Crowd Funding – My Experience

For those of you that don’t know, I am in the final 24 hours of a crowd funding campaign I have been running for a comedy documentary called ‘Bid For My Life’. We’ve got a fair way there, but it’s touch and go whether or not we’ll make our target in time.

That’s not why I’m posting this blog, however. I wanted to elaborate on my experience running the campaign; what I’ve learned and discovered about the process and the experience. Naturally I knew of the advantages of crowdfunding before embarking on the journey. We’ve all heard about the success stories, the statistics and what a great way it is to put your idea in front of thousands of people for them to be the judge. What we don’t hear a lot about is the demoralising stress of having the average campaign, and the ridiculous amount of work you have to put into it to have any sort of chance of hitting that magical 100% figure.

Naturally, if you’re offering people an amazing and revolutionary product, or have a name behind your project, it’s a lot easier to have people take you more seriously. For us however, my ‘loyal following’ basically included most of my family and friends that have enjoyed my entertaining videos for the years that I have been making them. Fortunately for me, a ridiculous amount of them, despite having enjoyed my work gratis, were willing to be very generous to fund this new project, and that’s obviously where a lot of your initial funding has to come from, to build up enough backers and people showing trust in you to inspire trust from people that do not know you. I figured that offering my final production for as low as £1 would give me a very high conversion rate for my viewers, leaving me the simple job of just getting my message out to as many people as possible. Surprisingly, that was not so. Out of the 7000+ people that I don’t know who viewed the campaign, around 30 of them were willing to give £1. This low point of entry didn’t encourage backers. Perhaps confirming that if someone is willing to back you, they’ll generally put in a decent chunk of money. Some people suggest that you shouldn’t set your reward prices so low, as realistically you could never make enough of a difference with such small contributions, but in my opinion, if it converts a few people who wouldn’t have donated, it will benefit you in the long run because of those OCD backers that want your total to hit a ’round number’, and contribute a few extra pounds or dollars to make it so. It sounds ridiculous, but it happens, and every bit adds up. Then you’ve got the mere fact that a £1 contributor becomes your evangelist and feels a part of the project too. The more people selling it, the better. Even more interestingly, I estimate that around 95% of my backers were people that were somehow connected to me, either through knowing someone that knows me, or simply just someone I have interacted with in the process of running the campaign. It seems like you can’t expect your audience to come to you, it’s essential to go to them and MAKE them interested.

It is often advised that you shouldn’t run your campaign for too long, and I can completely agree with that. The 30 days I have been running ‘Bid For My Life’ for have been so much work that I just wouldn’t have been able to keep up this level of buzz and excitement for any longer than that. Initially your close friends will back you, giving you a wave of positivity as you inevitably calculate how much you need to make per day to have a shot of hitting target. Then week two hits, and all of the ‘early adopters’ finish backing you. It gets slow; very slow. The number of days left remains high, so those people that may be following your campaign still feel like they have plenty of time to chip in; one of the reasons for the final wave of support at the end when those very people realise that if they are to help out, they must do it quickly. Demoralising is putting it lightly. I had days where no contributions came in, and I just didn’t know what I was doing wrong. It took a lot of willpower to keep the enthusiasm for the campaign up, and having content to create to entertain your followers is a good plan towards that.

I will admit, I didn’t do enough preparation for the campaign. Mock ups of rewards like T-Shirts, and having an established relationship with bloggers and members of the press that could cover our production would have been much more helpful. It meant that I ended up reaching out directly to people during the campaign, in the hope that they would even look at the project. I was lucky that my social network were enthusiastic about it from the get go, sharing the link, tweeting about the project and raising us up the rankings of the site, quickly. We were featured on the front page, on the newsletter, made campaign of the day, and remained high up on the most popular campaigns list throughout the month that I chose to run the funding for, but despite all of that, very few people that heard about the project from those avenues actually backed us. I was much more lucky with direct communication. Strumming up twitter conversations with strangers sometimes encouraged backing, and certainly helped our exposure, and despite the fact that I’m still not sure whether or not we’ll make our target and get anything, I’m very excited about crowd funding in general.

