Welcome to episode 66 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger, over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. In this episode’s main segment I’m interviewing Emily Best. Emily is the CEO and founder of Seed and Spark which is a crowd sourcing platform specifically designed for filmmakers. She gives a ton of practical insights into how to be successful with your crowd sourcing project so stay tuned for that.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review on ITunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking us on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread the word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated.
A couple of quick notes, any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts and then just look for episode 66.
Also if you want my guide How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free. You just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide, how to write a professional log line inquiry letter, how to find agents, managers, and producers who are looking for material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
Also, a quick plug for the new Sys screenwriting analysis service. It’s a really economical way to get high-quality professional script evaluation on your script. All the readers have experience reading for studios, production companies, agencies, or contests. The readers I’ve partnered with are the gatekeepers. They’re exactly the same people who are going to be reading your scripts at the companies you submit to. The readers will evaluate your script on several key factors: concept and premise, structure, character, dialog, and marketability. Every script will get a grade of pass, consider, or recommend. I’m also offering a bonus. If you get a consider and recommend from two different readers on the same script, you get a free email and fax blast to my list of industry contacts. This is exactly the same blast service I use myself for my own scripts and it’s the same service I sell in Sys Select. It’s a great way to get your script into the hands of producers who are looking to make movies. Also, on the website you can read a quick bio of each reader and pick the one whom you would like to read your screenplay. So if you want a professional evaluation for your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m talking with Emily Best. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Emily, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Emily: Thank you so much for having me.
Ashley: So to start out, I wonder if you can just give us a quick overview of Seed and Spark and kind of tell us how it all got started and what it’s all about.
Emily: Sure. Boy, that story can be really long so I’ll try to keep it brief. Seed and Spark is a crowd funding platform with built-in distribution. Our crowd-funding tool works a little bit differently. We work like a wedding registry so you list the individual items you need and that makes up your wish list and then your supporters can contribute money towards those items—bug spray, sunscreen, screenwriters fee, have actually been listed on our wish list—camera rental, car rental, location—you name it. And your supporters can contribute money to those items or they can loan them to you directly. So if I have the camera which you need that’s not working that week, I can loan it to your production and that comes out of your crowd funding goal because, of course, it’s not about fundraising, it’s about filmmaking. And we have built-in distribution so there’s a streaming transaction VOD platform built right into the site so you can rent movies and stream them either with your credit card or with your sparks and sparks are reward points that you earn for funding and following and sharing projects on the site. So essentially the act of crowd funding on Seed and Sparks as a filmmaker helps your community earn rewards that are all built towards creating more audiences for a truly independent film. The other thing is now we have distribution built into Verizon, cable, VOD to ITunes, Hulu, Amazon, Google, etc. and through our new partnership with Emerging Pictures to Theatrical. This has never been true before that a successful crowd funding and audience building campaign can actually pull you meaningful multi-window distribution. And it’s really exciting.
Ashley: So one of the questions which I had before talking to you—and I think you just kind of answered 80 percent of this question—but maybe there are a couple other things you can just throw in there. I was going to ask you what’s the difference between Seed Spark and Kickstart Indi-a-Go-Go. It sounds like you just answered that and that you have really niched it down. I don’t think Indi-A-Go-Go and Kickstart allows you to donate actual physical products instead of actual money. But maybe you could just differentiate yourself a little more.
Emily: The crowd-funding tool works differently in that it’s a buy or loan wedding registry-style tool that you offer rewards to your supporters and also we do in the form of Spark. We have the lowest fees and so we take our five percent-type fee a little bit like Kickstarter, but we allow your supporters to cover that fee on your behalf and about fifty percent of them do. So in 2014 the average site fee paid by filmmakers was 1.95 percent which is lower than anybody else’s anywhere. We don’t have third-party payment fees like Amazon or PayPal. We take care of that for you. We’re built for staged financing so you only need one single page for your project and you can open multiple wish lists throughout the course of your production, post-production, and distribution. If you’d like to raise money in stages which we see a lot of filmmakers doing now, because they’re starting to treat their fundraising as part of the audience-building and audience-engaging process. Filmmakers are really starting to build really interesting strategies that imbed their crowd funding and audience-building in their production process and so we’re really built to facilitate that. We offer really comprehensive educational tools, a class that we’ve taught in 40 cities which were bringing to 60 more in 2015 alone called Crowd Funding to Build Independence, and we really focus on helping filmmakers understand that the life cycle that they’re on is no longer the life cycle for the single project but the lifetime of their relationship to their audience which is however long you want your career as a filmmaker to be. So we take a much longer view and we build a lot of tools to help filmmakers facilitate this much longer view of what they’re building for an independent sustainable course. There are other differences; we’re the only film-specific crowd funding platform out there. There are a couple of others but people don’t use them that much.
