We launched this past Monday, March 17th, 2014. We’re 32% of the way there after four days. Come on board, we’d love to have you.
First, a quick update on 4 of a Kind (now known as Dead Peasants).
I’m still working on drafts of the script from great notes given to me not only by Chris Ashworth but Jim Klock who was set to produce and possibly direct. We’ve had a few setbacks, but we’re all still moving forward with it.
What I want to announce to you all is the next project.
It’s a project I’ve been thinking about for close to a year now. It’s based upon this blog post I wrote in 2010. It tells the story of one man’s travels from the 90s til now with milestones in his life tied to way he’s able to consume music.
It’s a short film I hope to crowd fund. I’ll be launching that Kickstarter campaign in the next month or so. Right now I’m still figuring out how much we need to raise.
I’ll again be doing another daily journal every day of the campaign and hope you take part in the campaign again. While we didn’t make it last time, I’m confident we’ll have something to show at the end of this run.
Merry New Year! – Trading Places
So in early 2012 I decided to finally try and make “4 of a Kind” myself. I said fuck it to all the contradictory creative notes and decided I was going to make this movie the way I wanted to and if people didn’t like it so be it.
Came close. The Kickstarter didn’t work, but it set in motion some things I can’t really get into too many specifics at this point, but progress is being made.
One of the things I can definitely tell you about is I changed the name of the movie from “4 of a Kind” to “Dead Peasants”. It’s even updated on IMDB.
What’s a “Dead Peasant”. It’s actually a term used for life insurance purchased by your employer, on your behalf, without you knowing about it.
I think it’s a great title and I like it so much more than “4 of a Kind”. When my buddy MIke and I sat down to write the original draft, we had the hardest time coming up with the title. Finally Mike called me up one day and had the title. It’s a pun. I hate puns as titles but it fit.
Mike hasn’t been a part of the project for years and the script has changed so much since we started writing that I felt a new title was called for. I hope you like it as much as I do.
Someone who had followed the Kickstarter and reached out to me after it ended wanted to help produce the film. Ironically he was shocked to find out I had written other screenplays and had actually been optioned. He thought I had just written some dumb script and was hoping to make it before going blind. He’s somewhat right about that, but as I explained a number of times throughout the Kickstarter – this wasn’t a “make a wish” type thing. I didn’t just want to make a movie. I wanted to make a good movie. I wanted to make my movie. So he’s actually offered some suggestions on the script. I wouldn’t even say “notes” – more like thoughts on character development which have been helpful.
Chris Ashworth, who you may know from Terminator Salvation or as Sergei from “The Wire” is also somewhat attached to the project. You’ll see on the IMDB page he’s listed as “rumored” mainly because he hasn’t officially signed on yet. Well, Chris will take on a producer role at this point as well. I can’t go into too many specifics here as of yet, but a seven figure budget is being worked out. Dentists, you gotta love em.
Even with the higher budget, I’m still tempting to go back and raise funds through Kickstarter. Over 800 people believed in me enough to give $1 to $2500, I think I’ll definitely be back in some aspect. Perhaps not for “Dead Peasants” but another project for sure.
Let’s get to work.
What’s Next? – President Bartlet
The West Wing is one of my favorite favorite television series and one of the catchphrases President Bartlet used was “What’s next?” Sorkin crafted it quite well and fit it into many sobering and many thrilling instances.
So….what’s next for me or the 4 of a Kind Film?
In the immediate aftermath of the failed Kickstarter, I just wanted to not think about it for a day or two. This was an all encompassing project that lasted five months prior to launching, then the 40 days we actively ran the campaign and I just wanted to free my mind of it and not think about it. Other than that, I wanted to immediately launch again. My only concern was, do I set the goal at $50k? How bout the exact amount we raised: $64,515? What about if I set the new goal at $100,001. There were several arguments for and against each of these options which I had with many people.
I ultimately decided on launching again and setting the goal at $100,001. That was the bare minimum I wanted to make this movie with and I didn’t want to come back and say….welllllll let’s try $50k.
