Brian Yang is one of the producers behind Linsanity, The True Story of NBA basketball player Jeremy Lin, which has screened at Sundance and theaters around the world. Linsanity raised $167,916 on Kickstarter, making it one of the most successful Film & Video campaigns on the platform.
Can you tell us about your project and why you decided to crowdfund?
We decided to crowdfund for two reasons. One was because when we started the project, Jeremy Lin wasn’t even in the NBA. Linsanity wasn’t even a word. At that point, it was framed as a simple web series idea with a modest budget. When Jeremy got to New York and set the world on fire, our little pet project turned into something a lot more interesting to a lot more people, and thus, also a lot more in price as well. We shifted into making it a feature length film and with that, more people needed to be brought onboard to finish the project and more footage needed to be licensed. That stuff ain’t cheap!
The second reason was because we wanted to leverage the power of social media to bring in “early adopters” of the film. With Kickstarter, every one of your contributors is really also someone who is going to market your film for you. By backing a project, an individual feels more connected to the film and so when you’re ready to announce something, these folks are really your first wave of people who will in turn light up the social media boards with the news. This is as important, if not more so, than the actual contributions.
We had already begun our project long before going to Kickstarter. We put together our campaign after we had shot it already. It was a finishing funds campaign and we actually got the help of the Sundance Film Festival in putting it together.
The average film project raises a little over $12,000. Why did you decide to raise so much money compared to other film projects?
We needed the ballpark amount of what we raised to finish our film, believe it or not. Additionally, as we figured that Jeremy had a lot of fans and followers, we thought to open this up as wide and far as we could. We actually also translated our campaign into Chinese and put it out in Taiwan where Jeremy has tremendous support. A lot of folks responded. Prior to that, I didn’t even know Kickstarter worked outside the US.
Did you ever consider running the campaign NOT on an official crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter?
We could have raised this money from private parties just as an investment or donation, but we really wanted to tap into the social media circle with this and Kickstarter feeds off of that. One investor is not the same as hundreds of contributors, even if their contributions are small. That one investor isn’t going to market the film as efficiently as hundreds can. Well, unless he’s a media mogul and can freely donate TV, radio, and web advertising to you!
We never really considered anything but Kickstarter because of the Sundance relationship with them. But additionally, I’ve used Kickstarter on another film campaign before so I’m used to it.
For the campaign, what sort of marketing and outreach did you do?
It was just all hands on deck. Everyone of the filmmakers involved with the film blasted it out to our social circles – families and friends. It helped a lot that we had Jeremy help us with a Tweet directing his followers to the campaign. (He’s got a lot more than me or my partners, I’ll tell you that.) Sundance helped a ton cause they profiled it on their homepage since we were already in the festival and they wanted to help us finish. We had a news station in Taiwan do a story about the campaign out there and saw some tremendous results of that. It definitely helps when you have friends who have large social media followings themselves push it out. The ripple effect is very meaningful.
How did you choose, create and deliver your rewards?
With the rewards, we just went with something fun for each tier. For big timers of $10,000 or more, they got a private screening with the filmmakers. Delivery was actually an issue for us. We had so many backers, sending them out took a lot longer than we anticipated. As we’re not a factory or have tons of help, packing and mailing out stuff was really piecemeal. And on top of that, we had to figure out a way to send rewards to all these people in Taiwan too without breaking our bank on shipping! The delivery process was definitely a challenge.
Where did your supporters come from- were they mainly friends, family, friends of friends, or strangers?
All of the above. Certainly friends and families first, but when it’s something about Jeremy Lin, luckily for us, a lot of people we don’t know come out of the woodworks.
In retrospect, what do you think was the best thing you did to prepare for the campaign, and would you have done anything differently?
The best thing we did was to shoot a video where Evan Jackson Leong, our director, spoke from a personal place about the project and why we needed the help. A good video goes a long way.
In regards to what we would have done differently: maybe started it earlier? In a way, I’m curious to see how far we could have gone had the window been longer. More backers, more people knowing about the film. You look at some of these things like the Veronica Mars campaign or the Zach Braff one and you wonder.
What’s your best tip for someone who wants to crowdfund a campaign?
There really isn’t one golden rule for anyone looking to do a crowdfunding campaign other than blasting it out to all your social circles. It helps when someone of note is involved with your project be it a Jeremy Lin, a Zach Braff, or a Spike Lee, but if you don’t have someone of note involved in it, you have to just be creative and dig in. No holds barred.
Connect with journalists who have a voice and interest in what you’re doing. Connect with special interest groups who are into your subject matter. Know your audience and efficiently use your time trying to penetrate their circles. When you just generically put something out and ask for help, people are so desensitized these days to helping. “Oh, another one of these?” I mean, you have to hit up your friends, but to get it to the next level, when you’re trying to connect with people you don’t know, you should know who they are before you put it in front of them.