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Kickstarter - A Blessing or A Curse?

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by Pete Chatmon
July 9, 2012 5:08 PM
20 Comments
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I recently did an experiment, keeping a tally of how many Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns I was given the "opportunity" to support over a 2 week period. The answer? 11. I'll tell you why I think that's crazy in a moment, but first, I'd like to provide a few details into my own filmmaking journey so you can "consider the source", as wise folks always say.

I started making films in the 11th grade at Columbia High School in Maplewood, NJ. I'm talking about shooting on Super8mm film...developing it myself...editing on a moviola -- it was awesome. My 16 year old ideas didn't require much money, partly because I did not have an allowance or a crew, but they still served to help me learn what I could.

I went to NYU undergraduate film school, making countless projects, but for the purposes of this post, I'll reference my senior thesis "3D" -- a film that starred Kerry Washington, Dorian Missick, Al Thompson, and Charles Parnell and for which I had to raise $24,000. That was quite the jump from my junior year film that cost $700, but it was a helluva intro to fundraising, marketing, and pitching to strangers. I learned that whether you're asking for $1 or $1000, you better know what you're talking about and not expect folks to help you out just because they know you or, real talk -- are family. I also learned the importance of legal documents after dealing with some shady music business people, but that's another post too, and of course, Industry Rule #4080.

After taking "3D" to Sundance and several other festivals, I began plotting every filmmaker's inevitable next step -- how to raise money for my feature debut "Premium". We started with a budget of around $3MM, which turned into $1.5MM, morphed into $750K, and eventually plateaued at $520K. Being neither rich, nor wealthy, the immediate question became, "where we gonna get that dough from, y'all?" This was 22 times more money than my previous project and my network hadn't really grown any. We had the talented Dorian Missick attached, some great key crew with much more experience than myself, and a commitment to make it happen by hook or crook. But, that didn't provide a roadmap to raising the money. There was no YouTube or Vimeo. No Kickstarter or Indiegogo. It was 2005. 

So, how did we do it? 

My producing partner, Kevin Frakes, and I put together a thorough business plan that outlined the who, what, why, and how behind all of our choices. We educated potential investors on the filmmaking process, the entertainment industry, and provided a clear answer toward every possible question, especially how the money would be spent and how they would be repaid if they invested. Forbes magazine  eventually profiled me in their investment guide after we reached our funding goal. 

We dedicated just as much effort to compiling a creative package to support the project. Think "Kickstarter Video" before the term ever existed. I produced an electronic press kit (EPK) featuring interviews from key cast and crew I'd worked with on various short films, intercutting clips from them in my work next to say, Dorian in a scene with Hugh Grant from "Two Weeks Notice". I also made a short film, "Confessions of Cool" designed to set up folks to fully understand the script from page one. I even threw parties, exclusive investor presentations, and brought my laptop into people's kitchen's on weekends, walking them through my Powerpoint slides.

All of these things, and many other finer points, combined to help us meet our goal with the help of 35 people. Investments ranged from $5,000 to $100,000, and it made me realize that people do actually want to support, you just have to do your job of shaping the path to a mutually beneficial final result. If you don't think people are investing in you for selfish reasons, then you should stop reading this right now.

Which brings me back to my point about why those 11 Kickstarter "opportunities" is crazy. I've broken it down into 3 areas:

1) Not every artist seems to have asked themselves the straight-up-no-bullshit question, "would I give this project money based off of the presentation that I see here?" I feel safe saying that many of these folks would not. And that's exactly why I won't either.

2) Many people seem to be crowdsourcing because it's there, waiting for foolish friends and family that just might help them make something they wouldn't otherwise put much effort toward. They're also not using it to their advantage when thinking about how best to exploit it. It's no different than the ease of web coding making folks create websites that they wouldn't otherwise make if it took any real effort and planning. 

3) Not everyone is at a point where they should even be asking for money. No one should receive an email that, at its basic level, is asking another person to pay for their PRACTICE. Have you found your voice? Do you have more than an elementary understanding of film language and storytelling? Have you considered not only the market for your project, but the marketing? Please stop thinking your every whim should be bankrolled by your "network". Skin in the game is proof of passion and dedication and when it's not there, it's more than transparent.

I understand it's not 2005 anymore. The world has changed and I'm happy about the democratization of all these disciplines. But, as someone who has raised money in the more "hand to hand combat" sense, I look at Kickstarter/Indiegogo with wide eyes as I imagine how much MORE I might have raised for "Premium" had the platform been available to me. It's not just about checking online to see who pledged how much, it's about using these crowdsourcing platforms to power a well thought out creative product with a thorough business plan and marketing strategy. It's there to make it easier to connect with those that might find supporting your project something that aligns with their interests and it makes it possible for folks you'll never meet face-to-face to contribute with the click of a button. That's what's up.