So $100,001 was the goal. I setup a new Kickstarter campaign and was about a day away from relaunching.
Then I realized I hadn’t done anything new to ensure that I’d reach $100k this time around. Granted I raised my twitter followers by 400% and there are over 800 people who backed the project that I could immediately reach out to – but I still fell short by close to $40k – almost 40%.
I didn’t want to launch again and fail again. Granted I’m not afraid of failing, not at all. I’m afraid of looking like I didn’t learn something from the first attempt and just relaunching again with no new plan or strategy to achieve that extra 40%. There are too many campaigns I’ve seen, and I’m sure you’ve seen who fail, launch again for slightly less – fail again, then go to Indie Go Go and raise a fraction of what they raised on Kickstarter. At some point the market is telling you that either your marketing strategy sucks or your product sucks.
I’m not sure what the market told me.
I also never came up with another strategy or approach to get that extra 40% I’m missing.
So again, what’s next?
Well I’m not going to run another Kickstarter until I figure out that final piece which is to say: probably not anytime soon if ever.
What I am doing is putting together ideas to cut together a sizzle reel/trailer to showcase to investors and possibly on the Kickstarter page if I run another one in the future. If you’ve seen the Daredevil sizzle reel or the Looper sizzle reel you’ll see what I’m going for. Pretty incredible stuff.
So this blog posts was about 500 words of me letting you know that nothing is really on the agenda at this point. I’ll be piecing together the sizzle reel and hopefully it comes together. Some of my sources of material will be Goodfellas, The Dark Knight, The Departed, Casino etc.. I’m sure you could gather that from the type of screenplay I wrote but hopefully it comes out well.
Either way, hope you’ve all been well.
Total Backers: 809
Total Pledged: $64,515
Average pledge per backer: $79
Highest pledge: $2,500
Dollars pledged from Kickstarter website (search, discover): $4,957
Total backers and the amount pledged referred from Twitter: 238 backers who contributed $11,112
Total amount pledged referred from Facebook: $17,541
I’ve never been one to say “things happen for a reason” because I don’t believe they do. People only say that when bad things happen. It’s never said about something positive. So, the Kickstarter didn’t work out, none of which had anything to do with pre-determination or fate or whatever. I’ll go into a very long post below. Seriously, it’s definitely a TLDR (Too long Didn’t read) type of post.
This post and the preceding 39 blog entries were meant as a useful guide to future Kickstarter creators. While I may have been too honest at some points which turned some people off as to my negativity early on when things weren’t looking good, it was meant to be an honest assessment of the highs and lows that come with running a Kickstarter. Those who have done it know how hard it is. There are days when absolutely nothing you do works, and there are days, like our final day where we raised over $28,000, where everything just magically comes together.
So with that, here are some thoughts.
I spent 5-8 hours every single day of the 40 day campaign either working on the campaign or thinking about what could work. I spent almost five months prepping. We shot the first thing in February and we launched July 16th. I tried about 10 different video pitches before settling on the current one. I rewrote the copy on the page about ten times.
It didn’t work.
A lot of Kickstarters fail. Granted, not many that reach 65% funding fail, but it happens. Actually I’d be curious to see where we rank in that regard.
Why didn’t it work? Below I explain why some of my assumptions were dead wrong, why other assumptions were surprisingly wrong and why the kindness of complete strangers made the whole thing worthwhile anyway.
Here is a breakdown of the monetary cost associated with running this campaign. Since I was asking for so much money it’s somewhat important to make it look like you have a clue. While my video is mainly “guy talking to a webcam” there are storyboards, there is part of an animatic trailer and there is actual footage we shot. So here’s a breakdown of what I spent out of pocket:
- $200 cinematographer to shoot our opening scene. I know it doesn’t look like much but we were at that bar about five hours and we cut about 80% of what we did shoot just to speed it up.
- $450 actors including voice over talent, almost all of which was not used. Actually the only voice over work we used was Christina Rose’s “I knew you’d always be there for me” which you can hear in our pitch video.
