Scott Harris is an Edinburgh based documentary filmmaker who has taken part in SDI’s Bridging The Gap and Interdoc schemes. Last year he wrote two guest posts about the online release of his first film, Being Ginger, and he’s back with a case study about the crowdfunding campaign of his newest project, An American Ginger In Paris.
For the last year I’ve been planning to do a crowdfunding campaign for my second film. The biggest issue I had was trying to figure out a reasonable goal. Every campaign is different but I tried to talk to filmmakers who had raised $30,000 and $50,000 to see how big their mailing list was at the start, how much of their money came from that list, and how much came from people who were new to them. Unfortunately I found it difficult to get accurate information.
The only advice I got came from an Indiegogo presentation at Hot Docs where they suggested I figure out how much I could expect to raise from friends and family and set my goal at three times that number. But I had 2,500 people on my mailing list. I hoped I could get considerably more than that.
Last month I finished a Kickstarter campaign for my second film, An American Ginger In Paris (AAGIP), bringing in $15,788 towards a goal of $15k. I spent last week looking over the numbers to see where the money came from and thought it might interest a few others.
Let me start by explaining that the film is currently in pre-production, I haven’t actually shot a frame of it yet. I had a meeting with a few producers who liked the idea, but they said regardless of the success I enjoyed with the first film I needed to shoot some footage and get a proper trailer if I want to get any real funding. The problem was that I couldn’t afford to shoot a trailer. Britdoc no longer do their PUMA Catalyst Award, and while there are a few other funds to get startup money for a trailer, they are very competitive, and there would be a long wait. And to be perfectly frank, this is a personal doc about how I’ve seen too many romantic comedies so I’m moving to Paris to look for love; the MacArthur Foundation isn’t going to give me a genius grant for it. Plus, most early grants for films are for around $5,000, and that isn’t enough for what I want to do.
That said, it is a “sort of” sequel to my first film, Being Ginger, in that they are both personal docs about my love life. So I figured maybe the people who saw and loved Being Ginger would be willing to help me get started on my next project.
A Different Kind Of Campaign
I did a Kickstarter campaign for my first film, $12,869 raised towards a goal of $10k, but the two campaigns were drastically different. I launched the campaign for Being Ginger just as I was finishing principle photography. As a result I knew I was going to have a feature film finished in a matter of months. This time, the campaign came when I was still in pre-production. I did not feel comfortable offering a digital download or DVD of a finished film since I didn’t know when or even if this new project would turn into a feature. I know this turned a few people off but I thought it was better to be completely honest and say this might only be a 10 minute short film.
Not knowing exactly what the final product will look like made coming up with rewards a bit of a challenge. Since the film is about being a hopeless romantic I tried to come up with a few romantic rewards. The primary tangible reward that I offered was a postcard from Paris, which went to anyone who pledged $30 or more. I also offered a special souvenir from the film for $250. My only fulfilment costs will be buying and shipping six souvenirs, 218 postcards, and printing and sending one movie poster (which someone pledged $1,000 to help me design.) And everyone who donated at least $7 will get special access to whatever extended trailer/short film I can produce in two months.
All in all it is a pretty good deal for me. After Kickstarter and Amazon take their cut, and I put aside some money to fulfil my rewards, I’ll have around $13,600 to start work on the film.
One stat between the two campaigns really stands out: Assuming Kickstarter’s data is correct, the Being Ginger pitch video was played 8,695 times. With 311 donations that means 3.6% of the people who came across it made a donation.
For AAGIP the pitch video was only viewed 1,274 times. With 360 donations that means 28.3% of the people who watched the video made a pledge.
I interpret that to mean my campaign didn’t spread far beyond my existing fans and that there is a huge advantage to having a track record. Since both of my films are about me, I think this is an even larger advantage. The people who liked the first film like me as the guy in the film, and the guy who has written back to them or spoken to them after a screening, and not just the name of guy in the credits.
The campaign for Being Ginger spread, I think, because the pitch video included a short trailer that was very funny. The pitch video for AAGIP only had me talking directly to the viewer. I had wanted to do the campaign from Paris, after I had already started shooting so that I could make a catchier video, but I need this money to even start shooting in Paris.
The other thing that I think is interesting is that even though I had over 2,500 people on my mailing list, and sent out six different newsletters during the campaign, only 1,274 people actually watched the pitch video.
Where The Money Come From
Of the 360 people who made a donation, 46 were old friends and family. In total those 46 people pledged $2,897. So I ended up raising more than five times that in total, considerably better than Indiegogo had recommended.
