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Guest Post: Jennifer Fox "The First 6 Tips For Launching A Six-Figure Kickstarter Campaign

by Ted Hope
May 24, 2011 3:00 AM
5 Comments
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Last week Jennifer Fox shared with us her 22 year process to getting her latest film made. Today, she share what she has learned about aiming for a six figure raise on Kickstarter. Will she make it? Well, it all starts with you.... Make it happen. I contributed. And now she's giving back to the community -- perhaps you can complete the karmic chain and give to her. There's less than five days left!


The first thing everyone will tell you about a Kickstarter campaign is Tip #1: Reach out to your family. I must say this is not news to me. I have been reaching out to my parents all my life, long before Kickstarter. The older I get, the more I wonder if I could have lived such a high-risk artist’s life without their support. To give you just one example: when I dropped out of NYU film school at age 21, after only one year, to shoot a film in the war in Lebanon, they didn’t blink an eye. When I made a six-hour series on my sex life (and the lives of other women including those in my family), instead of disowning me, they came to the Sundance Film Festival and did a Q & A with me on stage. My parents always had a unique vision: My mom was a professional musician who loved art, film and theater, who would only give me blank sheets of paper to draw on as a child (no coloring books) – so that I would develop my creativity. My dad, who was a homebuilder and businessman, regaled us with the joys of entrepreneurship at the dining room table each night, the way some fathers talk about baseball. They succeeded in instilling in me a profound belief in my own creative vision, something that is very hard to teach. I often wish I could rent my parents out to my film students. In retrospect, that I am a film Director/Producer is just a neat amalgam of their passions.

My Jewish parents have a very hardy approach to life – neither of them has a penchant for wallowing in emotions (like I do); they are big believers in “ good attitude”. This has rubbed off on me despite my own tendencies. From them, I have learned that attitude and passion are what sell. I often hear film directors say how much they hate fundraising. The problem is that someone who hates what he or she is doing moves no one. From my parents, I learned to check my attitude when setting out to do something and if it isn’t positive I try to reframe it. And if it slips, as it always does, I reframe it again. Granted this is a very American, Reganesque approach, but there are things to take from everywhere. If you are going to be a filmmaker – particularly in America – you’d better figure out how to find joy and creativity in raising funds. From my Mom, I love creating and directing films but from my Dad, I love the challenge of figuring out how to fund something that no one thinks they want – only to discover that it is what they need. Making films for so many years, I learned that you don’t have to ‘win’ all the time, only a percentage. Every film that I have ever made has a drawer full of rejections. Perhaps I am negatively motivated, but those rejections often spur me to prove the world wrong. And again perversely I find this kind of fun….

Our team is now on Day 85 of our 90 day Kickstarter Campaign. There is a lot we’ve discovered and are still discovering. Like all creative endeavors, fundraising is a “process” that evolves and develops as you do it. Here are 6 of our top 20 tips so far. Some of them are about the actual work and some are more about what I would call, “psychological warfare”, so necessary for the game:

1. Reach Out to Family and Friends:

Unlike what many will tell you, I must say that for me family (and friends) are more about getting emotional support than money, necessarily. It is very dicey to ask people you know and love to give you their hard earned funds. I had some friends tell me that they felt offended that I was emailing them about our campaign. Discussing this with them led to some very interesting insights about why I feel this is a democratic and legitimate way to support the arts. But I am not here to proselytize. I immediately backed off. In a way what they are saying is true: they don’t ask me to fund their passion, why should I ask them to fund mine? However, that’s not exactly how I see it: I believe that the film project, MY REINCARNATION, has a greater good for humanity and is a contribution to people’s lives. Hence, it must be seen and is worth funding…

2. Build a Team:

Filmmaking is a collaborative experience, but so is fundraising. It takes a lot of brainstorming and thinking out of the box. It takes multiple skills that one person rarely has all of. Without a team you just can’t get the traction and the reach into the world (see previous post). But also it helps with the fear factor. I don’t know about you, but this kind of public fundraising scares the shit out of me. My team keeps me from losing it. Having a team is also essential for Tip #3 (and Tip #16 in the next post):

3. Brainstorm the Campaign as a Rollout with Different Phases:

Our team, Katherine Nolfi, Lisa Duva, Stefanie Diaz and myself, discussed how the campaign would start – rather simply – and how we would keep rolling out new facets over time. We knew this had to be an international campaign since the film’s subjects are international and the Buddhism has an international reach. This meant that everything we did had to be done for the USA and abroad, often country by country. This included building email lists, adding new incentives, and creating regular new videos for our website, facebook and twitter that could be linked with our consistent updates on Kickstarter. We saw our campaign as having three initiatives: the web campaign; seeking out and approaching larger private donors to become Producers, and setting up “Sneak Preview Benefit Screenings” in key locations (so far we have held screenings in Melbourne and New York City). The screenings were part of our plan because we had a unique problem: we were fundraising for a film that was technically finished, but that no one had seen. We hypothesized that people might need to see the finished film to give it money. In the end, festivals also helped on this account (see the next post, Tip #8). But I also learned that the film's trailer was often enough for people as in point #4…

