IFH 217: Insider Tips on Crowdfunding Your Film on Kickstarter with Elise McCave



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On the show today is Elise McCave, Director of Narrative Film at Kickstarter. Elise drops some major knowledge bombs on this episode. She goes over what it takes to have a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, what makes a good pitch video and we discuss some success stories as well.

Thanks again to Media Circus PR who co-produced these podcasts episodes with me. Enjoy my interview with Elise McCave.

Alex Ferrari 0:27
Today's guest is Elise Mccave, and she is the head Yoda at Kickstarter for filmmakers. She is the one that is helping filmmakers get their films crowdfunded on the Kickstarter platform, so I wanted to bring her in. So she could tell us a little bit about not only how Kickstarter can help filmmakers get their word out on their films. But generally what makes a good crowdfunding campaign for independent films, shorts, features, Docs, and so on. And she dropped some major knowledge bombs in this episode. So without any further ado, here is my interview with Elise Mccave from Kickstarter. Today we have Elise Mccave, thank you so much from Kickstarter. Thanks for coming in. Appreciate it.

Elise Mccave 2:12
Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 2:13
I wanted to bring you in because you are the Yoda of filmmaking, kickstarting crowdfunding? Is this is true,

Elise Mccave 2:19
I'm gonna take that as 100% or complimentary. Yes!

Alex Ferrari 2:25
Absolutely. So umm, from your perspective, I want to get a little bit into the weeds about what makes a good crowdfunding campaign and where filmmakers make their mistakes. So what is the the what, what makes a good crowdfunding campaign in general for film?

Elise Mccave 2:39
Yeah, totally. I think for film, the best crowdfunding campaigns are the ones where a filmmaker is kind of connecting themselves, with their audience through their film. So I think sometimes people might make the mistake that they don't want to, they don't want to appear too much in their video, or maybe they're going to try and write their page in the third person. And actually, the best, you know, the best campaigns are the ones where you really align yourself with your project. Yeah, yeah, totally. I mean, these projects are really personal. And when you are appealing to a large number of people to, you know, support you to create that vision, like you need to go personal.

Alex Ferrari 3:22
Now in the way the world works, that people do not, you know, give money to corporations as easily, or to entities, they will give it to somebody an artist, and be more personal will help that.

Elise Mccave 3:33
Yeah, totally. And, and so also, those great campaigns are the ones where you also kind of draw that relationship, also between the kind of the material in the in the film as well, you can do that through the way you talk about it. Also, through the kinds of rewards you're offering as well, when you really kind of are giving people a kind of insight into the creative process, insight and access to kind of the folks in the film, whether whether it's a documentary or narrative.

Alex Ferrari 3:59
Now, what happens is when I know this is like a pet peeve of mine, campaign videos, they are very unique and can vary from interesting to really well done. What are some tips that

Elise Mccave 4:14
You missed out terrible in that

Alex Ferrari 4:15
I was trying to be? I'm trying to be nice. There's some very bad ones. What are some tips that you would give filmmakers on how to actually make a campaign video that will actually convert

Elise Mccave 4:25
Totally, my first tip is just like, keep it short. Like imagine it's an elevator pitch. If it's five minutes long, and you really think that there's no fat to cut off it, you're so wrong. So you need to really for me, just like if there are a minute and a half. That's the kind of kind of second Oh, please. That's the sweet spot. Yeah. I mean, if you can't kind of wrap it up in that amount of time. I'm not saying you're going to cover everything. But if you can't make a compelling pitch in 90 seconds, then you're not doing a great job. So

Alex Ferrari 4:53
Do you suggest putting in clips from the movie if you've shot some stuff is an important

Elise Mccave 4:58
Yeah, I think the thing is that people have fun A very different times in the, you know, in the timeline of their film, some people are going to show, they're going to need to raise some money, you know, on Kickstarter, before they do anything before they can, you know, I don't know, higher, you know, higher sound person or whatever it is, that's the first thing, some people are gonna, are gonna raise money as for post production, right, so you're somewhat constrained by where you're at in the process, I definitely think that the more that you can, the more that you can offer an audience to give them a flavor of what they are, what they're supporting, whether that is, you know, shots, you know, from your, from your dailies, or from your documentary, or if it's just like test footage, that gives an idea of the kind of look and feel of the film, we

Alex Ferrari 5:46
Can also suggest possibly using footage from past projects just to prove that you are a filmmaker, and you can actually deliver what you're promising.

