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If you’re an aspiring filmmaker looking to make a short film, and your ambitions exceed a shoestring budget, then you’ve probably been looking for ways to fund your project that don’t consist of cleaning out your savings account. You’ve heard of Kickstarter and sites like it, and may be wondering, ‘How do I crowdfund my short film?’
To successfully crowdfund your short film, you need to choose the right platform (e.g., Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Seed & Spark) for your project, then create a campaign with as much detail as possible for potential backers. This means breaking down the budget into specifics and making an informative, or “proof of concept” video to convey the mood and tone of your short film. You’ll also want to add appropriate reward tiers tied to different pledge amounts to entice your backers to pledge higher. Finally, when you go live, share and spread the word as much as you can, every day of the campaign.
Let’s dive into more detail below, and set you on the path to successfully crowdfunding your short film!
What is Crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is the collective funding of a project or idea by regular people like you who believe in it enough to invest their own money. Project creators set up a campaign with a funding goal for their project, and anyone interested can contribute as much, or as little, as they want. Most campaigns have tiered dollar amounts with increasingly rare rewards included in each tier. So, the more you give, the more you get. When many people come together to support a project, they help that project get made.
Why Should You Crowdfund Your Short Film?
Despite the apparent contradiction, low-budget independent filmmaking can still be a burden on the wallet, especially for a self-funder trying to get a project off the ground themselves. Sure, compared to a Hollywood, or even an indie feature, films that cost under $10k are considered pennies, but here in the real world, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who can cough up three, four, or five thousand dollars on a whim.
In the past, anyone looking to put even a minimal budget behind their filmmaking enterprise had to find themselves a generous producer or beg their friend’s rich uncle to stake them some capital. Today, we’re spared the rich uncle. Instead, we turn to crowdfund.
Thanks to the crowdfunding websites I’ll discuss below, it’s now much easier to project your voice into the digital ether, catching the interest of individuals who previously would never have come across your film.
So, for all of you with moviemaking dreams, struggling to take flight amidst the weight of bills, rent, groceries, unfairly low wages, stagnant economies, and Netflix subscriptions (they keep increasing!), here’s a guide on how to successfully crowdfund your short film.
Choose Your Platform
Even a cursory search will tell you that there are a dizzying number of crowdfunding platforms out there for you to make use of. Thanks to this variety, each one has settled into a sort of niche market, catering to more and more specific types of projects rather than anything and everything.
So, your first task is to find the platform most suited toward creative projects. You don’t want to end up trying to fund your short film on a site mostly geared towards business startups, as your target audience will never discover your campaign.
Differentiating between 20 different platforms can be a headache, so I’ll save you the time and list the top three choices for funding a short film, in no particular order:
The name synonymous with crowdfunding. Kickstarter is by far the most well-known of the crowdfunding campaigns and for many is the go-to platform for all things crowdfunding. Founded in 2009, Kickstarter overwhelmingly attracts creative projects, so films fit right into its standard fare.
Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing model. Because of this, it’s essential to have your budget as exact as you can manage to avoid potentially missing your target by accidentally overinflating your budget.
All or nothing might sound daunting, but the finality of the deadline can be a great motivator to get backers to chip in to help you cross your goal, especially if you’re close to making it but not quite there. The famous last 48 hours of most Kickstarter campaigns usually see an influx of contributions as most backers realize it’s their last chance to give something to put a project over the top.
My most recent short film, Poser, just finished crowdfunding on Kickstarter last month, and, over 28 days, we raised about 80% of our funding. With 48 hours to go, suddenly the contributions came pouring in, giving us about 24% and hitting the goal by the last few hours of the campaign.
I attribute this push to the fact that most backers didn’t want to see us lose 80% of our funding when we were so close to making it, and that’s a benefit of the psychological pressure of an all-or-nothing model.
Kickstarter’s fees are pretty common by crowdfunding standards:
5% of total funds raised in addition to 3% + $0.20 per contribution as a “payment processing fee.” Unsuccessful campaigns are not charged any fees.
