Tips To Successfully Crowdfund Your Documentary Film

Crowdfunding is one of the best ways to start fundraising for your documentary. It has become a favorite way of doc filmmakers in raising funds that will either make or break their documentary films. We’re offering you some advice in order to make it easier for you to successfully crowdfund your doc film.


Clear Your Calendars

Make no mistake about it, running any kind of crowdfunding campaign is a full-time endeavor and should be treated as thus.  When you run your crowdfund one of the keys is going to be connecting and building with an audience, keeping them engaged, and then when the time is right, asking them directly for funding for your film.  You can’t do that, if you’re only half-committed to the task at hand.

I don’t care if you want to raise 2 grand, 20 grand, or 40 grand for your film, if you’re not all in, the universe isn’t going to do you any favors. No one is coming to you in order to give you money for your film.  Life just doesn’t work this way. At least not for the majority of us who are living a #doclife and our name isn’t Alex Gibney or Errol Morris.  You can’t simply wake up one day, decide that you need some money for your documentary, come to the conclusion that you’ll just do a Kickstarter because by gosh everyone else is doing it, and slap up a page online and wait for the money to fall out of the sky and presumably into your hands.

I’m constantly amazed at the people that I meet who actually think that’s how a crowdfunding campaign works.  As if you just put up a one-pager on, say Kickstarter or Indiegogo or wherever, and then they just bring the people to you. If it were that easy, Kickstarter probably would have long ago run out of server space for people’s pages!

You must be prepared for a lot of work just prior to your campaign, and certainly throughout the duration of it.  During the time of the actual crowdfund, please realize that all of your time and resources are truly going to need to be devoted to this, in order that you raise the funds that you seek for your film and build an audience and awareness for your film long before it’s even shot.


Become Friends with Facebook

It’s not just Facebook, of course.  It’s social media, in general.  Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Linked In.. these are the most commonly used and accepted ones.  And they need to be your best friends.  You need to be nurturing them consistently.  And you should be doing this well before you run any sort of crowdfund.

Part of your crowdfunding success is going to be not only be tied to how much you get the word out, but how much others get the word out for you.  Social media is a great tool for this.  It’s so easy for people to say a few words of support for your film, then hit the share button.

If you’re shy to put yourself out there via social media, or you just find social media distasteful, in general, that’s fine.  That’s totally okay, and there are times where I can see where you’re coming from.  But then I might suggest that crowdfunding might not be the best way for you to raise funds.  Because it will require social and social media engagement all of the time.

You have to be honest with yourself, if you’re not willing to put yourself out there, expose yourself a bit, then why should anyone else?  Again, it’s all about connecting here, and seeing your face, seeing your posts, seeing your engagement is all part and parcel to this.  People aren’t just supporting your film – in fact, one might argue that most aren’t really supporting your film… as much as they’re supporting YOU.  So, they need to see you and they need to hear from you.  Social media is a great way to do that.  And another way is…


Email people consistently, but not constantly

Throughout your campaign your are going to be wanting to build your email list and you will want to be engaging with it.  On one hand, don’t be shy about using the email list and actually emailing people updates on the film and progress of the crowdfund – after all, they are on your email list, because they expect you to be emailing then.  Of course, if you bombard them constantly with asks for money, then you risk then ignoring your emails or worse, asking to be removed from your list.  So be smart about this.  A good rule of thumb is to be emailing people maybe twice a week for the first half of the campaign, and gradually increase the number of emails the closer that you get to your target date.  And once you are within single digit days from your final day, you should be emailing every day.

Oh, and if you don’t have an established email list, that’s okay.  It’s not the end of the world.  If you are just starting out with your film – especially if it is your first – you most likely won’t have a huge email list, but you should be trying to capture emails as much as you can running up to the campaign. You’ll also be building it out as your run your campaign.  Friends and family and colleagues are generally going to be okay hearing from you, so add them too.  Email them about your project.  Just be sure to include a “if you’d like to unsubscribe from any of these emails” option at the bottom of your email.  Most friends and family wont unsubscribe.  And if they do, they shouldn’t be your family or friend anyway.  Haha.  Kidding.  No I’m not.


Use an intro video

Not unlike what I said earlier about embracing the use of social media, you should also be employing video often.  Again, people need to be hearing directly from you.  I can’t remember off the top of my head, but the percentage of successful crowdfunding campaigns that have a video intro on their page, verses those who do not have an intro video and are not successful… well, let’s just say that it is significant.  If you don’t use video anywhere else or at any other point in time during your funding campaign, you must at least have that intro video.

In your intro video you should not beat around the bush.  You should speak directly to your audience.  Tell them who you are, what your project is, why it’s so important that this film be made, and how their contributions will directly impact the success of your telethon… oh, sorry, I meant crowdfunding drive.

Again, I want to reiterate here the importance of people seeing you and connecting you to your project.  It’s much easier to ignore or say no to a person-less project that it is to a person who has an awesome project that they’d like you to be a part of.  Catch my drift?


Have fun

I’m serious here.  Have some fun with the crowdfund.  It’s probably going to be the only one you do for your film – maybe one of two – so you may as well embrace and enjoy the experience.  Which is exactly how you should treat it… as part of the documentary experience.  Like I said at the outset, crowdfunding has practically become a rite of passage for #doclifers.

To dig a little deeper with this, have fun in your social media posts.  Take crazy photos of you doing crazy things and put in crazy captions.  Draw attention to yourself, thereby drawing attention to your project.  Within good the bounds of good taste, of course, you do not want to turn people off to you or your project.  So certainly be sensible with what you’re doing.  But people like to see others enjoying themselves.  And if you’re enjoying raising funds for your passion project, people will eventually, naturally gravitate to your passion and your fun.  They will want to be a part of your fun and eventually your success.

When we were doing our Kickstarter for Elvis of Cambodia we ran this campaign that went slightly viral within the Cambodian and Cambodian refugee community.  We asked people to sing their favorite Sinn Sisamouth song and then tag someone else they wanted to see sing a song.  It went over far better than we would have thought, people had fun, and we raised a lot of awareness around the film and the Kickstarter campaign.

So be creative and have as much fun as possible.  Again, it’s a rite of passage for us #doclifers, might as well get into it!


Have you run a crowdfunding campaign? Was it successful? What were the biggest surprises you encountered? What tips do you have for other filmmakers? Share with us in the comments below.


Host and TDL Founder, Chris G Parkhurst

Chris is a documentary filmmaker and the founder and host of The Documentary Life, a platform which aims to inform and inspire documentary filmmakers from around the globe.

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