Elise Mccave 5:54
I think I think it does help. And in the same way that one of my pet peeves is when the audio on a project video is bad. I'm like, how can we believe you're gonna make a decent film for $2? million? Yeah, if you can't even make a 92nd thing? That sounds okay. So I think you know, it doesn't have to be incredibly high production value, but I think it does have to, like, give a suggestion of what you're capable of, and what you're kind of also what your personal aesthetic is. And people will forgive bad video before they forget that audio. I think so right?

Alex Ferrari 6:24
Something that even an independent film, you can have a beautifully shot thing or horribly shot thing. Look at Blair Witch. Yeah, I know, just Yeah, the letter, which are those things that was just horribly shot. And, you know, in the way it was, it was very badly done in that in the style, but the audio was good. If the audio was like, No, you just don't want to put $200 million in bad audio. And that's a much now which which, which brings within the next question. When filmmakers sometimes are a little, it's kind of like going into the Shark Tank, they overestimate their value of what they're trying to get and what they're trying to do. So, you know, when they go into, like, I need a million dollars for my first feature film that starring my best friend from high school, and it's a it's a drama, we're going to shoot it in black and white. And I've never really shot anything. Is that have you seen this I'm sure.

Elise Mccave 7:17
No, we see this kind of stuff all the time. But I think, you know, a lot of what my job is just to kind of just to just encourage people help people to be really just to be really realistic about what, what they're able to raise. And it's not a reflection of the quality of a project, it's usually more of a reflection of like, what are your pre existing networks? Like? Do you have an email list that you you know, that you're already regularly updating people on? You know, are you kind of active and really interesting, on on Twitter, or, you know, some other social media platform? So I think it's it's much less about, you know, your projects, good, your projects bad. It's more like, what have you got that you can that you can leverage,

Alex Ferrari 7:59
Right, because there was a, there was a project a while ago, that I saw on Kickstarter that they raised, I think, 1.2 million or something like that. But they had a massive online presence, a massive email list that they had been building up in their audience was just like this. And they were going for 250,000.

Elise Mccave 8:18
Yeah, I mean, a project like, you know, Mystery Science Theater already has all of those Chicagoland and those you know, those projects, which come out of, you know, a project that was beloved, of people in the past, people who maybe work kids are now at their peak earning capacity. You know, it's like, you know, you know, exactly, and so that, again, it's not a reflection necessarily of the quality of the projects, but one was great. But, but much more about, yeah. What is there already to leverage, you know, whose hearts and minds are already, like, deeply, you know, deeply committed to this thing.

Alex Ferrari 8:54
And you and you got your start in documentary, right?

Elise Mccave 8:57
Yeah, that's right. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 8:58
So yeah. So I think one thing that documentary does so well, is are, they're able to identify their audience, really crystal clear, they're, like, just laser focused on their audience. Much more than narrative, it's much harder with narrative and documentary, because, you know, if you have a documentary about, you know, dog fighting, that's an audience, you can target that audience. I always use the vegan chef, you know, movie to movies about vegan chefs or about, you know, getting healthier yoga. Those are things that you can pinpoint. And I feel that narrative filmmakers don't do it as well. Do you agree?