Another hub for mostly creative projects, Indiegogo has a bit more flexibility than Kickstarter when it comes to its campaigns. In addition to offering the fixed goal campaign like Kickstarter’s, Indiegogo also has a flexible funding campaign.
With flexible funding, any amount raised goes to your project, even if you don’t hit your goal. This might be good for projects that have a general budget goal or are getting made no matter what and could just use the financial boost to alleviate the stress on the creators.
Keep in mind, though, one of the drawbacks of flex funding is that the psychological edge is lost on backers. Some might be less willing to take you to 100% since they know you’re getting exactly what’s on screen. 80% means 80%, whereas, in a fixed campaign, 80% means zero.
Indiegogo’s fees are as follows:
Fixed and flexible funding campaigns are charged 5% of total funds in addition to 3% + $0.30 per contribution processing fee. Like Kickstarter, unsuccessful fixed funding campaigns are not charged fees.
As you can see, the fees are nearly identical between the two platforms. If fixed funding is appealing to you, I’d go with Kickstarter over Indiegogo due to the brand recognition and the likelihood that your campaign finds its way in front of more eyes.
Seed & Spark
This is one you probably haven’t heard of. Seed & Spark is exclusively geared towards filmmakers. So as far as target audience, you can’t get better than this.
Its benefits don’t stop at crowdfunding, either. S&S also bills itself as a place to discover and educate new filmmakers.
They boast that being fully focused on film, short film, web series, and other moving picture media, helps them give special attention to each campaign. They provide free educational services and give you tips on your campaign before it’s greenlit.
S&S also requires that only 80% of your funding be secured for you to get the money pledged by your backers, so it’s a sort of interesting hybrid cross between all or nothing and flexible funding.
Add to this that they also have a streaming service and distribution options for filmmakers. You can make a deal with them to stream your film on their service and get paid for every minute watched (you split the proceeds 50/50). This is open to everyone, not just campaigns that have crowdfunded with them, and you can submit your film through their site for evaluation.
They do require that films have 500 followers on their site or other social media before being eligible for distribution.
Like everyone else, Seed & Spark also has fees, though they offer backers the chance to offset some of the fee in their pledge. According to S&S, generally, 2/3 backers agree to do so, effectively lowering your fee on successful funds raised to 2%.
However, this is speculative, so let’s talk hard numbers:
The platform fee on successful campaigns is 5% of funds raised along with 2.9% + $0.30 of each pledge.
Be as Detailed as Possible
You’ve decided on your platform; now you need to present your project to all the potential backers out there. Think of this as a persuasive argument. To get people behind you, supporting you, you need to convince them. The best way to do this is by giving them as much information as possible.
Discuss why your film is important. Entice them with the story. What are you trying to say? Why should this film be made? Let your passion seep through. Just because it’s a short film on a low budget doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. Often it’s quite the contrary.
Break down everything you need your backers’ help to achieve; what camera, sound, and lighting equipment are necessary, what locations are needed, transportation, any specialized crew, etc. Talk about any potential challenges you foresee, how you will deal with them.
The more you open up your plans, the more backers will feel like they’re an integral part of your project, the more likely they’ll contribute.
Show, Don’t Tell
It’s not always feasible or appropriate, but when you can, avoid the talking head in your project video. Sitting in a room talking about your project is all well and good, but it’s not particularly interesting or catchy.
If you say it all in your video, what’s left to read about on your project page?
Filmmaking is about ‘show, don’t tell.’ So, don’t tell backers what type of movie you want to make, show them. Make a proof-of-concept video, something in the same vein as your film.
Set the same mood and tone you’re going for. Don’t worry if you don’t have your exact cast or locations yet. You’re trying to elicit the same vibe of the film, not the exact plot and setting.
This will help backers form a real idea of what you’re aiming for in their heads, and it will also make them more likely to contribute if they like it.
While crowdfunding my previous short film, Human Instincts, my crew and I shot a short teaser with our main actor. The teaser took place a day before the events that would eventually transpire in the short film. We designed it to reveal small bits about our protagonist and to hopefully get potential backers interested in what happened next.