The gatekeepers, to all of our applause, have been removed, "allowing" us to do things never before possible. But, let's not forget the value of what they provide when politics, race, and nepotism aren't ingredients in the process. Studios and agents search for material that is well written and fits into the marketplace. Smaller production companies do the same, oftentimes with more of a focus on niche markets and more challenging material. Both work to get the best talent on board, develop the script to its best draft, and harness the power of their dollar to make sure the world knows a project is in the pipeline and folks should be excited!

Before you decide to swipe that Visa at B&H Photo and cop yourself a videocamera, computer, and editing system, I hope and trust that you will put your project through the same set of gatekeeper checks and balances to ensure that you are not diving in before it's ready. There's no glory in volume if the shit ain't tight. And there's no such thing as a beta version of film. When it's made, it's made, and you will be judged. Oh how I know, lol.

The point of this all is not to attack. I hope there are some worthy nuggets that can be applied to your own projects, but also shared with anybody who might be hitting you up for a contribution but maybe isn't quite ready themselves. Don't just mumble under your breath, "here we go, another mutha...". If you know them, let them know, and tell them you're here when it's time.

Personally, Candice Sanchez McFarlane and I are about to embark upon the fundraising/producing journey again with our heist script "$FREE.99" and I invite you to check in here on Shadow & Act regularly as I provide a window into the upcoming process. 

The world is a better place with more stories in it -- but there are two missing words from this sentence.

The world is a better place with more stories TOLD WELL

Let's make it happen.

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20 Comments

  • justsaying | July 13, 2012 11:55 AMReply

    You always provide useful and transferrable information. I look forward to more posts about "$Free.99."Care to share more on the table read process and how your read went in another post?

  • justsaying | July 13, 2012 3:34 PM

    Great. I'll be on the lookout for more.

  • Pete Chatmon | July 13, 2012 12:42 PM

    Thanks a lot. I did a post on my website about why filmmakers should do table reads here:

    http://www.petechatmon.com/2012/06/10/why-do-a-table-read-tips/

    Definitely stay tuned for more info!

  • Christopher Poindexter | July 10, 2012 4:18 PMReply

    Well said. I've seen waay to many kickstarter invitations where folks are soliciting funs and giving no insight as to how they want to use the raised funds. I am not asking to see a budget (which would be nice) but if you are going to ask for money, you can at the very least explain how the funds will be used.

  • Jason Pollard | July 10, 2012 3:23 PMReply

    Fantastic article Pete! Loved your insight into the fundraising game. Can't wait for $FREE.99...keep making it happen

  • Dankwa Brooks | July 10, 2012 9:08 AMReply

    Excellent post! I agree, great insight from someone who has done it. I also agree that if you know the person and they respect your opinion constructive criticism is fine. It's best if they hear it from someone they know and respect. Thanks for posting. Will share!

  • Frederick Willingham | July 10, 2012 4:22 AMReply

    I applaud Shadow and Act for their efforts in exhibiting a vast array of information on this site. Their guest contributors are also a plus. In regards to this post, it's always nice to receive "feedback" from some who has actually gone through the process of raising funds and bringing their product to fruition. Now I'd like to know the end results. I believe the Blogs host, Tambay, has made a film but is no longer in the filmmaking business, I am curious as to why? @ Pete Chapmon, you sold $5,000 shares in your film Premium and raised $520K. You had great actor. Did your investors recoup their investment? Would you call it a success and what would you do differently (i.e. larger budget, different script, different actors, more shooting time, etc?) Also, you were involved in a recent webseries, how did that go and what would you change about that endeavor? I am asking because I am about to embark on a project and although I believe funding is without question a major hurdle, I'd like to know other major difficulties you've experienced so that maybe I will not repeat them. Thanks in advance.

  • Pete Chatmon | July 10, 2012 4:01 PM

    Frederick -- my investors were very happy with how things worked out with the film. I look back at the entire process as a learning experience, which everything always is, but also as a success. In many ways I feel like we did the impossible.