Elise Mccave 9:32
I think it's some You're right. There's some there's some kind of competitive advantage kind of baked into dogs. I think, in addition to the fact that a documentary filmmaker is often not making the film until they're making the film, I mean, they didn't know they were making the film and they were just like, yeah, I'm gonna go shoot some stuff, then I kind of follow their nose. So actually, by the time they're raising money, they may actually have quite a lot of the footage in the footage in the cam. And and often if they feel that there's a film there And that means that I've actually got some really compelling stuff in the can. So I think there is there's that is like a, it's easier to kind of draw people in, because you're drawing them in with really, you know, what is going to be in the film and in the end, and I think you're right that like, I probably it's probably more often that I speak to a narrative filmmakers and they say, I want to make a film for everyone, I really think this film could, you know, could could reach to everyone. Yeah, you know, to which I say, you know, if you're making a film for everyone, the risk is you make a film for no one. And so it is a kind of a process of Yes, exactly. Getting them to be incredibly specific. Like what two three communities are we talking about

Alex Ferrari 10:38
It's like they say niches are in the riches are in the niches. Yeah, because it's true. Like you got to niche down and I think in, in the independent world, I think it's so important to niche down, because I've had so many filmmakers I've talked to they're like, yeah, I'm gonna make this wide audience might, you don't have $100 million in marketing to get it to, you know, males from 18 to 35? It's right. That's not a demographic you can hit. Yeah, but you could hit people who are against dogfighting or people who are against GMOs or something.

Elise Mccave 11:05
Yeah. 20 to 25 year old men who love MMA, I don't know. Yeah, exactly. That's a group of people we can we can figure out where they are. We can find them.

Alex Ferrari 11:13
Yeah, right. Exactly.

Elise Mccave 11:14
Of course, the niches thing doesn't work for me, because I pronounced it niche. And there's a niche, then I'd be saying the riches are in the niches and the rich,

Alex Ferrari 11:20
The reaches or it doesn't, doesn't work for you as much

Elise Mccave 11:25
Well find something else. So find something else.

Alex Ferrari 11:28
Now with. With you, we're talking about leveraging, when you leverage and this is something I think filmmakers especially when they're crowdfunding don't understand the what they have to do as far as marketing it, and leveraging whatever networks they have, and doing all this before they'd spend their time putting together a Kickstarter campaign, or crowdfunding campaign, because they're just basically sending out the links to their mom and their friends. So I'm like, well, that's just friend crowding. Or don't even go through the crowdfunding campaign. At that point, just call your friends call your money and get money to write check, write, just write them a check, as opposed to trying to reach people who are not in your inner circle, understanding social media understanding email, which is so powerful. Can you elaborate a little bit about that?

Elise Mccave 12:11
Yeah, sure. I mean, you're you're kind of spot on there. I think one of the things I'm encouraging people to do is not just think of thinking of this kind of this big kind of time commitment, you know, which running a campaign like this is, as just being, you know, you're putting in this time to raise this money, but actually thinking of it in a much grander sense, which is this work that you're going to do, preparing for and running this campaign is going to pay dividends throughout the life of this film, and probably throughout the life of your career, people, relationships that you build now, through your outreach, may well be relationships that come back around again, and again, again, this project future projects. So that's one thing, you know, because what I'm then going on to say is to give them a kind of a kind of to do list, which is incredibly long and can be quite overwhelming. So it doesn't do like encourage them. But this is like an investment in the you know, in the in the long term. Right. But yeah, you're right, that basically, the key is in the preparation, like,

Alex Ferrari 13:11
How long should you prep for 90 days, right? Yeah, yeah, it's 90,

Elise Mccave 13:15
I think, well, it doesn't have to Yeah, I think three, I think three months is a good is a really good kind of benchmark. And spending that time doing this work of identifying, identifying those communities, figuring out what all the different ways I can get to that community, like where are they Where do they live online, you know, simultaneously building up your database of contacts, just really kind of going through it or building content to feed that audience. And it doesn't have to be specifically your content, it could be just content that they want content that they want. I think we kind of figure on a sort of like a 7030 ratio, which is like, once you've got that, you know, you've got your Facebook page up and running or your Twitter account, or however it is you think you're going to best communicate your kind of vision to your to your audience, your potential audience, like 70% of the time, you need to be feeding them stuff that they want, and you can 30% of the time you can you can pair that with another sock. Yeah, yeah, exactly. But once he once you kind of, you know, once that balance falls out a little bit. You know, people start rolling.

