During the Summit campaign, about one-fourth of our backers were total strangers. Some were frequent crowdfunding supporters from Twitter or Kickstarter and some were genre fans. What I remembered finding interesting about these people was that almost all of them went on to follow my progress with the series (“Kelsey”). They were taking an interest in my other work, not just Summit. Because of this observation, I made the incorrect assumption that people who were following “Kelsey” would also follow my future work. This was the case for a few, sure, but as our 4 out of 1,000 experience shows, it wasn’t true for most.
When I finally gave in and started sending messages about CongestedCat Shorts to people who had backed Summit, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many were happy to give again; it’s very telling that the majority of people who funded this last campaign were the same as those who funded the first. And most gave even more! Those who gave $10-$25 to Summit were giving $50-$100 to CongestedCat Shorts. I didn’t understand it. They were people who supported Summit because they liked my pitch for that film or were intrigued by my spin on the genre. Why were they immediately onboard for these shorts, and why were their contributions bigger? They hadn’t even received Summit yet. It’s still in post; and while I have been blogging about every step of post-production with visual content included, I have not yet delivered on the product they initially funded. This is part of why I was hesitant to reach out to them specifically, friends and family included. However, I learned that they were exactly who I should have been reaching out to in the first place. They had been watching my progress with that film very closely for two years, and it was clear to them that the product is going to be finished and that my team and I had been working hard to complete it to get it out in the world. That was enough to assure them that I’d deliver not just on that promise, but on this new one as well. The general consensus I got from many was that it didn’t really matter what I was making. They were supporting me and my work because they had enjoyed watching my progress since crowdfunding Summit, or even since my short three years ago, and wanted to continue being part of my progress and success. This was overwhelmingly humbling and encouraging, and definitely not something I expected.
The biggest surprise that came from a Summit supporter was a guy who had given $250 to that campaign without any relation to me or anyone I knew. He didn’t even leave an email address on Kickstarter, but I knew he had been receiving and reading my updates on the film. During crowdfunding for CongestedCat Shorts, I tracked him down on Facebook, sent him a personalized message not expecting much, and was shocked that he proceeded to give $1,000 toward Crew & Cast payments without blinking an eye.
What I realized, when comparing the couple hundred Summit supporters to the thousand “Kelsey” fans we reached, is this: when you engage and build a following before you make the content, that audience is connected to you as a creator, as opposed to the content itself. We had a huge amount of success with “Kelsey,” and although we made efforts to build a following while we were in production, almost all our viewers connected with the series after we had already released the pilot and received critical acclaim. We knew that the majority was watching exclusively on Lesbian-oriented sites that had embedded the episodes. Therefore, most of those fans were not engaging with us, our brand, or our social media presence. The realization I had during this campaign was that our audience was connected with the series itself; so when it finished, they were finished with us because they never felt connected to us as a creative team. I believe this is what makes crowdfunding so much more important than just securing funding. The people who become part of making your project are the people who will follow you to your next one. I intuitively felt this before but had not had the opportunity to really witness what it meant, nor had I experienced the stark difference between a following gained in pre-production versus one gained post-release until this campaign. We self-funded “Kelsey” and did not have an avenue to build a following around the series early on. This early following is an inherent aspect of crowdfunding, as is that following’s attachment to the creative team rather than just the end product.
I don’t mean to discredit the idea that your existing work benefits your ability to raise future funding; I’d be lying if I said our success with “Kelsey” didn’t play a role in our successful campaign. Our two biggest surprises of this campaign were largely due to “Kelsey.” One was when one of those 4 contributing “Kelsey” fans, arguably our biggest fan, gave over $1,500 and became an Associate Producer. The other was when a total stranger came along in our final two hours and decided to give us $5,000 (taking us to 120% of our goal) because our pitch and past content (“Kelsey”) won him over, probably making the Executive Producer credit more enticing as well. That one still blows my mind. They both do. To have someone enjoy our content so much and feel dedicated to us as a creative team enough to fund our new work is just the best feeling an artist could hope for.
However, I think that this conclusion is valid and, moreover, an argument for crowdfunding to be a sustainable aspect of indie film. If not clearly valuable for the creative strings-free funding, it should be prized simply for its audience building potential. This is why I’m very happy I made the switch from Kickstarter to Seed&Spark. Despite success on that platform, I felt like something was missing. On Kickstarter for Summit, I had 207 Backers and 1,253 people had “Liked” the campaign page. But those likes did nothing for me because “Likers” are not Followers on that platform. They may have taken an interest in the campaign but after they liked it, it disappeared from their lives. They’re not receiving updates from the project, nor am I, as the campaign owner, able to see their names. Seeing that number and not being able to reach them in any way was worse than not knowing how many people had gone to our campaign page and taken an interest at all. On CongestedCat Shorts, however, we have 141 Supporters & 175 Followers, with the latter number increasing everyday since our campaign ended. While the quantity of people that took an interest is not comparable, the quality blows Kickstarter out of the water —those Followers are actually receiving my updates and are becoming part of the making of the film(s), even if they didn’t make a monetary contribution. It’s wonderful being on a platform that emphasizes community building in the crowdfunding process and enhances this ability to engage an audience early on, allowing them to follow you to your new work. I’m now really looking forward to this opportunity to bring old and new followers along to my next big project and beyond.