Ashley: Just a quick question, what percentage—again, this could be a ballpark—is people donating money vs. people donating actual physical goods that filmmakers need. Do you have any idea?
Emily: About 60 percent of our contributions still come in as cash contributions. About 40 percent come in through the items, and about 15 percent of the total budget ends up as loans.
Ashley: I see. Yeah, that’s a significant percentage.
Emily: That part’s really cool right because people will come and they’ll offer quite often production companies who offer to do all of their posts which are amazing. A lot of people will loan locations. They’ll loan their cars. They’ll loan their crafty tents and the really cool thing is we’re seeing a lot of filmmakers coming on and using the site and contributing their stuff from their previous film shoots to somebody else’s next film shoot. So there is a real integrated community of filmmakers working together as well.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about the distribution you have set up. How does that work? What does that kind of look like? One question I have is if you crowd fund on Seed and Spark, is it mandatory that you also use this distribution platform?
Emily: No. Seed and Spark was built for really two purposes, the first is to give rise to a thriving creating middle-class in America and maybe hopefully around the world. The second is—and we think you can only have a thriving, sustaining, creative middle class if audiences are profoundly more diverse and better serviced than they are today. So one of the real problems that we see when people talk about sort of the crash of the Indi film space is that the branded Indi film has by and large come to mean talkie films about white upper middle-class people finding themselves. And you know what, that’s a saturated marketplace, but there are massive, massive audiences that are terribly underserved. The institutions that be have disadvantaged those stories since the beginning of filmmaking. So we really view our role as creating educational tools, pipelines, and access to help more diverse stories make it to as many screens as possible because we don’t think that all of your audience is hanging out on Seed and Spark’s platform. Your audience might be mostly getting their movies from ITunes or your audience might mostly be watching Cable VOD or your audience might be in a theatre that we’ve never heard of yet. Right? So we wanted to basically build some pipelines that filmmakers could use to build their own careers in the shapes that they want to make them. That doesn’t mean that we want to disadvantage a filmmaker whose film gets into South by Southwest and gets picked up by [inaudible 0:11:48.8] If the film gets picked up by [inaudible 0:11:50.8] we’re not going to be like no, [inaudible 0:11:52.6] you stuff your three million dollars. We have a deal. We would never do that. So it’s really about filmmakers getting the chance to make their careers the shape that they want them.
Ashley: So let’s talk about what that distribution looks like. I read on your website you have—I think you’ve called it the Seed and Spark cinema so you can do like you have your own sort of VOD platform, what does that look like and how does that money trickle down to the filmmakers?
Emily: There’s no trickling. It’s 80/20. We have the trickle; they have the spigot. It’s very simple. They just keep 80 cents on the dollar of everything after their credit card fees come out.
Ashley: When a movie goes in there, is part of their job to go and promote their film and say, listen, if you want to see it, check it out on Cinema? Are you guys starting to build your own audience so that people will, without doing anything of their own—the filmmakers don’t do any of the marketing and they’ll still see some revenue for that?
Emily: [Inaudible 0:12:551.7] which a filmmaker does not need to do some marketing on their own. If you want to build an independent sustainable career, part of what independent means is you are doing the work so if you want people to see your movie, you have to know where they are. You have to know how to find them and you have to know how to tell them where to watch your film.
Ashley: I was just going to move to the next question. One of the things I read on your website was the FAQ thing and I think this is a really important distinction was that your funding rate was higher than Kickstarter and some of these other sources. Maybe we can dig into that a little bit what you do to help the filmmakers when they want to crowd fund a film on your platform, what you do to help them so that they are successful.