Alex Ferrari 14:21
It's kind of the Gary Vee thing Gary Vaynerchuk, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. is he's right on social media. Yeah, bring him in, bring him in them. Give him give him give something give, give, give, give give us something.

Elise Mccave 14:33
Let's just not make it too much of a violent analogy about people. Maybe it's like, tickle, tickle, tickle, hug, tickle.

Alex Ferrari 14:45
Just like you know what? I'm gonna use tickle. Come on. I'm gonna call Gary up. I'm gonna say you know, you need to change the name but

Elise Mccave 14:50
It's my fault. I introduced MMA to this conversation. You did bring the MMA into the situation. It's my fault.

Alex Ferrari 14:56
So tell me a little bit about what Kickstarter is doing for filmmakers because I know back in the day when Kickstarter first started, you know, it's very much in the DNA, as we were saying, in the company, the arts and everything. So what is Kickstarter doing now for filmmakers? Because now for a lot of times, as far as the branding is concerned, at least in my eyes, like, it's the latest pen that makes coffee as opposed to race, you know what? I'm saying? Yeah, there are, there's and so kitchen has just become this monster thing. What is what is Pixar doing specifically for filmmakers? Sure.

Elise Mccave 15:28
I mean, you know, we're obviously very active in all areas of creative life, including the pen that makes the Manhattan but and I would do anything. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, um, we have this great, we have a really wonderful community outreach team. And that is people like me and the rest of my film team, which are really just kind of working one on one with filmmakers, we tend to meet them like after, you know, at festivals, in markets when their projects are in production. And they're looking for funding. And we're working one on one with those filmmakers to make sure that their campaigns are the best that they can be. And that they have this Intel, which is like, Whoa, don't launch your campaign yet, you've got so much to do.

Alex Ferrari 16:08
So you actually hold you hold their hand a little

Elise Mccave 16:10
I'm doing Yeah, I don't know, maybe how much of my time maybe 30, or 40% is working with filmmakers. More broadly, we have kind of other initiatives, like our artist residency. So we've had over the last two artists residences, which we piloted earlier, in 2017. Three, three sets of filmmakers who've come in, they've come in three months use the office, maybe edited their film there, maybe run their campaign campaign from there. So we've kind of we're doing again, we do, obviously, we have this platform, which reaches millions. And then we're also doing this kind of much more tailored one on one work with particular focus on female filmmakers, filmmakers from the queer community and filmmakers of color. We also run a sort of rough cut screening series, we have a theater in our office in in New York. So every week or two, we've got a filmmaker coming in and screening a rough cut for me and maybe their funders, maybe their execs, maybe their creative team. So that stuff is you know, it's not enormously scalable. But it's very important for us to kind of have our sort of hands on a very hands on relationship with our kind of immediate film community. And then I guess the other kind of sort of big news from the last two or three months, is a new product that we just launched called drip, which is about filmmakers, and not just filmmakers, but artists, being able to secure funding that is not kind of, you know, one specific project or campaign base, but actually ongoing funding, which is going to allow them to, you know, to be more sustainable to to, you know, receive funding every month to keep them and their practice kind of sustained. And as is something that they give for that is like they given exclusive to some of their our or some of their Yeah, that's the kind of exactly what would what we've tried to do is to encourage people, like if you're a filmmaker, don't feel that you only have to offer, you know, your supporters. You know, films, like if you're a filmmaker who's also like, you know, has a has a, I don't know, a sideline in photography, or is a wonderful poet. We're encouraging people to explore their kind of Yeah, their creative practice in its broadest sense. And offer an offer that up to their backers, as well. Yeah, so sort of an opportunity for them to, you know, not just sustained but also built.

Alex Ferrari 18:39
Now, what is the, like, one of the biggest mistakes you see first time filmmakers do in crowdfunding?

