Some unsolicited CROWD-FUNDING advice from me… (editorial)

At this point, I’ve seen a LOT of crowd-funding campaigns.  I’ve seen them succeed, and I’ve seen them fail.  I’ve seen the good, the bad, the fantastic, and the face-palm.  I might not be the uncontested expert on how to create a strong campaign, but I’ve talked to enough successful crowd-funders and seen enough examples of what works and what doesn’t work that I think I can share some pretty useful advice if asked…

…and in certain cases, if I’m not asked.

I have to say that this year has been pretty wild when it comes to crowd-funders.  I’m already outlining the “2018’s Year in Review” blog to focus on the various Kickstarters, Indiegogos, GoFundMes, and even FundRazrs that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various fan projects over the past several months.  Some have soared, some have been absolute nail-biters until the final hours, and yes, some have struggled.

I feel really bad for the struggling ones.  In some cases, I do whatever I can to help with blogging support and even personal contributions on occasion.  But sometimes, all I can do is watch helplessly from my computer, seeing so clearly what’s being done wrong (or not being done), and wanting to shout like a frustrated fan sitting in the bleachers to a quarterback on the field.

But usually, I just hold my tongue (or in the case of blogging, my typing fingers).  After all, these are not my campaigns, and if people don’t ask me, then all I’m doing is shoving my nose in where it doesn’t belong, right?

Well, I’m about to shove my nose in.  Hopefully, I won’t regret it…

Of all of the recent crowd-funding campaigns for Trek fan films, there are currently three that are really struggling to reach their goals…all of them using the GoFundMe platform (which might, for all I know, be part of the problem, but I don’t think so).

The first campaign, for Dreadnought Dominion, has raised only $275 (of $1,500) from just 8 backers.  However, they get a pass because, as I learned recently, the show-runners discovered they would not need to pay a large fee to rent the Stage 9 Studios (the former Star Trek Continues sets) but only cover electricity and maintenance for the days they shoot there.  Therefore, they don’t need to push their campaign…and so they haven’t been.  Costs have been mostly covered.

The second campaign is for Melbourne‘s second fan story, “Balance of Terror.”  After six months, they’ve only managed to raise $475 of their $3,500  goal from just 8 backers.  This campaign has issues similar to the ones I’m going to discuss today, so I’d urge those folks to read this blog carefully, as well.  But my real focus today is for…

The third campaign, The Lexington Adventures, currently sits at $555 of a $1,350 goal with 20 backers in three months.  Not bad, but the description says: “This is to raise enough funds so the cast & crew of The Lexington Adventures will be able to film their first episode in Arkansas in the third week of September, 2018.”

That’s just two weeks away!

So when I saw this post on the Fan Film Forum Facebook group from Lexington show-runner JOEY BONICE asking once again for donations, I had to ask him: “…what happens if you don’t make it to the full $1,350?”

Joey’s response came a few minutes later: “We’re pushing filming back to after the holidays next year, as there’s no way we will meet our deadlines right now. And this will give people more time to donate to our cause. We’re not giving up the fight just yet!”

I had to admit that Joey’s reply stirred up a number of conflicting thoughts and feelings for me.

On the one hand, I really really want these guys to succeed and reach their goal.  I feel that way about nearly all fan film efforts.  So I’m glad they’re staying optimistic and not giving up the fight just yet.

But at the same time, I feel like that guy wanting to yell at the quarterback.  After all, I’m sitting up high in the stands, and I can see more of the field than he can.  Joey’s GoFundMe has obviously stalled.  And just putting up a Facebook reminder with link every few weeks on Fan Film Forum (and maybe some other groups) isn’t going to spontaneously start generating new support when they’ve only gotten four donations in the last two months.  Why would fans suddenly start donating when they haven’t been…just because they see a Facebook post?

Perhaps it’s time for a new approach or two…or seven!

I wrote up a response to Joey Bonice almost immediately—I just felt like I had to at least get it out of me—but I held off on posting it.  Do I really want to do this? I asked myself.  Joey never asked me what I thought about his campaign or what suggestions I might have to improve donations.  And yet, here I was writing up a “How to” guide for him.  That’s pretty ballsy, Jonny!

In the end, after a lot of thought, I did decide to post the comment.  Why?  Two reasons.  1) Because I really DO want this GoFundMe campaign to succeed, and these really are strong suggestions.  They might not all work, but if even one of them has a positive effect, that’s better than saying nothing, right?