Why? Because of the community that surrounds such an endeavour. I only experienced one person throughout the entire process that was actively nasty to me, and I assume part of that was because he was a grumpy film critic, so what did I expect? Another person I asked for help refused me, but was lovely in his explanation of why, and it made it very clear that endorsing a project is about far more than thinking it’s cool. It says something about you, and by sharing it with your friends and followers it can affect your life, and people’s perception of you too. I was met with a wave of enthusiasm, generosity (not just financial, but of assisting me to get my message out) and a lot of exposure to film-makers and other projects that I would have had no idea even existed had it not been for my desire to expand the network of people I was in contact with, purely because of ‘Bid For My Life’. Opportunities unrelated to the documentary have arisen because of it, and I have even discovered a couple of bands that I now love, all because of chance encounters stemming from crowd funding. The world of crowd funding is an exciting and rich one, full of projects that allow you to actively be a part of just by showing a little enthusiasm or dollars from your pocket. While I used to fund projects whenever I heard of a good one, or was connected to someone involved, now I can see how open I have become to actively seeking out projects using this model.

There is the inevitable divide of people that like and dislike crowd funding, and they’re normally split down the middle depending on whether their own projects succeeded or failed, but I’m definitely on the positive side of things. The last month has been a non stop effort, and certainly a full time job for me, running for most days from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. I’ve made over an hour of fully edited content, as well as a 17 hour live stream to promote the project, and it’s been a pleasurable creative explosion to be able to entertain so many people. Putting ‘Bid For My Life’ in front of so many people at the pre-production phase has allowed me to question a lot more about the project than I would have otherwise, leaving me more confident about its quality and merits. True, bad ideas can sometimes gain funding and good ones can fail, but if you start a campaign, you can be sure that by the end of it, you’ll know whether the project is worth pursuing, even if you fail to reach your target.

I’d like to end with a general ‘thank you’ to all of those that I have been in touch with over the course of my experience. Especially those that helped me through the week 2/week 3 lull that generally accompanies these campaigns. My experience has been a good one, and if you wouldn’t mind, please do take a look at our campaign page and see if we can actually reach the target to ensure that I’m celebrating rather than commiserating when this is all over in 20 hours.

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Bid For My Life – Knowing The Ending

When making a documentary film, such as Bid For My Life (www.indiegogo.com/bidformylife), as unexpected and unplanned as it is, there is a well known concept in this kind of filmmaking of ‘Knowing The Ending’.

Essentially, when you go out to make a documentary, most of the time you’ll know the angle that you’re aiming on attacking it from. Michael Moore obviously knew, when he started making his $4m documentary Bowling for Columbine that he wanted to show the ridiculousness of current gun laws; his bias was there from the outset. In this way, and due to the ease of slanted editing, it’s easy to show exactly what you want to show and ignore anything that disregards the viewpoint you are pushing, inflicting a sort of 3rd party confirmation bias.

So how does that relate to ‘Bid For My Life’? Ironically, it’s not the sort of concept that lends itself very well to a traditional story structure. You might be inclined to expect the final film to be a collection of individual shorts about each day, but to me, that’s what the weblog is about. The feature documentary needs to tell a story, and the ending can’t be a simple documentation of the final day; I need to say something or prove a point like a scientific experiment. So how can I know the ending, when I don’t even know the activities I’ll spend April doing?

Well, of course I can’t. But I have a lot of potentials; branching ideas about how it could go, or what might be expected of me. Will I learn something about the importance of doing something you love, or perhaps decide that enough money can persuade you to do anything? Honestly I’ve no idea about how I’ll feel at the end of it all. Perhaps I’ll be sad that the whole thing is over, however all I need to be sure of is that however I feel, and whatever point I want to prove, I need to be able to edit a film towards it, which is why I’m trying to consider all conceivable outcomes, and ensure that we shoot enough to cover them all. I guess this is why I’m so excited about the project. It could go any way, and the experience of it will determine what kind of film we make. Perhaps that’s why I consider this an experiment. One that I definitely want to know the outcome of.

One final point; the current prices on our crowd funding campaign are lower than they will be once the thing ends, as an encouragement to help out early (and a thank you), so if you’re holding off on contributing, the sooner the better!

www.indiegogo.com/bidformylife


Bid For My Life – The less public face

Anyone that has contact with me will have probably been spammed by my incessant desire to get people to know about this new project of mine. It’s being crowd funded, so the more exposure at this early stage, the better. ‘Bid For My Life’ is a documentary about auctioning off days of my life to the highest bidders. The full public pitch is here:

http://www.indiegogo.com/bidformylife

The truth is, the actual documentary I have in mind is less about people paying me to do ridiculous things, and more about what kind of person wants that kind of power over me, and how they use that power. Sure, I’ve no doubt that I’ll have a myriad of insanity to take part in, but hopefully we’ll see a variety of things, beyond putting me in uncomfortable situations as a form of gladiatorial torture. I want the documentary to be a little bit touching, a little bit enlightening, and certainly a lot of fun, but that’s why I’ve thought through some of the insights I could come across, depending on what actually happens during the month of April.