After looking at my friends and family, I looked to see how many other people backed both campaigns. Out of the original 270 backers (those who weren’t friends and family) 33 people pledged to the second film. Those 33 donated $1,110, after having donated $875 the first time.
I released Being Ginger on my VHX based web site in August of 2013, and over the course of a year sold 890 downloads. Thanks to VHX, I was able to add all of those buyers to my mailing list. In all, 67 of them pledged a total of $3,433 to make AAGIP.
As I said, I knew AAGIP was going to be a tough sell. In fact, it must sound like a stupid idea to anyone who hasn’t seen Being Ginger; but because I was confident that the people who had seen it would want me to make the “sort of” sequel I decided I needed to try to drive more people to the film during the campaign so I dropped the price of an HD download through my site to just $1 (from $9.99). My hope was that more people would watch the film, and afterwards would want to donate $7.
So how did that go?
First of all, in the months of June, July, and August my sales were pretty low, I only sold a total of 70 downloads. My personal profit from those three months combined to just $624. During the campaign I sold 430 downloads.
There is a unique setting on the checkout with VHX that allows a buyer to spend any amount they want over the base price. Of the 430 buyers, 336 paid $1, but nearly 100 people chose to pay more. In total the 430 people paid $897, of which I personally made $592. Not bad compared to what I made the three months before. I also had a sales conversion rate of over 9%, meaning 9% of the people who landed on my web site bought the film. Normally my conversion rate is around 1-2%.
Then the question was how many of those 430 people turned around and made a donation to the Kickstarter campaign?
58 people. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was hoping it would be a much higher number. 13.5% of the people who took advantage of the special offer came back and made a donation. And I sent out an email to everyone a few days after they downloaded it, and then added them to my general mailing list which sent them a few more reminders. Those 58 people pledged $1,489. (Which means dropping the film to $1 brought in over $2,000 in total.)
It also means, when combined with the other VHX users, that a total of $4,922 came in specifically because VHX allows me to collect data on my customers and get back in touch with them directly.
During the course of the last year I attended screenings of Being Ginger in 11 cities in North America where I met a lot of people. First and foremost I had an incredible time and found the conversations with people after screenings rewarding in a way I’d never expected. I screened the film in New York for a week, which meant I got a review from the New York Times, and they made the film a Critics’ Pick. All in all it was one of the best experiences of my life. That said I did lose a bit of money because of travel costs and getting the DCP made, but I collected 554 new email addresses. 65 of them donated $4,245 to the new film (which more than covered what I lost on the tour).
Being Ginger was released on iTunes and Vimeo back in April, and it’s played in a few cities where I wasn’t able to attend. Some of the people who saw it that way have written to me to talk about the film, and I of course added them to my mailing list. In all I know that 20 of them pledged $453.
That leaves 71 backers who I can’t account for. I recognise many of the names from Facebook or Twitter, but I don’t know how they first saw Being Ginger. (They might have backed AAGIP using a different email address than the one that is on my mailing list, or they might have seen it at a screening or on iTunes and started following me without actually signing up.) The frustrating thing about iTunes is that as a filmmaker you have no way of getting directly in touch with the people who watch your film. And it’s a shame, because several thousand people have seen it that way.
*There were a number of people who could have been placed in more than one group. There were a number of friends, Kickstarter backers, and people who downloaded the film who then came to screenings, and I think meeting me at a screening helped cement the connection they felt to me. For the purposes of these stats I only counted someone as how they first came in contact with Being Ginger.
What should be abundantly clear from all this data is the overwhelming value of having a direct connection with your fans. Of the $15,788 I raised, at least $11,183 came from people I didn’t know personally but who made their way to my mailing list one way or another. If you are attending screenings of your film and not asking people to sign up for your mailing list every single time, you are literally throwing money away.
The goal is to have 1,000 true fans, people who will support anything you do. This campaign has been a good test to show that I have about 200 true fans. Not a huge amount, but I probably only had twenty when I started Being Ginger. The plan is to make another good film so I can continue to build on it.
I’ve now set up a VHX site for An American Ginger in Paris, and it is designed to continue taking donations from anyone who discovers the campaign after the fact. In return they’ll get access to exclusive video blog posts from Paris. Time will tell if that leads to anything significant.
Now I’m off to Paris to spend two months on my dream project.
PS: If you’d like to check out Being Ginger, you can use the coupon code SDI123 and get the film for $1. (I’m not trying to make money off my fellow filmmakers, but I would like it if more filmmakers saw my work.)