Of course, I could just message privately to Joey Bonice without the fanfare of a public post.  But that leads into the second reason: 2) This advice isn’t just for Joey.  There are so many campaigns I see that can do much better than they end up doing simply because they don’t seem to be aware of some pretty basic and, in some cases, relatively easy strategies (in other cases, the suggestions will require more effort).  However, there are some things that just make sense to do…and not everybody does them.

But maybe if they read this, they will.  Here’s what I wrote back to Joey…

My humble recommendation, Joey, is that you consider doing the following:

1) Expand the description of your project on your GoFundMe page. Include things like a breakdown of the costs of where specifically the $1,350 will go to.  You give a general list, but there’s not a lot of detail for such an exact number.  How much goes to costumes, and how much for catering?  What are the production costs exactly?  Do you need props?  Lights?  Clip mics for better sound?  Enquiring minds wanna know…and so do backers.

2) Talk more about what Lexington is, why it will be unique and not just another bunch of Trekkies in costume filming their role-playing.  Sure, many fan films fall into this category, but each is special, each has its own voice and its own important thing to say.  What’s yours?  Why is it worth my $5, $10, $25, or $100 to give to YOUR project? Your page doesn’t tell me.

3) Make a video. A good video.  Explain your project in your own words. “Interview” some of your cast and crew.  Include some VFX if you already have any.  Include some shots from your first short that already came out.  Making a video shows that you at least know how to make a video.  If your crowd-funding request video looks decent, it gives your backers confidence that your fan film will also look decent.  If it’s flawed, then it becomes a learning exercise to show you how to make your final film better.

4) Promise donors at least something: their name listed in your credits, an early sneak peek at the finished film, exclusive updates on production progress, etc.  You don’t need to offer T-shirts or patches or Kharn Roast coffee, but at least make your donors feel like they’re getting something for their trouble…even if it’s just a thank you of appreciation.

5) Make yourself more visible.  Don’t just post reminders on Facebook asking people for money (although that’s important, too!), but have recurring updates or details about your project ready to post to build excitement.  Look at what Samuel Cockings is doing for his upcoming Indiegogo for his new project Convergence. Granted, he’s got a lot of resources, but look at what you have, and try to leverage that as much as possible.  Look at how much Vance Major posts…and he doesn’t even ask for money!  But when he did finally ask for some funding to purchase TNG/DS9-era costumes for Constar Chronicles, he got $500 in less than 8 hours!

6) Don’t be afraid to seek out more coverage from fan film blogs.  Samuel Cockings has been all over me for months to cover Convergence on Fan Film Factor—offering me interviews, exclusive artwork, updates, etc.—and you better believe he’s gonna get some. Space Command, Sky Fighter, The Romulan War, Stalled Trek…those folks all reached out to me to cover their campaigns and then kept providing me updates. Granted, Joey, you contacted me early on, and I did a feature on Lexington when you kicked off your campaign back in June. But since then, I haven’t heard from you with anything newsworthy. Pushing back your production date is, of course, newsworthy, but this is the first I’m hearing of it. I also haven’t seen coverage of your project in any other places (although, admittedly, there aren’t many Trek fan film blogs). But there is Treksphere and Trekzone…have you tried reaching out to them for some coverage? How about podcasts like “Continuing Mission”? People need to know you’re out there in order to donate to you.

7) Are there any friends with mailing lists or contact lists who would be willing to give your campaign a shout-out?  Space Command lit up with donations in its last few days when e-mailing list updates for other fan films like The Circuit and Renegades included a “Hey, check this out…!” paragraph about Space Command with a link to its Kickstarter page.

There’s a lot of ways to try to jumpstart a stalling crowd-funder, Joey, but make no mistake: it takes work…lots of work. And as an executive producer, it’s actually YOUR job–and yes, it IS a job.  Not half a job or “I’ll get around to it sooner or later” job.  It’s a job that should be among your most major priorities until you reach that goal.  And if you don’t do it, who else will?

Good luck, Joey.  I hope you can find find some or all of these suggestions useful and effective.  I hope you make it to your goal.

To donate to The Lexington Adventures, click here.

13 thoughts on “Some unsolicited CROWD-FUNDING advice from me… (editorial)”

  1. Two things:

    Number 1:
    We at Potemkin Pictures don’t use any of the crowd source funding sites to get funds. We simply ask our fans in our Facebook page and groups for HELP. Frankly, we dont usually ask for money. We ask for what we need.

