By any given measure, there's never been a better time to make a film. Equipment is easier to find than ever - if you're reading this on your smartphone, you already have all the equipment you need. Now, there is fantastic training available online. And great video essays keep sprouting up online completely for free, explaining why great films are great, for you to learn and get inspiration from. Digital technologies have radically changed the industry - the only difficulty that remains is to get your movie seen.
Even the financial aspect is no exception to this development. There once was a time when you couldn't get financing until you got your foot in the door (with the door on a floor so high up in a skyscraper that you barely had any chance of getting near it). But now there is online crowdfunding and recent gems such as Pariah, I'll See You in My Dreams were both crowdfunded.
Even established filmmakers have turned to this form of financing: Spike Lee for Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Paul Schrader with his Lindsay Lohan-starring feature The Canyons, written by acclaimed writer Brett Easton Ellis. Crowdfunding has become a way for established artists with a following to gain independence from the traditional taste-makers who have been pushing them towards the mainstream. Charlie Kaufman crowdfunded Anomalisa. The Veronica Mars movie couldn't get funded despite having a guaranteed niche audience in the fans of the series, so the creative team asked those fans to chip in - the film got made.
Tell your story
Crowdfunding isn't a sure-fire way to get your budget together. Many campaigns were unsuccessful for a wide-ranging variety of reasons. Those that were successful, however, had one thing in common: engagement.
An online crowdfunding campaign will rely almost exclusively on your social media presence. Creating a strong social media presence is a time-consuming task. The key is engagement, and creating a clear personal brand.
An incredible number of outlets demand our attention on social media. Why should anyone spend any time on your crowdfunding campaign page? Make us care. You're asking strangers for money - they'll give it to you if you can compel them to do it.
At the end of the day, the reason you're doing this is because you want to tell a story. Why do you want to tell this story? What makes you passionate enough about this project to put this weight on your shoulders? And why should anybody else care? Tell the tale of why you want to tell this story. Chances are that the reasons why you're doing this are extremely personal: share them.
Reward your contributors
Engaging people will only be the first step. Getting strangers to go to your page, having them read your pitch, and watch your welcome video is already something. Now they need an incentive to give you the sixteen digits on their card. Contributing to someone's dream doesn't count, and neither does the beauty of supporting ground breaking art - let's be honest here.
You need a reward-strategy, with very distinctive perks.
The easiest perks to give are immaterial: this can range from an email to say thank you, to having your contributor's name in the thanks section of the closing credits. They are simple and free for you to give away - perfect for small contributors. Every contribution will be a part of the larger whole, and it needs to be acknowledged.
Next up are material rewards. If you've done your homework (and at this point, you must have), your film already has a well-defined visual identity which can be stamped on goodies. Tote bags, flash drives, etc... These are cheap for you to have personalised and a nice gesture to give to contributors. (Make them related to your film's universe, that's all the more engaging.) Double whammy: those perks can become merchandise once your film is a runaway success and after contributors had this exclusive access to your film's universe. Bigger rewards for larger sums could be a poster signed by the cast and crew, or a signed script.
How about you make it personal, too? A signed script with a personal thank you note on the front page will be quite amazing to receive in the mail, won't it? A shout out on social media is flattering. It's not, however, as flattering as producer credit, which you can save for someone who's contributed a hell of a lot.
As always, the finest reward is when you give your contributor an experience. Maybe VIP access at your film's festival premiere (because let's face it, you already have your distribution strategy though out)? A day on set, hanging out with the filmmakers and the talent? Maybe you, or someone you know, can give coverage on your contributor's script. Give them something they'll remember and cherish, something which will make them go "I wish I had given you more!" (at this point your reply has to be "Well... Now that you mention it, have I told you about my next project?")
At the end of the day, you want to reward people in a way that's not simply transactional, but quite personal too. They're not just buying something; they're also investing in an experience. Making a film is an experience for you as a filmmaker, and investors and contributors just want to share the some of the thrill. It's now up to you to make it cohesive with your writing, visuals, distribution and production from beginning to end.