Do you have a million-dollar idea and a zero dollar budget? Sales and fundraising can be intimidating, and as creatives it can be hard to activate the business side of our brain. FEAR NO MORE! Crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo make it easy for filmmakers and artists to raise money and build an audience simultaneously.
In the latest LoudaVision podcast, I speak with John T. Trigonis, author of “Crowdfunding for Filmmakers”. We discuss practical tips to make your campaign stand out, and common mistakes we should avoid when launching. Also, ways to overcome the shame associated with asking for money. John shares his IndieGoGo expertise on how anyone can surpass their crowdfunding goals, and put the fun in crowdFUNding.
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Hi, friends. Thanks for listening to the LoudaVision podcast for creative people. I’m your host, filmmaker, and artist, Laura Meoli. Before we meet today’s guest, I wanted to tell you about a great resource for filmmakers looking for pre-made sound effects and music for your next project. They’re all royalty-free, which means you can use these elements in your videos and social media content. You can post it online, make money and have fun creating without worrying about getting sued. Getting unlimited stock audio downloads for less than $100 with my special link to AudioBlocks, which you can find on my website LoudaVision.com. Unlike almost all other stock music sites, you’re getting an unlimited amount of downloads for one full year. You can download and use as many tracks as you need and keep using it forever.
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Today’s guest is John T. Trigonis. He’s the author of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers. He’s also Indiegogo’s Head Film and Creative Campaign Strategist. Hi, John. Thanks for coming on the podcast.
Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign
Hey, Laura. Thank you so much for having me. I'm definitely really excited to be here.
Tell us what you do at Indiegogo. That's awesome that you work there.
It's a pretty awesome job. It's been four years now. This is actually the start of my fifth year, which makes me quite a bit of a veteran which is nice. I’ve got a nice little seniority, it's neat. I am their Head Film and Creative Campaign Strategist. What that translates to is I'm the guy who works definitely all of the big $100,000 and up campaigns for film and creative, which is music, gaming, art, photography, comics etc. I give advice, consult, and sometimes give ideas to make the campaigns raise more funds from more backers than they would without somebody like me behind the scenes giving them that advice.
Nice. You're the true crowdfunding expert.
That's what I hear. I'll take it. It works for me.
Before we talk about your book, which I read and I loved, in addition to being an author and a speaker, I have found you from a TED Talk that I was watching about crowdfunding. I just wanted to know, what was it like giving a TED Talk?
That's a good question. Let me bring myself back, because I think that was in late 2014 I did that. It was awesome. To do a TED Talk is like, where do you go from there? It's like a pretty high thing there. I loved it. It was definitely very different for me. I'm a speaker. I'm a performance poet. I do a lot of things. I'm no stranger to a stage. But I am a stranger to rehearsing over and over again a script. I'm the kind of guy that I read it a little bit and then I go up there. As long as I know what I got to hit, the points I got to hit, I like to just riff off of it.
The TED Talk was a little bit stifling for me. If you look at that talk and my movements, I'm much less comfortable. Most people can't tell that, but I'm much less comfortable than some of the other videos I've done where it's just me doing my thing and being allowed to explore as I'm actually doing the talking and working off of the crowd. The TED Talk, great experience. It was a challenge for me to do four drafts. I almost didn’t make it into that one. One of the people knew that I could do it. They gave me a second chance and then I wowed them with that. I had to just rewrite the script a bunch of times. At the end of the day, it was just too rehearsed for what I like to present out to the world.
I like your Instagram because you're putting up these videos everyday when you're just walking and you're telling us things. I feel like that's so unique and engaging because it's just you talking.
That's me. That's the real me. It's just, "Hey, this is what I learned this morning in two hours, as I was stretching and doing yoga.” I'm sharing that. It's totally unrehearsed. I don’t even listen to them. I definitely don’t even listen to them at all until I’d accidentally see them later on in the day. A lot of times, I just do it and it's done.
That is very brave. You just post it. No filter.
Exactly. No filter. When I first did it, I would do five videos and I'd have to choose one and then it was just killing my morning completely. I was like, "Yeah, I can't really keep that up."
Let's learn some more about crowdfunding. Your book is called, Crowdfunding for Filmmakers. What I like about it is you talk about crowdfunding in comparison with the ancient Chinese philosophy of Daoism. Daoism talks about the importance of keeping the universe and our self in proper balance, going with the flow and not challenging it and embracing simplicity and gentleness above all else. I'm stealing this from your book just to explain what it is. Now, when most people think of crowdfunding, we think of these aggressive sales tactics and we almost feel like we're bothering people sometimes. How did you come up with the idea to approach crowdfunding from this perspective of Daoism?
I actually learned it firsthand. Then I incorporated it into the book because I knew that it was the only way that I would be able to actually write a 250-page book about financing films. It's a boring topic, in a lot of ways to a lot of people. Especially to me because I'm just like, "I just want to make a film. Let me crowdfund.” I wanted to make it more digestible and give a bigger meaning to people out who are reading it. Maybe if they don’t crowdfund because they realized they read my book and they're like, "Oh, crowdfunding is not for me." Maybe they'll get into the philosophy and that could change their life.