- $400 trailer animatic which was never used. Parts of it are seen in the pitch video including the city and the guy on the train. Initially budgeted at $1500, we settled on $400 when it became clear the studio wasn’t up to the task and they apparently had worked over 100 hours.
- $500 Publicist and Press Release.
- $1100 Facebook ads. This included very early ads getting our Like count up to 1100 by launch. It also included “promoting” Facebook posts. Not many people realize that even though I had 1100 likes, only about 200 people ever see my posts. So you can promote it to 1000 or so for $15.00. Also, during the final week I spent close to $100 per day on ads. It didn’t help much at all. Hey GM, I hear you!
- $1300 Forming a C-Corp to accept the funds from Kickstarter as a business to give myself more time to spend the money and to limit my personal liability in case a backer felt the need to sue. Also, I would need to form a production company anyway at some point to shoo the film.
$3950 and that doesn’t include labor. Spending 5-8 hours a day would total 200-320 hours. That’s a lot of full work weeks and given my billing rate, well it’s a lot. It could’ve been more expensive. If the animation studio had done a good job on the animatic, and if we had spent more on the actual pitch videos production value, but $4000 is still a chunk of change.
Speaking of labor, if the campaign succeeded Lucas McNelly would have received 13% of whatever we raised. $13,000 if we hit our goal even. He unfortunately gets $0 and he busted his ass. I’m wondering if this will change his evaluation of campaigns he offers to help going forward. I think if you asked him Thursday August 23rd he’d say one thing, and asking him now he might change his mind. That final push I think changed a lot of minds. Also Lucas had one big assumption that turned out to be fatally wrong as well. More on that later.
So while it didn’t succeed this time, I did end up with about 400 more twitter followers. Actually I ended up with 300% more backers than I had twitter followers at the beginning of this campaign. That’s something you can build off of. Seth Godin who launched a Kickstarter and raised 100% of his funding goal in about four hours has said that you can’t build your tribe through Kickstarter. I gotta disagree with him a little bit.
I have no idea.
A few days ago I told the Film Courage guys that there was no way I’d run another Kickstarter or Indie Go Go. That final push to $65,000 completely changed my mind though. While all 809 backers might not come back, I now have a bigger following, and a base of supporters I can immediately reach out to upon launch. That’s a much better place to be in than when I initially launched.
To everyone who helped and especially those who backed the project I want to thank you again. Every single e-mail alert about a new backer just warmed my heart. Waking up every morning and checking my e-mail for any new backers was really exciting for the past 39 days. I’m going to miss it.
I wanted to again thank Lucas McNelly for his tireless efforts and apologize to him for lowering his batting average. Jeanne who suffered a terrible loss during this campaign yet still provided her help. Lynette Carrington who probably charged me 1/3 of the amount she was actually working. The Film Courage crew, David and Karen who dropped everything the last week including working on their own campaign to promote this project. Seriously how amazing is that? Sean Hacket who ended up in twitter jail on the final night, all my friends, co-workers, family that helped too, it was pretty awesome to see.
So what worked?
1. Have a story to tell.
I was completely hesitant about ever mentioning my eye condition prior to launch. I had a small blurb about it at the bottom of the Kickstarter page only because I figured charities for the blind would link to the page and if they didn’t see me mention it in the video they might get confused. I wanted the project, the film, the screenplay and my vision for the film to be all that matters. Well I work in advertising and some smart people told me that was stupid.
You need to tell a story. You need an angle. As my former JNCO wearing communcations director Katrina wrote in an e-mail “no one gives a shit about a guy making a movie in Chicago, Jack”. She’s right. They don’t. They care about you and WHY you’re making the movie.
So making the “blindness” aspect a central theme of the overall narrative worked. It got me a lot of press including articles in the Chicago Reader, The Huffington Post, and Agency Spy. You can see all the press we got in the press section.
So my advice to any future Kickstarter creators if you’re seeking a significant amount of money is to craft a story, a narrative and make that a part of the process. You might turn some people off, but you’ll get much more support.
