Probably the most common question I receive from fellow independent filmmakers is, ‘How do we make crowdfunding work for our project?’
I had the same question for my first feature film, Guys Reading Poems, and – luckily – I was able to ask Leah Cevoli, an expert in the field. She helped us navigate strategy and effective execution within the crowdfunding space and gave practical pointers to maximize our chances. Ultimately, we were successful in our raise, which has made all the difference in the life of our film. So since so many folks have questions about crowdfunding for their films, I thought I’d return to Ms. Cevoli and see what she had to say!
Hunter: So Leah, I consulted with you on Guys Reading Poems Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. I can honestly say that without your help, we would have died on the vine. So thank you for that. Crowdfunding is probably the number one topic that filmmakers bring up when they speak to me. They recognize its potential value to their lives, but are sometimes a little lost and overwhelmed with it. And sometimes I see that look in their eyes that says – FREE MONEY!!!! – and I worry. What would you say is the biggest misperception people have about crowdfunding for webseries, short films and feature films?
Leah: You’re welcome. I was truly impressed with how you absorbed all of the information I gave you AND put it into action for such a strong finish! Congrats!
The biggest misperception is that most filmmakers, inventors, etc think that if you have a great concept, you can put it up on a crowdfunding platform and it will get funded. The second biggest misperception is that if you have a great concept, cool rewards, and a great video you can place it on a crowdfunding platform and people will just find it and fund it.
Hunter: You mention inventors. Some people have expressed that – going forward – crowdfunding will be more effective for new consumer products and apps rather than filmed entertainment. I guess the theory is that people are essentially pre-buying items they can use rather than sort of angel gifting for an artist. Do you agree with this theory? How can films continue to expand in the crowdfunding space?
Leah: I do think that we will see more and more products, inventions if you will. Crowdfunding gives so many people that otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to fund the next chia pet, snuggies, or pet rock a platform to get their idea out there. However, I don’t see it dying down for filmed entertainment either. If anything, it gives the consumer a better and more varied option of the entertainment choices they can view. And in effect, it’s a pre-buy for the film’s dvd, poster etc. Speaking of pre-buys, I believe if musicians paid more attention to crowdfunding, they could take much of the power back into their hands that was lost with the breakdown of record labels and online file sharing.
Hunter: That makes sense. And musicians have tour tickets to offer as well! If you had to narrow it down to a couple variables, what are the biggest differences between a campaign that is successful and a campaign that is unsuccessful?
Leah: Preparation, outreach to their personal friends and family, backer communications, and non-stop social media content.
Hunter: Very true. In our campaign, although it may’ve seemed like it was taking place ‘online’ I was making lots of personal phone calls to colleagues, friends and family members, lobbying them to back us. We held Kickstarter fundraisers – large and small. We arranged for potential substantial backers to tour our office and view some of our creative work. Online crowdfunding doesn’t take away your responsibility as a filmmaker to ask people for money in person or on the phone. You have to do it, in my opinion. So knowing that crowdfunding campaigns are sometimes more than meets the eye…what kind of prep time do you suggest for campaigns? Does that change depending on the amount of money being raised?
Leah: It depends on the team. Not so much the goal amount, but more so the size of their social networks, and the number of team members that are fully vested. It also depends on the skill-sets of the team; do they need to hire a video editor, a graphics person, a social media assistant? On average, I would say at least a month prep time, but in reality it’s probably more like three months.
Hunter: Where do you lean – Kickstarter or IndieGogo or another option?
Leah: I prefer Kickstarter for a number of reasons; the urgency of all or nothing is appealing to me and to most others, and the back-end is much more user friendly when communicating with backers. I do like IndieGogo, and have coached a dozen or so campaigns over there, but I prefer Kickstarter.
Hunter: What has been your happiest moment on a crowdfunding campaign?
Leah: Aw man, this is a tough one. I’ve had ecstatic moments on so many campaigns. I’ve appeared on the 11:00 news with the team of the feature film Blood Kiss. I’ve pulled all-nighters with clients. I’ve had major A-list celebs and magazines mention clients. There are a lot of happy moments. In a nutshell, every win has been a happy moment.
Hunter: Finally, you are a woman of many talents, including acting. How is your acting going? Does your expertise in crowdfunding help you in your acting or does it cause others to think you are “less serious” as an actress? Many of our readers have more than one talent and sometimes one is related to “business” and the other to “creative.” How do you balance the two in terms of your life and how you present yourself to others?
Leah: Thank you! I’ve got some really great projects coming out this year. I recently voiced two characters for the feature film The Grid Zombie: Outlet Maul, shot a lead role in the horror flick Killcast, and will soon be voicing a character in The Sultana Documentary, executive produced by Jim Michaels and Sean Astin. I’m also attached in various acting and producing capacities to quite a few projects who are scheduled to shoot in 2015.
I’ve been a member of SAG (now SAG-AFTRA) since 2005. I launched my crowdfunding business in 2013. I’ve been acting a lot longer, and have built up a name for myself, with some really great credits on my resume, yet I absolutely have struggled with the fear of not being seen as an actor if people see me as a crowdfunding manager. As artists, we never want people to associate us with anything but our artistic career, no one ever wants to talk about their waitress job, for fear of not seeming like a talented actor. For most of this time, crowdfunding has been my “waitress” job, and I didn’t really want to talk about. My clients have all been word of mouth, referrals and I’ve been happy with that. This year, 2015, I’m structuring it more like a business, speaking at more events and workshops, and boldly talking about my business outside of acting. I’m making it work for me, and to be honest, the majority of projects I’ve been cast in this year have been in some way related to crowdfunding. I’m leveraging my skills at raising funds, to align with better projects and teams. I think it’s becoming much more acceptable and frankly necessary, to have multiple streams of income based on your skillsets. Yes, I’m a damn good actress, but I’m also a wiz at crowdfunding and I’m embracing that, as should anyone else who’s reading this and concerned that one of their skills may diminish another. It’s just not true anymore.
Hunter: Agree with you 100%. Becoming a more savvy businessperson does not mean you are less of an artist. In fact, it’s empowering and that can help bring additional solidity to the creative side that’s then more free to experiment and take risks. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us, Leah! And thanks for helping us with Guys Reading Poems. If we decide to crowdfund for Inside-Out, Outside-In, you’ll be hearing from me again…
For those of you interested in working with Leah, she has generously offered a 10% discount to readers of this blog. Let her know that you’re from InsideOut film blog and she will apply the discount!