I learned it firsthand through crowdfunding, because I did it in 2010. I had no idea what I was doing. Part of my reason to crowdfund was because I could use a little extra money and pay some people that might not get paid because I didn’t have money. It's always a good thing. You pay a PA, all of a sudden it makes their day, when they were originally working for experience. I also did it because I did not believe crowdfunding worked. I did not believe the internet was going to give me $5,000 to make my little dinky short film. I was horrifically proven wrong and converted like Constantine on the battlefield when he saw the crucifix, and he was like, "I get it."
When I went into crowdfunding, I did it for the wrong reason. I did it obviously to prove it wrong, that's definitely the wrong reason, but I also did it for the money. I was like, “I could use $5,000.” Obviously, that's what crowdfunding is. You ask people for money. Then I realized when I started getting a lot of these contributions from strangers that I had just been talking to for a few months on Twitter, and most of my money came from Twitter, not even from family and friends. I'm still to this day a big anomaly with that.
When I realized that, I literally had to shut down for a day and process this. That's when I figured out, I'm going about this harder rather than smarter. I'm doing it for money when I shouldn’t be doing it because of this community. As soon I started working and giving to the community, then just like going with the flow, you give, you get. That's when it clicked. I was like, "This reminds me of Daoism a lot." I went back to my Tao Te Ching, which is the Daoist book. I started reading that. It was helping me to really see this crowdfunding thing as not about funding, but about the word that comes right before the funding, which is the crowd. If you make it about that, the funding is a byproduct that comes.
This is something that today, people still don’t want to accept that philosophy. They jump in, they want the money, and that's why we see a lot of people with, "I won $50,000." They get $5,000, because that's the amount of work you did and that's the amount of community engagement you did. If you want $50,000, you’ve got to triple that. Still going with that flow, but you've got to do it, my tree-hugging statement, for the right reason. It's absolute fact though. Again firsthand, it really moved me and affected me. Because I've been the kind of guy that I just don’t like money at all. I do not like what it stands for, do not like capitalism. I'm not into any of this stuff. Back then I wasn’t, but now, because of all of this, I'm like, “I get it. If you do it for the right reasons.”
Crowdfunding is just like going with the flow: you give, you get.
As creative people, we have a hard time talking about money. It often gets us in a lot of trouble. For myself, I'm in the early stages of developing and thinking about my crowdfunding campaign for my show, Community TV. Honestly, it feels like a bother and it feels like I'm going to be begging people for money and there's a shame associated with it. How do we overcome that shame of asking people for help? Because a lot of creative people, they don’t want to even think about money.They don't want to make their budget. They don’t want to do the things that get people success in crowdfunding on Indiegogo for sure.
I think it's a mindset thing. I think one big takeaway that your audience can definitely get here is, you need to convince yourself that it is not asking for money. The way to convince yourself is to believe it, simple as that. Again, I've changed the language of how I present things. I'm the only person who probably doesn't call the campaign video a pitch video. Because pitch, all of the sudden, you're putting on a suit and tie and your business person asking for money. No. It took me three years to realize that. That's not what it's about. I changed the word pitch video and pitch in general, to invitation. That's in my TED Talk. I came up with this whole thing in the TED Talk because as I was practicing one of the first drafts, I was talking about what I called my three P’s years ago, which is the three P’s of a successful campaign. You need a pitch, you need perks and you need promotion. It worked in 2010 to about 2013, 2014.
Now, just like marketing is a bad word, crowdfunding is almost becoming a bad word because it’s associated erroneously with begging for money, asking for money. It's a hassle when as a backer or a potential backer, you get that email from your friend that says, "Hey, I'm making this thing. I need some money. Here's my campaign draft." I then realized as I was doing my TED Talk, the rehearsing of it, something good came out of the rehearsing, I guess. I changed those things because everybody was just taking it too seriously. It's not that serious because you can't sell the people if you want them to actually give you their money, you have to mask it in a certain way.
The pitch is now the invitation. They’re called the three Ins. I couldn’t think of a better title. The three Ins of crowdfunding or as I like to say it, three ways to get people into your crowdfunding campaign. Number one is the invitation. That's your pitch. You're going to invite them in to your world, to the world of your film, to the world of whatever you're trying to do. Don’t just be like, "Hey, I want to do this. I could use your help." "No, who are you? I've got fifteen other friends that need my help, and I'm not giving any of them because they're asking me for money." The minute you give them an offer they can't refuse, you make an invitation into the world of making this film and all it cost them is a minimum of $10, now you've got somebody saying, "I'm getting an experience out of this. This person wants my help, not my money, my help."
It's really just changing that mindset. I can go into the other two Ins later maybe, but I want to stay focused on this great question because it is a mindset thing. That's how I got through it for my second campaign that I did for my comic book. I used my own philosophy. It was an invitation. I was bringing people into that world and I was giving, giving, giving, so that all they had to do then was, "I want more. I like what he's given me." Boom, the money was in. You’ve got to give, give, give first and then you accept and you earn it. It is a hard thing because a lot of creatives are introverts. As my colleague, Marc Hofstatter, he's our Head of Film at Indiegogo. He had this great saying that I heard on a podcast that he said. I'm going to paraphrase it but it was like, "The age of the shy filmmaker is over."
You need to convince yourself that it is not asking for money. It's an invitation to your world.
You can't be shy anymore.
You can't be shy. It doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk because that's not going to get you anywhere either. You’ve got to be a little bit outgoing. If you can't be outgoing, you’ve got to be passionate about your project and you’ve got to get that passion across. If you can’t, there's 50 other filmmakers that are going to be ten times more passionate, ten times more outspoken and raise ten times more money than you ever will from ten times the amount of audience members, sitting there in front of the computer with a film that nobody actually wants to see because you're not out there. It's a sad thing, but it's a reality. We do have to start convincing ourselves that crowdfunding is not about asking for money. It's about offering a larger experience to our backers. When we get that, we can do that.