Emily: We say that we’re a selective platform meaning not anybody can just come on, upload a project and click go. What we select for is readiness to crowd-fund, but we’re not leaving you out in the lurch if we don’t think you’re ready to crowd fund. So you click the launch a project button and you enter the sort of major metadata of your film and a little bit about your current reach and if you’ve ever crowd funded before, and maybe a rough cut of your pitch video, and we send you comprehensive feedback on those materials and a few more questions to maybe help you shape your strategy for crowd funding, but not just for crowd funding, for longer term audience building because if you think the best thing you can get out of crowd funding is money, you’re doing it wrong. You’re hearing one of the two words louder than the other and it’s not the more important word. Getting stuff funded is hard, sure, getting anybody to see it when it’s finished is way harder. Just ask anybody who makes a product. Getting a product made, manufactured, hard. Getting anybody to buy it once you’ve manufactured it, way, way harder. This is true sort of across industry. Getting something to market is the much harder problem, and that means in film you’ve got to be gathering that crowd in advance. What’s cool is that all of the things that you need to do to gather a crowd in advance are in a filmmaker’s wheelhouse and I think specifically really in a screenwriter’s wheelhouse. So it’s no surprise to me that Script Nag and Script Chat and screenwriters in general have organized tremendously around Twitter because that’s right in their wheelhouse. They love telling stories with words. Economy of words can be really sexy so social media is the place where writers are tremendously advantaged. And that’s great because you can build an audience well in advance of ever needing them to contribute money toward the project or download a film that you’ve made. That’s really what we help filmmakers do in advance of launching a crowd funding project is we make them engage with the crowd. So when a filmmaker comes and they load their project up and we don’t think the materials are ready to crowd fund, we send them a bunch of feedback and if they take it, they move on to the next phase. They build their wish list; they upload their incentive. We send another round of feedback to make sure that stuff is optimized. We won’t let you launch any more with a lousy pitch video. We have long talks about this in the office because we certainly don’t know what’s good to every single audience but we are more confident now than ever that we know what makes a good pitch video. A few times people have written back to our feedback and said no, I think this is what my community really likes. And we have to write back and say nobody likes a video where filmmakers who work in a visual medium tell and not show by sitting in front of a camera and being interviewed about what their movie’s going to be about. No more interview format pitch videos, we’re done with that. We’re not doing that anymore. I’m saying this now. You can tell the whole world no more interview-style pitch videos.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s dig into sort of the nitty-gritty and kind of take it back to the very beginning. I mean, most of sort of what I hear is you’re building this audience and that’s great. Maybe you can just take a step back. Someone has written a script. Now they decide they’re going to produce their script. What are those steps they need to take to get ready to present a project to you guys? What can they do and then take us all the way through that pipeline of actually getting funded.
Emily: I guess I would have to start with something that has nothing to do with the Internet which is do you as a screenwriter want to produce your own work? Do you want to learn all the things that you have to learn? Do you want to be the point of engagement with audiences? Do you want this to become 40 to 60 percent or do you just want to be the writer? You have to figure out at what level do you really want to be engaged in getting your work made? And there are tradeoffs either way. If you just want to be a writer, then you have to get into the mechanism of getting your script bought by other people if you want that to be your main resource. And that happens for like a very select few. I know that you deal with this a lot on this podcast. How do you sell your screenplay? And if you just want to be a person who sells screenplays, that is a very different thing than the thing I’m about to talk about because if you want to be engaged in never having to ask anybody again to make this movie but being determined—I mean, that’s not true that you’ll never have to ask anybody to get involved—but you want to be way more in charge of whether or not a screenplay you write gets made into a movie. There are a lot of things you have to learn and be willing to do and a lot of nonwriting time you have to be willing to spend. So that’s where I would start. And the thing is it may be what you need to do first is get a great producer on board or a great producer of marketing and distribution, a PMD. That involves its own set of pitching. You have to go out into the world. You have to talk to people. You’ve got to meet a bunch of producers. You’ve got to get them excited about what you’re writing about, excited enough that they will sit down and take an hour and a half and read your script. That always sounds like a big barrier. My experience is that’s not a big barrier. There are lots of producers out there. There are lots of writers out there. Everybody’s looking for the best material or the best producer and you just have to go out and meet a lot of people. So that takes its own pitching. If you want to do it yourself or you’re bringing a producer or two onto your team, there’s still a ton of work to be done in an audience engagement sort of plan like with crowd fund.
Ashley: Let’s dive into that. Let’s assume that these screenwriters do want to be in control of their own destiny and want to produce their own material. So let’s dive into that and just run through the steps that they should be doing to prepare.