Elise Mccave 18:46
I mean, we kind of touched it like not prepare. Okay, make a video that is eight minutes long. Yeah. And then the audio Yan has bad audio, I think that's probably you know, offer 30 different rewards, that involves them making a lot of stuff that isn't making their film. But you know, I'm mostly like, encouraging people to keep it like, simple like, please simplify, you know, just a few rewards.

Alex Ferrari 19:11
Yeah. Can we talk a little bit about rewards what what should because that's a big kind of gray area and a lot of misinformation about rewards, like how much stuff should you do? Because you know, when you do you could go crazy. I've seen 40 rewards and I've seen five Yeah, what do you suggest and then what out of the number but then what you suggest you get, I guess it gets case by case.

Elise Mccave 19:34
It's really it really depends on what kind of film it is, you know, and what you're kind of what your hook is, if it is a you know, if it's like the Joan Didion documentary, well then your hooks going to be Joan Didion. But if it's a kind of a narrative short about something, you know, a kind of, I don't know characters that we don't know anything about, and it's played by actors we don't know. Then it's, you know, you're not going to you're not going to tie your reward. So much to those lead actors or right yeah, so it Yeah, it's varies, but I tend to say, look, keep it like seven levels or lower. Try not to produce too many opportunities, too many physical things because you're not a T shirt factory, you're a filmmaker. When this completes, I want you to go and make a wonderful film, not a great t shirt. Right? Um, sometimes, you know, that's gonna work, offering some kind of physical reward, but I try and like, you know,

Alex Ferrari 20:28
Executive producer. Yeah. And you know, if you're smart about it, those things don't feel like a consolation. They're like, that's meaningful kind of access and insight. But does the world need another? You know, another mug? Probably not. But I mean, if you offer off like a co producer credit, yeah, executive producer credit that they get on IMDB and they get they get either, you know, have access to the premiere and all that stuff adds big, totally, very big. I know a couple guys that you know, they just want to have an IMDb IMDb credits. Yeah, for a co producer. And they would just throw a grand out

Elise Mccave 21:03
Yeah, on people. And people want to be part of something they want to say. I also was part of Yeah, yeah. And they don't just want to be able to say it, but they like a lot of people want to join something, you know, not everyone has the privilege to work in a creative field, right. But but most people value the creative fields. So to be kind to feel that you have catalyzed someone else's vision, and to then be included in their family as a result of that is gratifying. And so yes, I want to come to, you know, I want to come to a screening with my fellow backers, like that's, that's community. So I'm, you know, I'm definitely always encouraging that kind of, you know, think think that you are creating a community. And how do you do that?

Alex Ferrari 21:45
And never underestimate the power of wanting to belong? Yeah. and wanting to join? Yeah, even a small rebellion. But just join a group of people to do something. And you're right. There's a lot of dentists and doctors and other people out there that like, I've kind of always wanted to be in films, but I can't, but I least I can go to three grand and be a part of it. Yeah.

Elise Mccave 22:08
Or I don't really have an idea for film. But if I did, I wish it had been that idea. And I, you know, and I want to help this person, you know, I want to help this person realize that dream. So I think that's very powerful. And it's good not to underestimate the power of that. Now, what should be on the actual crowdfunding page? it because there's a there's a design, design? How do you lay it out? In your opinion? Yeah, really be the Convert, to convert? I think, you know, I think that personal connection, you know, the, the sort of like, why, you know, why this film? Why? Why you why you making this film, why should you be the one and why now, so like to give that kind of a, like a sense of urgency, this film is is, you know, is a film for now, because, and I'm not saying that it has to be kind of sort of deeply focused on some kind of current issue. But I think some sense of, you know, why we should, why we should care right now. So like really routing routing the project in in, you know, in the wine, and the now is going to kind of serve you. I don't think there's a structure, you know, a kind of structure, it would be very boring to browse the same thing except browse projects. Yeah, exactly. on the site, if you were like me, now, those

Alex Ferrari 23:24
Do also recommend, like, just leveraging whatever you have. So if you have actors, leverage those actors, if you have a location, yeah, leverage that if you have something else, leverage it.