    Re: your creative questions: I would not look for a larger budget. If we made the same film now, the budget could be cut in half if not considerably more thanks to technology and the fact that talent are not thumbing their nose at indie content as they once did. Keeping the budget as low as possible gives you the best chance at recoupment. The script would be different, it would be better, particularly in the second act. That's the minefield of any feature, where what IT'S ABOUT really has to be executed, and I'd say I could have done that better. It's something we put a lot of time in to on $FREE.99 so I wouldn't have the same feeling years down the line, lol. I would not choose different actors. Those folks were awesome and they understood the spirit of the project. The last thing you want is a "name" who can care less about your project, thinking it's only happening because they're on board. All of these actors were gracious and true professionals and great talents. More shooting time is nice, but then you need more $$$ so that is like a fairy tale desire, in a way. We shot the film in 21 days, on 6 day weeks, in NYC and NJ -- breakneck speed, and inclusive of a 10 page day here and there which was quite challenging but a necessity when you only have a location but for so long and must turnaround your production from day to night shoots, adhering to standards of work time. Re: the webseries, I think it's best to go hard with a lot of content so folks can fall in to the groove of expectation that more and more episodes are coming. All in all, there will always be challenges, and things to enhance moving forward, but I try to live by the phrase MASTER OF THE MOMENT. If I do my best, at any given moment, with all that's available to me and all of my talents exhausted, and all of the people who can guide me bothered for their help, then I can never look back and say I didn't do my best. I might do it better and differently now, as I mention in my answers above, but at the time I was rocking on all cylinders and not being naive about seeking help and working with people who make me better.

  • COMMENT POLICE | July 10, 2012 11:29 AM

    THESE ARE GREAT QUESTIONS

  • Jennifer | July 9, 2012 8:58 PMReply

    Wonderful article. I was just thinking of how many Kickstarter requests I've gotten this week. You bring up some wonderful nuggets of information.

  • B | July 9, 2012 7:14 PMReply

    Speaking as someone who isn't a filmmaker, but who has writer aspirations, this is the best career advice I've read in a very long time, especially the part about the business plan. Coming up with a strategic/business plan regarding one's intended project or career is about the best favor one can do for oneself. Period.

  • the Mo Betta | July 9, 2012 7:13 PMReply

    I applaud Pete.
    I understand BGuest.
    It's the age old adage: "I might not agree with what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it.."
    Or, even more bluntly put:
    Shadow-"I love you like a stepbrother, but you never gave nobody else a chance to play their own music."
    Bleek- "I'm talking about the audience."
    Shadow -"You grandiose motherfuckers don't play shit that they like. If you play the shit they like, people will come."

  • bguest | July 9, 2012 6:27 PMReply

    @Pete...I hear you...I know you are trying to help folks based on your own successful efforts...I just think letting people fail is as important as trying to help them succeed... and most on Kickstarter don't take it as seriously as a committed artist with training such as yourself so my thing is...do you and if they are hungry they will seek out the knowledge they need to step up their game.

  • Pete Chatmon | July 9, 2012 6:13 PMReply

    @BGuest -- good point. The distinction for me is "if you know them" -- it would be WAY out of left field if it was to someone who's campaign somehow found its way to my inbox. I hear you on that.

    But it was folks taking the time out like that for me, because they cared, that helped so much along this journey, and doing it with tact is/was always important.

    Whether or not I was ready could of course be up for debate, but at the time I had done everything within my power and ability to get where I was, sharpen my craft, and learn the business -- which is what I feel is often missing from many campaigns.

  • ShebaBaby | July 9, 2012 9:19 PM

    Great article Pete. I was just talking to my writing mentor the other day and we were discussing how so many people do NOT respect the craft of writing and don't want to put in the work (I'm talking years) to make sure their stuff is up to par and that's why we end up with soo many mediocre to downright awful projects coming out. It's like they're more in love with the idea of making a movie rather than making a "great" movie. In this day and age anyone can make a movie, and I mean anybody, but there sadly far fewer people who aim to make a great movie. I'm talking rewrite upon rewrite, getting read and critiqued by industry folks who know story, taking writing classes or workshops, reading book after book, script after script, and really having that heart to heart conversation with yourself about whether you would spend your last twelve bucks to go see this movie you're asking for money to shoot. If those 11 people on Kickstarter you're talking about really did all of the things I listed you and I both would probably would be broke right about now for supporting each and every one of their projects.

  • Nicole | July 9, 2012 6:57 PM

    This was a great article Pete. I applaud you for wanting to share the wisdom you've gained on on fundraising. It's a shame some people will be too prideful to listen and save themselves a lot of wasted time and trouble. Keep sharing for the ones who will.

  • Laura | July 9, 2012 6:07 PMReply

    Good post. It seems as if crowdfunding is the new gold rush.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 9, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    Bless this.

  • bguest | July 9, 2012 5:56 PMReply

    I'm sure you mean well but it's not for me to tell someone they're "not ready" to do anything. If I don't want to contribute I won't but I can ignore the request without lecturing someone on what they should or should not be doing. Some people would watch your "Premium" trailer on youtube and say you weren't ready to make a film either. But I'm sure the experience was rewarding for you so who cares what anyone else thinks.

  • Missy | July 9, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    Excellent excellent points! Especially #1

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