I talked to novelist Bill Torgerson about the creative process here: http://thetorg.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/false-profit-a-mockumentary-indie-film-about-the-financial-crisis-the-bailout-and-occupy-wall-street/
I haven’t listened yet, but it was a really interesting interview.
The incredible Horace Dediu inspired me to make this experiment and has helped me along the way. I wrote a bunch of articles with his audience in mind and I wanted to create one place you could see them all.
As always, I’m happy to write these and share what I know with the world, but I would appreciate it if you could head over to my kickstarter page and back us, to help us make our movie. It’s not expensive! A tweet or a Facebook like of this page or the kickstarter page would also be greatly helpful. Thanks.
- Ultimate Guide to Kickstarter Success
- What works and doesn’t on Kickstarter (and what surprises us)
- Kickstarter is the new Roger Corman film school.
Disruption in Entertainment
- What’s the job we hire entertainment to do? (A response to a question on Asymco.com)
- 8 Ways technology is going to disrupt the tv/movie business
- Old business models for disruptive new releases (coming soon)
The Creative Process
NOTE: If you’ve enjoyed these articles, please go to our kickstarter page and make a pledge. It’s the surest way to ensure more of them.
This post is highly speculative and only my opinion.
Many of the technological improvements in writing film and television have been realized in the last thirty years with the adaptation of wordprocessors and specialized writing software, not to mention the ease of research the internet has brought
The coolest most recent improvement is the excellent Fountain, a markdown based markup language for easily writing scripts in any text editor, not just final draft.
1. Collaboration – Although tools exist, they aren’t very good yet. The ability for two screenwriters to collaborate over the net as well as if they were in the same room is the holy grail. It’ll probably include some sort of video chat functionality, plus the ability to edit the same document, with versioning and possibly the ability to share research materials and to create assignments for each screenwriter, or even a team. Of course, you could probably hack up such a system today, and some teams, like The Colbert Report are developing their own system, but it’s not seamless yet and it won’t be universal until it is. This is a fantastic opportunity for a clever app developer to disrupt Final Draft. If you want to do this, contact me and I’d be happy to help you design with common needs of screenwriters in mind.
Pre-production is another area where many of the traditional tasks have been greatly streamlined in recent years by computers: bugdeting, scheduling, etc. Not to mention pre-visualization using computer generated animatics (like animated storyboards).
2. Crowdsourced Financing – Kickstarter.com is a great start, but the truly revolutionary step may come when independent filmmakers can crowdsource investment by selling equity. This day is probably not that far away, given Congress’s recent actions. One of the slowest part of making a film right now is finding the money to make it happen. The slow speed of this can actually inflate the cost of making the movie.
3. HDR, Large Sensor, Easy to Use Cameras - We are in the midst of a digital revolution with film and video cameras and disruption is happening in three places. On the low end, cheap still cameras like the Sony Hx9v can already provide nearly ENG quality images under the right conditions. The automatic settings are faster, better, and within a generation or two will be eminently usable. Low end video cameras today are incredible. Meanwhile, DSLRs using both new and old lenses allow us to shoot footage the approaches and exceeds the quality of 16mm and 35mm film, for just a few thousand dollars. Black Swan used them. So did Red Tails, and that was made by George Lucas, who knows a thing or two about camera quality. Firmware hacks push these cameras even further. Combine the automatic abilities of todays dedicated video cameras and add the sensor size and quality of large sensor DSLRs and interchangeable lenses and you’d have an incredible camera. Add a generation or two of rapid improvements–even more resolution, higher dynamic range, more human like or even easier auto focusing–plus improved audio recording capabilities and you’ll have an incredible camera. Meanwhile, high end, five digit cameras like the Red Epic and Arri Alexa are now the defacto standard in Hollywood. When I started, no Hollywood film had yet been shot in entirety on an HD camera. Now almost all are. And there’s been a saying going around, that you can now make a movie that looks like it cost a million for just a quarter, thanks to these new cameras, which require less setup, less time, and less complex lighting. This means less setup time, the ability to shoot in more confined spaces (making it easier to control the space), and fewer people. Crews are already smaller than they were when I started and budgets correspondingly lower. This means more work in many cases, as companies that couldn’t previously afford commercials or original content now can. There’s still room for this to improve, and the quality of the image from these low budget crews will soon be nearly indistinguishable from a Hollywood movie by an untrained eye.
4. Easier sound recording – There’s a lot to be said here, but I’m going to save it for a later post, because I have an idea that I think might disrupt here, but I need to research first.