Crowdfunding seems like such a huge undertaking. I felt like I had to read your book before I could even think about making a crowdfunding campaign because there's just so much that goes into it. To make a successful campaign, you don’t want to put something out there and then fail. What is one tip you can give filmmakers for creating a successful campaign? Just one because I'm sure they'll go out and get your book and read all the great tips. Just one small tip we can use to get started.
Fifteen of them are popping in my head right now. It's hard to whittle it down to one. I’ll do one and a half. The half is one that you actually alluded to, which is your goal. Looking at your goal and setting the right goal. Your budget may be $50,000. You might not be able, at this point in time, to get $50,000. Because the general rule is if you can't get 30% of that amount from family and friends, you probably will be struggling to get to the full 100%. That first third, if your family and friends aren't putting in, the general public nowadays is going to be like, "Why should I put in?" The one thing that disregards that, for lack of a better word, is if you have an amazing idea and everybody thinks it's amazing the minute it goes out. You have a viral video and it just attracts people to the story of the film. Then you probably might not need your family and friends because you have that cool of an idea. We all think our ideas are that cool, they're not.
Those are the unicorns in the tech world. Not everybody has going to be Facebook and SnapChat. You have a film and you're going to have an audience, but it just might be a smaller audience. You want to set a goal, because like you said, you don’t want it to be on your permanent record because a crowdfunding campaign doesn't go away. It stays there. You Google that ten years from now, it will come up. It will say, "You failed." Again, failure, I don’t look it at that way, like hitting the goal or not, but the general public does. "Oh, it's a successful campaign because it hit its goal." You’ve got to cater to these people because they're going to want to see that goal hit. You set a smaller goal, you do what I say, and you shoot low and aim high. Hit that goal in half the time, and then you ascend to hitting the real goal that you initially wanted. At least you've gotten that taken care off. The smaller goal gets done. Now, we can go for the actual goal that you have inside of your head. That's the half rule.
The one thing that people can definitely do, and it's becoming more and more important, is designing their campaign, not just having a bunch of text. I still get campaigns that launch, they don't know to come to me at Indiegogo, and be like, "Hey, can you look at my campaign?" They don’t know that sometimes because they didn't read my book, and it says in my book. I think it says at the very end, you can talk to me, but I'm not sure. People see me all the time. Most of them do know that they can reach out to me, send me a draft. Those who don’t, they'll launch and then I'll check it out because they'll ask me to contribute. If it's not 30% funded, I don’t contribute, because that's not going to get to the goal. Then I look at them and I'm like, "Oh, here's why it's not getting funded, because it's all text. It's boring."
You're a filmmaker. Number one rule is don’t be boring. Number two rule is you're a filmmaker, you don’t write, you shoot. You work in visuals. Your campaign should be an extension of the movie that you're hoping to make, which means none of these bold and slightly bigger font headers, no. Design a banner in Photoshop and lay them out, make it look nice. I'm a pie chart snob. The minute I see a piechart that looks like something out of Microsoft Office, I'm just like, "Guys, come on, get creative. You're filmmakers or you're not?"
I'm very passionate about this because it's important, you want to immerse me. Remember, I said, it's about the invitation. This is part of inviting me in. I am not going to spend five minutes of my time as a backer, as a potential backer, reading your campaign. I might watch your video. The video should be pretty good, but I'm not going to read the rest of it if it's all text. I want to see, get a visual representation of how awesome that this story is because the video tells me what your story is. The campaign page is going to tell me how awesome your movie story is or what you're trying to do is. That is going to be the thing that gets me in. The more visual, the better. It's becoming more important simply because nobody is reading. Our attention spans are whittling to the size of gnat eggs. We just don’t have the time, or we think we don’t have the time.
Your crowdfunding campaign should be an extension of the movie that you're hoping to make.
It's unfortunate. It's a very good tip because a lot of stuff is online, a lot of stuff is available and there are so many campaigns that we can contribute to. If you find a really flashy gorgeous campaign, even if the content is not as good, shiny things.
That's a great point. Believe me, I've seen a lot of campaigns where I'm like, "How the hell did that get funded?" The idea is not my cup of tea. I found myself looking and being like, "Oh, wow, that's cool. All right." Mostly in gaming campaigns. I'm not a big gamer but sometimes I see them and I'm like, "All right, I'm not into this, but man, these are cool. That board game looks neat.” I almost want to buy it, just because these visuals are getting me in, they’re sucking me in. Again, if a filmmaker can't do those things on his own or her own, that's fine. Hire somebody. Get somebody to do it. Photoshop is out there. Every third person in a row of ten knows how to use Photoshop. There are no real excuses. The design might not be the greatest, but at least it's better than bold.
That's true. Photoshop is something that anyone can learn. You just remind me to tell people about my free Photoshop tutorial. I'll teach anybody that wants to learn, any level, even if you've never used Photoshop before, how to retouch photos, how to move within the program. That's a good resource that could get you started to make your crowdfunding campaign.
I think that's a great resource. I still can't understand layers. It's the hardest thing. When I have to make a poster, I do it like a collage and stuff. I don't have Photoshop either because it's pricey. These things, there’s always ways around it. The education, you know it, it's out there.