Elise Mccave 23:33
Yeah, yeah, if you have a composer, but it's kind of worked on a bunch of great stuff, you know, or a band that's like locally known, that's going to do the theme tune at the end of it, what I think exactly recognize it's about kind of building a map of your project, and, and recognizing what are the assets, and they might not, they might be things that you didn't realize were assets, like, it just take some times is part of that kind of strategy work of like, what have we got here? What are the access points into this project. And, and then, and then building out from there, we had a project that was, was set and shot in Big Sur. And, you know, so actually, those filmmakers offered like, kind of inspiration guide, how they had, you know, how they had been inspired to set it in Big Sur, they offered one of their rewards was kind of like a digital list of, of all of the places and the hikes that places they'd been and loved the hikes that they'd been on while they researched and shot the film, you know that that was super valuable. Yeah, it became a resource that people didn't have to give very much to get that but it kind of felt and it felt very personal specific to the film. So um, so I think Yeah, exactly. Figuring out what are the hidden assets here, and then putting them to work.

Alex Ferrari 24:48
Now, what advice would you give a filmmaker just starting out in the business?

Elise Mccave 24:52

Alex Ferrari 24:55
That's a heavy question. I asked that question of all my guests,

Elise Mccave 24:58
I think, I don't know. I think it's something About hustling. You got to hustle

Alex Ferrari 25:03
No pun intended?

Elise Mccave 25:06
Yes, you do, like you do. And like you see an opening, you kind of go for it. You see someone walking down the street, you know, hear you, you got to go for I mean, you know, don't be an irritant. Yes, there's ways to do it. And there's ways to do it. Yes. Don't don't bug someone while they clearly eating. You know what they're saying. They're off duty. But like, yeah, you gotta you gotta hustle

Alex Ferrari 25:30
And you have to hustle. 24? Seven for years. Yeah. For years. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life? These are deep, these are deep, I told you.

Elise Mccave 25:47
Give me a heads up. Sorry, I suspect that I suspect the biggest lessons of my life I haven't learned yet.

Alex Ferrari 25:54
That's a good answer. I've had that a couple of times on the show. Very good. And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Elise Mccave 26:00
Oh, my days

Alex Ferrari 26:02
Just today what comes to your head? I'm not gonna hold you to this is not gonna be on your gravestone.

Elise Mccave 26:06
I know. I know. This is this May I still love. Truly, madly, deeply.

Alex Ferrari 26:12
That's a great one. I still love it. Yeah. And I'll let people know about that movie with. It was great, great. Great movie.

Elise Mccave 26:19
I can't wait for that one. Yeah, I'm, I'm in the car. from Salt Lake City to here. As you know, maybe it was the car to the airport. My colleague yabo and I literally listed all of our favorite Whoopi Goldberg movies. Okay. Yeah, of which I would say, I'm going to put forward jumping jack flash. Our entry point to that was the point in ghost when she can't let go the checks I made

Alex Ferrari 26:45

Elise Mccave 26:50
And for my last film, I'll say I'm the devil and Daniel Johnston.

Alex Ferrari 26:54
Oh, that's great very cool. At least thank you so much for being on the show and dropping some knowledge bombs on the tribe.

Elise Mccave 27:02
Thank you for this Manhattan.

Alex Ferrari 27:05
And it's a great Sundance so far, it's quiet right now we just started out but hopefully we'll drop some snow.

Elise Mccave 27:11
It will

Alex Ferrari 27:11
Thank you so much for being on the show.

Elise Mccave 27:13
Thank's for having me.

Alex Ferrari 27:14
At least dropped some major knowledge bombs on the tribe today. Thank you so much, Elise, for coming in and sharing all of your insider tips on how to make a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. If you guys want to links to anything we talked about in this episode, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/217 I'm going to be out quick today guys because I am working on that top secret project that I will be announcing very soon. But February is going to be a busy busy month for me so bear with me, but I will keep popping out this content as fast as I possibly can. Keep that also going keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




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