5. Virtual Sets – Tosh.0 is shot in front of a green screen. Or just take a look at this incredible reel. What Tosh.0 does is easy. The second reel is much harder and more expensive, but has already allowed big budget shows to create cinematic shots that only blockbuster movies could have afforded previously. With software improvements, it might someday be as easy as Tosh.0. Already, there’s software that can replace expensive motion tracking cameras, even on shots where you didn’t plan for it. I’ve used it and even an amateur can do amazing things. This is the future, even if it’s just to make small, less expensive practical sets look much bigger. And when I say the future, I mean a lot of shows are already starting to do this to save money. Soon it’ll be the domain of the very low budget filmmaker too.
6. Non-linear editing systems – The final cut pro on my laptop is far more powerful than the final cut pro Cold Mountain was edited on, and my Macbook Pro is 4 years old. I’m personally a huge fan of Final Cut Pro X, although it is missing some critical pro functions. That doesn’t matter. There’s a generation of web shows and soon regular shows made with small crews. Producers and directors are more sophisticated at editing their own shows, without the use of a professional editor. These editors (and sound designers) will still have a place on medium and high budget content, of course, but it’s enabled a whole class of low budget video work on the web. And those editors don’t need a team of assistants, like they did in the old days, allowing them to focus not on the technical stuff, but on the artistic choices. And they can do it faster, on far cheaper and more portable equipment.
7. Special Effects – Monsters was made for $300,000 on a consumer camcorder and using a laptop in the director’s bedroom for editing and special effects. Here’s a Half-Life fan film made for $500 on consumer equipment. These are anomalies, of course, but fewer people can create incredible special effects for far less money on consumer hardware and software. Serenity was made for $39 million. It would be less today. Clever independent filmmakers who work the way Roger Corman did can make incredible special effects films very inexpensively.
Animation has gotten better and cheaper by leaps and bounds over the last 30 years. Traditional 2D animation was outsourced, with the important frames drawn by relatively expensive American animators and the “in-between” frames drawn by cheap animators in countries like Korea (who also ink and color the frames in many cases). That’s what allowed shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy to suddenly proliferate, they were far cheaper than in the 1960′s, when they were made in America.
It got cheaper still when computers replaced a lot of the manual labor outsourced to Korea. Almost all animation uses some degree of computer animation today. The Simpsons is still drawn by hand, but it’s colored on a computer. But in cheaper animation, like you see on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim computer software like Toon Boom does the “in-betweening” too and automates all sorts of tasks, like difficult camera moves that were impossible or incredibly tedious in the old days.
3D animation has also come down greatly in cost, as evidenced by low budget 3D animated movies. However, I believe there’s an opportunity with…
8. Low budget, easy to use 3d animation software, based on video game engines – These have been around for years. XtraNormal.com is almost what I’m talking about. Machinima makers like Rooster Teeth use existing games and lots of patience to create films. The NaturalMotion Endorphin engine used in Grand Theft Auto 4 offers scintillating new possibilities. However, the amount of control users have has to increase, without getting substantially more difficult. This is another potentially disruptive software for a patient app maker. It’s all about design at this point. Make it look great, make it easy to control the characters and the camera, and make lots of models and sets available. If a market were created and it were as easy to buy models and sets as it is to buy apps from the app store, you would have small teams and individuals proliferating the internet with content. Most would be short films, some would be feature length or TV shows. Most would be crap. But it would allow more independence to the people who know what they’re doing (or are patient enough to learn) and you’d have some real break out stars. I’ll bet Jeff Michalski would make something.
This is an incomplete list and will be updated as I think of more things. Please check back.
If you enjoyed this article or others, see how we’re making use of many of these technologies to make a great comedy for far less than $1 million at Kickstarter.com. And help us out by making a pledge. Thanks
NOTE: If you’ve enjoyed these articles, please go to our kickstarter page and make a pledge. It’s the surest way to ensure more of them.
What is the Job we Hire Entertainment to do?
The obvious answer is that we use entertainment to fill the extra hours of the day. When we’re not working, eating, procreating, cleansing ourselves or participating in any number of other necessary human tasks.
But I think that’s too simple an answer. If it’s simply to fill the time, why do we prefer one form of entertainment to another? And wouldn’t it be more efficient for our bodies to just shut down and go into hibernation mode when we had extra time? That way we could survive using less food.
My thesis: Entertainment teaches us skills we are evolved to learn. Our brains have evolved to be learning machines and in a nomadic, pre-historic society, most of this learning happened in every day life–hunting and gathering and surviving. As humans started settling down in one place, we did have free time, but still had the urge to practice and learn these skills, so we started hiring entertainment to do it.
This is similar to the way dogs, or dolphins or other mammals have strong desires to play.