As creative people, how do we strike a balance between crowdfunding, which seems so money focused, and being passionate about our project? We have this creative side, but then we have to put on this other hat of being a money person. It seems like just a different skill that doesn't always go together.
That's a great question, Laura. I would say, and I'm talking as a creative, I’m just as much creative as anything else. I think there is no difference when it comes to crowdfunding. If you want an investor, you can get an investor. Investors are easy to get nowadays. Everybody is looking to give money to something. You just got to have some contacts. Then you have to be a little bit of a business person. You have to put on the mask and be like, "I'm passionate. This is a great project.” Button up your shirt and tie and then be like, "Here's my plan of how we're going to make money for you, this and that." That world, yes, you have to do that.
In the crowdfunding world, if you do that, you will not get funded, unless you're doing some kind of a tech project. Even then, nobody wants to see a suit and tie at this point. Nobody wants to see somebody too stiff and rigid and talking about money, money, money. This isn't Mad Money, that TV show. It's not. Even that, the only way people can watch that is because of that guy's personality. That guy has got the knowledge. He's animated. That's all it takes. That's the passion. As creatives, we just need to be just as creative in our campaigning as we would be in the writing, and the producing, and the shooting, and the editing of our films. That's something that a lot of people don’t do because it takes a lot of time, and because they still think that crowdfunding is about the money.
That's how I know they think crowdfunding is about the money. They take it too serious. Crowdfunding does not have to be serious, the more serious it is, the less likely you're going to get funded. If you're not having a good time. I make the joke, it’s crowd-fun-ding. It's reallly because I don’t want to see the word funding. Because funding is boring and adult. I don’t feel like adulating anytime soon. I'm going to be 39 this month. I don’t want to grow up yet. I'm still eighteen in my mind. That's the key. Don't grow up. Make your films. Be crazy. Win people when you invite them in because you're inviting them into your crazy world and the crazy world of the thing you're trying to produce. Obviously, you have to tell them, "By the way, your money is going to go towards X, Y, and Z.” That's what the cool looking pie charts are for. That's relevant and still reminds us of what your film is about because that's how it goes. You're not going to give them a budget breakdown. We don’t need that stuff.
Nobody wants to see an Excel spreadsheet.
Forget it, kiss of death. I think you're right on. This is what people think, that they have to put a mask on. In the world we live in today, we don’t want masks, we want the real person. Even on social media. I always think back to the days of Myspace when we were like Jtrigs97, whatever, so that nobody knew who you were. Then Facebook came around and everybody used real names.
They want your last name and everything.
They want your last name because it gives us trust. Trust is the linchpin that crowdfunding is built on top of. That's the foundation, trust. We have to be able to trust that you do know how to do your craft of making a movie. That's where you’ve got to be creative and cool and passionate. We also got a trust that you're giving us enough information where we know where our money is going to go because it still is our money until we make that contribution and it becomes your money.
Trust is the linchpin that crowdfunding is built on top of. That's the foundation, trust.
Speaking of money, how do we compete with the Spike Lee and all these other famous celebrities who are using crowdfunding for their projects and getting this huge amounts? We’re just an everyday John, everyday Laura, just regular people. How do we compete with that?
The quick answer is we don’t, because it's two different levels. They are not taking away from any of us. That's the misconception that a lot of people have out there. I had it too because again, I'm like, "What the hell are these celebrities doing in crowdfunding?"
They have money.
That's also slightly a misconception. Most of them honestly, they do have the money. They're not crowdfunding for the funding, they're crowdfunding for the crowd, which means, strangely enough, they're doing it 110% right. They're doing it for the right reasons. Of course, it depends on the story they want to tell. You look at people like Zach Braff. He got what I call Brafflashed, where everybody was giving him backlash on his campaign because he did stupid things. He said things that went against those things. You don’t do that.
He raised money even though when you Google him, he's worth so much more than what he was trying to raise, which means he's got that money. He was doing it really to get his friends involved. The big thing that he did is he took money when he said he wouldn't take any corporate type money from distributors and things like that. When he went to Cannes, he took a deal. It pissed off all of the backers. That was one. Then when the movie premiered at Sundance, a lot of who paid I think about a year earlier to get into this premier could not get in. That was a big issue. Again, you’ve got to do it right, not just for the right reasons. He got a lot of backlash.
Spike Lee initially got backlashed because his first video came across as a bit of a jerk with a huge ego, and he wasn't getting funding. He realized that wasn't the right video. He did a new one and then he did a great job with the campaign. I worked with Don Cheadle, and his team on the Miles Ahead campaign. They were concerned too, "What if we get this backlash?" I’m like, “You guys aren’t because Don has an amazing story.” He’s tried to get this movie done through Hollywood and they’re all interested but they don’t want him directing it. That’s a beautiful story to the audience and be like, “Hey, guys, I want to direct this film. Hollywood is not going to let me. I want to make this with you guys.” He’s not trying for $2 million. He was trying for $200 something thousand. There is a lot of good strategies that went into keeping that down.
The only thing we have to compete with now is each other because all of us have great ideas.
When you look at all of these people, they’re no different than any of us. We’re filmmakers. I’ve spent my own money for the last ten years on every single one of my films. I do not add up how much I’ve spent because it would make me sick to my stomach. I think like, “Wow, I could have been living life. Going on vacations.” But I did not. I made movie upon movie upon movie, one movie a year for ten years, short films. Again, between $5 and $25,000 each. It adds up. I’m at the point now, I’m getting up there in age. I’m like, “The next movie I make I’m not spending my own money, because why should I?”