Emily: Sure. First and foremost, you have to know your audience and the way that you get to know your audience is you start talking to them a lot. So if you’re writing a screenplay about a feminist thriller set in downtown Los Angeles called Danger in Downtown LA, how do you get people excited about Danger in Downtown LA? Well, first, let’s talk about people. Who are the people who are more likely to be excited about Danger in Downtown LA? Go out to a couple of events. Write to your friends. Post on your Facebook page or your Twitter feed I’m working on this movie. Who would like to see a movie like that? And the couple of people who self-identify, you’re going to go talk to them and you’re going to ask them a set of questions that are the following: Where do you hang out online besides wherever I just found you? Are you on Twitter? Are you on Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler? Where can I find more people like you? What times of day are you online? Are you there all day because you’re connected on your Smart Phone? Are you there sometimes? What kind of music do you listen to? Where do you get your news? And this is a really important one because people who read the New York Times have a slightly different appetite for kinds of headlines and tone than people who regularly read [inaudible 0:22:05.9] for example. Do you belong to any special interest groups? Do you volunteer anywhere? Are you on any alumni organizations? Again, these are questions drilling down to where do I find more people like you? Who are your influencers? Who do you read? What blogs do you read? Who are your favorite people to follow on Twitter or on Tumbler, whatever? Figure out who the influencers are. And most importantly, when you watch movies, where do you watch them? Do you watch them on your laptop streaming from Netflix? Do you only watch them in the theatres? Do you watch them on your television streaming from a service like Apple TV? These are really important things to know. You have to start to get to know your audience, how they like to be spoken to and where they like to watch what they watch. These will affect your creative decisions or if you’re doing it right, they should affect your creative decisions. This makes everybody immediately really angry when I say this, but the thing is, we’re building businesses and businesses are very sensitive to the needs and desires of their customers. And if there is a little story in your brain that’s happening right now that says I don’t want to pander to my audience in the creative process, I will say the following: Pandering means you think your audience is stupid. If you think your audience, that is, the people who would like your movies is stupid, then you are making stupid movies and you have to take a look at yourself. So you should always assume that your audience is as capable and as smart as you think you are. And that means they might become an incredible creative collaborator in small ways and sometimes in big ways. You know, when we did our first wish list for Like the Water, we sent this list out of everything—this is a film that I made that started Seeds and Sparks—we sent this list out to everybody we knew about the stuff we needed to make this movie and what happened? Well, people started offering us stuff that we hadn’t even considered like locations that were so beautiful, we rewrote the movie to incorporate them and for free, we became a movie that looked much more expensive than we thought it would be. So there are ways big and small. You know what? If I had known that the vast majority of people who were going to watch our movie were going to stream it to their computers or to their televisions, I might not have spent so much on super high resolution recording and data storage. And I could have saved a bunch of money that I could have put towards telling more people where the movie is.
Ashley: So once you’ve done this customer development, then do you fold that in on itself and then go out to these like if they say I hang out here, do you then try and do some more customer development on those new platforms and talk to more people?
Emily: Yes. So you’re going to start a process of customer outreach that we like to call message testing which is simply chatting not only about your project but about the world of artistic inspiration you live in because an independent filmmaker is a brand, right? A brand is simply something that people feel loyalty to because they feel like it delivers value to them. And the value that an independent filmmaker delivers is their unique point of view, their unique storytelling voice. So your Twitter handle, your Facebook page, your Tumbler feed isn’t just me talking about me and the stuff that I’m doing, it’s the world of inspiration around me. It’s the research that I’m doing on my next project. They are the questions that are being raised. There’s a really wonderful New York-based filmmaker named Liam Billingham and here’s sort of a really all-around guy. He’s a filmmaker; he’s a screenwriter. He’s a producer and a director. He’s also an educator. He does incredible work helping veterans tell their stories through filmmaking. He has been writing this screenplay for awhile and it’s really fun to follow him on Twitter because if you catch him at the right moment, he’ll be like just a couple weeks ago—what are reasons that people get divorced? And this whole chat started because a lot of us have experienced divorce in one way or another—this whole chat started about different reasons why people get divorced. He went directly into his community and now I have a little bit of a sense of something that might be happening in a screenplay, but I have no idea which of the things was the spark that influenced him. But now I’m really intrigued to sort of stay up on what he’s doing personally because I feel like I might have had an influence by something I said, but personally I know that he’s working on something that has a really personal meaning for me. So you do this engagement and when he posts something like that, he has a real opportunity there. Those of us who are chatting back to him, he could go to any one of those people whose clearly inspired by something that he’s working on and do that same interview that I talked about with them and get a little bit better data. So you’re kind of always doing this audience research especially once you’ve identified the platforms people are on so you can get better and better at finding more and more people and bringing them into your creative community. By the time you are ready to launch a crowd funding campaign, you should have been able to prove to yourself that through how you talk about your project, you can get strangers excited about what you’re doing. If you don’t do that in advance, then you may be stuck in something that is not crowd funding but that’s friend funding. You may only be able to get your friends and family aboard because they know you personally. So this audience development is really important if you want to make an impact with your crowd funding and you want to get it out to people who are many, many more than just your friends and family.
