I wanted to make a film that nobody explicitly asked for, I asked strangers to give me money so that I can make it happen, and they did! In this series of articles, I’m looking back at what happened last month and trying to understand what has made this crowd funding campaign successful. Note that this is a naïve analysis of someone who’s tried for the first time ever to get people to finance one of his projects. Some of my remarks might seem common sense depending on your background, but I’m just sharing my thoughts, as they might be useful to someone out there.
The origin story
A few months ago, I decided I wanted to make a documentary about one of my hobbies, Historical European Martial Arts (or HEMA). After interviewing a bunch of people and attending FightCamp (a gathering of HEMA practitioners in England), I realised that in order for me to make the documentary I wanted, I would need to travel to a number of countries and talk to a variety of people.
There were two main reasons why I wanted to make this documentary:
1. There’s a lot of confusion and misunderstandings about what HEMA entails.
2. I didn’t find any descriptive video that would clear the aforementioned confusion in terms that people who are alien to this activity would understand.
So I decided to make my own. For the reasons listed above, I knew that the community as a whole would have some interest in such a documentary existing, so there was a chance of people willing to be helpful in a financial fashion. My state of mind at the time was really “every penny helps”, and I wasn’t necessarily after a lot of money. After all, I already pretty much all the equipment I needed to make this film. What I didn’t have was the money to travel to the various locations I wanted to go to.
The Kickstarter bandwagon
Initially, my idea was to go for a crowd funding platform where there’s no target and where I receive all the money I’m given (like GoFundMe), as I didn’t want to have to deal with offering rewards that Kickstarter backers are usually looking after (more on that in a future post).
Eventually I changed my mind, because I thought that Kickstarter being a more popular platform, more people would be trusting it, and thus potentially more would be pledging. Also, trying to reach a goal would give me an indication of how badly people wanted this documentary and whether the project was actually worth the trouble. And there’s the fact that people are more likely to give you money if you give them something in return, so rewards.
The first thing I wanted to tackle in the preparation of the campaign was making a video for it. Most Kickstarter project videos I’ve seen are about a person (or more) explaining who they are, what the project is about, and why they (desperately or not) need your help. Pretty standard stuff you’d think, but I decided not to go down that path, for a few reasons.
First, I’m not a great speaker, and I was afraid that literally trying to talk people into supporting my project would backfire. Secondly, I wanted to show that I know what I’m talking about and that I can produce decent quality content despite working solo. Lastly, I wanted to give people an idea of what the full film would be about. So I decided to make a trailer, nothing more, nothing less.
I’ve actually been criticised for making the video that way, with some people telling me that it was “a terrible Kickstarter video” because it wasn’t “pushing people’s emotional buttons”. It did seem to have some truth to it at the beginning, as while the video was shared quite a lot early in the campaign (over 200 Facebook shares in a couple of days), it didn’t generate many pledges. I can see two reasons for that.
The first one has to do with how Facebook deals with Kickstarter links. If you don’t leave the link to the Kickstarter page in the post, Facebook will leave you with just an embedded video, making it not massively obvious that’s there something behind the video.
The second issue was compounded by the first one. Because of my decision to make just a trailer and the way I edited it, the video felt pretty much self-contained. Coupled with the Facebook embed issue mentioned above, it was easy for people to miss the point of the video entirely. I even saw someone use the video as a promotional tool for their own HEMA group, without mentioning that there was something to support there. On the flip side, it did mean the trailer was doing a pretty good job at being a summary, so at least I can be please with that.
What I’m taking away from this is that a simple trailer definitely works, and while you don’t have to go full-on “please give me money”, making it explicit within the video that it is a fund raising campaign is definitely be helpful. And according to the video statistics (only half the viewers watched the video to the end), it’s better to do it near the beginning of the video. Also, making sure to have an explicit link to the Kickstarter page wherever you share it to make sure that everyone can get there.
In part 2, we’ll take a look at how I came up with my funding target, and the slight surprises that a Kickstarter campaign tends to bring when it comes to money.