8 Primal Needs for Which we Hire Entertainment
- Pattern Recognition – Almost all forms of entertainment contain some kind of pattern. Our brain makes sense of the world by recognizing patterns and has adapted to love this pattern recognition. Not only do we love to recognize patterns, we love to recognize more and more difficult patterns. Patterns that are too easy for us to recognize are boring. Patterns that are too hard are frustrating. This is why some entertainment engages some people but not others. The gaming industry is heavy on this element. (For more information on this, I highly recommend A Theory of Fun by Raph Koster) By the way, all a narrative is is a complex pattern.
- Emotion - We also seek entertainment products to move us emotionally. We go to sad movies, or scary ones, even movies that make us angry. Some of these offer positive emotional experiences–Steven Spielberg made a career out of movies that fill us with wonder. But why would anyone pay to be angry for two hours? Well, think of a movie about an underdog lawyer, like Erin Brokavich. We spend 2 hours angry at the injustice so that at the end we can have the relief of something having been done. Well done movies which scare us, make us angry, etc, often leave us feeling the opposite at the end. It’s a safe way to experience these ups and downs of life and they leave us feeling better afterwards. Music often contains a great deal of emotional content.
- Social Observation - We are a social animal programmed to enjoy watching the behavior and relationships unfolding between people. We have lived in social settings since before we were recognizably human. There are many social clues we need to be able to decode (who’s the alpha male, which pairs have especially strong bonds, etc) and entertainment can help us practice so much. This instinct is so strong that many of our movies anthropomorphize animals or even inanimate objects to have human-like relationships. Movies, television, and theater are heavy on this stuff. Shakespeare was the all-time master of recording realistic human behavior, which is why we still read his plays.
- Unique Aesthetic - We love to see something aesthetically unique that we haven’t seen before. Avatar, the Matrix, and Star Wars all succeeded in part because of this, as did painters like Mondrian, Picasso, Rothko, etc.
- Insight - On a content or thematic level, we often hire entertainment products to provide us with insight, often philosophical insight. The best entertainment products offer either moral conflicts or choices between values. The best pieces of entertainment have a POV, a judgment, an opinion about which is better, or point out something to us about the world that maybe we hadn’t thought about before. I don’t know about you, but I had my mind blown thinking about the meaninglessness of life when I read Camus’s The Stranger in high school. Insight is often the purview of great literature.
- Reaffirming narratives -The best stories organically lead us to think about the world in a way we never did before. But in contrast to this, we also respond strongly when shown evidence that confirms what we already believe, especially if we believe that narrative is controversial. This is the world of propaganda: Fox News, Michael Moore, Sergei Eisenstein, etc.
- Irony- Irony is when what is actually true is the opposite of what we expect to be true. Many of the categories above can contain irony, and we’re fascinated by irony because it shows that our expectations are incorrect…it signals to our brain that our current way of recognizing patterns isn’t perfect. Our brains love to learn and improve their pattern recognition skills, so when what actually happens isn’t just different from our expectation, but actually the opposite of what we expect, it fills us with glee.
- Simulated Social experience - Again, we’re a social animal and in addition to examining others behaving, we like to hang out with others. Sitcoms do this really well, often inviting us into the living rooms of some of the coolest people we could know. Come on, we all feel like we know Ross and Rachel and Joey and Chandler, having hung out with them so much, right?
This is an incomplete list, but I think it supports my point: We hire entertainment to fulfill certain primal needs.
This isn’t much different than other parts of human nature. We hire food to provide us with the nutrients and calories we need to survive, but that doesn’t explain why we sometimes crave strawberries or skittles or steak. We need specific nutrients so we crave them, but our brains evolved in a time of scarcity, so today we over gorge on junk foods that provide these nutrients in abundance. A more perfect brain would adapt.
Similarly, our brain is evolved to gain satisfaction from certain activities that helped us improve our brains ability to learn and adapt in pre-historic times. Entertainment is to daily activity what a hot fudge sunday is to our need for calories.
NOTE: If you’ve enjoyed these articles, please go to our kickstarter page and make a pledge. It’s the surest way to ensure more of them.
This post is Part II of another post. In the previous post, I talked about how I conceived the idea for False Profit and how I think creative conception works.
In this post, the hero is Josh Zepps, my co-writer/producer, who filled in the work. I’m also going to discuss YES AND, a technique we use in the comedy world that is a wonderful tool for creativity.
Finishing the Concept
I texted the idea to my creative partner, Josh. Josh got back to me the next morning to tell me he liked it. I don’t remember if it was on the phone or when we sat down to discuss it, but he then Yes Anded me, adding a key piece to it: “Yes, it’s a comedy about the financial crisis. And I can play a guy who’s there every step of the way, like Forrest Gump or Zelig.
“Yes and,” I said, “that guy created the crisis.”
“Yes and,” He said, “he broke the economy and now he’s trying to fix it.”
