I just completed a crowd funding campaign for the next feature I'm directing, a comedy horror (as opposed to horror comedy) called KILLER RACK. My partners Paul McGinnis, Rod Durick and I successfully raised $7,325 to cover the start up costs of our film. And all it took was almost every waking moment of my life over a seven week period, at the expense of the other projects I'm juggling (like the ones I get paid for).
In the past, I raised $3500 on IndieGoGo to supplement investor capital for DRY BONES, immediately followed by $4300 to supplement co-production capital for THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS. Both campaigns exceeded their fundraising goals, which was nice, and both films were completed in a timely manner; THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS is released on DVD today by Alternative Cinema, and DRY BONES will be released on DVD October 14th by the same company.
After doing some research, I learned there are six times as many "Backers" on Kickstarter as "Funders" on IndieGoGo. For KILLER RACK, I wanted to raise $25,000 to get through production and basic editing. The appeal to me was to own the film outright. My arrangement with investors calls for them to recoup their full investment before Net profits, if any, can be shared. Let's be honest: the appeal is to own your project with other people's money. I didn't believe I could raise 25K on IndieGoGo, but thought I might be able to raise it on Kickstarter. "No guts, no glory" has always been my philosophy in life - and I've shown plenty of guts but basked in very little glory.
Setting up our Kickstarter was ten times harder than setting up previous IndieGoGo campaigns. I had plenty of issues verifying my Amazon account and bank account, complicated by different emails, and so on. It was time consuming and frustrating, but it is a highly functional website. Kickstarter recommends campaigns run less than a month, so we went for 28 days. For the record, my project features a high concept, a brilliant screenplay by Paul McGinnis, and a talented local cast aided by genre vets Debbie Rochon, Lloyd Kaufman, Brooke Lewis, Michael Thurber and Roy Frumkes - people whose names mean something to our target audience. And I have credibility as an indie horror filmmaker that few others at my level can claim (because so many of the people who started at the same time as me moved on to real jobs, and a few actually attained real careers). I also had some nice concept art, a well written pitch, and a fairly (I think) entertaining pitch video. So I felt I had my boxes checked. I should also mention that a film with similar themes had succeeded with its $25,000 Kickstarter, so I was cautiously optimistic.
The first thing that worked against us after launching our campaign was we failed to attain "Staff Pick" status. This didn't come as a surprise to me: if you write, direct or work on horror films, you become accustomed to artistic discrimination and learn to expect it. But becoming a "staff pick" gives you a huge leg up on the competition, and every film begging for dollars is competition.
Which leads me to the second thing that worked against us: the high number of horror films being produced in WNY at the same time, with overlapping schedules, all competing for the same generosity. You hope that backers outside your milieu will find your project, and then find it appealing, but the fact is, it comes down to the people you know, and the people that know the people you know. And I know from speaking to a number of backers/funders to my campaign that they were frustrated by the number of competing projects. "If I give money to your campaign, I'll also have to give to Tom, Dick and Jerry, and if I give you more than I do them, they'll give me shit. I don't want my life to become miserable because I stepped up to the plate and helped you out." I understand and sympathize - but give me some money, god damn it!
For the record, KILLER RACK found itself competing with DICK JOHNSON AND TOMMYGUN vs. THE CANNIBAL COP from John Renna and Chris Rados; CAMP OF THE DAMNED from Ken Consentino; DWELLING from Brandyn Williams; and STORIES FROM THE CARNIVAL from Sam,Qualiana, I know all of these guys, some are friends, and some are good friends - I wish them all luck, and while I can't afford to donate even a buck to campaigns even as a show of support (I'm an author and an indie filmmaker, remember?), I did share their links on my Facebook page, and I'm doing press for CANNIBAL COP. In addition to these films, a local short called AMIGIONE from John Martin Scherer and Bobby Gott ran a campaign at the same time. We all know the same people, and in my opinion,this mass crowd funding was suicide; there is no way each film can do as well as the other. NO FUCKING WAY. And some will lose out because of poor planning in that respect, but we all have to put our own projects first, and try not to worry about the others.
When we shot DRY BONES a year ago, we had Debbie Rochon stay over and shoot some scenes for THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS. I also had her record a bit for our pitch video. I told her I just wanted her to discuss Paul's script, I didn't want her to specifically ask her fans to contribute. I feel it's the filmmakers' responsibility to raise the money, not the actors'. I consider myself a more savvy promoter than most indie filmmakers, and I have a good relationship with a lot of horror websites. Over the last year, a lot of sites have stopped posting press releases from indies who are not yet funded; a couple that would have passed on KILLER RACK during its crowd funding phase made an exception either because I was involved, or because Debbie or Brooke were. And these web articles did lead to attention from a lot of other sites, including io9, which gave us a Christmas present in the headline, "Killer Rack May Be The Wrongest Horror Film in the History of Wrongness," which drew 40,000 clicks. Look for that quote in our trailer.
Getting back to my cast: Tweets, re-Tweets, posts and re-posts from Debbie, Brooke and Lloyd gave us a lot of visibility and resulted in some pledges. But my feeling is, if you're depending on your actors to raise money for you, you're going to be disappointed. They can be attached to a lot of projects at the same time, and a lot of those projects are looking for crowd funding, so why put them in a difficult position? If they help, fantastic; but don't press them for more, it isn't fair.
My partners have full time jobs, so their ability to push the campaign was limited. I have a full time job too: it's called writing. I have an entire novel to edit; another to write from scratch; another that was just released to promote; and a screenplay based on one of my books to rewrite for a Hollywood actor. I work my job time and a half, every day, seven days a week. That's why FANGORIA called me "the hardest working man in horror." And I did almost nothing on any of these projects during the last seven weeks. I had to put my job(s), and the income that goes with them, aside to focus on our campaign. I had no choice: of the three of us, I was the only one who could make that sacrifice. Business as usual in my life, no complaints.