I’ve already started the campaign, and the most popular feature of it is my ‘5 Minutes of My Life’ videos. Essentially, every contributor over £100 gets 5 minutes of my life. They can ask me to do anything. We’ve had ‘serenade shoppers’ at a local supermarket, write a story for 5 minutes, and even film my cat for five minutes. No surprise there who the real star of my YouTube account is. 

However, the documentary… ahh the documentary. Many questions have come in about how I can ensure I get acceptable things to do, and bidders at all for the auction. Well, in a sense, the beauty of the documentary is that whatever happens will tell us something, and work for the documentary. If it’s an inspiring take on the generosity of strangers, or an uncomfortable look into mob mentality and devaluing anyone you don’t know, then it’ll tell a story and pass on a message. Since the bidding will start at £1 per day, it’s not difficult to assume that I will get at least one bid on each day. I’m not worried about having large bids, since that’s not the point of the documentary. Any points that I try to prove can only be improved by having low bids. Each of my ‘bosses’ for the day will be interviewed to ask what they have asked me to do, why they have asked me to do it, and whether or not they would do the same thing for the same amount of money, amongst other questions that may become relevant when it is clear what they are asking of me. I am hoping that we get some regular ‘work’ requests too, mainly because the challenges that might be set can only be ‘best attempts’. I’ll use the ‘beer’ example that I made on the campaign page. Someone can challenge me to drink 100 beers in an hour if they like, but the contract with me will stipulate it is just my best attempt you are buying, not a guarantee of a success. I will try it, but realistically there is no way I would be able to succeed.

The thing that excites me most about the project is the fact that by bidding, you become a part of the documentary. From the first bid, even an unsuccessful one adds to the story, and if you win the auction, you will be writing the script for a chunk of the 60-90 minute documentary.

Of course to get to that stage, we do need to be able to pay the expenses of the crew, and various other costs intrinsic to the shooting of a documentary like this, so even if you can only contribute £1, that would be a help to us, and you’ll get to see the final thing when it’s all done. Please tell your friends that might be interested, and if we’re lucky, and can fund it, we may all learn something.


The penniless actor

Us actors really can be treated badly sometimes… We spend a tonne of money in travel to get to auditions, which we have a very small chance of actually succeeding in, after spending ages learning the lines for the part, mostly that we know nothing about, only to be treated like crap, and all for an unpaid project that will take days more of our time and money to hope for some kind of usable footage for our showreels.

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve been very lucky so far with regards to the people I’ve gotten to work with, though some of the stories I hear from fellow actors, and indeed some of the people I’ve auditioned for have been interesting to say the least.

A friend (whom I shall not name for privacy concerns – it’s not Johnny Depp), turned up to an audition last week, after having to get up ridiculously early, and spend a tonne of money getting there only to be told that the date of the audition had changed to the next day. Maybe it was the fault of the casting director, or maybe the fault of their agent, but still, the actor dutifully turned up the next day, spent even more money, only for the previous day’s actions to be completely ignored. Oh, and this was all for an unpaid job too.

I myself had an interesting audition a couple of months back… being asked to learn a very unrelated and lengthy monologue, with very little information on the project to hand. After travelling for around 2 and a half hours during peak times (read expensive) I finally got to my audition, only to find out that the script hadn’t even been written yet, and they had no idea what they were looking for in actors. I performed up to my own standards, and was very happy with an improvisation, and a blind read of another sample script they presented to me. A week or so later, they contacted me to let me know that they had a really difficult decision and that I had not got the part.

Okay, it may sound like that last part wasn’t too bad, after all, not getting a part is part and parcel of the whole process. Yes, I was really happy to have heard back from them (even a no), since most people don’t even bother to let you know unless you have the part, but that wasn’t the end of the message.

According to the message (and I paraphrase), the casting decision was down to myself and another guy. They preferred my performance, but I lived too far away, and the budget wouldn’t cover the expense of my travel.

Why then did they invite me to an audition, when I informed them of my location right from the start? Wasting my time and money on a role I could never win, because of my home location? Sure, some castings can be very lucrative, but they are few and far between for the average actor. Most of which only do what they do because they love it so much.

That said, for all of the bad castings, a good one will come along and make your day, even if you don’t get the role. I had a really fun audition a few months back for an upcoming TV show, and the reason they didn’t give me the part? I wasn’t fat enough. As rejections go, that’s a pretty positive one!


Shouldn’t you buy me dinner first?