“Yes and as he tries to fix it, he breaks more things. He creates TARP and that creates the tea party.”
“Yes and not only did he create the crisis…he created everything else. Even Occupy Wall Street.”
“Yes. The more he tries to fix it, the more he makes things worse. That’s our movie!”
I’m not sure this was the order of things, but it really did happen fast. After one or two short meetings we had the whole concept and much of the outline worked out and we were happy with it.
We had to go back and edit and refine of course, but we were able to do so much faster because we Yes Anded each other.
Yes and is a technique we use in improv comedy. It’s a rule, a formula, an unwritten agreement, to ensure creativity and to push the participants to come up with new ideas that have never been seen before…in about thirty seconds.
It’s a really easy technique, but it takes lots of practice to get it right. It has two parts:
- Always say Yes – Whatever the other person’s idea is, it’s genius. Say yes to it. It’s now a part of your idea.
- Add to it – don’t just agree with him, now you add something, anything. Something that’s a direct response to the first statement or something that’s totally different.
You just repeat this a few times and within a few seconds you have an incredible idea that no one would have thought of on their own.
Of course, only a handful of them are going to be any good. It doesn’t matter. Your company could spend a half hour a week brainstorming and come up with over a hundred very different ideas. I’m sure 10 out of 100 are good and 2-3 are excellent ideas.
If This, Then That
Now Josh and I didn’t just respond with random things, the bits each of us added were related to each other. It’s a skill that’s developed over time, but there’s a principle that should help.
Some people (including Josh) like to call it if this, then that and it’s exactly that. If this is true, then that must be true too. If this guy created the financial crisis, then he must have wanted to fix it.
Another way to think about it, is to think that I’m just responding to the last thing said. Response requires you to take in what was said and give an answer related to what was said. The answer is Yes, we’ve already defined that, so I just add another piece of information that’s related.
A non-movie example
This is a hypothetical brainstorming session between two iPhone developers trying to come up with their next app. I’m writing it alone, trying to Yes And myself, but I think it works:
Developer 1: We should make an app that solves one of the problems about parking your car.
Developer 2: Yes and I can never find a parking space anywhere.
Developer 1: Yes and you don’t want to pay for parking in a lot when you only need to run a five minute errand.
Developer 2: Yes andt’s great when you have a friend in the car who can run in and pickup the dry cleaning or whatever.
Developer 1: Yes and fhat if the app gave you a friend who could run in and do your errand.
Developer 2: Yes and we could employ the homeless.
Developer 1: Yes and you offer $5 to run an errand and an alert goes out to homeless people in the area telling them where you are, what you need, and how much you’re offering.
Developer 2: Yes and we’ll call it Homeless Valet.
Will this idea work? I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the app idea I went in their expecting to write. These guys could take a coffee break and come back and start a new one with, “I want an app for the sports fan side of me…” Do it ten or twenty times and I’ll be they have a winner.
- Saying No – It might seem obvious, but all too often people who plan to Yes And, end up saying no. It’s an attitude adjustment and it takes some training. Just say Yes!
- Yes But – I’m saying yes to your idea, but then immediately negating it. EG, Yes, I hate parking too, but there’s already too many apps that solve the problem.
- Just saying Yes – You say yes, but fail to add anything, or add too little to move forward. EG, Yes I hate parking too.
These are powerful techniques. If you want to learn more about Yes And and improvisation, I highly recommend two books: Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out by Mick Napier (one of our cast members) and Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch.
Also, if you’ve enjoyed these articles, please swing over to our kickstarter page and pledge ten bucks, which is the cheapest way to see the movie!
A couple of people have asked me where the idea for the movie came from. I wanted to go into more detail, because I think it’s a good example of where all creative ideas come from. So first I’ll describe the story behind our movie, and then I’ll describe why I think that that’s how creativity works.
In Part 2, I’ll go into detail about Yes And, a technique comedians use to speed this process along and inspire creativity. This is just how we came up with the first part of our idea…the second part came from my co-writer/producer. But first, our story…
The Story of our Story
It started with Josh and I deciding that our next project would be a movie. We started work, trying to come up with a documentary idea.
One subject matter in particular that we were both interested in is the Financial crisis. Occupy Wall Street had just started and was in the headlines and we captivated by both sides. We talked about how different people with different politics were coming up with different narratives of what had gone wrong. We stayed up late sending each other books by Michael Lewis, Paul Krugman, and others, and in particular watched all of the excellent documentaries Frontline made about the crisis in 2008 and 2009 (right in the heart of it).
Michael Crichton once said that before he wrote Jurassic Park he had gone through a phase where he just had dinosaurs on the mind. This was the case for us: we were obsessed with the financial crisis (or at least I was, Josh was atleast fairly interested).
