Crowd funding lessons from Scott Mannion, Aussie filmmaker with ambition!

Aussie filmmaker Scott Mannion contacted me two ears ago as he had taken my online Gone Fishing seminar and had decided to go on his own similar adventure. I asked him to share what he learned on his journey and in particular crowd sourcing.

Scott begins with some questions to ask yourself BEFORE running a crowd funding campaign.

“Have I done enough research into successful projects?”
“Is my pitch video/campaign as considered and thought through as the film itself?”
“Have I thought about the WHY, rather than the HOW OR WHAT in terms of my potential supporters?”
“Have I thought about the Cost Vs Benefits of using crowd funding”
“Would it be smarter and more time effective to just raise the finances privately?”
“Is my social network large enough to support the funding goal?”
“Does my project have a marketing hook? Do I have a marketing plan?”
“Have I researched the market, and projects like mine?”
“Could I host the campaign myself? Rather then giving 10%-6% of my budget to a hosting website like Kickstarter?”

Two years ago I was given a chance to check out Chris Jones’ Seminar on how he made ‘Gone Fishing’ and I, like many others, was inspired, and decided to crowd source my project with a similar dramatic goal of getting on the Oscar shortlist. This started a two year roller-coaster ride of learning that has taught me more about modern filmmaking than any film school or textbook could. For this reason, I would like to share some of the things I learned along the way.

Know what you’re getting into.
Crowd sourcing is a serious commitment of personal time. There’s a myth out there that it’s some sort of magic wand when it comes to raising finance, and this is simply and illusion. The most successful campaigns have teams of people working on their marketing. On my project, I was alone for the majority of the campaign, and the sheer amount of time that I had to put in across the whole spectrum of the project (within two year period) was mind boggling. This included:

  • Campaign and marketing planning and research
  • Campaign and marketing producing
  • Social media maintenance
  • Website maintenance, learning website development
  • Photoshop and design + learning.

At the height of the campaign these responsibilities were a full time job, and that’s not including all the other work time needed for writing, directing and producing the film itself. If you’ve decided to do most of the work yourself within the campaign, make sure you understand that you are going to be committing most, if not all of your spare time to these things, especially if you want to be successful. And even then, with all this time you need to commit, success is not guaranteed, several factors are at play.

The personal social network
When I broke down the statistics of my Kickstarter project, I quickly realized that the majority of the money was coming from people I knew or had some loose connection to me. No crowd sourcing platform will help you promote your project. Most projects are hidden in some dark corner of the Kickstarter website. It’s completely up to the project producer to push it out to the people, and these people are most likely going to have some connection to you.

This comes down to pure psychology. For someone to trust you with their hard earned cash, they’re much more likely to believe in you and believe in the project if they have a personal connection to you; so if you have a large social network, you already have an advantage.

This is probably the most powerful element one needs to think about when considering crowd sourcing a small project, everything else comes after this. It’s also worth considering when deciding how high to set your fund-raising goal (We raised $10,000). Your established personal visibility, and whatever visibility you can generate, is going to make or break your project (another point to remember, is when you are dealing with personal relationships, you can only really tap this well once, or twice as most, so make it count!)

*This also raises the question: “is it worth 10% of your budget to use one of these hosting websites when it’s coming from your own social network anyway?” Well, what you’re paying for is the legal framework, and the payment and website framework, which is valuable for a small project. If you had a large feature project, I would advise doing it yourself. The marketing is the most valuable resource, and they give no support with this. The larger the amount raised, the more they take of it. And the larger your initial campaign budget, the less worth a website like this has.

The Pitch
It’s about the audience, not you. Yes, explain yourself, your objectives, goals, and project, but structure your video in a way that makes the audience feel they could be part of something. Frankly, this is the biggest mistake that even the largest and most experienced teams make. Life is not a charity, and it’s not about the WHAT (they get), or HOW (you’re going to make the project), it’s about the WHY (they should donate). Humans are emotional creatures, you need to connect with and inspire them, not just offer them rewards. A film is not just a product, it’s a projection of an emotion; an idea.