4. Make a Good Trailer:

Of course “make a great trailer” is common wisdom for any kind of film fundraising. However, MY REINCARNATION was such a difficult film that I didn’t edit a trailer during the fundraising process. When I looked for funds, I always showed edited scenes assembled in a half-hour or hour format. (Probably why we failed miserably much of the time.) We didn’t have a clear narrative for 18 years into the shooting, making it impossible to cut a trailer. One we finally cut the trailer, right before launching at festivals, it was rather easy to do because the story arc was so clear. Now I’ve been told by some people that they cry when they watch our trailer. It has helped many people to make a donation when they haven’t seen the film yet. As our Kickstarter campaign continued, we wanted to add an additional fundraising pitch to our trailer, perhaps on-camera, like so many directors have done. I filmed myself speaking to camera while at the Singapore Film festival, sent it back to NYC and Lisa edited it. But, we rejected it. Quite frankly, we have been showing my face too much in our effort to get moving images up on the web (posting a lot of Q & A Videos from festivals). I feel it’s the wrong message for a film project on a Buddhist theme, where I am beginning to look too much like a “Star.” So finally, Katherine came up with another approach using testimonies from our “NYC Sneak Preview Benefit Screening” last week. She edited them this weekend and the new video for our campaign will go up later today, with just 5 days left to our campaign (so check back on our Kickstarter site this afternoon to see the new video live).

5. Craft your Kickstarter Pitch Carefully:

Our team started by looking at the best-written pitches we could find on KICKSTARTER and basically mimicked their format. We liked the ones that explained everything, including how KICKSTARTER works. Since we were reaching out internationally and to an audience that was not in the arts, we felt this explanation necessary. Then we had to carefully frame why the film was still looking for money when it was technically finished. We made the explanation general, instead of giving a precise cause (which I am not sure was the right tactic in retrospect). Then we tried to turn a negative – that the film was finished – into a positive: this was a no risk venture because the film was already guaranteed distribution all over the world. We just had to find the last chunk of funds to pay for its costs before it could be delivered to television and other markets. This is very difficult to talk about simply because you are fighting people’s misconceptions about the film business and money, which come from Hollywood Blockbusters. They think films make big money – and get paid big money in distribution, which is not the case for documentaries (see my previous post).

6. Incentives:

Since you can't really put many images on your own Kickstarter page, Stefanie created a full brochure of pictures of the Kickstarter incentives on our MY REINCARNATION website so people could see what they were getting. She used the PBS pledge images as her model. We gathered a mixture of incentives, some Buddhist oriented and some film community oriented. One thing that we did very early on, even before the Kickstarter campaign began, was to offer a “Limited Special Edition Pre-Release DVD” for sale on our website at a very high price: $108. This DVD is a ‘vanilla version’ without extras or multiple language subtitles. We started to sell this a good six months before our Kickstarter campaign to help keep our office running during the festival release. When we put up the Kickstarter, we decided to offer the DVD in two ways: the Commercial DVD in 2012 at $25 and the Limited Special Edition Pre-Release DVD in September 2011 at $108. This has been our most successful incentive. For higher priced items, I raided anything I could find in my home: there are two of my own museum quality paintings by a very well known Buddhist Painter (one is sold and one still remains so far) and a beautiful antique Tibetan chest that my parents gave me (which I asked them first if I could sell, guess what they said?), still available. I even put up a limited edition watch I received from being on the Zurich Film Festival jury last year (gone). Basically nothing I own was off limits. It’s been a great Buddhist teaching to struggle with – and let go of – my attachment to my objects (that chest is one of my favorite possessions)!

What we learned for MY REINCARNATION is that the Buddhist incentives work much better than the film incentives. So far no one seems to care much about me or my career to purchase say a “Consultation with an Award–Winning Filmmaker". So much for my ego and 30 years of hard work!

-- Jennifer Fox

Jennifer Fox is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning Producer, Director, Camerawoman. She is known for her groundbreaking work on both documentary features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN, and now MY REINCARNATION. She is the subject of three films on filmmaking, TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY She has Executive Produced many award winning films, including LOVE & DIANE, ON THE ROPES and UPSTATE. She teaches and consults on directing and producing internationally at institutions such as New York University, the Binger Lab in Amsterdam, the University of Zurich and many others.

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5 Comments

  • Chris Forde | December 14, 2011 4:40 AMReply

    Bravo!!!

  • JudithCatherine Lam | November 10, 2011 6:36 PMReply

    Urgent!
    Need advice on the promotion of a controversial book The Last Chapter. Rather than convince audience/readers that he is the reincarnated soul of the historical Jesus, it is his intention to challenge their belief system as never before. The Last Chapter will give you deeper insight into the process of how the soul reincarnates in concise scientific and metaphysical parameters.

  • Jennie Livingston | June 4, 2011 3:51 AMReply

    Terrific info, and huge congrats, Jennifer! Great info as I move into doing my own crowdsourcing campaign for my film Earth Camp One. As to people not jumping at the chance to purchase a consult on filmmaking, I don't think that's for lack of interest or respect for your experience, it's just that the people with the money are (surprise surprise) not for the most part indie filmmakers! Great work on the campaign, and can't wait to see the film.

  • Leah | May 31, 2011 11:02 AMReply

    You are my hero Jennifer :) Great advice and CONGRATULATIONS - you are doing amazing work!

  • Stephen Dypiangco | May 25, 2011 5:12 AMReply

    Great tips. I would add that you should also build an email list of potential supporters from your film's core audience ahead of time. This will undoubtedly make raising money easier.

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