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Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers: Indie Film and the Power of the Crowd

Author Richard Botto offers crowdfunding advice for filmmakers in this except from his book.

30 Nov , 2017  

Written by Richard Botto | Posted by:

Author Richard “RB” Botto shares tips on crowdfunding for filmmakers with in an excerpt from his book Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers: Indie Film and the Power of the Crowd.

Actor, producer, screenwriter, and entrepreneur Richard “RB” Botto is the founder & CEO of Stage 32 (, the platform for connecting and educating film creatives. Prior to Stage 32, Botto was the founder, publisher and editor of Razor Magazine, a national men’s lifestyle magazine, which had a readership of 1.5 million at its peak. He has also appeared on such networks as Fox News, CNBC, CBS News, MSNBC and Bloomberg, speaking on the subjects of social media, networking, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, screenwriting, business, entrepreneurial practices, and more. Now he has added the title of author to his résumé with his recent book Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers: Indie Film and the Power of the Crowd.

Here, RB shares some crowdfunding tips with this excerpt from his book on the importance of building relationships with the people you want to fund your project.

A Guy Walks Into a Bar and Asks Everyone to Donate $1,000 to His Crowdfunding Campaign

….We’re ready to move on and discuss the ins and outs of running a successful crowdfunding campaign and, more specifically, how you can use crowdsourcing as a means toward significantly increasing your odds of running a successful campaign. For within every crowdfunding campaign, there is an element of crowdsourcing.  Make no mistake, there are a ton of other factors that can make or break a campaign. But, if you understand who your target audience is, how to create a compelling story around your project, and how to deliver that story in a involving way before you even think about launching a campaign, you’ll only need a sensible plan of execution to see considerable results.

Sounds easy right? Then why do so many projects fail? By the end of this chapter, I truly believe you’ll understand the many reasons why. But to get things rolling, let’s look at one critical mistake which, in reality, is more of a mindset problem than an actual execution issue.  Namely…

You Think Crowdfunding is About Money When It’s Really About Relationships

Enlarged photo of a dollar bill

What’s that you say, RB? I’m looking to get dough, bones, cheddar, Benjis, clams, lettuce. Perhaps you haven’t heard…It takes cash to make a movie. If I want a relationship, I’ll buy a dog, thank you very much.

My answer? Get on with your bad self. You’re clearing the field for those with a proper mindset.

In the early days of crowdfunding, Slava Rubin, the co-founder of Indiegogo said, “The world is shifting from a world of transactions to a world of relationships.” Those words were absolutely true then and ever more so today. Think about it from this perspective: by all accounts, people are busier than ever (or at least many claim to be). We’re all chasing that ever-elusive mistress named Free Time. We’re sleeping less and working more. We’re endlessly and relentlessly tethered to our electronic devices, going so far as to keep our smartphones by our pillow lest we miss an interesting email in the middle of the night. We’re being offered and consuming more media than ever before. We haven’t seen our closest friends in eons. For the third straight week we forgot to call mom. In fact, all of our relationships are suffering.

We’re tired. We’re weary. We’re distracted. We’re seriously considering hitting up that cool electronics trade show in Vegas in an effort to secure a couple of clones.

We wonder how we make it from day to day sometimes.

There’s a simple answer.

Because we have interests. We have goals. We’re motivated to accomplish and achieve.

Stay with me on this…I swear there’s a point.

My grandmother had a saying that a woman who married a man strictly for his money “couldn’t see past the dollar signs in her eyes.” The same could be said for many people running a crowdfunding campaign.  They see the end – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – but they haven’t mapped out a path or considered the complications and barriers they may face to travel over said rainbow. Even more shortsighted, they haven’t even considered the prospect that with proper planning and engagement, they can enlist a crowd so passionate and dedicated that it will carry them on their shoulders up and over that rainbow and to that pot of gold.