That’s the idea. That’s their mentality too, the celebrities. Why should we? That’s our mentality with crowdfunding. Why should I spend my own money or, in our case, all of my own money? Some of it, because we’ve got to put it in. All of those celebrity campaigners, they put in too. Not into their campaign, but they put money in. They were asking for additional. That’s the key thing. That’s how you escape that. In terms of competing with them, we’re at a totally different level. They don’t come around often. When is the last million dollar celebrity campaign we’ve seen? It’s been a while. Crowdfunding is still for the people and for the people who truly need it, which is us.
The only thing we have to compete with now is each other because all of us have great ideas. It’s just, we’ve got to hit that family and friend’s base so we build up enough money in the bank, 30% worth roughly, so that when someday pitches it to me, I’m excited not only by the person behind the idea and the idea. But I am also excited because this thing is actually looking like it’s going to happen. My money can actually push them forward even more, versus I get your campaign, it’s 2% funded. Then I get my other friends and his is 24%. It’s like, “Really, whom am I going to give my money to?”
You want to have the most impact.
Exactly, and you want to win. We live in a culture of winning. We want to bet on that winning horse. We want to feel like, “Hey, we made the right decision by putting into your campaign.”
It sounds like, from your Zach Braff example, that we have to have integrity.
Beautiful word. That’s actually one of the tenets of Daoism.
When you said that you’re looking for a new way for your three Ins, I wanted to go off on a tangent because there’s this wrestler. Kurt Angle had the three I’s. It was Integrity, Intelligence and something else.
I actually used to call them the three I’s too. I was afraid people are going to think eyeballs. Then that might even make sense because it’s like the third eye. You get quite a physical view. We’ve got to keep moving. It’s going to get people real fast.
What are some other rewards of running a good crowdfunding campaign besides the funding and the crowd?
That’s a great question. I don’t get that often. Nice. I’d say number one is the audience. That’s the one reason you should do crowdfunding. Like I said, getting an investor, it’s easy enough these days. When you get that money, you will not get an audience. You’re still going to have to build that one up. They’re not going to do it either. Audience is number one. Funding would be number two. I think third, further funding. What I mean by that is I have seen campaigns, even unsuccessful ones, unsuccessful being they didn’t hit their goal. But they got money and they got awareness. Actually, take that back. Awareness is the big thing. That will lead to further funding.
The awareness factor, you launch a campaign, you run it. Whether it’s successful or not, if you’re putting in the work, you’re spreading the word. You’re trying to get it out to a lot of people and it just doesn’t hit the goal, that’s fine. If it does hit the goal, it’s even better. What it does, if there’s an investor looking and they see this and they like the idea, and they see that you’ve made some traction on it, I’ve seen people get money from investors because the investor found them on a site like Indiegogo. You can find actual investors. Even on some failed campaigns or less than successful campaigns. I would say that’s a direct result of the awareness factor.
A lot of times people get let down. It’s like, “Oh, I did all this work. I was promoting and promoting and promoting. I didn’t hit my goal.” But you built up your Twitter following. You built up your Facebook fan page. You’ve done all this other stuff. That’s a success too. That’s the part that we don’t fully see a lot of times. Obviously, if you crowdfund on another platform where it’s only all or nothing, where you have to hit the goal or you don’t get anything, obviously then it feels like a little bit more of a failure. You just wasted all that time. You don’t get any money for it. Maybe you were only $500 shy of your goal and you just couldn’t find the rest of it. It sucks but it happens. That’s probably a little bit more of a failure. With Indiegogo, when you’re doing flexible funding and you wanted $50,000 but you got $15,000, that’s $15,000 in your pocket. That is awareness that you might not have had otherwise. It’s a win-win there. Then, who knows who’s looking?
The number one reward of running a good crowdfunding campaign is building your audience.
That’s true. When it comes to these investors, that almost seems like a myth. Like there’s no such thing as an investor who’s going to come along and say, “I have $2 million for your film.” Is that real?
That investor, that’s probably a myth. They’re not going to give $2 million to a film that they find necessarily on a crowdfunding site. But there are a lot of $5,000 and $10,000 investors out there. I know a lot of them and I’ve seen them. I’ve had them asking me to find out why campaigns that I’ve been working with are asking $10,000 or $20,000 for an executive producer credit when normally these people are used to paying $5,000 for those in the crowdfunding world.
Again, that’s going through the platform. But off platforms, you can find people that will reach out to you and be like, “Hey, listen. I can invest $10,000.” Again, $10,000, maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot. But if you need $40,000 to make a feature, a horror feature or something, something dirt cheap, and you’ve only made $5,000, that $10,000 is going to help a great deal. Off-platform, you give that person whatever percentage you agree with and that’s that. You make your movie. It was a result of that campaign.
The big money, the deep pocket donors as I call them, they are kind of a myth. As crowdfunding matures, it’s finally learning how to walk now. It’s been crawling for quite some time. Now, it’s walking and it’s confident of where it’s going for the future. It’s going to start appealing to those slightly larger ones. Maybe the $100,000 investor will be looking at platforms and being like, “This one was good. They raised a $100,000. I’m going to match that. I will reach out to these people offline.” I foreshadow that happening. $2 million investors, not sure if that’s happening.