You are not selling a product, you are selling an IDEA. So give them an idea to get behind. Pitch the journey you can offer the audience with the same kind of skill and psychological mastery you put into the story itself. Use their fantasies, their hopes, their dreams. Offer them a way to live through you and your project, to experience what they always wanted of themselves but through you.

Establish trust; shoot a trailer, concept art, story boards, music. Show them what you are capable of, which will enable them to trust you to complete the project to a high standard. In my case, we shot a trailer.

*It’s also worth noting, that if you can somehow manage to make content that takes advantage of an established audience, you are going to have a MUCH easier time of raising the finance for your film. People are already interested; you have an audience to pitch to, which is half the challenge for original content. See Blue Like Jazz, Troll Bridge. Both are Kickstarter projects which well exceeded their goals and had established audiences.

The Hook
The beauty of crowd-scouring is not just in the fund-raising, it’s the education in marketing and the reward of building an audience and fan base right from the get go. When thinking of the project you want to write, you need to be thinking of a marketing hook. This could be a current issue or theme in the script, or something innovative or controversial, (in our case, it was technology addiction). I’ll leave this for you to decide, but these things will also help you at film festivals, and get you that much needed coverage. Nobody but you is going to push this out to the media outlets. You need to do the groundwork.

The next step is using your creatives to generate coverage. Fill your cast and crew with people who are experienced and known, this will generate trust in your supporters if you are a first time filmmaker, as well as possibly allow you to gain some coverage, especially if it’s a A-list actor who has signed on to your project. You’re playing a long chess game here. You have to spend a great deal of time planning from the top down and strategically acquiring talent which will get you noticed.  One thing leads to another, acquiring good talent, attracts other talent. You are looking for public awareness in people who support the project, as well as people working within the project. (But not at the sacrifice of the quality of the work)

How are you going to stay motivated and get through the titan amount of work? My answer is FEAR. Fear is a powerful motivator, fear of failure, fear of letting people down, fear of making a bad film. If you can use this force (and not let is rule you) it will be of great assistance. Set up a huge goal, (as Chris did) publicly, and drop the boulder down the cliff, with the rope connected to your leg. It’s amazing what a mind will do to avoid public embarrassment and failure. Become obsessed with the work, live it, breathe it, love it. Remind yourself that it’s the process that a filmmaker must fall in love with, not the want of the result. With Anima, we are just at the start of the festival campaign for out film, and I can tell you, it’s not a reward based mentality that will get you through your darkest hours, it’s the obsession and love. But most of all, remember that you are a human first, and an artist and filmmaker second. Be a person that is looking to grow with people, not use them, and people will naturally be attracted to your cause.

Fear is an indicator (at least in art) for that which you should pursue, and my project had plenty. Fear was a compass for the directions I chose and I have learned to be bold in the face of fear, to use. If we are bold, many rewards will come. If we are bold, people will help us, join us, and become our allies, even great friends. Boldness is the enemy of resistance and procrastination. Show the world you’re bold, and the world will tip its hat to you, with a wink and a smile.

When evaluating whether crowd sourcing is worth doing, one must consider all the things I have mentioned above. It’s a calculated risk, and it depends on every filmmaker’s circumstances and their funding needs. In my position, I was time rich, and money poor, but with the education in marketing and audience building alone, it was worth the mammoth commitment in time to host and create this campaign. The relationships I’ve made, the things I’ve learned (In the campaign and within the film-making process itself, shooting at a world class standard) have changed me as a filmmaker and a man.

I think you can get to a certain point where book knowledge won’t take you any further; you just have to go out and shoot. As I was filming, much of the advice from books and other directors started to make much more sense.

Whether it’s though this method or not, the important thing is that you take action. Nothing you will read will prepare you completely for what you are about to undertake.

With some things, you have to experience to truly learn. Andre Tarkofsky said, “You can’t inherit life, you must experience it.”

If you do choose to act, going down this path or another, you are about to go on a daunting, fearful, horrible, wonderful, awe inspiring ride. Don’t forget to take in the moment, because it’s gone in a flash.

Good hunting, and see you at the cinema


Thanks for sharing Scott. If you want to know more about the Gone Fishing seminar you can read about it here, and I think the new year offer is still active, so you can grab it half price.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
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