As I’m writing this, I am preparing the crowdfunding campaign for my short film, and after reaching out to several potential partners, I have developed and refined a strategy to fund and promote an independent film project. I want to do a case study while I am in the messy process of trying things out and to share here how I would do it if I were to do it again.
Who to reach out to
Selecting the most relevant organizations
First off, let’s talk about selecting the potential partners to help you create the film. Sure, you can try to talk to household-name blogs and companies, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get a response. It actually happened to me to my great surprise (I explain a little later how to get in touch with this kind of partners), but I would not bet on that. What you should be focusing on is actually the organizations that won’t come up in a Google search. Let me give you an example : my film is mainly about minimalism. If I search for that topic, I will get huge blogs like becomingminimalist.com, theminimalists.com or bemorewithless.com. Several of these blogs won’t even accept guest posts, so that makes it super hard for me to get my film promoted to their audience. It’s the same with, let’s say, minimalist home decoration companies.
So, what you should be focusing on instead, are the organizations that you will find referred to in small niches rather than in mainstream channels. For example, a search in reddit.com/r/minimalism helped me find great minimalist clothing brands. These are warmly recommended by the community, and I know for sure they resonate with the potential audience of my film.
If you care about what’s at the core of your film, it’s also very likely that you know yourself several organizations that you love around that theme. You probably know the biggest ones, but chances are that throughout your wanderings online, you found a few smaller ones that you feel very connected to. You should add those to your radar as well. I use a spreadsheet to list all the potential partners (you can see more about it in the appendix at the end of this article). This passion you have for the subject of your film is going to be the main fuel for the strategy I’m proposing here. The more you use it, the more sincere you will sound and the more fun you will have !
Complementing your partnerships
Now, you should have a bunch of relevant organizations to potentially help you make your film, but they might not necessarily be able to help you where you need it most. Getting a cash contribution from them is actually pretty hard, so these partners will most likely be unable to directly help you to fund your film.
What you should do is pull out your planned budget and figure out what your biggest expenses will be. It’s easier if they are not not food, transportation or accommodation for the team. For me, it was renting the locations (an apartment and a house, where 90% of the film is shot).
You can now start searching for partners in this domain (real estate, in my case). Since these businesses probably don’t care that much about your core theme, these partnerships are not going to be as relevant as the previous ones, but there is still a lot you can offer. Focus on local businesses and make sure they have social media accounts.
You can of course offer to add their logo at the end credits of the film, but it’s also the opportunity for them to highlight the fact that they are helping an artistic project, that they are part of the shooting of a film. You can even propose to create a photo or video miniseries about the creation process of the film in which they would be featured. You can put their logo at the beginning or end of each of these videos, have one or several pieces of that series focusing on how they are helping you, … And even organizing a screening of the finished film in their location. What’s great is that this kind of making-of material is something you would probably do anyway to fuel a crowdfunding campaign. You can multiply the partners on this series without having to produce more… and they will help you promote it !
These companies already make a stable yearly turnover ; the service you’re asking from them (renting an apartment for free or at a discount, getting a specific vehicle for the shoot, …) will most likely be a tiny fraction of that figure. So, they will be much more interested in showing that they are innovative, or that they support cultural projects, rather than take your money, especially if they are in a very traditional industry and crave to be seen as young, dynamic, …
Creating a short, relevant project
The first approach
You now have a good list of relevant organizations to contact, but pitching a fiction film to a company is hard, right ? It’s a long project, you can’t necessarily predict the nature of the audience, there is no direct return on investment for them, …
What I did instead is I created another short, non-fiction, more actionable video. But don’t do it in a strategic, calculating way. Keep it genuine ! In my case, I am sincerely interested about minimalism, and I have been through a deep questioning phase in my personal life. I thought my explorations and answers would help other people as well, and I decided to create a video to present the fruits of my reflection.
Here is the short video I created
It is easier for businesses to see the value of this type of videos. They are short, the delays to create them are much shorter, the audience is easier to target, … That’s why you can lead with that when talking to a potential partner. What I did was establishing a first contact with a super easy ask. I contacted all these organizations and told them about the short video I was preparing and why it was relevant to their audience. I ended my email with a simple request :
I would love it if you could help share the video on the web when I’ll be ready if you find it good enough. Can I send it to you when it will be shot ?.
If you see that some of these organizations are particularly interested, you can talk about a more concrete collaboration. You can ask them to facilitate the shooting of the short video (finding people in their audience who would like to participate in the video, lending products for the shoot, …), to help fund the video (and you can put that money back into your real film), or to help promote it. You can offer to put their logo or products in the video, to give them an interview about the theme you both focus on, the creation process of the video, the short film, …
You can continue finding partnerships for this video even after it’s done ! Seeing the completed project might be more compelling for certain people, and you can still sell sponsorship spots.
I have noticed that companies where answering with more enthusiasm when I was asking them for concrete help during my crowdfunding campaign than when I was simply asking them to share a video. It might be a good strategy to talk to them about a collaboration as part of a release strategy rather than simply making the video. This will help them see the impact they will have and the benefits they will receive.
Bringing them on board with your film
If you are creating videos for the crowdfunding campaign (a teaser for the film, a pitch video, …), you can use that to bring organizations on board with your film. If they show some enthusiasm about your release strategy and your crowdfunding campaign, there is one card you can play.
Take a look at your biggest expenses for the film again and go talk to the organizations that can help you with that. You can ask them right now to help you shoot something shorter for a fraction of the help you need for the film. Let’s say you are shooting a teaser for the campaign ; you can ask them for a location, vehicle, … but for one day instead of a full week, and with an immediate impact since you are launching the crowdfunding campaign soon.
If things go well and they are happy with the collaboration, you can talk to them about reiterating the partnership on a bigger scale, for the film itself. This will be much easier now that you both have experienced a small sample of this association.
Asking for their help on the film
If these organizations liked working with you, you can find dozens of ways to keep this going : they can help promote the crowdfunding campaign, help promote the film, you can organize an event together during the campaign or for the release of the film, they can contribute to the campaign, …
From here on, you can use every single partnership you have established to help make the film happen. Find a way to talk about your crowdfunding campaign in the short video you have created. This can be a YouTube annotation, a title at the end of the video, you can negotiate a link below the video with the blogs that share it, … That way, even the organizations that only agreed to help with the short video are actually indirectly helping you fund your film.
Once the campaign is over, you can use all this work to go convince other, bigger partners. Given that you ran a successful crowdfunding campaign and that you partnered with several brands and blogs, you have a lot more leverage to talk to potential sponsors that could give money to be associated with your film. They can be much bigger brands than the ones you interacted with until that point. This is also a great time to apply to funds and grants and show that your project is rock-solid. Finally, being backed by several brands always looks more legitimate to the eyes of the public.
Now, go make your film !
To remain organized in my outreach, I keep a spreadsheet where I list :
- The potential partners
- The size of their audience
- The relevance of my film to their audience
- The relationship I have with them, if any (une LinkedIn to see if someone you know can introduce you to them)
- The current status of our interaction (if I already contacted them, if I have to follow up, …)
I then order them (it’s usually under Data > Sort after having selected all your data) by :
- Biggest audience
Here is the template of the file I use.
You can see I added some percentages in the columns CTR and Conversion. I based those percentages on an average of the data I could find on the web where people shared the conversion ratios for their crowdfunding campaigns. I made this average myself, but it is very conservative. These percentages allow me to estimate how many people will back the campaign, and how much money this will bring if they all choose the €25 option. That way, I know how many people I need to reach to get to my goal.