I’ve written before about using the Internet to produce a film project. My friend Andrew Lavigne is a filmmaker in Vancouver who has done a great job of leveraging social media and the Web to produce his documentary film, “With Glowing Hearts.” Andy’s film has its first screening February 12th in Vancouver.
You probably don’t know Jocelyn Towne. I didn’t know her either until about 2 weeks ago, when I came across a tweet about her. You see, Jocelyn is making her first movie, called I am I. And like all independent filmmakers, Jocelyn’s first step is to get some financing.
Enter Kickstarter. For those who are not familiar, Kickstarter is an online fundraising tool for creative projects. It’s all-or-nothing funding, meaning if the project doesn’t raise its entire goal, it raises no money at all. That might seem like a down side, but it’s not. As Kickstarter states in their FAQ, if you set a funding goal of $5,000 and you only raise $2,000, then nobody pays. That way, you don’t launch a project with partial funding, and have the expectation from your backers that you’re going to build a $5K project with $2K. Makes sense.
Anyhow, the good news for Jocelyn was that she already had a funder, who was willing to give her $100,000 to produce her film – IF she was able to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter by January 6th. Now, before you go getting all “must be nice”, I should probably say that yes, as an indy filmmaker just starting out, she’s fairly well connected. Her husband is actor Simon Helberg, who plays Howard Wolowitz on the hit TV series The Big Bang Theory. Helberg is acting in the film, along with another popular actor, Jason Ritter. So, the skeptics out there might begin to say things like, “Well, it must be so easy for her then…she lives in Hollywood, AND she’s got fame and money on her side.”
Not so fast. Any way you shake it, $100,000 is a lot of money to raise in a short amount of time for any indy creative project. Jocelyn might have a few leverage points the rest of us don’t have, but when push comes to shove she’s in the same boat as everyone else trying to get a creative project off the ground. And you know what? You’ve got leverage points too, so let’s forget the celebrities and just focus on that.
My point is, you can have all the celebrity in the world involved – but there’s not a soul in Hollywood or Vancouver or anywhere else that will give you a dime for your project if nobody is interested in seeing it. Ultimately, in order for anyone to fund anything, you have to get them interested. You have to get them to care.
That’s why am I so enamoured with this project – because once you get inside it, you can’t help but care. I’m watching closely as it comes together, and I’m learning a lot.
Find your big voices.
During the Kickstarter campaign, Jocelyn and her gang worked their butts off to get people to care about it. Did they leverage people on the project with large, committed followings on Twitter? Sure they did. But like I said, we all have our own leverage points. Maybe you have a friend or family member who has a large voice in their particular community. I know people here in Ottawa who have large voices in the music scene, for example. Other friends of mine know people in the political scene who can get people to pay attention. You don’t have to know a celebrity to get attention on social networks. Find the people who know and trust you who just might be able to speak into the community you’re trying to attract. Oh, and by the way, having a big voice doesn’t necessarily mean having a huge following. It just means having a following that’s paying attention.
Make it super personal.
OK, so I checked out Jocelyn’s project. I read the synopsis. I watched her behind the scenes video, and after hearing her talk about how much she wanted to make the film, I was intrigued. I made my way to the Kickstarter donation page, and then I saw it. A big, long list of donation amounts, and a whole pile of things that people will get depending on how much they give. Denominations range from $1 to $10,000 and payoffs include everything from a mention on the film’s web site to Jocelyn and cast members attending a screening in the donor’s home town. We all know that incentive is key, and this crew have it mastered. I decided on the $20 denomination (it might have been $50 or $100 but, you know, holiday bills and all!), and when I saw that for that amount I’d get a DVD of the completed film, I was pleased.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
I pledged my 20 bucks through Kickstarter and put it out of my mind. I figured, come January 6th, if the film is financed, that would be great, and sometime in the next couple of years I can expect to get a DVD in the mail. Sweet.
Then about 20 minutes later, I received an email (via Kickstarter) from Jocelyn herself, personally thanking me for my donation, and for my retweets on Twitter. It wasn’t a form letter, it was a personal note, from the creator of the film to me, and only me. It was genuine and sincere. Now, I could see the $1,000, $10,000 or even the $100 backers getting a personal note. But gosh golly almighty, I only gave $20!
There are about 900 backers on the film altogether, and I’m happy to report that Jocelyn DID raise the $100,000. Amidst the excitement of the campaign, it appears that Jocelyn also took the time to personally reply and thank each and every person for their donation. That is admirable. She’s also reached out to me and many others on Twitter to say thanks.
Additionally, I’ve learned that as a group, the film’s Kickstarter backers will be getting regular updates on the film’s progress via email. People who gave $20 or more will have access to a password-protected area on the I am I web site to get behind the scenes footage. In other words, we’ll be part of an “inner-circle” of the film, so to speak.
What does this say about the filmmaker? A lot. It tells me that this is much more than just a “take the money and run” situation. This is about building a community of supporters that are much more than just wallets.
What’s the payoff to Jocelyn and her film? Well, you can bet that when the time comes for the film to be released, me and about 900 other people are going to be doing whatever we can to spread the word about it, because we’ve watched the story unfold all along. We’ve been there from the start. And that level of loyalty, when you’re trying to get any creative venture off the ground, is GOLD.
We can learn a lot from watching how other people develop their creative projects. I know I’ll be keeping a close eye on this project as it ventures forward, and drawing as much inspiration and as many lessons as I can.