Still, all we had was a subject matter that interested us. We had no idea what the movie would be, other than that it would be about the financial crisis, and because it was us, it would be about.
We went along like this for 2-3 months, actually starting to work on another project. Then, just before thanksgiving, a breakthrough. I watched the great American Masters documentary about Woody Allen. It got me thinking of how refreshing it can be to make a really silly film like Woody Allen’s early ones.
And then, as I listened to Woody Allen talk about Take the Money and Run, it hit me…We should make a very silly movie about the Financial Crisis…and it should be a mockumentary.
Very quickly synapses fired and I remembered those Frontline documentaries. It should have that tone. It was perfect: no one had done anything like it about finance, it was a subject we were interested, and the authoritative tone of a serious documentary would contrast well with our silly specifics, making it easy to fill with really funny jokes and bits.
My Explanation of this Process
I think that the key to creativity is the bridging of previously unconnected concepts into a new idea. Phone plus iPod = iPhone, or something like that.
Sometimes two ideas in juxtaposition to each other are obvious, such as the phone and iPod example above. Sometimes the juxtapositions are less obvious: Internet + Video Rental? What would that look like (Netflix).
In our case, the one idea was the Financial Crisis, which was sitting in the back of my mind. Then my mind was presented with another idea, Silly comedies, and bingo, the creative result was the synthesis of the two.
I think the true creativity comes in looking at those two disparate ideas and seeing how they might fit together, which sometimes is achieved by adding a third disparate idea-in our case, the tone of newsmagazine documentaries.
I think everybody has it within them to be extremely creative. But what separates the people we call creative from those we don’t is mostly a matter of several attitude adjustments:
- The willingness to consider outside the box ideas and not dismiss them outright. Creative people consider every idea, no matter how stupid, no matter how impossible, thoroughly, instead of simply not even allowing themselves the time to consider it.
- A diverse array of interests and life experiences. We’re comedians…why were we reading books on economics and the financial crisis? Because we enjoy it. If we didn’t push our brains to experience new things and learn as often as possible, we wouldn’t have the raw material of different ideas to put next to each other. We’d simply make one comedy after another about generic subjects like dating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s lots of people already doing it, many of them uncreatively.
- Perhaps the most important, the ability to recognize the good idea and flesh it out into a specific method of delivery or execution. What does a silly comedy about the financial look like? Oh, it’s a mockumentary. How can we possibly tell a story this way…More on this in Part 2.
Another Example: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I’ve heard Suzanne Collins say that her idea for young adult novel, The Hunger Games, came about because she was flipping channels on TV and saw that CNN footage of the Iraq War was juxtaposed next to images of a competitive reality show. In her words: “[they] began to blur in this very unsettling way.”
Two disparate concepts juxtaposed leads to a new idea.
It helped us that my whole team is experienced in improvisation. Improvisation forces you and trains you to think this way. If you want to get creative, I highly recommend you head to your nearest improv theater and take some classes.
If you don’t know where that is, contact me on twitter (@DanAbrams) and I’ll figure out the best place for you, or some other solution.
You could also pledge $50 on our kickstarter project and participate in an online comedy/improvisation workshop with our director, Jeff Michalski (Jeff has performed and directed at the Second City and most of the other great improv institutions non-stop since the mid-seventies. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on this).
I also highly recommend the following book: Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch. It’s basically a treatise on creativity.
Also, in the world of comedy and improvisation, we have this technique, Yes And, which is very helpful to further this process. It’s really the best creativity tool I know and it’s a shame more people don’t know it. But more on YES AND in Part Two, coming tomorrow.
NOTE: Horace retweeted this and sent us a ton of traffic. If you’re a fan of @asymco, just wait for The Critical Path later this week, wink wink!
We’ve been extraordinarily lucky during our Kickstarter campaign thus far…We’ve been raising over $1000 a day, most of it from complete strangers!
I believe strongly in the kickstarter model for funding films, games, tech projects and other artistic endeavors, so I’ve written this guide. I hope it helps you fund your project and realize your dream. (NOTE: This guide is likely to be revised frequently over the course of the next two months, so please check back for updates).
Before You Start: Getting Your Project Ready
- Is Your Concept Unique and Appealing - So many kickstarter projects fail this basic concept of marketing. What is it that makes your project unique. If you’re famous, even within a subcommunity, that might be enough. But if you’re not…you better have a project that stands out from all the rest. No one is going to back a non-descript project by someone they don’t know. Make sure your project is unique and is something to get excited about. Be honest…are there dozens of projects like this already? Then spend a day or two and figure out how you can make it special. I believe this was the single most important element for our project.
