The Seed&Spark Blog

Film Crowdfunding
Aligning Your Incentives With Your Career Level

February 18, 2020

• Bri Castellini

So you’ve designed an amazing crowdfunding campaign. Your awesome marketing and audience building strategy is bringing total strangers to your campaign page, and they’re into your passion and your story. Yet there’s something that even a well-planned campaign can lose sight of at this point — these people have very little context for who you and your team are. The easiest tell of this mistake is in the incentives. Specifically, ones that are about you.


You see, while we at Seed&Spark have every confidence that you, the creator reading this article, are on the precipice of success and fame, and that someday, your signature or your property’s logo on merchandise is going to sell like hotcakes. Today is not that day, and you are not ready to be your own incentives… yet. But we’re here to help, so let’s talk through some common incentives that won’t help achieve your current fundraising goals, and what to try instead.


Instead of: Merch like posters, mugs and T-shirts
Try: Thematically-aligned digital incentives
(suggested price: $25-$50)

Manufactured goods cost money to create and deliver — we’ve covered this before. Yes, it’s possible to make a profit, but what makes merchandise profitable is the volume of orders, and it’s hard to convince a stranger that they want your star’s face on their wall or chest if they’ve never heard of them before. That’s not to say your actors aren’t amazing or attractive, and it’s also not to say that your graphics or poster design aren’t cool and visually stimulating. But buying merchandise is a behavior of fandom, which doesn’t exist (yet!) for your project.


Think about it like this: why would you put a poster up in your room (let alone purchase it for money) for a property you haven’t seen, filled with actors you don’t recognize and created by a writer/director you’ve never heard of.


That’s why merchandise for your unknown property doesn’t make sense as a crowdfunding incentive. You’ll net fewer profits thanks to the economics of volume — even if a handful of family members buy posters, you’re still losing a significant chunk of their contribution to the printing and shipping costs. Also, it’s not a particularly interesting incentive for audience members interested in your idea but not yet superfans...because they can’t be, because the thing they might become a superfan for does not yet exist.


It’s better to save your great merch designs for once the project is out in the world and demand is higher, and stick to incentives that are fun and enticing (and cheap) right now for the purposes of audience building and fundraising to make the thing.


Instead of: Signed scripts/photos
Try: Digital process pack
(suggested price: $50-$75)

Similar to above, it’s not only going to cost you money to ship a physical script copy or photo to a supporter, but it’s also unlikely that a potential audience member is going to spend money on it. Someday you’ll hit Greta Gerwig or Bong Joon-ho level, and a single signature on one of your original scripts is going to be enough to finance an entirely new project. You just aren’t there yet. (They weren’t either, not so long ago.)


However, there are a lot of film and filmmaking nerds out there who love to watch something get made, whatever the property. So instead of sending a hard copy of the script, send a digital process pack as visual and detailed as possible. include a PDF of the script, your storyboards, maybe some side-by-side examples of the storyboard to screen comparisons using screenshots from the final product, and any other insights into the filmmaking process of your project. You can also gear this incentive towards amateur or aspiring filmmakers specifically, and give them an unparalleled, unique inside-view of what it took to bring your story to life.


Instead of: Set visits
Try: A table read or wrap party invite
(suggested price: $100)

While the manufactured goods like signed scripts and merch we just talked about are complicated for newer filmmakers because of demand and the cost of creation/shipping, in-person incentives like set visits are complicated because of time and logistics. With a larger production staff, coordinating getting a fan who paid to stop by isn’t such a big deal, but when you’re the writer, director, producer, editor and star, AND you have a handful of fellow crew members with similarly long job titles, it likely won’t be worth the trouble. You’ll have to contend with competing schedules, privacy concerns for the actors who may not be comfortable with non-crew on set, finding space and chairs for the visitors, and signing some kind of NDA so spoilers don’t leak before you’re ready.


Your time is as valuable a resource as your money, and your post-campaign efforts are better spent bringing your awesome project to life, rather than endlessly emailing people to coordinate a set visit. Instead, offer an invite to an event with a set date, time and location that you’re already going to be organizing. Supporters can attend or not, and the logistics are on them — not you. For those who can’t attend but still want to be involved, you can offer a livestream of the event or exclusive behind the scenes content.


Instead of: A Q&A opportunity
Try: Access to live streams from pre-production
(suggested price: $100+)

Q&A opportunities are offered frequently, both as part of screening invites as well as separate video chats, but many filmmakers list this reward at a time when their level of fame doesn’t match up. In general, any time you consider adding something as an incentive, consider someone else at your career stage. Would you select this incentive if they offered it? Why or why not? Oftentimes taking yourself out of the equation puts things into perspective.


As an alternative, if someone is curious about the filmmaking process and wants to be involved, send them a private livestream link to wardrobe tests (let them vote on their favorite looks!) or production design shopping tricks (ditto) or even production meetings. Giving people control and ownership over a small part of the filmmaking process (this goes for supporters as well as cast and crew) makes them feel more attached to the final product, which works in your favor and doesn’t require a level of fame you haven’t achieved yet.



Someday your posters will sell like gangbusters, your Q&A queue will be packed, and your signed scripts will be worth more than the entire budget of an Oscar-nominated short film. It’s ok that you aren’t there yet. Running a unique, well-run, thoughtful crowdfunding campaign with incentives to match will help you achieve that goal in record time.


Bri Castellini

Bri Castellini is the Film Community Manager for Seed&Spark, a graduate-level adjunct professor for digital media, an award-winning independent filmmaker, and, regrettably, a podcaster. She's known for the web series Brains (creator/star), Sam and Pat Are Depressed (creator/star), Relativity (executive producer), and Better With You (director), as well as the short films Ace and Anxious and Buy In (writer/director for both), and for her podcasts Burn, Noticed and Breaking Out of Breaking in, covering the USA television show Burn Notice and practical filmmaking advice, respectively. She has been described by collaborators as a "human bulldozer" and is honestly kind of flattered.



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