What is the most unique or fun part that you’ve seen on Indiegogo for a film or video campaign?
To be honest, lately I haven’t been seeing really amazing ones. I’ve been giving a lot of ideas for amazing ones for a lot of campaigns. The issue becomes sometimes they just don’t have enough time to figure out if they can actually do them. Sometimes they don’t want to do the work. A lot of my ideas will save money, but you will be spending a lot of time doing certain things. I’ll just give you an example. One of my favorite ones, it’s an old campaign. I talk about it all the time. I talked about it in my book. A movie called Twenty Million People. This guy, Michael Ferrell. He’s an awesome guy. He made a film. He wanted $10,000. He’s ran to Indiegogo, got $13,000. Made a great film. He screened it at over two dozen film festivals.
One of the best perks, I’ve ever seen, at $25 he will write you a ‘choose your own adventure style romantic comedy.’ When you think about that, “Oh, that’s cool and it's nifty.” That’s a lot of work. It’s a ton of work. He’s not getting paid. He’s getting paid $25 each. He’s doing a lot more work than the money he’s getting, but that’s part of crowdfunding. You’ve got to give, give, give like I said before, before you get. What happens is you do this and people like them, they share them. They spread the word. It builds from there. The same thing with the poems that I did for my campaign for Cerise.
At that time, nobody was doing cool stuff like that because they didn’t know to. I’m going to write people poems. My fiancée came up with that idea, actually. I thought like, “That’s a lot of work.” It was a lot of work but I reaped the benefits of doing that work. It was the hardest work I probably ever had to do, honestly. It was 100% worth it because I was getting them out during the campaign and it became marketing for me and for the campaign. We put them together in a Photoshop document. Lay them out. Send them to the person. Post it on their Facebook wall. All of sudden their friends are seeing it. Their friends want one because it’s in the form of their name. They’re like, “I want my name.” They reached out and go to Indiegogo, and contribute to this short film called Cerise. It didn’t even matter if they wanted to see the film. They were just like, “Oh, wow. A poem using my name from a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. I want that, and only $10.”
You’ve got to give, give, give before you get. People like them, they share them.
Very, very simple. These are the cooler perks. You’re probably aware, we’re living in this world where nostalgia is the biggest thing in the universe right now. My favorite perks are, I’m a hipster. I’m not going to deny it. I like the limited edition vinyl, even though I don’t even own a record player, of the soundtrack of the movie. Those are the things that I like. The mixed tape that’s an ‘80s theme type of thing. These are the kind of things that are what I call standard definition. But they’ve got a little bit of personality because if you’re curating each mixtape, that’s the personal three-dimensional touch.
I have those three perks in my book that I lay out. The standard definition, which is the merch. The high definition, which is experiential perks. The three dimensional, which are the personalized ones. You can mix and match those and make a very standard thing like a cassette tape very personal by just sitting there and putting together a mix tape one by one by one, your backers. A little label that says “Trig’s mix.” It’s little things like that. That’s the kind of stuff that is going to make you standout out as a campaigner. Depending on if you have that luxury in the film that you’re trying to do.
Also, I like that your book talks about making perks that are authentic to our project. Not making a mix tape if your film has nothing to do with the ‘80s or the ‘90s or whatever.
Absolutely. It’s got to be relevant because when they get that perk, the purpose of it is if I listen to that tape, I’ve got to remember the movie that I funded to get that tape. It’s got to be relevant because if it’s not, it’s just a tape. Who cares? That’s the thing. Why did I do poems? My movie was about a former spelling bee champion who’s haunted by the word that took him down. My whole movie was about words, spelling, so my campaign was an extension of that. Everything had to do with words and poetry. Poetry because that was also my connection. I was able to connect not only my movie to my backers, but me as a person to my backers.
Again, I was the first person to do this because everybody else were just like, “Let me just try to get my album funded. I’ll give you the album.” Just like a pre-sales campaign, and those are boring. If your shit is good enough, you might make your goal. Again, in today’s world, everybody’s stuff is good enough, which means you’ve got to rise above it if you want to not have to do these very personal and relevant things.
What is the biggest mistake we can make in our crowdfunding campaign?
The half of the thing I said before is definitely one of them, setting too high a goal. Mainly because then it’s just more work to get you to where you have to be.
It really is being realistic with it. It’s looking yourself in the mirror and checking yourself. Being like, “I’m not Spike Lee. I’m not Don Cheadle. I’m John Trigonis and I can raise for myself $10,000.” Easy, $10,000. I’ve done it twice, $5,000 a piece. I’ve done it off platform too. I’ve raised a good amount of money. If I want to raise a $100,000 as John Trigonis, nope, can’t do it. I’m very comfortable saying that. I can do it for somebody else. They follow my tactics. For me, I’m very comfortable knowing where I stand with my 7,000 something followers on Twitter, with my 1,700 friends on Facebook. I know my network and I know my net worth because of my network. That’s the key thing.
Most of us don’t want to do that. We’re like, “I need $50,000. It’s my third film.” It’s like, “Man, have you won awards? What have you done to earn it?” The other thing is we have to earn it at this point. You have to be able to earn the privilege of inviting people into crowdfunding your film with you. This is language that I typically use just to describe that mentality that crowdfunding is a privilege. Again, set those realistic expectations.