- Build a fanbase - you don’t have to become a mega star, but start building your fan base for months before you make your project. Start a twitter, a facebook, an email list, a blog. Talk to your friends about the project. Let them know you’re planning something important to you. This will help you with early pledges.
- Make a website - It should be simple, clean and pretty. No need to hire a web designer…just go to wordpress.com. They have lots of pretty templates. Make sure you explain who you are, what your project is, how people can reach you or engage with you, and eventually, lots of links to your kickstarter. If you know someone who’s good at this, see if you can buy them coffee and pizza in exchange for their help. If they’re really good, offer to do chores for them.
- Make your video - Once you get approved by kickstarter you’re going to want to launch ASAP, so once you submit to kickstarter, get your video ready. We made multiple mistakes with our first video, and opted to shoot it again. Our second video was better, but still suffered from the same problems. Here’s a list of pointers:
- Don’t try to make your video stand out on kickstarter. It’s your concept that should be unique and stand out. We made two funny videos specifically so we could stand out from the bunch on kickstarter. This was a giant mistake. It’s your concept that should stand out. Your video should explain, as briefly as possible what your project is (including what makes it unique), who you are, why you’re capable of doing such a project, and then a call to action to back your project. Make it short. Under three minutes. Under two is better.
- Production values DO matter. Make sure you look good and more importantly sound good.
- Don’t be afraid to change it. We changed it and far more people who looked at our cleaner, simpler video backed our project.
- Say thank you.
- If you’re going to make a funny video, be really funny. Not just a little funny.
- Make some great small rewards - Especially if like me, many of your friends are starving artists, you should have reward tiers at $25, $10, even $5. Most starving artists don’t want to pledge more than that, so don’t try to extort more.
- At small reward tiers, you’re pre-selling the product as much as anything else - Don’t make the product a lot more expensive to acquire than it would be when it’s released. Lots of people will just wait and buy it then. If your project is for something that has a high per piece manufacturing cost, you may not be able to offer it for $10 or $25, but if you’re making a book or a movie or a video game or something like that, you should at least be offering a digital download or a DVD at those ranges. Don’t make me pay $30 for a digital download of your short film or $75 for a DVD. Anyone who wants to pledge more, will. Anyone who just wants your product will just not pledge if you price it out of their comfort range.
- Offer great higher rewards tiers - We were surprised how many executive producer credits we sold, right away. We only offered four and frankly, we didn’t expect to sell more than one or two to our generous, generous parents. But instead, three people we’d never met before bought them in the first week. We added six more and two more people we either didn’t know well or had never met bought this $2,000 reward. Give them something they can’t get anywhere else. Anyone giving you this kind of many can afford it. But it’ll make them feel great to be involved and get a credit. We only added the $2000 tier because we thought it would make the $500 tier more desirable. We were wrong!
- The rewards should be worth the money - Don’t try to extort money from people. Ask them to buy something that has value to them. Tickets to a movie premiere or your name in the credits may not be exciting to you, but to someone who doesn’t work in the movies, it’s a big deal. People should get something cool for their money. A special thanks on a website doesn’t seem as desirable to me as a special thanks in the credits.
- More Time/Less Time - If you’re going to ignore kickstarter’s suggestion and ask for more than 30 days to do your kickstarter, you’re going to need twice as hard for the whole time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The First Week
- Send it to your family and friends first - you want to have the first strangers who come across your page to see that there’s already some money there.
- Have some sort of release plan/event - Don’t just expect to put it on kickstarter and wait for the world to discover it. Facebook it, tweet it, etc. Better yet, plan to coincide the launch of your kickstarter project with some sort of media event you’re doing. I launched False Profit on Horace Dediu’s excellent podcast, The Critical Path. If you don’t have any media events coming up, plan to launch it before you attend a party or event where you know lots of people. Now they’re all informed and excited. If you don’t have anything like that coming up anytime soon, then throw a party. $200 worth of booze might very equal thousands in kickstarter pledges.
- Post a Link on Your Facebook and Twitter…Every Single Day - It’s not enough just to link to it once. Link to it often. Tell anyone you meet about your project.
- Create a Facebook Event – The links on your facebook wall probably aren’t enough. Create a facebook event and invite all your friends. Many will decline, but some will say yes and some of them will give you money.
The tips above will help you raise money from family and friends and people you already connect with, but to reach out to strangers requires publicity. Below is a step-by-step guide:
- Have a unique concept (or a celebrity) - Our first step in this guide is also our first and most important step here. If you want publications to right about you, celebrities to tweet about you, or strangers to pay attention, you either must be well known, or have a great, unique concept.