Ashley: I’m curious. Do you have all those questions for doing this customer development are great? Do you have that on line or maybe I could email you and get—
Emily: All of this, everything that I’m saying, all the things that I know have been written down in a document called The Crowd Funding to Build Independence Handbook and it’s on our website if you go to our homepage and click on the “how it works” there is a box called often downloads and it’s all in there, the handbook, the education deck so when we teach this class, the deck that we use to teach, we have schedule templates so if you read the handbook, you’ll see that we’re really interested in crowd funding campaigns being organized as if they were pre-production and production schedules. And we’ve created those templates for review. If you’re intimidated by social media—which I know that a lot of people are—there’s a social media handbook written by a Webby award-winning social media specialist for [inaudible 0:29:16.9] named Kristin McCracken who came out of Trideca Films. So all of this is available. You don’t have to scribble notes or anything which I probably should have said at the beginning.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. So then take us through that next step. So you feel like you’ve found an audience. You kind of understand where they hang out, who they are, and then what’s the next step after that? You’re shooting your video. You’re preparing your—
Emily: You got to put together a great 90-second pitch video, 90 seconds to two minutes. It’s got to be in the tone of the project that you’re making and it’s really got to be geared towards one thing and one thing only—and that’s exciting and inspiring your audience to get involved with you. You want to crack engaging incentives and those you should be able to check with your audience along the way about what would excite them most to get involved. Please try not to manufacture things. We are filmmakers; we’re not manufacturers so T-shirts unless you have a really cool designer involved or you can get a great deal are just really expensive and not that motivating for audience members. But all of this is stuff that you will learn throughout your message testing. Then once you get ready to click “go” you want to be a well-oiled machine that is tuned to do two things really well: Create and maintain momentum and generate the inevitability of success. So your first thirty percent should be into your campaign—if you can get it on the first day, that’s ideal, but in the first week and campaigns which get their first thirty percent in the first week have an 80 percent success rate and this is across all platforms. I will say this, Seed and Spark campaigns have an 80 percent success rate just for launching with us because we make you do all this stuff in the beginning. So the first 30 percent in is really important. That’s usually about the point at which strangers are ready to give you their money. That’s because they see momentum and they see inevitability of success. If you go to a campaign two weeks in and it’s two-percent funded, that says one of two things to you: These people aren’t trying too hard or the community who knows them already knows they’re a Crip and hasn’t given them any money. So your first 80 percent is going to come from people you know and know you and about your project which is why you want to build this crowd in advance. So that crowd, that first 30 percent isn’t just your friends and family, it’s a bunch of people who are going to be excited about this project for quite some time. So that first week is really important. You want to have a plan to have engaging updates. You want to have a plan to make sure that your email outreach is engaging and exciting and also gives people an opportunity to share on social media, and you want to have a plan in advance so that you can do the fun things about crowd funding like throw live events and create contests and do matching campaigns and other sorts of exciting audience-engaging things that keep each week of your campaign fresh.
Ashley: I want to back up just a quick second. You mentioned the incentives briefly and you also mentioned the video earlier in the interview. You did say no, you don’t want to see any more where they’re just interviewing the writer and the director. Maybe you can just give us some quick tips, if not an interview style video, maybe some quick tips on what the video could look like. Do you recommend shooting a trailer, shooting a scene from the movie, what would work well?
Emily: There is zero one-size-fits-all model, and I have actually seen “interview style” pitch videos done exactly in the tone of the film, but if you’re trying to get a bunch of people to give you money to make a feature-length film, then your 90-second film better show them at some point that you’re capable of doing that in an exciting and creative way. Now that a breakout film at Sundance was shot on two IPhone 5S’s, nobody anymore is allowed to say “but I don’t have the money to shoot something engaging.” Ninety percent of US cell phone users have Smart Phones and Smart Phones have cameras that get pretty decent sound, let’s be honest. You know somebody with a sweet Samsung phone or whatever or a sweet new IPhone that can help you shoot this thing and make it look decent. As a storyteller, what would get you excited in fifteen seconds about what’s to come? The first fifteen seconds has to be for the audience of the film, not for your mom or whatever. We’re not going to care about you and your faith and what you have to say until you show us that you’re going to do something really cool with my money once I give it to you. So the first fifteen seconds should be like wow me in whatever the tone is. Is it a thriller, scare me. Is it a comedy, make me laugh. Is it a drama, make me feel something; pull my heartstrings and then sit down in front of the camera and say did you like that? I’ve got more of this. Here’s why you need to get involved. Here’s why I’m the perfect person for this. Let’s do this together. I’m not saying don’t ever sit down in front of the camera. In fact, I think the personal appeal is really essential, but this notion that through sitting down in front of the camera and talking to a bunch of people who have no idea how to put you in context is going to generate excitement is just absurd and as filmmakers flies in the face of everything we’ve ever been taught. The people get very nervous around the pitch video for some reason so oh, if I just tell them, no, if I just show them. I just invite them into the world, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. I mean, what I can certainly do is if you want to put some supplemental, I can definitely point you to some pitch videos that I love.
