or no money. This was followed by a short question and answer session with the key cast and crew involved in the short film.
4. A 20 minute Q&A session with a leading industry script doctor, Karel Segers who runs the Story Series (a year long programme for script development of which a number of the 54 Days crew were graduates) to give us a talk on writing for Hollywood – he is working with Sam Worthington’s production company on a Vietnam war project, Danger Close.
5. Our crowdfunding pitch detailing exactly what we were after and how it worked.
6. An auction of goods and services donated by a variety of supporters – that many of the cast and crew found through friends, workplaces etc = auctioned off by a professional auctioneer at Liquid Asset Management with all proceeds going towards the film.
7. The festival director of the Sci-Fi Film Festival giving us a letter of intent that he would show our movie at the inaugural Sci-Fi Film Festival in Sydney later that year.
We sent out invites via facebook to the party to those that would be most likely to support our group endeavours. The end result, the event sold out within 48 hours – friends, family and supporters all there to cheer us on!!
The initial enthusiasm at the event was palpable; the commitment of support, immense. We were all pumped and ready to go !! This is going to be easy we thought … and as the cash started rolling in; we rubbed our hands in glee – here we go – the movie is getting the green light – we’re on our way !!
Then the cash stopped coming in as we hit it….
Phase 2 – The Doldrums
The “doldrums” is the most frustrating and debilitating phase of any Crowdfunding campaign. In this phase you need to dig deep as the initial tsunami of cash drops to a trickle – a continuous, painfully slow, trickle. There are even days when NO cash comes in. You begin to question why?; you begin to question your whole project; even yourself. You say to yourself – is 54 Days just going it on the shelf having been watched by the 85 people that showed up for the launch party. It doesn’t matter how much research you may have done – when you hit this phase – it hurts -badly.
Imagine the frustrations when you post all those memes on the facebook page about the movie and those quotes of inspiration and great leadership; and the jokes and cool posts that may be thematically linked to your movie. You see loads of likes, you see the numbers of facebook fans rising; as for the cash for your campaign – a trickle. You know that your campaign is all or nothing – if you don’t hit the target – you get nothing; and you look at your campaign target looming in the far distance – disappearing like your dreams and those of all the cast and crew who have supported you so far. That initial enthusiasm for your project has long gone – and you are the one who has to face it – but this phase is perfectly natural – however hard it feels; expect it and get on with it – that is what true leadership is about.
Sure, your supporters are no longer immersed in the wave of euphoria; no longer caught up in the frenetic atmosphere and tension of an auction in which they are taking part. For them, it’s back to baby sitters and backpacks, the 9-5 routine, the school runs , clubbing , whatever floats your supporters’ boats. There is apathy; there are excuses , there are promises of future payments. In a word – it’s tough, but when the going gets tough – the tough get going – and that means you have to dig deep – real deep!
In the doldrums phase you have to keep your nerve when everyone else is questioning what is happening. You have to keep everyone around you buoyed up. It doesn’t even matter what you as the producer or director are thinking or feeling – no-one gives a damn – all you have to do is keep everyone else’s dreams alive. Because without the production budget your cast and crew have nothing to take their dreams forward, and as a leader of the project you are selling dreams, their dreams as well as yours. You have to maintain your enthusiasm– you can’t let the vaguest hint of a crack appear in your veneer – however tempting that might be.
Your team are looking to you for guidance for leadership – remember – you drive the mindset of the team you lead – if your head goes down everyone else’s will go down –and if that happens you may see crew walk off the project as they lose confidence. As Oscar Wilde once said – confidence is like virginity – you lose it only once! Success breeds success – fact!
So in this phase you must keep your cool, control the stress and keep on chasing the cash. No matter how hard it feels keep going – it WILL pay off in the long-run. Even on those days when NO cash comes in you must keep those facebook posts coming, those emails going out – because it all builds awareness and keep everyone on your side – even though they may not show it financially – as you come to the last few days of your campaign when you enter …
Phase 3 The mass frenetic panic of the looming deadline
All those posts you have put up during Phase 2 will act as a platform for growth in phase three. Now it is crunch time; because on most crowdfunding platforms, if you don’t hit your total target you get nothing. In phase 3 it is non-negotiable – your supporters and potential supporters need to know it is all or nothing! In no uncertain terms. Your supporters historic apathy towards supporting your campaign is more often than not unrelated to your campaign – its related to human nature.
We all work toward deadlines –and many of your potential supporters will have just forgotten when the deadline is. Just think of your own behaviour with those Uni exams; that report you had to write for your boss; Christmas presents; We all worked towards those deadlines because we knew they existed – and we knew the stakes if we didn’t hit the deadline. So now you have to remind your supporters as often as you can!
In the last week of your campaign you must increase your activity everywhere, anywhere – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Tunblr email – any way that you can communicate to your supporters, reminding them of the fact that it is all or nothing. It take a lot of time and you might need to get members of your cast and crew to help – but it brings results – and helps turns your supporters’ promises into cash.
The one thing definitely not to forget is the international nature of the internet – don’t forget the potential of your international contributors. You can schedule posts automatically on facebook and other platforms. Use those tools.
In phase 3 for our campaign for 54 Days, we had posts going out automatically every hour within the last 12 hours with a countdown image very similar to the one above – counting down from 12 to 1 . Overnight we had pledges coming in from Overseas – whilst we slept.
So overall, Crowdfunding is tough and does require a lot of proactive effort and resilience and is not for the faint-hearted; but is it worth it? When you see your end product on the big screen in from of a packed audience at your premiere – there is nothing better – and never ever lose sight of this goal and you will completely understand why you went through all that pain and heartache.
Editor’s note: 54 Days has been released on Video On Demand and is available worldwide as a rental or to digitally own from November 20 2014.
Tim has been screenwriting for 12 years. Whilst his professional background was in Corporate Finance, he used to write every morning , first thing – come rain, shine (or hangovers) writing in cafes close to his historic places of employment.
This discipline has meant that he has now written 7 full feature screenplays, written and produced 3 shorts, NURSERY CRY’MES, EASY MONEY, 54 DAYS and written 10 short 10 minute plays, most of which have been performed to audiences.
His creative writing voice is that of healthily controversial thrillers – thrillers that seek to challenge the status quo, to make an audience think – and so it is with 54 Days – making you think about the very primal issue that affect us all – survival – and what we will actually do to survive – just ask the gunman who held him up with a gun on his first visit Sydney to Sydney in 1991….
In order to expand his directorial skills, Tim has spent the last two years working closely with theatre actors within the Sydney theatre scene, writing and directing 10 short plays that have been performed, and received well . 54 Days is Tim’s first feature film
Jamie Campbell is an author, screenwriter, and television addict.
Jamie is proud to be an Editor for The Story Department.
Her latest series Project Integrate is out now.