Can Kickstarter Take This Doc To The Oscars?
By Chip Street
The indie documentary Dying to do Letterman follows funny man Steve Mazan as he simultaneously battles liver cancer and chases a larger-than-life dream: performing stand-up comedy on David Letterman’s show — while he’s still got time.
The film won both the audience award and the jury prize for Best Documentary at its CineQuest premiere. And it’s gone on to more standing ovations and laurels in the months since. It’s inspiring, funny, motivational, sad, dramatic, and it’s changing lives.
And now, DocuWeeks™ — one of the world’s most prestigious documentary events — has invited this self-funded, little-indie-documentary-that-could to qualify for an Academy Award®.
But it ain’t cheap. Enter Kickstarter – and you.
Held by the International Documentary Association, DocuWeeks™ helps to ease the financial burden for filmmakers who don’t have the budget it takes to mount the screenings and pay the fees associated with competing for an Oscar®. But while DocuWeeks™ significantly reduces the cost of qualifying for an Academy Award®, it’s not free. The film’s producers still need to raise a minimum of $37,000 to participate.
So producers Joke and Biagio of Joke Productions have launched their Kickstarter campaign, in an effort to raise the funds needed to help with the theatrical release and get their shot at Oscar.
And so far, they’re doing everything right.
As we said in Think Like A Marketer And Increase Conversions, it’s important to craft your message to a broad audience, and reach beyond your filmmaking community … who are always notoriously sans extra funds anyway.
According to a recent Kickstarter report, most funding comes from a known audience — people the filmmaker already knows. Why? Because they’re filmmakers, not marketers. They likely write their copy, and pitch the value and benefits of their project, in terms filmmakers (or people who know filmmakers) relate to. To convert the rest of the audience, the people you don’t know, the people with money, you need to present to them in ways that appeal to them, and compel them to support you.
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And that’s exactly what they’ve done.
What they’ve done right
They’re not assuming everyone knows how Kickstarter works. And they’re not relying on Kickstarter’s fine FAQs to do the work for them (as that would take users off their page and into mindless surfing land). Instead, they’ve created their own very clear, succinct explanation of how the system works, right on the page, keeping the user engaged.
They make the concept of escalating rewards very clear. The more a supporter donates, the more cool stuff they get. And the graphic clearly explains that at-a-glance. For the uninitiated, that’s an important graphic that makes the donation/reward process easy to understand.
They focus on conversions, not big donations. Letting people participate at the very minimum level of one dollar means donors are eased into the psychology of giving, at a price point that feels comfortable and reasonable. Once they’re thinking about giving, perhaps they’ll think about giving more. And if not, just getting that first conversion – even for one dollar – is extraordinarily valuable for the filmmaker. Because now, they’ve opened a dialogue with another supporter, who has a connection to their project. They may tell others, they may Tweet about their donation, they may encourage friends and family to contribute, and because the filmmaker can now nurture that relationship and stay in touch with this qualified lead (nay, existing customer), they can keep them updated and perhaps generate additional support from them as they get closer to their goal. Had the minimum been $5, that donor may have walked away. Creating that connection is worth the $4 lost.
They include lots of testimonials. People like to belong, and they like to know that other people — maybe other people who know more than they do — think the project is worth supporting. Quotes and testimonials that qualify the project, from reputable sources, go a long way toward instilling confidence in a prospective donor.
They used the FAQs. The FAQ function provided by Kickstarter is a great tool to provide extra information for that methodical user … the one who takes time to read and research … yet it’s presented in a nice expanding CSS format, so initially it’s not too much daunting content. It’s a nice easy-to-read list, that lets the user choose how much content they want to see. And note that the producers use it to further explain where your money will be going and why it’s important.
They respond to comments. They maintain the conversation, by keeping an eye on the comments section of their Kickstarter page, and responding to their supporters. Sure, they’re going to send a reward to every donor anyway, but again, it’s about nurturing relationships, staying humble, and showing appreciation. We learned about saying Thank You in Kindergarten. It’s still important.
They keep it fresh. The producers are posting regular updates to their page, including video (everybody love video – it’s shiny, and it’s noisy) and they’re using them to say thanks, to share knowledge (links to books they’ve found helpful), and just generally keep the page fresh and interesting.
They give back. They’ve posted links to the graphic files they’ve created for their own campaign, for other Kickstarter users to download and use. They understand the community, and they want to nurture a culture of giving. Because in the end, it’s good for everyone.
Has it worked?
In the first two days, Joke and Biagio have raised $14,000 of their $37,000 goal. Yes, two days. At this rate, they will easily reach their goal, and likely be among the top 100 most successful Kickstarter projects in the site’s history.
And so far, most off the backers are NOT other filmmakers… which means they’ve done a great job marketing outside the community of filmmakers.
So take a look at the Dying To Do Letterman Kickstarter campaign. Study it. Emulate it. And while you’re there, donate to it.
In fact, you may not be able to help yourself.
Will you donate?
Still not convinced? Think a movie about fighting liver cancer sounds morose and depressing? You couldn’t be more wrong.
This is not a documentary about cancer. It’s not about disease, it’s not about the failing health care system, and it’s not about lost opportunities. It’s about Mazan pursuing his passion in the face of all that… and it’s about inspiring audiences to pursue the passions in their own lives. The film is a love letter to perseverance, a celebration of pursuing one’s passions. You couldn’t script a better story, or craft a more empathetic set of characters. So though it’s a documentary, it plays like a scripted narrative film, and as a result, it’s utterly engaging and entertaining in a way no documentary has been (for me at least) in a long, long time.
So get on over to Kickstarter, help raise funds for the Dying To Do Letterman Oscar bid, and make a difference.
You’ll be glad you did.
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