Making a Movie: How to Build a Kickstarter

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Making a Movie” is a series of columns that chronicles our attempt to make, market, and distribute a film with Stephen Tobolowsky in 2014

Thanks to you guys, we met our Kickstarter goal in just 12 days. Our Kickstarter project now has just a few hours left to go (you can still back us by clicking here), but we are well into pre-production for our upcoming shoot.

Our Kickstarter project took me roughly six weeks of work to create. Looking back, there are a lot of things I would’ve done differently. After the jump, I share some learnings I’ve had throughout this process. I also had the chance to chat with Cesar Kuriyama and Matt Reynolds, both of whom had great success with their respective Kickstarter projects. Cesar successfully funded his 1SecondEveryday app and Matt got his film, The Great Chicken Wing Huntfinanced. A podcast recording of our chat can be found below.

The following pieces of advice are either things I think I did well for our project, or things I didn’t do well but wish I had. Note that no two Kickstarter projects are the same – what worked (or didn’t work) for me may not hold for your project. Best to just use this as a list of mild suggestions. In this post, I attempt to go beyond the advice Kickstarter itself offers:

Have a platform – By far, this is the single biggest thing you can do to ensure that your Kickstarter project is successful. What does it mean to have a platform? Have a place on the internet that has high visibility, where you are likely to reach people who are inclined to support you. It could be your personal Facebook page (are you Facebook friends with every single person you’ve ever known? If not, better start that process). It could be your Twitter account. It could be a podcast that you’ve hosted for 6 years. It could a column that you write weekly for a local blog. It could be a book club that you host. You can even buy yourself a platform by paying for Facebook/Twitter ads.

Basically, you should have some way of getting the word out about your project. Kickstarter is littered with the corpses of unfunded projects, likely created by people who thought that putting together a project and a half-decent Kickstarter video would send people running. It usually doesn’t work that way although there are, of course, exceptions.

Offer something people can have now - One thing I wish I’d done was have a reward ready that people could have immediately. While I did offer bonus episodes of our podcast, timing constraints did not allow  for these to be completed at the time of the Kickstarter. But I think that having an immediate benefit really motivates people to contribute when they otherwise wouldn’t. 

Provide a real-life connection - If people are going to back your project, they’re probably looking for some way to connect with the project creators in a potent way. Offering tickets to a real-life event is an easy way to facilitate this. Past movie Kickstarters have offered things like set visits or walk-on roles. The most popular rewards on our page were the ones where people could purchase tickets to our upcoming live show in Seattle. I did not anticipate that these would go so quickly, but they were basically sold out in a couple of days. I spent a great deal of time ensuring that we’d have some high-quality seats secure for our show there, time which certainly paid off. If I’d had even more time, I would have investigated and secured having some more rewards where people could experience portions of this movie in person.

Limit the number of some of the higher-ticket items at the outset - The tricky thing with Kickstarter is that often times it’s impossible to tell how successful a reward tier will be at the outset – after all, you are launching a project for something that doesn’t exist yet. One thing I wish I’d done is offer limited supplies of some of the higher ticket items, then modified the pricing as their popularity/demand revealed themselves. If I’d done this, I may have priced some of the higher ticket ticket items differently, or introduced different pricing over time.

Make your rewards high impact, low cost - There have been several high-profile cases recently of people who may have slightly overestimated their ability and resources to deliver on their rewards. I’ve seen a lot of Kickstarters over-promise and under-deliver, something that I’ve always sought to avoid with all my Kickstarters (to be fair, the problems almost always involve projects that feature the manufacture and delivery of physical objects). Be sure to take into account all the costs of the rewards, including Kickstarter/Amazon’s processing fees, taxes, time needed, additional labor required, etc. And above all else, simplify. My mantra for Kickstarter is that it is better to succeed unequivocally at doing something of limited scope than to fail horribly and publicly at doing something too ambitious. Either make sure you are well-equipped with the time/resources/funding to provide your rewards, or don’t offer them at all.

Below you’ll find my Kickstarter podcast chat with Cesar Kuriyama and Matt Reynolds. Be sure to check out 1SecondEveryday and The Great Chicken Wing Hunt, as they are both delightful.

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