2. Ask for help.
This is true for just about anything in the world. Want a raise at work? Ask. Want that cute girl to go to lunch with you? Ask her. Seriously. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no?.
Asking your backers to tweet or post to their facebook page or even in the waking hours to increase their pledge should be part of your strategy. If you ask them to tweet or post to Facebook, possibly giving them something to write might be helpful. A retweet is kinda meaningless to their followers. If you ask them to tweet with a call to action, that will have much more significance.
In the final hours of the campaign as we went viral and were getting new backers by the minute, I asked my backers to increase their pledge. Not everyone did, and not everyone increased it by a lot but they increased their pledge. These are people who already gave you money. They support you. Asking them for more might seem like a dick move, but in the waking hours of my campaign where I was basically sending out an update to everyone every few minutes begging them to give $50 more, only ONE person canceled their pledge. Just ONE. And hundreds increased their pledges. Again, these people support you and want you to succeed. Don’t take advantage of them, but don’t be afraid to engage them.
3. Lucas McNelly
This is a touchy subject to some people, the whole “Kickstarter consultant” thing, but I knew I needed help. I had ZERO audience. Seriously I had like 300 twitter followers and probably 50 of them were porn/spam bots.
Lucas not only helped me with my pitch video, and reward selection, going over the margins etc.. but he lined up a ton of support for me early on. He had the idea of doing “pimp of the day” where each day someone with a following on Twitter would champion the campaign and tweet about it, or make a video like Marty Lang did. Our twitter strategy didn’t really work too well early on but the final push really worked so it’s a matter of degrees at this point.
Lucas helped in other areas as well. I’m very hesitant to do anything on video and he pushed me to do more of that. I didn’t do anywhere near what he wanted me to do, but it was good having someone kick your ass from time to time to go the extra mile.
The only problem that may arise from having someone run the campaign with you is that it might confuse some people as to who the campaign is actually for or who is running it. I had a few people ask me what his role was or if he was part of the actual film process. This could’ve been addressed but I don’t think it had anything to do with us not reaching $100,000
So what didn’t work?
Well, a lot of things.
I had assumptions going into this. Three big assumptions:
- We would be featured on IndieWire as a Project of the Day
- Kickstarter would feature us or we’d be a Staff Pick
- Charities for the blind would help out. Not monetarily, but with some press or news stories or hell even a Facebook mention.
None of that happened .
Kickstarter didn’t offer any help. We weren’t a staff pick. We weren’t part of their “projects in the news” and we weren’t featured on the home page. I actually sent them links to our write-ups in the Huffington Post and Chicago Reader. But alas, nothing. When I first submitted my project for their review they asked that I take out the mention of blindness as Kickstarter isn’t meant for “cause funding”. I wrote back and showed them several campaigns; one about a blind and deaf pianist releasing an album and a link to Best Friends Forever by Brea Grant which one could argue championed the cause of female film makers. I asked if those two projects were allowed, why not mine? They quickly approved me. I don’t know if I perhaps rubbed them the wrong way or if they just didn’t like my project which is entirely possible.
IndieWire never got back to me after submitting the project. Nothing against them, I just thought we had a cool project.
Charities for the blind weren’t just not interested they almost seemed annoyed. I suppose shifting eyes away from their own fund raising to someone else’s might be the reason but they’re raising money to help people like me. I’m going blind. The charity exists for people like myself and they wanted nothing to do with it.
Being a staff pick on Kickstarter is kind of a big deal. For projects seeking $10,000 or less, if you’re a Kickstarter staff pick? 89% succeed. I don’t know the numbers for projects looking for $100,000 but a Staff Pick or featured project has got to help.
Lucas had one major assumption that completely didn’t come through.
While we were in the Chicago Reader and the Chicago Tribune is currently doing a story on me, local news/tv/radio wanted no part in it. My assumption is that they do not like the fund raising aspect of it. I think if we succeeded they would’ve been very interested in writing a story about a kid going blind who raised money to shoot a movie in Chicago. But there was no way they were going to promote it and help me get money. Perhaps if I wasn’t using my eye condition as part of the narrative they might’ve been more inclined as well. But live and learn right?