Ashley: That’s an excellent idea. We’ll link to that in the show notes. Let’s move on to the incentives. This is one thing that I think people get wrong so often. I always feel like—the way I see crowd funding is like especially with some of the big success stories on Kickstarter, the cooler and those watches and stuff, it’s like essentially it’s a way of preselling your product, and I always see people will create their movies like fifty dollars to get a link to the movie. It’s like just give people a link to the movie for ten dollars so that it’s basically the same price you’re going to pay if you go to ITunes after the movie is released except for the fact that you’re supporting the filmmaker and this kind of stuff. So maybe just give us some tips for the incentives. I feel like people mess this part up.
Emily: ITunes does better at preselling movies than crowd funding does. ITunes already does that for you so yes, of course, you have to price your crowd funding sales at market. If you’re going to do a fifty-dollar presell, it had better be a package that includes a ton of extras and behind-the-scenes and all that stuff. So just using crowd funding as a presell tool for film I think is tremendously missing the point because again, this is not about the life cycle of the single film, it’s about the life cycle of your relationship to your audience. So to me your incentives should be about giving people different access points to your creative universe. How deeply involved do they want to get in your creative universe. So for me the ten to twenty-five-dollar level, of course, they should get your film, duh! But more importantly, what can you give them that makes them a personal part of your film? So the ten to twenty-five-dollar incentive which is what you will give away the most of should be free for you to distribute, should be personal to the contributor, should be visual, should be shareable and should be immediate. So rather than waiting until the end of your campaign plus, plus, plus, some months, what could you deliver to people an hour or a day after they contribute that is their personalized piece of your film that they can then share with all of their friends to show what a cool thing they’re involved with. And I’ll give you an example, there’s a short film called Time Signature by a filmmaker named Sean Manion, and I contributed twenty-five dollars to the campaign because it was a time-travel movie starring a woman, sort of a bunch of things I’m really interested in, and within twenty minutes I had a note back that said Emily, thank you so much for your contribution. If you could travel anywhere in time, where would you go? And he caught me on a day when I was in the office poring through a bunch of legal documents, and I fired back what I think was kind of a snotty email which was I’d like to go to the signing of the Magna Charta, that’s how boring I apparently am. So twenty minutes later—I’m not kidding—he tweeted we found @emilybest at the signing of the Magna Charta. Where will we find you with a link to his campaign and a photo of me that I think he had pulled off of like my linkedin profile perfectly photo-shopped into an image of the 13th-century scroll that showed the signing of the Magna Charta? And it was so well-done and so hilarious and just like—first of all totally threw in my face the fact that that was a ridiculous request, but he executed it so well that I shared it everywhere. I was like “Oh my God, look at me, I’m at the signing of the Magna Charta. This is hilarious.” It’s such a good photo shop you wouldn’t spot me at first even. I sort of blend in with the 13th-century friars that are all standing around and when I realized that this was something he was going to do for people, I just shared it everywhere. And I know that I am personally responsible for seven further contributions as a result.
Ashley: You just said doing something that’s quick and easy for you at the ten to twenty-five-dollar level, that’s not quick and easy.
Emily: Well, it was quick and easy for him. He did it in twenty minutes. So I’m not saying that everybody has that level of photo shop skills, but most filmmakers have some capacity that is “quick and easy” and this was a first-week-only incentive for his campaign. So he knew he was only committing this amount of time for a week. So he was going to set aside this time and I’m going to generate a bunch of momentum doing this thing. I’m sorry, but if you think that crowd funding isn’t a full-time job, you’ve got another thing coming. It’s like pre-production. Pre-production is a full-time job. Crowd funding is now its own pre-production. It’s its own additional phase, and it should be because you’re talking about building relationships with your audience that can sustain for the life of your career, not just for the single film.
Ashley: Okay, so let’s dig into sort of the 30 days and obviously things like what you just said, making each one of your contributors feel special and creating something that they can share with their friends, maybe you could run us through the life span of the crowd funding campaign and what people should be doing.