The other side of it and the real biggest mistake we make is not having an audience before we actually crowdfund. I think it’s the number one. I did a video of Six Big Mistakes for Film Courage. Last minute, I think I switched them as I was recording the video because they alternate. Sometimes you set too high a goal. But the real big one is, if you are launching your campaign and you have five Twitter followers and 200 fans on your Facebook page and you want $50,000, you will not get anywhere near that because you’re not at that level. People don’t look themselves in the mirror to understand this. You’ve got to be doing the work.
I was able to hit $5,000 in two months of my first campaign because I spent nine months on Twitter interacting. That’s why I don’t call promotion promotion anymore. I call them interactions, the In, interaction. Because promotion, everybody promotes something, nobody cares. How many times do we just scroll mindlessly through our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds and don’t even look at the stuff? Everybody is promoting something. Interacting, talking with your audience. That’s the key.
I learned that firsthand from my campaign, but also from YouTubers. As you probably know, there’s a lot of YouTubers out there. Sometimes you look at their content and it sucks. PewDiePie. Let’s be honest. Biggest YouTuber in the world. Why is he so big? Because he engages with his audience all the time. That’s why. I talked to a lot of YouTubers at VidCon, the YouTube convention a couple of years back. That’s exactly what they told me, it’s like “The secret is we make some good videos, we make some shitty videos. We got some thumbs up, thumbs down. The key thing is we talk to our audience. We answer every comment. We care about our audience.” That’s what filmmakers need to start doing. We need to start talking to our audience. Without them, we don’t have a job and we forget that.
That’s true. You make a film and nobody watches it. Here’s a harsh reality that could happen. What do we do if we don’t reach our crowdfunding goal?
Good question. It depends. Obviously, if you’re running a flexible funding campaign, in theory, you set it as a flexible funding because you may want $50,000, but you can work with $20,000. I don’t know any filmmaker who can’t, except maybe an animation project because sometimes those are the hardest. Outside of that, you can work with $20,000 and then you could find the rest. Or an investor will find you because you raised $20,000 and you just set a little too high a goal. Again, if you do that and you get that money, you have to do something. You have to do something to push it forward. That’s why I look at success as not did it hit its goal, but with whatever you raised, can you make this move forward? If the answer is yes, awesome. You’re just as successful as if you hit that campaign goal. If the answer is no, you better refund people. You screwed up. You should have hit fixed funding.
If you don’t reach your crowdfunding goal, you have to do something to push it forward.
If you don’t reach your crowdfunding goal, you have to do something to push it forward.
Indiegogo, to clarify for people, you can keep the funding if you don’t reach your goal.
Absolutely. There’s an option for that. It’s called flexible funding. I like to call it “keep what you raise” or “keep what you earn” because you’ve earned it. We also have the other model, which is fixed funding, which is all or nothing. All or nothing, you don’t hit the goal, you don’t get the money. Move on. If you’ve run a fixed campaign, no sweat off your back. You don’t get any money because you didn’t hit that goal. There’s no sweat off your back. What I would recommend is, if you’re a filmmaker, you’re going to take this as market research. You put it out into the world as a campaign. In theory, you did everything in your power to get people into trying to crowdfund this thing with you and it didn’t work. Chances are, they don’t want that project of yours.
If you’re a filmmaker, you’re going to take that project down and you’re going to reach in your back pocket and pull the next idea. A filmmaker always has a next idea. Unless there’s this person who just wants to make a film. That’s the person that’s probably not going to make movies for a living. You’ve got to have more ideas than one. That’s an easy way. If you put out on a fixed campaign and you’re not getting it funded, great, move on to the next idea. As you know, things are cyclical. Again, I’m working on a vampire script. I can’t do it now because vampires aren’t in yet. Vampires are probably going to come back in another six to eight months probably or maybe another year. I have to pay attention to that world. When it does, that’s when I’m going to target my campaign to the vampire audience, when it’s on the periphery of everybody’s minds.
Again, right now. I’d have to do a very different type of movie if I wanted to successfully crowdfund. There are a lot of these things out there that can help a filmmaker or a person who’s making movies and wants to make movies to be able to run a campaign a little bit easier by having that audience already tapped in to a bigger zeitgeist that the crowdfunding filmmaker can then attach themselves to.
It sounds like you’re saying pay attention to the trends and be open to maybe give up on your project and try something else.
Absolutely. Or give up on that particular project. I’m not saying give up on filmmaking. Ten projects and crowdfund ten times, maybe one of them is going to hit. Again, the key thing is you’ve got to put your all in each one. There’s still people that will launch a campaign and let it sit there and they expect, like the campaign is a seed for a money tree. You put it there. You post it one time on Twitter, Facebook, and your e-mail list. Then you come back two months later and you’re fully funded. You might as well believe in the tooth fairy and just yank out all your teeth and shove them under your pillow. It doesn’t happen. You’ve got to work. You’ve got to hoe that field. You’ve got to cultivate it and grow that on your own. You’ve got to own sweat. You’ve just got to put in that work. Even if you put in that work, the crops may die. It just might not work. Then you got to do it all over again. Just like that movie The Martian. You’ll never know what’s going to happen. Something’s going to kill all your crops and you’ve got to start from scratch. That’s the reality.
Filmmaking is life. We have to keep making films.
Absolutely. It needs to be your life. It really does. Until one day, maybe you won’t need crowdfunding. If that never happens, crowdfunding can definitely be helping you ultimately sustain yourself a little bit as a filmmaker.