My daily routine including Tweeting ad nauseum from two Twitter accounts; posting on three different Facebook pages, cross-posting on multiple horror pages, sending press releases, and posting daily updates on Kickstarter. And for every hour of effort, we'd see one contribution. By the halfway mark of our campaign, we had raised maybe $5,000, and I knew there was no way our campaign was going to succeed. If you don't meet your goal on Kickstarter, you don't see a dime. Experts will tell you this psychological imperative will convince backers to contribute it. Maybe they're right, or maybe they were right at one time and the model has changed because there are so many campaigns out there now. In any case, the handwriting was on the wall, so I turned to my investor base, and within one week I raised in commitments for a sizable amount of our budget. That's what real producers do. I knew we were still going to need crowd funding to supplement any investor capital actually came through, just as we did on DRY BONES and THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS. By the last week of our kickstarter I prepped our IndieGoGo campaign, which took me all of ten minutes, a welcome relief after the Kickstarter nonsense. I didn't let up on promoting the Kickstarter - I don't believe in quitting, it's not in my nature, and I hoped we could get all those Kickstarter pledgers to swing over to IndieGoGo.
Around this time, another local film launched its campaign: GODZILLA HERITAGE, a "non-profit" film, which is to say a fan film. And those guys pulled in contributions fast. The film looks cool: I contacted them and congratulated them on running a great campaign, and encouraged them to submit the film to Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival whenever it's ready. But this points to another problem we encountered: on Kickstarter, it is easier to raise $25,000 - $60,000 for a fan film centered around a copyrighted character than it is for an original piece of work that can actually be released. Don't believe me? Go to Kickstarter and search for fan films based on superheroes. Your mind will be blown. I now know that I could raise $50,000 to shoot a short film based on my favorite superhero, pay myself, my cast and my crew, and have an awesome looking film I can show for free on YouTube or at some film festivals. That isn't what I want to do with my life, but don't be surprised if I give it a whirl someday. And I can't wait to see GODZILLA HERITAGE!
By the time our Kickstarter ended, we had raised $6,669 in pledges - more than I had ever raised via crowd funding before, but not even one third of our goal. Fail. Our IndieGoGo campaign launched the same day;te there's nothing like starting over from scratch after an exhausting four weeks. Now the challenge was getting Kickstarter Backers to become IndieGoGo Funders. I thought about setting our goal at $7,000, then lowered it to $5,000, then $6,000, then back to $7,000. No guts, no glory, right? Not really: IndieGoGo has a "flexible spending" campaign, meaning campaign managers keep most of their contributions even if they don't meet their goal, but IGG keeps a higher percentage. We also set the campaign period for three weeks: I could not possibly sacrifice another whole month to get start up funds. Now my daily routine consisted of the same cycle as before, with the added bonus of continued daily updates on two platforms because I wanted to cajole the Kickstarter backers to follow us. Maybe half of them did, and many of those went contributed lower amounts than they had pledged. But by the halfway mark of this campaign, we were halfway to our lowered goal. That increased pledge percentage looked pretty good.
Then I started examining funds in my Paypal account. It's great that IGG accepts Paypal since Kickstarter doesn't, but PP also deducts 9% in fees. Combine that with 9% deducted by IGG, and we were only receiving 82% of each contribution. suddenly it became more important to me that we meet our full goal, since IGG offers a 5% refund on the total received when you succeed.
We hit our next roadblock: frigging Facebook. KILLER RACK has over 1,200 people on its fan page, In the old days, you could "message all" and every "fan" would receive a message. That was great. No longer. When we started our campaign, I could only see the identities of 500 people on that page - my friends. By the time we switched to IGG, I could only see 20 or so people, most of whom I would never message for a contribution. Thank you, Facebook! The solution: post even more.
Three days away from the end of our second campaign, we had raised $4,500. Not enough. We had to make our goal. I stepped up my efforts (and stopped bathing). Our percentage increased. Two days from the end of our campaign, we had $5,500. Somehow I stepped up my efforts more. So did Rod and Paul. When I woke up the morning of our last day, I became a madman. One of our friends contributed $500, which gave us the momentum we needed. By 2:00 pm - twelve hours before the end of our campaign, we reached our goal. Now IGG would have to refund $350+ in fees.- but that still left 13% we stood to lose in fees, so we kept pushing. By the time our campaign closed, we had raised $7,325, or 105% of our goal. After the sting of our Kickstarter failure, we needed that win, or I did, anyway. And it only took seven weeks, and cost us three weeks of pre-production time. But now we can book flights and hotels, and start work on our SFX - good thing, because running this campaign has left me no time to finalize details with my investors, which is next on my list.
As it turns out, Kickstarter wasn't a waste of time; it resulted in a lot of visibility for the project, and some likely investors. But damn, it was a lot of work. One thing I never found time to do was visit the crowd funding forums; I don't know if that would have helped or not.
I enjoy studying the statistics provided by each platform. Our graph for Kickstarter ptledges is up and down, like a heart monitor. By contrast, contributions on IndieGoGo are displayed as a constant upward trajectory. According to the referrals breakdown, $4,484 of our $7,325 - 61% of the total - was a direct result of my posts.
Will I ever run a crowd funding campaign to fund a film again? I don't know. It seems a waste not to use everything I've learned; maybe I'll run an IndieGoGo campaign to fund myself so I can run a Kickstarter to fund a film.
Now I have to shower and pre-produce a movie.