Some of the reasons for this shortsightedness were illustrated in the social media chapters and in other sections of this book: narcissism, hubris, ego, and simply a lack of self-education on how things operate. But the most common issue is that many people running a crowdfunding campaign see potential supporters as simply a means to the end, recognizable only by the number of greenbacks they choose to donate to the campaign. Much like my grandmother’s opinion of the woman who marries just for money, the love, if there is any, is conditional.

For someone running a crowdfunding campaign, this line of thinking is a killer mistake. The love should be unconditional and it should be flowing mostly from your side of the computer screen.

Earlier, I said that we all have interests. We all have goals. We’re all motivated to accomplish and achieve.

The shortsighted crowdfunding campaigner only recognizes his or her interests, his or her goals for launching a project, and his or her personal motivation to accomplish and achieve should the campaign be funded and the project move forward.

The smart and aware crowdfunding campaigner recognizes that the supporter of his or her campaign has interests – interests that have aligned themselves with either the project or the person (or people) campaigning.  The smart and aware campaigner recognizes that the supporter is a living, breathing human being with goals, one of which may be to altruistically support projects he or she feels worthy of his or her hard earned dollars. The smart and aware campaigner recognizes that the supporter is a person motivated to accomplish and achieve something – in this case supporting an artist he or she has connected with on some level.  Finally, the smart and aware campaigner recognizes that the supporter has his or her own dreams and aspirations but is taking time away from them to assist those of the campaigner.

In short, the smart and aware crowdfunding campaigner doesn’t see the supporter as a fat piggy bank, but as someone to nurture and build a relationship with. He or she realizes that they are indebted to the supporter and will do everything in their power, day in and day out, to not only show appreciation by staying in communication, but by delivering on all promises. He or she realizes that the onus of support is on them.

In recognizing all these things, the smart and aware campaigner understands that there is no significant, sustained financial support without significant and sustained relationships.

Got it? Good. Now let’s go be smart, aware and run a successful crowdfunding campaign.


Hands Working at Laptop Computer

When speaking on the subject of crowdfunding at various conferences, I always ask the following question: When do you believe a crowdfunding campaign begins? I would estimate that 90% of those who answer state that a campaign begins the second you hit the “Launch” button for your campaign page, effectively making it live for all to see. Many times I’ll hear that a campaign doesn’t begin until that first dollar is donated. At one recent event, I posed this question and a gruff gentleman barked at me that a campaign “doesn’t begin until it ends.”

Not wanting to waste the next 59 minutes and 20 seconds of the talk looking for reason within that folksy wisdom, I politely moved on.  But if anyone has a clue as to what the hell that means, feel free to hit me up on Stage 32.

The experts in the field, those who run or work for crowdfunding platforms or those who have many successful campaigns under their belts all have their theories as to when a campaign really starts.  John T. Trigonis, Campaign Strategist for Film at Indiegogo and author of the terrific and highly recommended Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign says: “Realistically, I tell people that a crowdfunding campaign begins long before you click the ‘Launch’ button on a campaign and send out your first emails. There are tons of things to consider: planning out the campaign, of course, but also strategizing, delegating responsibilities, putting together a calendar, and planning ahead on how to handle the inevitable lull every campaign goes through. But really, crowdfunding begins with crowdfinding, or, in other words, crowdsourcing. For that reason alone, I recommend all my campaigners begin their relationship building and outreach months in advance, spending time on blogs, websites, social media and any other places they’ve identified as places where working their way into the community will be mutually beneficial. These efforts are intended to prove to the those likely to support the project that the campaigner truly sees them as something much more than a dollar sign which, of course, will serve them well once the campaign goes live.”

Some sage advice from John. Some of what he speaks we’ve seen put into practice in the case studies we’ve highlighted thus far. But for the purposes of this section, let’s focus on one point:  John suggests starting a campaign months before hitting the “Launch” button. He’s certainly not in the minority on that notion. In doing my research for this book, I never had one person who has either worked for a social media platform or run a successful campaign state that a pre-campaign should last less than 2 months before actually going live.