I am very pleased to be writing my next one act play for the collection. We’re on number four now, if you’re interested. This new project is a short comedy piece about a British man who is stopped by American Immigration, and the (not) obvious hilarity that ensues. Currently around half way through, I am struck with the biggest issue that the ‘rubber glove’ concept throws up. Invariably, the stock response to the officer putting on a rubber glove should be “Shouldn’t you buy me dinner first?”, “Aren’t we going out for drinks first?” or something similar, simply because it is completely overused and clichéd now. After wracking my brain for an amusing alternative, I have finally come up with a response that I am happy with. Here’s the excerpt from the script:

Peter: I still have to determine whether or not you’re a danger to this country.

Charlie: Of course I’m not! I love America. American TV especially. Seriously, is there a shop around here? (American accent) A store… cause I wanna buy a flag!

Peter looks at Charlie suspiciously. There is an uncomfortable silence.

Charlie: Not to burn it or anything.

Peter removes a rubber glove from his jacket and puts it on his right hand.

Charlie: If I enjoy this, you’re breaking it to my girlfriend.


The End of TV?

I recently learnt of the cancellation of another show I followed; Person’s Unknown. A mystery show around a single storyline. Add to that other recent cancellations of V, The Event, Flashforward and you’ve got a whole load of enjoyable shows that keep their audience on the promise of answering the mysteries that ended up annoying and frustrating those that bothered to follow the show.

Imagine if Lost had been cancelled after the penultimate season. How many people would have written off watching TV altogether from then on?

My greatest frustration is that I enjoyed knowing what was new and coming each year to our televisual landscape, and much like millions of others, gave my trust to the network and producers to tell a full story. Instead, an investment of time, and regular viewing is rewarded by being left on a cliffhanger in annoyance.

A few years ago, I wrote a pilot for a British show called Spores, which was an ongoing storyline that I had planned out in my head over 5 seasons of 6 episodes. Sure, the whole story would have been great to view, with twists and turns that looked back even at the early points, but while I’d only written the script for the first episode, the storylines were designed so that the show could be cancelled after any season and have a proper ending. Generally, by the end of the first season it is clear whether or not a show is coming back (indeed it was clear with most of the aformentioned shows before the airing of the season finale that they weren’t renewed) and Spores essentially ended each season, with a further short scene teasing the continuation for the end that could be left in should it be renewed. How would this be difficult to do for an American TV show?

The real trouble is that with the proliferation of more ongoing stories and mystery style shows, audiences will feel more and more betrayed by networks not finishing their shows properly. Personally I’m finding it harder and harder to start a new show when I have no idea whether or not it will end. Imagine how we would have all felt should they have just made the first two Lord of the Rings films, or never ended the Matrix trilogy (actually some people might have preferred that). I’m nearly at the stage where I’m just going to wait until the shows are over, and figure out whether it’s worth watching then, and buying on DVD. If more people do this, ratings will go down, advertising revenues will reduce, and less shows will ever be completed. Unless networks and producers deal with cancellation better, I can’t see this ending well. Which sounds like one of their shows.


It’s about time

Okay, so I figure I should make this one stick.

In the past I’ve made an attempt at interesting and exciting blogs which have been lost to the expiration of various ISP accounts, though never were interesting enough to bother trawling through waybackmachine.org to find. As a personal blog without any specific project focus, this will be my various musings and thoughts that if I’m lucky will offend some people. (We’ve had and probably will still have blogs for individual projects, such as the Treading The Boards video blog, and the Safe House blog, though this is not just going to be a series of shameless plugs.)

Speaking of shameless plugs, I’m just putting the finishing touches to Apocalypse, a 30 minute filmed version of a one act play I wrote. Essentially all that remains is to re-record some of the dialogue, (a process I am told is called ADR) and tweak the music a little, and it will be all ready for public consumption… again… It was released as one of the videos for Video Month 2.

Now I’m going to have to explain that… I’ve done a project called Video Month twice now, where I release a new video every day for a month. Most vids are created within a day, but some are underway through more days to give me more chance to create a better project. Apocalypse is this ‘better project’.

Anyway, what were we talking about? Ahh yes, this blog. (Don’t you hate it when people pretend to forget something in order to get back on topic?) It will have interesting insights into what I am working on, random events that are going on, and just whatever I think people might find interesting to read.  Immediate fail there then.

So whether you’ve come here to learn a little more about me before hiring me, or you’re just an old friend that wants to catch up a little on what’s been going on in my life, or even a new friend that is too lazy to talk to me personally, I’m sure there’s something in here for you. And if not, I don’t care, because it’s obviously been worth it to me to write.

This is the bottom of the post now… and if you’ve read down this far you’ve reached the end. Consider it like the end of a good (?) book. Close it now, sigh and reflect a little on the insightful content… and probably puerile comedy.