It took a day, less than $100, and we ended up with something very moody and cool to help viewers understand what type of short we wanted to make.
Plus, when all’s said and done, you’ll have two pieces of media created rather than one, and that’s good for bonus content on any DVDs or Blu-Rays you’ll be pressing to send to backers, depending on your reward tiers.
Perks for Your Backers
Successful crowdfunding campaigns rarely get by on the altruism of their backers. It’s a transaction, not charity. Backers are paying in advance for a product you’re promising.
It’s up to you to create perks at different reward tiers that are appropriate for the amount of money a backer has pledged. This means striking a balance between a satisfactory perk that also doesn’t cost way too much for you to fulfill.
Ask yourself some important questions before finalizing your perks:
- Do you have to pay to make these perks in part or in full?
- How much will it cost to make a bulk of them?
- Are they digital product or will you have to pay for shipping?
- If you are shipping, are you willing to go international?
- How much of your budget might eventually go towards perk fulfillment?
For short films, the reward is going to be a copy of the film in some shape or form for most backers, but you can’t stop there, that’s just one tier.
For my crowdfunded films, my perk structure is as follows:
- Tier 1: Credit in the film and a shout-out on the film’s social media pages.
- Tier 2: Digital copy of the film upon completion.
- Tier 3: Physical copy of the film upon completion, Blu-Ray or DVD.
- Tier 4: Physical copy with special features; interviews, behind-the-scenes, table reads, Q&As, etc.
- Tier 5: Film poster and physical copy.
- Tier 6: Personalized interaction with the film; name a character, have your photo appear, be an extra, etc.
- Tier 7: Executive producer credit, invite to the cast/crew premiere.
This is by no means the tier structure you have to follow; this is just an example of what I’ve done in the past that has worked for me, and doesn’t break the bank.
Share As You’ve Never Shared Before
Ok, you’ve got your videos, project page, and perks all squared away and to your liking. You’ve got your budget mapped to the last granola bar. It’s time for the kickoff.
Once you go live, you’ll want to spread the word like a tidal wave. Share the campaign on every social media page you have. Ask your friends to share it with theirs. Word of mouth is what keeps campaigns kicking.
You’ll hopefully accrue a nice bump in the first two days as your most enthusiastic backers jump in to support you. If you’re lucky, you can cover 15-20% in that first 48 hours.
After this initial honeymoon period, settle in for some hard work. You’ll have to consistently remind people of your campaign and the progress it’s making. Share every day and stay on top of people who said they’d contribute but haven’t yet, or those you think might but need an extra push.
Identify people likely to back you and message them directly. People find it harder to ignore being directly engaged versus a passive shared post to an entire group.
You might feel uncomfortable with this part, and it can feel like your skirting the line with mooching, but if you want to meet your goal, you can’t take a passive role and hope for the best.
Also, keep an eye out for opportunities to share your campaign with influencers online. People who deal with filmmaking or film-related topics might be willing to share your campaign to their followers, giving you a nice boost and some credibility to post about on your project page.
Crowdfunding is a fulltime job, but it’s not just about roping in new backers. You can’t forget about those that are already behind you.
Post regular updates to your page as the campaign wears on, letting backers know where you’re at in pre-production, casting, location scouting. Make it known that the project is progressing and try to be as interactive and transparent as possible.
You know all the ins and outs of your film, but most backers will be taking a financial chance on you. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine backing a project and getting radio silence the next whole month. You’d forgive them for thinking you went dark with the money and absconded to Cancun.
Show your backers you’re hard at work making this film happen, because now, like you, they’re invested in its success too.
With the notes above, you should have all you need to make informed decisions and get well on your way to crowdfunding your first short film! Keep your head about you and stay active the entire duration, and you should do just fine.
If you have any other questions or crowdfunding tips of your own, please leave a comment below!
About the author
Nikola Stojković is a writer and filmmaker based out of Chicago. His short films have screened at festivals across the USA. When not shooting, he enjoys writing film reviews and playing his accordion, Fortunata.