    Our most recent request for help was for tulip chairs in the briefing room. I found a link on Amazon, posted it with a pic, and told folks I’d like 6-8 chairs, and asked for help.

    Within two days, we had a commitment from our fans totalling six chairs. Ten days later, I posted pictures of the boxes, the contents of the boxes, the assembly of the chair, the chairs in the green screen room. The donors were thanked profusely, and their wishes to be credited were handled per their request.

    Total Donated: $900
    Successful campaign.

    Number 2:
    Do what you say you’re going to do.

    There are probably a hundred fan films in production right now. I’d guess than only ten to fifteen are ever finished.

    Potemkin Pictures has a track record. Zero budget, but we get our films done. People know that we’re going to follow through with our project. They know where their donations are going.

    So many fan films don’t that it makes it hard for other fan to raise funds. So don’t fail to follow through. Finish your film come hell or high water.

    Lastly, Jonathan, you’re correct. Show your budget. Show where the funds will go. But remember once burned twice shy. If you don’t make your target deadline, then you won’t get the funds you want. But if you have enough to get what you need, then produce that film.

    Or get out of fan films.

    1. Potemkin has an advantage over many other fan films/series in that you have an established fan base, and you’ve proven yourself. The problem for a start-up (and I consider Lexington to be somewhat of a start-up) is that no one really knows you yet or what you can do. That’s why shooting a (decent!) “ask” video for your campaign is essential. It shows people that you’re able to actually make a video and what kinds of skills you have. Otherwise, it really is a total leap of faith…and with so many other crowd-funders out there competing for donations, the longer the leap, the less likely the fan is to choose that project to get their dollars. Unless they already know you, that is. In Lexington’s case, a lot of early contributions came because of direct solicitations from friends and those already acquainted with Vance Major (who worked on the first Lexington fan film as part of his Minard series). Vance reached out to folks he knew, and (as happened with Potemkin), people came through. But with a $1,350 goal, you can’t rely on only the people your already know…not when you’re a start-up.

      Anyway, I hope this discussion is useful to Joey and others. We’re not trying to bash anyone or criticize their efforts. We’re just trying to help them make their crowd-funding campaign as successful as possible.

  2. Basically I agree with that advice. But let me offer my perspective about funding.

    I’m retired and want to make my retirement funds last the rest of my life which could be 25 more years or perhaps even 30. The economic climate is always uncertain. There are a gazillion groups metaphorically lined up at my door asking for money: environmental, political, fan-based, medical and so forth. It seems everyone wants a big chunk of the money I’m willing to spend.

    So I need to be convinced that any given project is worthy; so worthy that it stands out from all the other worthy projects. I don’t need any more stuff but I do need to know that there’s a worthwhile story being told. And that story should be good enough that I want to donate money.

    This is not a production quality point but a story/plot point or perhaps a great if amateur actor point.

    This might be an extreme example, but I absolutely loved Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning because it explored something fun. Another project does not have to be that kind of mash-up or that kind of production quality, but I hope the idea is clear.

    1. There’s all-too-often a mentality among people who create crowd-funders of “If I build it, they will come…and they will give.” I saw a GoFundMe recently for a guy trying to raise $2,500 to travel to his 20-year college reunion. Seriously??? Many of us are strapped financially, or at least careful about how we spend our money. So, no, just because you set up a crowd-funder, that doesn’t mean people will give you money. Like any good salesperson, you have to MAKE the sale happen.

  3. This was all explained to Joey in detail before I left the project The teaser is not enough to hook fans on they need to see people can do the content. along with everything you suggested. It is not often I agree with you but on this I agree with you! I Can only hope he and others take your advice.

  4. “Star Trek is not going to make it.”
    – actor Joseph Bottoms
    Starlog Magazine Interview, 1979

    “Star Trek has run its course.”
    – the late Leonard Nimoy, 2008

    The franchise has run out of steam. And a lot of that has to do with the toxic fan politics and the misuse of fan film productions(i.e. violating the rules Paramount established). The latter that Alec Peters, Farragut Films, and various other non-legit fan films should be all too familiar with.

    Star Trek has gone as far as it can go. It’s time to retire it. Retire it indefinitely.

    1. I’m not sure if that was meant in jest or not. If jest, then it’s pretty brilliant, but maybe a little too ambitious.

      Obviously, the two quotes from 1979 and 2008 were proven to be very wrong. In 1979, Star Trek was far from dead. Another dozen feature films and five TV series followed with nearly 1,000 hours of new Star Trek still to come! In 2008, Leonard himself would appear in two more Star Trek films, and of course, Discovery was still to come. Add to that things like rides at Universal Studios and in Germany, The Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas, countless video games, books, comics, Star Trek Online, and of course, fan films.

