TIFF ’19: Tips for successful crowdfunding on Kickstarter

Documentary filmmakers hoping to launch their next project on Kickstarter, the global crowdfunding platform with the mandate to “bring creative projects to life,” were offered a few insider tips at ...
September 9, 2019

Documentary filmmakers hoping to launch their next project on Kickstarter, the global crowdfunding platform with the mandate to “bring creative projects to life,” were offered a few insider tips at the 2019 TIFF Doc Conference.

The full day event, held Sept. 9, brings together filmmakers, non-fiction buyers and industry experts. Elise McCave, director of narrative film at Kickstarter, presented a “whirlwind tour” of the company’s last year, during which it celebrated its 10th anniversary.

McCave spotlighted Kickstarter success stories – such as the Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez-fronted film Knock Down the House (pictured) – and the platform’s best practices at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio.

“We are providing an online platform but also a lot of practical support and guidance to help creative people build a community of support around their project,” McCave said.

Here, Realscreen presents the main takeaways from the session.

Community Involvement

Knock Down the House, produced by director Rachel Lears, along with Sarah Olson and Robin Blotnick, set the standard for building a community and maintaining involvement, McCave said.

The Sundance-winning documentary, acquired by Netflix in 2019, raised US$28,111 from 424 backers – well above its $25,000 goal.

“What this team did that was so impressive, apart from make a wonderful film, is they really set a gold standard in creating a community out of their backers and including them in every stage of that creative process,” McCave said, adding that the team used Kickstarter’s update tool to send dispatches from the campaign trail as the story unfolded.

In doing so, she said the filmmakers cultivated a “super active readership.”


McCave said it’s important for filmmakers to know which audience they’re looking to reach.

“Figure out who your audience is, where they get their content from, what are they reading, who are the journalists they love, and go in for the kill there,” she told attendees. “The more specific you can be, the more successful you will be.”

She also advised building a fan base prior to launch, pointing to the success story of Critical Role’s fictional animated special The Legend of Vox Machina, which landed a whopping $11.4 million from nearly 90,000 backers – the highest funded film and video project on the platform to date. Still, McCave admits that would be a tougher job for documentary films.

“It’s one thing to put together your page and a video and slap up some awards and think about that, but the thing that’s going to really take the time, and is going to pay dividends if you do it right, is that slow build of the audience over time,” she added.

As a word to the wise, the Kickstarter executive shared the biggest lesson she’s learned in the last year, advising filmmakers to “be careful” about promising high resolution digital downloads of their films to backers, as this can affect distribution deals in the future.

Launching A Campaign

McCave discouraged launching a campaign during major holidays – such as early December to late January – when most people are spending money elsewhere, and during peak vacation time.

“Most people are still pledging from a computer rather than a mobile, so they do it when they’re sitting at a computer which is invariably when they’re kind of twiddling their thumbs during the work day,” she added,

When it comes to promotion, documentary filmmakers have a leg up with targeted social media advertising on platforms such as Facebook, McCave said. Unlike fiction films, she noted that documentary films can more effectively identify a niche audience to target.

Among other advice, McCave said Tuesday early afternoon is the best day of the week to drop a campaign, according to Kickstarter’s data. Campaigns with the lowest success rate are launched on Sunday mornings.

  • The Toronto International Film Festival’s 44th edition runs Sept. 5 to 15.
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