Friday, February 8, 2013

Secrets of a successful Kickstarter campaign from a Seattle filmmaker

Ilona Rossman Ho
In my quest to learn about the Seattle film world, I've been meeting lots of friendly and generous people in the local film community. One of them is Emmy-award-winning filmmaker Ilona Rossman Ho.

Ilona recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for her short comedy Dressing Up, and she was kind enough to share tips about it in this Q&A.  Her campaign ran for 30 days in July-August of 2012, and garnered $3114 ($114 more than her goal!).

Q: What did you do to prepare for the campaign?
A: Looked at lots of other campaigns, did web research, and talked to other filmmakers who had done Kickstarter campaigns.

Q: In your campaign, you say that “Dressing Up” in in post-production after “three years of hard work.” What happened in those first three years?
A: 2009 – A woman in my writer's group, Sandra Ahola, shared the first draft of her short comedy called Outside Experts. We all loved it; I especially liked the scene where the mom is having a wild poker party! The writers group spent probably 9 months of meetings reviewing Sandra’s rewrites (along with other scripts – we met every 2 weeks and everyone had day jobs).

2010 – Sandra completed the script and I started looking for funding. I submitted a film proposal to Seattle IFP; we were a finalist but didn’t win. The proposal took about six weeks of research for me to write. It was actually fun to write since it included a lot of the creative thinking about the film – what the characters looked like, locations, etc.

2011 – I submitted a film proposal to 4Culture in winter 2011 and won an award! 4Culture is an amazing organization; besides the money, an award like that is a wonderful affirmation for an artist--a great way to kick off the project. Next, I found two dedicated producers and began pre-production in the summer of 2011.

The producers and I met once a week during the summer pulling it all together: having auditions, script readings, hiring crew, finding locations, etc. We all had 3 kids so that was an extra piece for us to manage, but we actually bonded over that too. We finally shot the film over two weekends in November.

2012 –  In January we reshot one scene and I starting working with my editor. In late spring we took a detour to create the trailer, getting that done at the end of June. Then in August we went back to work on editing the actual film. We finally had picture lock in October 2012 and then I worked with my composer on the score; and also worked with the colorist and sound design team.

2013 --  Film is finished in January! Now I’ve started submitting to festivals and I’m tweaking my EPK (Electronic Press Kit).

Q: How long do you think the final stage will take (which you defined as “post-production including color correction, sound design, music licensing and festival submissions”)?
A. I’ve mostly completed those things and now I’m focusing on festivals and getting distribution. It will probably take all of 2013 as festivals are spread throughout the year.

Q: How did you choose Kickstarter as your crowdfunding site over Indiegogo, the other major player out there right now?
A. I was curious about this too; why choose one over the other? I asked some other filmmakers and they pointed out that with Indiegogo the backers are charged even if your project doesn’t meet its funding goal. With Kickstarter no one is charged unless you make your goal so your backers have a bit more confidence you can complete the project.

Q: The trailer for Dressing Up is hilarious and I can see how you would have gotten funded based on that alone. How long did it take to create that and how many people were involved?
A. Thanks! That was a fun collaboration with my editor although I was a little nervous about having myself on camera. I’m not an actor and have a lot of respect for the craft. But my editor did a great job cutting it and getting rid of all my ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’! I’d say it took us about 2 months – everything takes longer since it’s low budget. Basically if a higher paying gig comes up the low-budget project gets set aside.

Q: Your Kickstarter campaign is pretty stripped down. It’s just the trailer, a brief description of the film and why you need the money, and bios/photos of key cast members. Was it a deliberate choice to keep the campaign simple?
A. I had planned a fairly simple/straightforward campaign, since I was doing it all myself I wanted to keep it manageable. I might have put up a little bit more but the user interface for Kickstarter is not very friendly and I had to redo and re-upload pics and docs numerous times. So I just kept it simple.

Q: Throughout the campaign what did you do to keep interest going and encourage backers?
A. I had donated to other campaigns and I always liked hearing about how the project was going. It was interesting to hear the backstory. I decided to do the same with my backers--let them see behind the curtain. I went through all my material and put up things like a marked up page of the shooting script, the original notes on a song written for the piece, lots of pictures and descriptions of the various phases I was in -- like going to color correction, sound design, and working with my composer.

Q: Was there ever a time it seemed like your campaign might not get funded? If so, what did you do?
A. The very beginning is hard because you don’t even see any donors on the page until you get the first 10. So I asked my best friends and close family members to donate just a small amount to get to that first 10. After that I posted on Facebook and sent emails to everyone I knew!

Q: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
A.Collect/document more of the process to use as content and allocate more time to actually building the page. That took much longer than I expected.

Q: Any parting advice for someone about to start a crowdfunding campaign for a short film?
A. Start the campaign on a Saturday morning so people have time to take a look while they have their morning coffee. Keep your rewards interesting but manageable. Have fun and enjoy the adventure!