- Make a list of publications who might be interested in your project - Go to Google Docs, start a spreadsheet. Find blogs, magazines, newspapers, podcasts, TV shows, message boards, community events, etc. that might be interested in your project. If you’re making an iPad accessory, that list should include Apple blogs and publications. If you’re making a movie about soccer, that list should include Soccer magazine. Our project is about Wall Street, so it’s no surprise that CNBC.com featured us. Make sure to target publications that might be interested in your project, not just any publication.
- Write some kind of press release - Keep it brief and concise. Your project has a clear, unique concept, right? That should be easy to explain in a sentence or two. Also include something about who you are and why you can make this happen. Include your contact info. The press release might be an actual press release or it might just be a paragraph you copy and paste into emails. Either way, have a written pitch.
- Don’t be shy about reaching out to anyone - Write a personal email to whoever’s on your list and explain why you think it might be great for the readers of their publication (make sure you understand what their publication is). Also include the text of your press release. Thank them. Make it easy for them to read quickly and even easier to type up into a short article or post about you. And don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone. The worst they can do is say “no.” Flattery will also get you everywhere. But don’t waste anyone’s time with a long, wordy release that’s irrelevant to what they do.
- Say Yes to Everything - so you were just interviewed by the New York Times and now your elementary school wants you to speak to an assembly? Make time for them. (PS, this is usually a good life rule)
- Follow up - if a publication did a story about you, the writer may tell you to stay in touch with any exciting news you have about the project. Definitely do. And thank the reported for covering your project.
- Engage Your Backers - I send a personal thank you to every backer who pledges. Kickstarter makes it easy. Most don’t reply, but when someone does, I make sure to engage them back. Respond to your backers as quickly as possible and make sure to consult them before you do anything that they might not like. They’re you’re champions and you need to be gracious. The best part is, you’ll make new fans and friends this way.
- Record what works and doesn’t and learn from it - I’m doing ongoing blog posts about that, such as this one. Don’t be afraid to stop doing what isn’t working and do more of what is.
- Keep doing all of the above - This is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep reaching out to friends, publications, communities. Don’t stop. Make more videos. Create more rewards. Engage your backers. Don’t get lazy. Frankly, I’ve treated this as a nearly full time job.
- Kickstarter Karma - I believe firmly that if you back and champion other people’s projects good things will happen with yours. This doesn’t mean that if you back a friend’s project, you should expect them to back yours. In fact, only one friend I’ve backed in the past has backed us. But we’ve already raised more money than anyone I know personally on kickstarter and I think that means we’re doing something right. Do this before your kickstarter, during your kickstarter, after your kickstarter and even if you ust think you might someday do a kickstarter. If you can’t afford to back it, you can always share it on Facebook, twitter, your blog, reddit, digg, or in an email to someone you think might enjoy it. At a minimum, click like on the kickstarter page.
- This Guide isn’t finished - We’re only 16 days into our kickstarter. This guide will grow as we learn more. I also encourage you to ask me questions either in the comments here, on twitter at @danabrams, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise to respond.
- Keep trying new things - We’re not done. We’re trying a few new things now. If they’re successful, I’ll add them to this guide.
- More Good Ideas - we certainly don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Here are some links to great sites where you can get great ideas to help you make your project a success:
- Kickstarter’s own tips: http://www.kickstarter.com/blog/categories/tips?ref=blog
- One of our favorite Screenwriter’s, John August, has this to say: http://johnaugust.com/2011/raising-movie-funds-on-kickstarter
- A personal experience from NoFilmSchool.com, a site I read every day: http://nofilmschool.com/2011/09/how-i-raised-125000-on-kickstarter/
- I enjoyed this post from Rooftop Films: http://rooftopfilms.com/blog/2010/07/10-crowdfunding-tips-from-kickstarter-filmmakers.html
- Filmmakers Joke and Blagio have an extensive list of links to tips here: http://www.jokeandbiagio.com/category/dying-to-do-letterman/page/4. They made a great documentary that deserves your attention and wrote a bunch of other useful information. Plan to spend some hours reading their blog.
- I wrote this list of specific things that have worked and haven’t worked for us: http://falseprofitthemovie.com/blog/what-works-on-kickstarter/
- I also wrote this about how 30% is the tipping point on Kickstarter: http://falseprofitthemovie.com/blog/kickstarter-tipping-poin/
- And finally, I wrote this somewhat off-topic post about how Kickstarter can help you learn to make films the way the masters did: http://falseprofitthemovie.com/blog/roger-corman-and-kickstarte/
If you enjoyed this article, share it on facebook, twitter, reddit or digg or anywhere else you might want to.
Don’t be afraid to disagree with me or ask comments in the section below.
One of the purposes of this blog is to teach those unfamiliar with how movies are made an inside look at our process. Right now, most of our energy is going into promoting our Kickstarter, so that’s what I’m talking about. Please. Give. We’ll have some new posts on other topics soon, though.
