Filmmakers are quite used to going out and trying to raise funds for our projects.  In fact, we spend an inordinate amount of time on it, often more than the process of actual creation itself. A colleague of mine who is normally a key crew person, in this case a director of photography, has been trying to raise finance for her first feature as director for the past eighteen months or so.  The last time I met with her, she seemed a little shell shocked at what an intense rollercoaster of a process it is.  And if she doesn’t close her financing—in this case around five million dollars—all of her effort will be for naught.

The likelihood a film deal won’t close is the more probable scenario, always. Very few films in development even at the major studios get a firm green-light; at best it’s blinking.  This is why when crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Indigogo sprang up everyone suddenly dropped their rates, hacked their financing needs to what we would normally call the ‘C budget’—i.e., what you could conceivably do the film for if you starve the crew, shoot seven-day weeks and never see a dime yourself—and tried to raise money online by soliciting complete strangers.

The reality is, it has worked for very few, but the crowd-funding sites themselves have thrived.  As another producer friend of mine wrote in an email, “Crowd funding is the same old same old wrapped up in a new wrapper as far as I can see and you just confirmed it to me.”

She’s saying that because, while it has worked for some, it didn’t work for me in the case of a recent crowd-funding campaign for my children’s book, Pepper Pumperdine and the Fashion Fairy.  I didn’t read the fine print on Indiegogo, which in any case they don’t really give you until you’ve launched the campaign. You don’t just put up a worthy project and have lots of strangers flock to you and chip in twenty-five dollars for whatever perk you’re offering, and in our case we were offering some great perks in the form of art prints. You have to go out and solicit your own network, and you have to hit up each one an average of seven times before they contribute.

I don’t know about your network, but mine has little tolerance for that shit, not to mention that they’ve been tapped out by my other creative ventures over the years. It simply isn’t worth pestering people, and high-net-worth individuals are constantly pestered for contributions to one thing or another.

Lindsay Lohan Canyons

Lindsay Lohan with director Paul Shrader on his crowd-funded “The Canyons.”

I even enlisted my sister’s help, and she’s a super networker and connector, having raises millions for other causes and institutions in the past. I don’t know anyone who can match her, but after some thought she bowed out of helping on my project because even her network was under too heavy a load from requests, and she felt the same as me: It wasn’t worth the pestering.  Instead, she gave me a generous contribution, which is what I will use to retool the campaign to go after sponsors privately and directly in a more traditional way.

The most annoying thing is that Indiegogo will still take nine percent of what I’ve raised from my own network, because it’s less than ten percent of the goal amount.  If I had reached my goal, it would only be four percent.  No strangers contributed, probably because they never saw the campaign—if your network doesn’t contribute the vast majority of the goal amount, and doesn’t leave lots of encouraging comments, the campaign remains nearly invisible to all of those hundreds of strangers with twenty-five dollars to donate.

See, whatever algorithm runs the site doesn’t begin to promote you until you hit certain goals.  Once I understood that this was going to be a full-time job that was likely still not going to be successful and only annoy people I knew, I stopped working to promote it—again, I will have more success doing this another way, and I have a solid track record of that. Still, I followed the Indiegogo’s advice to the letter (except for the bit about pestering people an average of seven times).  I updated content regularly, launched a dedicated Facebook page, as well as Twitter and Pintrest accounts.  I shot and edited three promotional videos for it, and the first I redid three times to get it right.  I got great feedback, but no kindness from strangers.

Does Pepper Pumperdine fail when the Indiegogo funding goals won’t be met? Absolutely not. On the contrary, by making me create all of those videos and web presences, Indiegogo basically guided me in building the platform on which a successful self-published book can be launched.

When I’m doing any sort of filmed content project, whether it’s a commercial or a feature film, I have to do a comprehensive treatment, and I enjoy doing them—they focus my thoughts and improve the project.  The same goes for Pepper Pumperdine—it will be a better book because of the Indiegogo process not just because of the material generated, but because it has allowed me both to test it (and it works), and given me greater clarity on how it should be published.

Most importantly, the material generated has opened and strengthened the dialogue between me and the book’s illustrator, Adam Oehlers.  As he mentions at the end of the video I’ll embed below, he’s never had this sort of collaboration with a writer before, wherein what he envisions the characters to be informs the rewrite of the original text:

As of today, thanks to the amount of money we were able to raise to put down as an advance, Adam is going ahead and starting the illustrations.  That in itself makes it feel like the book is moving further along to being realized rather than just sitting in the corner pouting patiently like so many of my other progeny.  Those images will then be incorporated into a new proposal that will go out to fashion companies within my professional network who can fold the relatively low costs of Pepper into their PR budgets.  I’ve been involved with the fashion world longer than I have with film, so there is a very good chance this will succeed as a strategy for this particular project.

As someone who raises money for one of the world’s more important museums once said to me, “Fundraising is all about relationships.” Crowd funding isn’t for me or my relationships, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for another creative or entrepreneur.

Lesson learned. Onward.

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