It might not surprise you to learn that I have my own opinion on this subject and, well, since it’s my book, I’m gonna express it.

A crowdfunding campaign begins 3-6 months before you hit the “Launch” button. Here’s why:

1 – Running a Crowdfunding Campaign is a Full Time Job

Woman Working at Computer

I know it’s numbered and in bold type, but I’ll repeat it again anyway. Running a crowdfunding campaign is a full time job.

Don’t want to take my word for it? Timon Birkhofer, producer of the first documentary ever on the crowdfunding revolution, Capital C, which itself was crowdfunded successfully to the tune of $84,298, has this to say on the subject: “In doing our research for the film, we explored a wide number and variety of campaigns. There were common mistakes, but the number one reason for a campaign’s failure was simply that the people running the campaign would launch the project on a random crowdfunding platform (without much, if any, research) and then lean back and wait for the money to magically appear. This will not happen, not at all. Crowdfunding is full time work, a job in and about itself. It should be treated with the same respect and sincerity as you would treat any other way of raising funds”

Your pre-launch campaign is going to require a ton of research. What campaigns similar to yours have worked? What innovative perks did they offer? What media did they present to their followers? How often did they post? Is there contact information for those who have run certain successful campaigns available so you can discuss what went right and wrong during their campaign? These questions and many more will need to be researched and answered to your satisfaction before moving forward.

Additionally, there will be researching efforts regarding the crowdsourcing aspect of the campaign. Who is your audience? Where are they located? Are there bloggers or journalists working in the space? Are there entities and/or organizations (online and offline) that might have a common interest regarding the subject matter of your project you can reach out to? What social media platforms do you need to be on to reach them? Are you familiar with how these networks operate, or will there be research involved here as well?

Have this all under control? Ready to get a couple of hours of rest? Fugghedaboutit! You haven’t even begun to think about what media you’re going to produce to entice and attract your potential supporters. Is it going to be photos? Video files?  Audio files? How many? How often are you going to post?

But wait, there’s more…There will be posts and comments from your supporters to answer and address – a constant stream of information to be provided for a hungry, motivated and passionate crowd. Remember, the internet doesn’t sleep! The doors are open 24-7. And, wait, is that someone bashing you, your talents and your project? He or she needs to be dealt with too.

Hey, stay awake. You still need to set perks. Giving away various promotional products with the movie logo? Gotta get those designed and printed. And wait a second, are those your only perks? You better brew yourself another cup of coffee. It’s time to dig down and get more creative and innovative.

What’s that you say? I’m sorry, you sound dazed. It’s a lot of work for one person? Very true. Listen, filmmaking is hard work. So is running a crowdfunding campaign. Filmmaking is also a collaborative process. So is (or certainly should be) running a crowdfunding campaign. To that end…

2 – You Need a Team

Business Colleagues Together Teamwork Working Office

If you do your research on successful film crowdfunding campaign, no matter what the subject matter, whether it’s a short, a documentary or a feature, there is almost always one common denominator: the campaign was run by an organized team who rotated responsibilities. Even only a two person team cuts the workload and time responsibility in half. Imagine if you could find four people to buy in? Six? Ten?

Building a team should be fun and exciting. It should create a bigger groundswell for what you’re doing and enhance the crowdsourcing aspect of the campaign simply by virtue of having more voices singing the sweet tune of the project reaching a greater potential audience in the process. But remember, the bigger the team, the more organization that’s required. You don’t necessarily want too many “voices” on the actual campaign page posting and commenting. In the instance of having too many people, split up the responsibilities. On an eight person team for example, maybe two people handle the communication on the actual campaign page, two handle the social media outreach, two people handle the bloggers and reporters, and two people handle the producing of all media to be shared with potential supporters. But the key word is “communication”. Make sure, no matter how the responsibilities are divvied up, that the team still communicates on a daily basis. A crowdfunding campaign is a living, breathing thing with ebbs and flows and a personality unto itself. That means the entire team needs to talk to one another and stay flexible if a change in strategy is needed mid stream.