I believe that Kickstarter offers us a new opportunity for this social age. Not just to finance our film, but to measure the audiences reaction for it.
You see, when you create a kickstarter, you have to promote the project. And the things that determine whether you succeed are, to a great degree, the same things that will decide whether your movie succeeds: Does it appeal to an audience that’s willing to pay for it?
This reminds me of one of my hero’s as a producer, the great Roger Corman.
We’re very nearly 1/3 of the way through our kickstarter drive and we’ve raised just shy of $18,000 out of $50,000 (maybe by the time I finish writing, we will have hit it). I just wanted to do a quick analysis of what has worked and hasn’t worked on Kickstarter, along with a few surprises.
- The Critical Path w/Horace Dediu – Talking to Horace privately was an inspiration towards approaching this film in this way. The stream of pledges from his audience has been steady and consistent, even two weeks after the episode aired. Some have been small, some have been very large. All have been greatly appreciated.
- Publicity - We were featured on BoingBoing.net and CNBC.com and this drove rapid increases in our total, including some large and generous donations from total strangers. This also helped us grow our cast list, with actors who were interested.
- Facebook and Twitter Shoutouts - as we approached round amounts lik $15,000, I posted twitter and facebook updates promising a shoutout to whoever helped us top that milestone. I delivered and it worked…at least in the early days. It seems this technique may have lost it’s charm lately.
- Friends and Family - It’s always great to see your friends and family back your project, but it’s extra great when they’re especially generous, beyond what you thought was possible. One high school friend of mine and one of Josh’s former roommates both gave exceedingly generously, making both of us question our choice to become filmmakers instead of bankers.
- Serial Donors - There are some people who seem addicted to kickstarting (I should talk, I’ve backed more than a dozen projects). These people have been inordinately generous.
- Significant Others - Some of the boyfriends and girlfriends of people who are working on this project got into a little bit of a bidding war to buy our love. It worked.
Things That Haven’t Worked
- Viral Videos – We’ve created several parody videos which have made noise on the internet, being retweeted by celebrities and the like. One garnered over 10,000 hits in a single day, yet despite our calls to action to visit our website (which was linked directly back to kickstarter). At one point, for every 1,000 people who saw the video, 50 clicked the link to the kickstarter, and 2 pledged.
- Facebook - We have just shy of 100 backers, many of whom we hadn’t met before. Between us, we have over 3,000 unique facebook friends. Despite near constant promotion, only a few dozen of our facebook friends. Twitter has been effective at reaching strangers, however.
- Digg/Reddit - maybe I’m a dummy, but I think we’ve created some cool viral videos and had some interesting publicity (not to mention a movie concept people really seem to respond to), yet almost no one upvotes on digg and reddit (each of which I’ve used almost every day for years). I’m going to submit this article…let’s see if it ironically makes it to the top.
- Crummy Video - our first video had relatively low production values and some toilet humor. I think this turned people off. We reduced to a much more professional seeming trailer video and our conversion rate increased ten-fold. Kickstarter says personality and content matter, but add to that production values and a good, easy to understand concept.
- Kickstarter Karma - I’ve backed kickstarters for at least a half dozen of my friends, both because they’re my friends and because I knew someday I might have a kickstarter of my own. I’m surprised by how few of my friends returned the favor. Very few even gave us a facebook post or a tweet to help. I’m a little disappointed at this. On the other hand, the ones who did back us were super nice and so I’ve increased my kickstarter karma hoping to prove that kickstarter karma is real.
Surprises and Lesson
- How many people took the large pledge amounts, including total strangers – There are some seriously generous people out there.
- Promoting your kickstarter can become a full time job - You need to have the flexibility to drop everything and make changes at a moments notice, if something isn’t working. You need time to create more preview content and to promote to more avenues.
- You’re going to make new friends in the process - Total strangers have given us money, from $1 to over $3,000. In the process, I’ve gotten to chat with many of them. I find that extremely rewarding.
- The most important thing we’ve learned – It’s a marathon, not a sprint – We’re succeeding (we’ve raised more of our money than we’ve waisted of our time) because we’re pacing ourselves. Every week we make a list of things we want to try to promote this and we check them off the list. First we sent to family. Then we sent to media. Then we made a viral video. Then we saw that certain types were responding so we made videos and rewards just for them.
I don’t know if we’ll be successful, but knock on wood, it looks like it’s going to happen. Then we just have the grueling nine-month task of making a hilarious movie.
If you have any questions, you can reach me on twitter at @danabrams.
I plan to amend this article every so often, so please check back.
Meanwhile, if you have some spare change, why not check out our kickstarter here.