Another major miscalculation was that strangers will actually give you $5000 to $10,000.
They didn’t. While at the very end we did attract several $1000+ and one $2500 pledge, we never attracted any $5k-$10k backers.
That was definitely one miscalculation on my part. I saw projects like “The Sisterhood of Night” which had a two $10,000 backers and five $5,000 backers and thought we could attract that.
So from seven people they attracted $45,000.
They also had six backers at the $2,500 level.
So from thirteen people they attracted $60,000.
Do not expect that.
Our campaign attracted 300 more backers than they did and raised $70,000 less. I’m assuming those thirteen people which accounted for 65% of their funding goal were in the bank prior to launch. (I might be completely wrong about this, and if I am even better but I doubt I am)
Perhaps the reward we had at $10,000 or $5,000 wasn’t good enough but we didn’t attract big timers like that.
I’m not a fan of being on video. Every video update or what not was just really uncomfortable to do. Granted it got easier over time, but I know Lucas was hounding me for weeks to do more video updates. I don’t think more video updates early on would’ve moved the needle one way or the other but that was definitely one of Lucas’ biggest problems with me.
The Film Courage guys even brought it up during their video chat with me. They sensed my hesitation with doing one. It’s just not something I’m cool with.
LENGTH OF TIME
We went with 39 days because 30 seemed too short. In retrospect I think 39 is too long. 30 is more than enough. Either you get the momentum, buzz and urgency or you don’t. We got buzz but we didn’t get the momentum and urgency until the final few hours. I can only think what would’ve happened if I set the final deadline at say midnight pacific as opposed to 11:30 PM central. Woulda given us about 2.5 more hours and at that point things would’ve gotten REALLY interesting. If I do this again, I will definitely set the closing time as midnight pacific for sure.
It’s about you, not the movie
I think part of what happened was the campaign became so much about “guy going blind” and not enough about “guy going blind trying to make a fucking kick ass movie”. I’ll be the first to admit that my video isn’t remarkable by any means. There’s nothing really in there that says “dude can do some cool shit”. The scene with the guy in the bathroom isn’t even the real opening of the movie. The opening is four guys playing poker for nine pages and there was no way I was going to shoot that without professional actors, so we settled on the guy in the bathroom. I still like it but others felt it was amateur hour.
So if I had to do it over again I would’ve:
- Kept the narrative of blind film maker for sure.
- Spent more of the pitch video showcasing the film through actual professional shot visuals and not just animatics or story boards
- I would’ve redone the scene of the guy in the bathroom. It was my first attempt at doing anything and while no offense to my DP, he shot it and I couldn’t really see what he was shooting. I think the blocking is perfect, just the actual performance and possible shot selection needed work. Nothing against the actor, it was my fault.
- Done a Director’s sizzle reel. Not sure I can do this on my own as my video editing skills aren’t great, but when done well they’re pretty cool.
Early on I worried that our “twitter” strategy wasn’t going to work. And in all honesty it didn’t work until the final day, and then it worked in a major fucking way. I mean WE WERE TRENDING ON TWITTER!
We got people like Neil Gaiman and Matthew Lillard to retweet, and Matthew Lillard actually backed the project. But sending tweets to celebs hoping they’ll retweet you and that’ll have a major impact – it kinda doesn’t. A retweet doesn’t help much. A tweet with a direct call to action will definitely help.
Also you’re not allowed to send unsolicited tweets to people about your campaign anymore. I’ve heard from several Kickstarter project creators who have been warned by Kickstarter about spam.
So don’t do it. It doesn’t work anyway.
FACEBOOK ADS and LIKES
Are pretty much useless. I launched with 1100 likes. About 111 are people I personally know. So 900 strangers basically. It didn’t provide much of any help. The best approach is still to grow your content organically. People that come across your page because of a clever post or picture or video and like it, will engage more with your content than if they clicked “like” in an advertisement.
