TIFF ’13: The crowdfunding of “Hondros”

At the TIFF Doc Conference yesterday (September 11), Greg Campbell, director of Hondros: A Life in Frames, shared his practical tips for a successful Kickstarter campaign.
September 12, 2013

At the TIFF Doc Conference yesterday (September 11), Greg Campbell, director of Hondros: A Life in Frames, shared his practical tips for a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Campbell is the co-director and coproducer of an upcoming documentary on his friend, the photojournalist Chris Hondros, who was killed in Libya alongside Tim Hetherington.

The film’s Kickstarter campaign ran for 30 days in July and August, and had a goal of US$30,000, which was raised in just four days. At the end of its campaign, it raised almost triple that, with a final tally totaling $90,000.

As an author by trade, Campbell told the assembled audience that he approached crowdfunding with a great deal of trepidation. “You’re asking strangers for money, and that’s the wrong way to think about it,” he said.

He started by watching as many trailers as he could for Kickstarter projects – both successful and failed – and discovered there was no magic length. Campbell decided to have a five-minute trailer, with his appeal for funding at the very beginning, after learning that everyone doesn’t watch trailers all the way through.

His three guidelines to follow were to identify your assets, have a pre-launch checklist, and manage your campaign.

In terms of identifying assets, he knew that he could tap into Hondros’s hundreds of friends, the media professionals he’d worked with, and various trade groups.

In addition to Hondros’s circles, he was able to tap into the networks of Getty Images, who Hondros worked for; and the Greek America Foundation. Campbell also used the network of actor Jamie Lee Curtis, who was touched by a photo Hondros had taken and by the story of Hondros’s death. She had reached out to the New York Times bureau after the news of Hondros’s death and wanted to help, and Campbell got in touch with her from there.

Those networks were tapped into before the Kickstarter launch officially began, ensuring that buzz was beginning and that donors were lined up to continue momentum.

For the pre-launch checklist, Campbell outlined that it was necessary to “prime the pump” and have small announcements and teaser posts ready, and then to create a schedule of updates and new content.

The Hondros campaign averaged one update every other day, and in total there were 17 updates, including press and news about the doc, behind the scenes posts, and video updates from supporters, which included other photojournalists who had their own following.

Another part of the checklist was deciding on the length of the campaign. He had selected 30 days, however he wound up with 26 days to fill, after hitting his target so soon.

“I had to tap dance to convince people to continue to give,” he said.

He also coordinated a scheduled donation run with his “ringers,” so that there would be a big donation at launch, a nice chunk in the middle during the mid-week doldrums, and a reserve for the very end, to ensure that someone can kick it over the finish line.

As Campbell said, “momentum begets momentum,” and that “people want to give to a hot campaign, not one with crickets chirping.”

Finally, he advised people to clear their schedules, since Kickstarter campaigns are manic and demanding.

Once you’re off and running, Campbell says the Kickstarter’s first phase should be hot out of the gates, anticipate a slowdown in the middle, where you don’t want to burn your donors out, and a blitzkrieg at the end.

In the mid-week slow down, he advised it was best to make private appeals over email, where targeted emails brought in $10,000. This is also the time to post thank-you notes.

For the last week, he said its ‘the final sprint,’ and time to do housekeeping on the Kickstarter page and make final edits, since as soon as the campaign ends, the page freezes.

About The Author