Emily: Sure. You’ve got to plan every crowd funding platform has an update tool that sort of works like a blog but here’s the thing. They mistakenly use it as a blogging tool and those updates get sent to the email address of everybody who has funded or followed you so far and most of them are busy people. And most of them don’t have time to read eighteen paragraphs on why you got into filmmaking in the first place. Those updates should be used to be exciting and visual and shareable. So that should be a place where you are demonstrating to the people who have already funded and followed you that they should be glad they have done so. You should be demonstrating your inevitability of success, press that have covered you, casting announcements, progress which you’ve made, anything exciting that’s going on in your project or in the world of anybody who’s working on your project. Frankly if your cinematographer has just found out they have a film premiering at South by Southwest, that’s a great thing to promote to your crowd because it gives everybody a sense of how successful a team this is going to be. But they should also be visual, and you should also give people a really easy way to share from their updates. So give them a reason to amplify the messaging that you’re sending them twice a week. If your updates are just like here’s more information, it’s going to mostly annoy people, but if you say here’s really cool stuff that’s happening, tell your friends, then you give a chance for everybody to feel cooler for having received that update. That part’s really important. You should plan to do that at least twice a week and it can build momentum throughout the campaign. You are emailing probably ten to twenty people a day minimum personalized emails to get them excited. You are constantly doing research based on social media and who’s getting excited and who’s retweeting and who’s sharing to see are there partners, amplifiers, and outlets who might like to amplify your message. You are creating engaging one-week-only incentives. You are running contests; you’re doing live events and you have to remember that not all crowd funding happens behind a computer. You’ve got to go out into the world and meet people and let them know what you’re doing. You really never know what that might bring about.
Ashley: And what actually does that look like, I mean, just going to a film festival that happens to be going on during your crowd funding and just trying to network with people there?
Emily: Sure, but you’re not looking for other filmmakers, you’re looking for audience members so a feminist grindhouse thriller short film called Sheila Scorned knew that their filmmaking community would contribute at the rate of ten dollars a head and they sort of knew what the limits of that were. They really wanted to figure out where other people who are interested in kickass women are hanging out and one of them had the brilliant idea for reasons I don’t totally know—I should ask them to reach out to the Angel City Roller Derby in Los Angeles because that’s a place where people who appreciate kickass women are hanging out. And they ended up partnering with the Angel City Roller Derby to promote one of their scrimmages. So the Angel City Roller Derby has a world championship team that’s their A-team but they have B and C teams where women who want to get on the A-team are training up over time. And so the B and C teams have these scrimmages and they always want to drive engagement to those things. So they allowed Sheila Scorned team to go out and sell tickets. They would get a portion of their ticket sales and then on the day of the scrimmage which is three-and-a-half hours long, out in sort of like a gym with a big high school gym in Culver City, they set up a step and repeat and they had fake tattoos and they bought everybody beers and just interfaced with the folks who like roller derby. And these are folks who probably, for the most part, don’t self-identify as lovers of Indi films. But they might be now. So they reached out to a whole bunch of people they would never otherwise get to because that’s not the community that they gather. That’s one of my favorite examples but I have many, many more.
Ashley: That’s a great example. So I’d just like to wrap up these interviews. Just maybe you can tell people if they want to learn more about you or follow along, maybe you could tell us your Twitter handle or your Facebook page, a blog, an email—anything you feel comfortable sharing.
Emily: You bet. You can follow me on Twitter at emilybest or @seedandsparks. We publish a beautiful print magazine twice a year and you can follow that @brightideasmag. You can go to seedandsparks.com and download everything I have said and more—I’m a bit of a one-trick pony if I have to be on there—In the “how it works” section under “often downloads” you’ll get everything here plus, plus, plus.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect! I will link to all that stuff in the show notes. Obviously I will link to Seed and Spark as well so if people want to find out more about that, just check out the show notes and you can click straight over.
Emily, you’ve been very generous with your time. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve never done any crowd funding but I’ve always felt like gee, I would like to give it a try. So I’ll probably be coming back to you with some more questions, and maybe if I get a campaign going, I can have you on and we can actually work through some of the specifics. That might be interesting.
Emily: You bet!
Ashley: This has been great. As I said, I learned a lot, and I know a lot of screenwriters are going to get a lot out of it. So thank you very much for your time.
Emily: Thanks so much for yours.