My tip for if we don’t reach our crowdfunding goal or any of our filmmaking goals when we need money for something is to use our filmmaking skills. We’re so used to being resourceful as filmmakers. We have to know how to produce things. If we don’t have enough money to make something, we have to think, how else can I still make this? Maybe I can change the script in a way that won’t take away too much of the idea. But something that I can be flexible with, so that I can still make it, I could still move forward with the idea. If you’re really passionate about it, you have to be flexible with the idea, because we don’t always have a million dollars. We never really have a million dollars to make this far out idea that is in our mind. If we can be flexible with that idea, we can actually make things that are realistic.
Absolutely. I used to have a company called Nothingman Films. Nothingman is based on the Pearl Jam song, but also because our slogan was, “Create something from nothing.” When we would write our scripts, we work with what we had. That was it. That was the rule. Work with what we have, what we know we have. We were making movies for $500 and up to $20,000, based on what we had. If we know we don’t know somebody who can get us into an airport and we know we’re not going to go do the BS talking to the airport staff and wasting all that time to try to get in an airport, we’re going to find where to do it in a different location that might be similar. Run and gun it.
Indie filmmakers, we can’t ever forget the scrappy nature that we are born with. Again, there’s independent, the genre. You go to Netflix and you look at the genre of independent films. There’s a celebrity in half of those films. To me, that’s not indie. Indie is real dirt. Run and gun it. Do whatever we can. The idea is the idea. If we have to fix things around that idea but the central part of that idea remains intact, so be it. We forget that sometimes. We’ve got to do that with crowdfunding too.
Since we did a lot of information about crowdfunding for people out there, you are a filmmaker and you have a filmmaking background. Is there anything you’re working on lately that you want to share?
Whatever the idea wants, I can adopt the medium to suit the idea.
The only stuff that I’m working on right now, I’m back to a feature-length vampire script called It’s a Beautiful Unlife. I’ve been working on that for about ten years on and off with some Hollywood script analysts. I pitched it to studios one year, when it was a half-finished draft. I’m back doing a final full revision of it now that I realized exactly what was missing. It sometimes takes a while to figure those things out. I’m looking to hopefully get the script done in the next two months and start pitching it to get a couple of investors. I’d like to shoot it ideally at some point in 2018. I have to finally get this thing off my back. It’s like a gigantic chimera clawed into my chest.
The fact that I’m still working on it after all these years is a testament to the fact that I really believe in it. I’m a poet mostly and I always wrote poetry because it was short. I could finish it in a day. I could present it or get it published or whatever by the next following week. It was very quick and easy. I always like those quick and easy things.
That’s the only big project film-wise I’m working on. I’ve got a comic book. Like I said before, I crowdfunded to print a first and second issue of a graphic novel that I’m doing called Siren’s Calling. That’s my other pet project, which was supposed to be a film but it was a period piece and I’d have to go to LA. I hate LA with a passion. That’s probably the only thing I can hate. I just don’t like the city. I was like, “I’m not going to spend a month there or two months there or even two days there.” I should probably turn this into something where I don’t have to travel. I did the comic book route. It actually worked better as a comic.
That’s being flexible with what you have, working with what you have.
Absolutely. Whatever the idea wants, I can adopt the medium to suit the idea.
I always go into a project with the hope of wanting to have fun and to express myself and to meet people. What do you hope to achieve with your work? Why do you do this? It’s a good one. I think for me, the reason that I do this has never changed. It’s to just express myself and my own unique snowflakeness, even though I don’t believe that any of us are unique snowflakes these days because we’re all ourselves. If we want to be unique, we have to figure out a way to standout. My hope is I don’t need to standout. I just need to get the demons out of my head and onto a page or onto the screen or onto a comic book panel. Just learn from that experience. I do it for myself, first and foremost. If I have an audience, it’s even better. The audience that I have built, I’m very privileged to have them and have them actually ask me things like, “When is the next issue coming out? When is the next film?” The fact that out of the blue that comes, it’s a very humbling thing. At the end of the day, it’s really just me trying to get these things out my head before I get out of my head.
I want to exorcise whatever these creatures are before I end up on a Greek island somewhere, spending my last days, watching a sunset and drinking some Ouzo.
I was just talking to my husband about a similar thing yesterday. He was saying he wrote something and he found it from a month ago. He’s like, “I don’t even remember writing this. Where did this come from?” I do that all the time. I see scripts. I see poems and random things that I’ve written or things that I’ve made and I don’t even know where that came from. You have to be in the moment to capture whatever inspiration is going through you. It’s so weird.
It is. It’s a rewarding thing, especially when you don’t know where it comes from. This is the creative process. This is art and art is life.
That is a great note to end on. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was really fun talking to you.
This is great. I had a really good time. Again, thanks for having me, Laura. This is really awesome.
Thank you. Before we go, follow John on Instagram and Twitter @trigonis. He has great motivational videos and tips each day, which I really enjoy. He’s also on Facebook as John T. Trigonis. You can go to his website JohnTrigonis.com.
As for me, I’m filmmaker, artist, and your host, Laura Meoli. You can connect with me, getting creative tips and inspiration on social media, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram @LoudaVision. You can listen to more of these podcasts, read my blog, watch my videos and contact me, just go to LoudaVision.com. If you like what you’ve heard, please rate and review this podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud. Thanks for listening.