      So I’m guessing you’re trying to say “Star Trek has gone as far as it can go. It’s time to retire it. Retire it indefinitely…” as a way of adding yet another incorrect prophecy to your list. If that’s what you’re doing, Butterfly, then I applaud the effort, but it’s a little on the high-level cerebral side of irony. 🙂

      As for “violating the rules Paramount established,” Paramount never established any rules for fan films. Fans assumed there were rules, but none was ever announced. Even when Alec Peters met with CBS executives in person four times in 2014 and 2015, they never said, “We have rules; please follow them.” In fact, Alec was actively trying to get CBS and Paramount to issue guidelines for fan films so that he could make Axanar in a way that the studios would be okay with. (Don’t take my word for it, that fact was actually confirmed in legal filings released by the plaintiffs!) The first guidelines for fan films were issued by CBS in June of 2016…long after Axanar and Farragut had released most of their productions.

  5. I know absolutely nothing about GofundMe or things like it but I know a thing or two about establishing yourself and building a good work reputation.
    The one thing that rings true in any business venture is proving to those you have business with that you follow through with what you say you are doing, even if it costs you money a time or two.
    Fanfilms are much like that, I think.
    Most successful fanfilms series made their first few films practically out of pocket, money and materials donated by family, close friends and those who worked behind and in front of the camera and with that they established a fanbase. After that is was pretty easy for most of them to ask for small amounts of cash, additional materials, or a few more volunteers as time went on.

    The one problem I see with the current trend in fanfilms (and this is meant to be more observation than criticism) and that is the idea that they seem to be moving away from fanfilm and trying to get into near professional level production quality in certain aspects especially in terms of CGI and VFX work. Not that there is anything wrong with that but it does create a disparity between your beautifully rendered starship battle scenes and your actors stumbling through their lines or falling though the walls of your set.
    I mean, by today’s standards, TOS original VFX were crap but we still love the episodes because the stories were good, the actors were capable, and the sets were a bit more robust than painted over pizza boxes and a piece of green fabric.

    1. My feeling (personally) is that many fan films are like school musicals. Sometimes the students are actually very good actors and singers. Other times…not so much. Either way, you’re there in the audience because your kid goes to the school or your niece or nephew or grandchild, and you’re not expecting to see Hamilton on Broadway. As for the VFX, maybe the school has a really good art or woodshop teacher who does an awesome job on the sets, or a parent who makes excellent costumes. Great. Sally McPherson in 8th grade still can’t sing on key to save her life, but at least the musical isn’t all bad. 🙂

  6. I’d add #8: get my wife’s book, but that’s a shameless plug that may be interpreted as self-serving, so I’ll refrain from obvious self-promotion. Still, all that advice was based on 5 successful campaigns, so there are some folks that benefited from it.

    Ooh, Jonathan, while we’re on shameless plugs for Kickstarters, here’s one for you: “Cthulhu is Hard to Spell” The campaign for the Lovecraft anthology is up to $18k of a $21.6k goal in three days with 17 more to go, so it should get funded. Granted it’s not Trek, but if there are any fans who like Lovecraft, please take a peek. (Yes, my wife has a story in the anthology, Oorn and Mnomquah have been stuck on a prison planet for 1000 years and want a divorce; they have to go through marriage counseling. It’s only 6 pages long in the anthology, but it’s fun and MJ the artist had oodles of fun with the characters.)

    Hey, if the comics guys and gals can run successful crowdfunding, FanTrek can too!

  7. If I ever do a crowdfunding event, I may ask your advice. I have seen plenty that fit your categories and agree a lot of them were face-palm ones. One Kickstarter that was wildly successful was Steve Jackson’s The Fantasy Trip; think he was shooting for $20,000 and broke $314K.

    1. Sometimes crowd-funding campaigns just catch fire, but you should never write your business plan based on an expectation of winning the lottery. For the vast majority of projects, convincing people to give you their money is a full-time job for a month or two months or however long it takes. And in fact, crowd-funding campaigns don’t start when you take the page live. They should begin months earlier with lots of careful preparations and pre-announcements. And they don’t end when the goal is successfully reached and or the campaign closes. After that, there should still be frequent donor updates, perk fulfillment, and of course, completion of the project that got funded.

Comments are closed.