TFF 2012: Kickstarter’s Elisabeth Holm Explains How to Fund a Film on Kickstarter

NEW YORK, NY – Today an enthusiastic crowd of indie filmmakers and media professionals gathered at 92Y Tribeca for the Tribeca Film Festival’s Future of Film lunch series. Kickstarter’s Elisabeth Holm spoke on a topic near and dear to every filmmaker’s heart: how to fund and promote a film.

“It’s a pretty exciting time at Kickstarter right now,” said Holm, who directs the company’s film program. To date, the micro-funding platform has helped raise $60 million from 666,000 backers for 6,000 films. Ten percent of the films at last year’s Sundance and SXSW festivals started out on Kickstarter, and some have gone on to win Oscar nominations and other awards.

Filmmakers use the site to supplement their costs for various stages of development, production, post-production, and prints and advertising (P&A). When artists are describing their projects, video is the key element in attracting backers to make a pledge. “It’s critical to think about running a good Kickstarter campaign the way you would think about telling a good story,” said Holm.

The other elements are, of course, the backer rewards. A copy of the finished work is a popular choice, along with swag like t-shirts and buttons if the artist already has a following. But quirky touches, like the one artist who sent Polaroid pictures of her drawings from the road, can also make the rewards more interesting for the backers.”It doesn’t have to be expensive,” Holm said. “It just has to be meaningful.”

The most common pledge amount was $25, with an average pledge amount of $70 and an average of 85 backers per project. It’s an all-or-nothing funding model, so it’s important to set the goal at the right level. If you aren’t sure how much money you’ll need for your project, try this math equation:

85 (Ave. no. of backers) x $70 (ave. pledge) = $5,950

If your network is smaller or larger than 85 people, or you think you might be able to get a different dollar amount, substitute the numbers and see what you come up with.

The ideal lifespan of a Kickstarter project, said Holm, is 30 days. Most of the activity will happen in the first few days, followed by a surge right at the end when the time to pledge is almost over.  According to Holm, the tipping point is 30%, meaning that once a project reaches a third of its goal, it has a 90% chance of being successfully funded.

Friends, family, and social media followers play a big role in spreading the word, but according to Holm, the goal of the platform is to reach out to new audiences – those second and third connections that occur when your friends share your project with other people. Documentaries suit this purpose especially well because they allow undiscovered filmmakers to reach existing audiences with a familiar topic.

Alison Klayman’s documentary, for example, follows the artist Ai Weiwei in Beijing as he creates works of art and dodges the Chinese authorities who try to silence him. Klayman offered her backers handmade porcelain sunflower seeds packaged by the artist, as well as a digital download or DVD of the film. Her project was featured on the “Colbert Report” and she raised $52,175 from 793 backers, surpassing her goal of $20,000.

Holm stressed that Kickstarter is not like buying products on Amazon or funding a startup: there are no monetary rewards for the backers, no deadlines on when the actual project will be completed, and the finished product may look a little different than the prototype. “Change does happen,” Holm said. “It’s one of the cool and beautiful things about the platform. But it’s up to you to communicate” the project’s evolution to your backers.