Facebook is not useless, don’t misread here. The actual Ads and Like count are somewhat useless. We raised $17,000 from people who clicked on links from Facebook. The Kickstarter dashboard doesn’t allow me to tag links so I have no idea if they came from friends or possibly the ads I’m railing against. But my educated guess is that they did not come from ads at all.
CHARITIES FOR THE BLIND
This one really surprised me. Getting them involved was going to be my entire strategy early on. A story about someone going blind who is trying to overcome that obstacle and live out a dream. I figured they would eat that shit up. I thought we packaged the story well and when we reached out to them.
Not only crickets but some were downright rude. Some seemed annoyed at us even bringing the campaign to their attention. I totally get not wanting to put eyes on someone elses fundraising efforts, but how about a little solidarity? How about a Facebook post? A tweet? Maybe a story? Nothing.
Still surprised at that.
Formulating the plan. There’s 809 of you out there that believed in me enough to take out your credit card and pledge $1 or even $2,500. I’ll definitely be back in some way.
I’m thinking another campaign with a goal of $100,001? Maybe.
Very early on I said I wasn’t sure what I was more afraid of:
- Not raising the money and looking like a failure
- Raising the money and actually having to produce this screenplay
I know the answer now.
$36,660 : 524
So this is it. This is the last post before the last post. Before I either talk about how I can’t wait to start preproduction or how I discuss what did and didn’t work and possible future plans for the script; if there are any.
This is it.
We’ve doubled our pledge count since Monday. We are almost at $40,000.
If we don’t raise the remaining $60,000 – we get zero.
The task at hand is not easy. We need to raise 120% of our entire campaigns pledge amount in 24 hours.
It can be done. It most certainly can. Other campaigns have done it.
It’s been almost six months of non stop thinking, talking, working on this campaign which all comes down to 24 hours.
Come along for the ride.
I’ve visited the same eye doctor every year for the past twenty seven years. You should see the chart. Today one of his fellows read to me the initial diagnosis report taken from an EKG which measured my really poor cone and rod functionality.
That was in 1987.
I was diagnosed with cone rod dystrophy that day, but today I learned I could’ve just as easily been diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. My cones were failing worse than my rods at the time, only slightly which is why I’m cone-rod not rod-cone.
Anyway, trip down memory lane.
The results of today’s visit? Same as usual. I haven’t had a fields test in about three years and the results showed about three years of deterioration. Nothing dramatic, just expected. Center vision is still “good” and I still have this weird temporal island on the far reaches of my peripheral vision which is still really strong.
So more of the same basically, although I was instructed to wear my contacts less and sunglasses more.
So back to the point of this article.
Ten things I’m glad to have seen in no particular order whatsoever.
1. The earth flying at me at over 150mph while skydiving from 14,000 feet.
2. Omaha Beach. Pointe Du Hoc. Basically the D-Day landing beaches and the American cemetary in Normany, France.
3. My nieces: Emily and Molly. I don’t plan on having kids so they’re close enough.
4. The look on my girlfriends face when I gave her an engagement ring.
5. October 26, 2005. The Chicago White Sox win the World Series.
6. While the Chicago Bears lost the 2006 Superbowl, it was great to see them be a part of it. I don’t remember the ’85 team and I’m kinda glad. While they were amazingly dominant, they’re pretty freaking annoying these days.
7. London, Paris, New York. Las Vegas. You know the big touristy crap, but it was definitely worth seeing.
8. Dr. Henry Klassen’s talk on stem cells. This guy gives me hope.
9. My name on the Top 100 lists for Project Greenlight season three. I know some people think this isn’t a big deal and the Nicholl is all that counts, but I didn’t know what the Nicholl was when this happened. 99% of people don’t know what the Nicholl is either. This was the first vindication that I should keep writing.
10. The amazing outpouring of support for this project. I’ve written about it before but it’s things like Kickstarter and Film Courage which can show how not-so-shitty the internet can be. Everything doesn’t need to turn into youtube comments.
I’m guessing seeing my movie would probably knock the Bears not winning the Superbowl off this list. Just a guess.
Just over two more days.