Ashley: A quick plug for my email and fax blast service, I’m running a special right now where you can purchase one-third of the producers’ blasts for a little more than fifty dollars. The total list is around six thousand contacts so this first one-third is about two thousand contacts so it’s still a solid number of producers and production companies. I’ve done this just to lower the barrier to entry so that people can check out the blast without having to invest a whole lot of money up front. The one thing that hasn’t changed, I still require that you join Sys Select which, at the time of this recording, is just $24.99 per month. The reason I require this as part of the process is that I’m going to personally look at your log line inquiry letter and help you make them as good as possible. This is really to everyone’s benefit. I want to make sure that the query letters and log lines are well-written before I send them out to my list. The people receiving these email inquiries can unsubscribe to these blasts so sending out a bunch of half-baked query letters will just burn the list up which hurts everyone who might want to use the service in the future. Also by getting my feedback on your log line inquiry letter, it means your response rate is going to be much higher. I’ve been doing this for a long while and I’ve had a lot of success from cold query letters so I think getting my feedback alone is valuable and well worth the price of admission.
You’re welcome to join Sys Select for just one month and then quit once your query letter is ready to go. I hope you don’t, but that’s totally fine. And once you your query letter is approved by me, you’re free to buy the other blasts later on even if you’re no longer a member of Sys Select. You don’t have to rejoin down the road. It really is just to get your query letter and your log line into shape.
Also a lot of people have joined Sys Select just to get my input on their log line or query letter. Again, I think this is worth the price of admission. So you’re more than welcome to joint even if you don’t want to use my blast service. That’s totally fine too. So if you’re looking for some professional feedback on your log line inquiry letter from an industry pro, this is a great way and a very expressive way to do it. Again, you don’t have to use my blast service if you just want my feedback on your log line inquiry letter.
Also by joining Sys Select, you get access to the Sys Select Forum. In the forum I review hundreds of query letters and log lines, and you can see my notes and the revisions that writers made. So this is a great resource just to help you write your own log line inquiry letter. You also get access to all the online Sys Select classes that have been done over the last couple of years. There are more than a dozen classes covering all sorts of screenwriting topics from writing your script to pitching your script to writing and producing short films. It’s a great resource for any writer who wants to further their screenwriting education.
I also get the question how long will this sale be going on and I honestly don’t know. If it seems to be working well, I’ll probably keep it going for awhile, but if it just ends up being a lot more work, I’ll probably just revert back to the one price for buying the entire blast in one big purchase. So just to kind of clarify this, you can now buy one-third of the blast for a little more than fifty dollars and you can also join Sys Select for the $24.99. So for a total cost of seventy-eight dollars, you can have a blast done to more than two thousand industry producers. Again, I’m going to review your log line inquiry letter so you are going to get that. That’s all included in the seventy-eight-dollar price. It’s really never going to get any cheaper or easier than this. So if you’ve ever wanted to try out this blast service, now is a good time to do it.
Anyway, check this out. Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/blast. Again, that’s sellingyourscreenplay.com/blast.
In the next episode of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast I’m going to be interviewing screenwriter John Jarrell. His credits include Romeo Must Die among many, many others. It’s the first interview that I do in person, the first podcast interview that I actually do in person. I actually went to his house and sat with him and did the interview. We ended up doing at least three hours’ worth of—I prepared a lot of questions, and he was very generous as I sat there and he answered them so we literally talked for more than three hours. So I’m going to break this up into several interviews over the next couple of months, but the first segment of that will be coming out next week so keep an eye out for that episode.
So to wrap things up, I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Emily. If you’re thinking about trying to do a crowd sourcing campaign for your project, really listen to what Emily says in this interview. Probably even go back and listen to it again or come back to this when you’re ready to launch your crowd-sourcing campaign. Come back to this interview and re-listen to it because there is really a lot of good information and a lot of it you’re not going to quite understand all the subtleties of what she’s saying until you really get in the thick of things. And also definitely check out all the materials she mentioned that are on her site. Again, I’m going to link to those in the show notes, but you’re definitely going to want to take a look at that because all that information is excellent and it’s going to really help you. It’s going to help your chances of success a lot.
A lot of people think crowd sourcing is easy; they think people are just going to give you money, and it’s really not going to be that simple. I’ve never tried a crowd sourcing campaign but one consistent thing that I keep hearing from people who have done this successfully—and it was mentioned by Emily too in the interview—is that during the month when your campaign is alive, it’s pretty much a full-time job of working your contacts and doing everything you possibly can to raise the money. So it definitely can be done. You can raise a lot of money through a crowd sourcing campaign but you definitely have to go into it where you’ve cleared your schedule for that month and you’ve just got to bear your email lists, beat your phones, friends, Twitter—doing stuff like what Emily said where you give people who donate. You give them personalized attention especially those early people who give you a little bit of money, you really give them personalized attention so that they become your spokesperson and they will pass it on to their list of Twitter lists or their email lists or anything else.
Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.