A team united for the common good of the project will bring to your campaign energy and a diversity of ideas. It will almost guarantee that things never get stale. But remember, a poorly picked team can cause dissension and sabotage the campaign from within. Choose your campaign brethren wisely.           

3- Building an Audience Takes Time and Can Evolve Over Time

Multicolored Game Pieces on Board

As we’ve discussed a few times in this book, the “Build it and they will come” crowdfunding strategy rarely, if ever, is successful. And as you’ve seen in the various case studies which had a crowdfuding component throughout this book, building an audience was paramount to not only the success of the campaign, but to the overall success of the project upon being distributed. But building an audience, one which is fully engaged and compelled to act on behalf of either you or the subject/mission of the project (or both), takes a huge investment of time and creativity.

Significant social media followings do not happen overnight (unless you purchase followers/Likes, which we’ve already identified as an “empty calorie” approach). Researching and identifying bloggers, journalists, organizations and the like which can help your cause takes time. And, once you’ve identified them, contacting, communicating and convincing them to take the journey with you (or not) can take weeks or months. Crowdsourcing is more about groundswell than viral. And a groundswell happens over time.

Further still, you may discover as you move along that your targets shift ever so slightly either based on audience response or due to new elements within the project – script changes, new locales, and the like. Or you may find yourself targeting a new audience entirely. These discoveries can be as easily made in the pre-launch campaign as they might be during the campaign or post campaign initiatives.

Award winning director, producer and media strategist, Jon Reiss (who you might also remember from being on my crowdsourcing panel at AFM) says: “I think it’s obviously very helpful to have a sense of your audience at inception. But I also think that often there are many underserved niche communities that filmmakers who want to get a jump on having a successfully engaged project before moving forward should consider. This requires drilling down a bit more. For projects that are not targeted to a specific niche, often a filmmaker will discover that their knowledge and conception of their audience might change over time and they should embrace this need to be flexible. Filmmakers should be open to discovering more audiences and getting specific about their audience as the process of the film evolves. This even and, in certain instances, especially includes after they start to screen the project in various stages.

I would caution filmmakers against starting engagement if they have not thought through how they are going to sustain that engagement through the end of distribution. I would recommend starting when you are sure you will be able to sustain that engagement.”

So you see, it’s vitally important that you build in the time to truly identify as many audiences as possible, plan how you are going to approach these audiences so that they will remain engaged for the long term, and have a collective team mindset of flexibility and open-mindedness.

We’ve talked many, many times already about finding ways to set yourself apart from the competition and rise above the noise. Allowing yourself a 3-6 month window to plan, perfect and execute a pre-launch strategy will give you an enormous advantage, I promise you.

For more on setting up, running, and following up on your campaign, get RB’s book Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers: Indie Film and the Power of the Crowd on Amazon.

Richard “RB” Botto is the founder & CEO of Stage 32 (, the world’s largest online platform for connecting and educating film creatives. Called “LinkedIn for film creatives” by Forbes, Stage 32 boasts a half million members and over 1,000 hours of education. Prior to Stage 32, Botto was the founder, publisher and editor of Razor Magazine, a national men’s lifestyle magazine, which had a readership of 1.5 million at its peak. Botto is also an actor, producer and screenwriter. His latest screenplay, The End Game, is in production at Covert Media. Botto is a much sought-after speaker, teaching and mentoring around the world. He has also appeared on such networks as Fox News, CNBC, CBS News, MSNBC and Bloomberg, speaking on the subjects of social media, networking, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, screenwriting, business, entrepreneurial practices, and more. You can purchase his book Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers: Indie Film and the Power of the Crowd on Amazon.