Passion. Curiosity. Access. These are all well-known components in the recipe for a great documentary film. Yet, the final product can’t be completed without one other essential ingredient: dough. “People don’t really talk about how there’s no money in documentary,” says Vann Alexandra Daly, a film producer based in Williamsburg. “Everything is low budget and usually it takes so long to make one — sometimes years and years — and a lot of that is because of lack of funding.”
That’s something Daly is trying to change. A former magazine journalist, she changed career paths two years ago to become a producer, and soon found her calling: being the person who finds filmmakers money to complete their projects. She does this through managing campaigns on Kickstarter, the website that launched in 2009 and helps artists raise funds and build fanbases for their creative endeavors. Daly has successfully produced three Kickstarters for documentaries: one for Freeform or Death, which surpassed its $50,000 goal to reach $81,639 and 736 backers; another for Dancing For Jaffa, which reached $48,695 and 1,029 backers; and she is currently working on the campaign for the soccer doc Changing the Game, which met its $20,000 goal last week and continues through August 9.
How does Daly do it? YACK got crowdsourcing tips from the 25-year-old who is nicknamed The Crowd Sourceress:
YACK: How were documentary filmmakers raising money before Kicktarter?
Daly: It was from grants and foundations. That still works, but in the way that documentaries take a long time to make, it takes a long time to get a grant. You’ll apply for one and if you get it, it’s three months later. When you do Kickstarter — and it’s recommended to do a 30-day campaign — you set a goal and you get that money in 30 days. There’s a sense of immediacy to it.
YACK: Is 30 days the only option?
Daly: It could be 60 days, but 60 days is too long.
YACK: Too long to be bugging people?
Daly: Yeah, I think people get tired after two weeks, especially if you’re hassling them every day with emails, newsletters, Facebook posts. There’s a timeline that works. Even Kickstarter says 30 days is the best way to do it. I’ve only done 30-day campaigns, so I don’t know how it would feel to do 60 — it would be like two Kickstarters in one. I’d probably go crazy.
YACK: What’s the difference between Kickstarter and Indiegogo?
Daly: Kickstarter is all or nothing — if you don’t make your stated goal, you get zero. That’s the big difference. But raising the stakes is what makes it sexier in a way.
YACK: How big a factor is that with the audience? If the stakes weren’t so high would people be like, “Ok, they’ve raised $10,000, that’s a lot. I don’t need to contribute”? Whereas with this, they know you have to get to $20,000.
Daly: That’s what I think the difference is. Yeah, because people look at $10,000, and on a screen it looks huge. And then if you stop bugging people, they’re going to forget about your campaign.
YACK: Is the campaign strategy to have a lot of people give a little and then try to get one or two big donations?
Daly: Yeah. Not only is it important to make your mark or ideally surpass it by a lot, it’s really important to get as many people on board as possible. Let’s say you get five people to give $10,000. You’re at $50,000. Not only is that hard to do, but it’s not even that great for the film. You might as well just have them write checks for you. The ideal scenario is to have a ton of people giving five dollars because that means people from around the world are supporting your project.
YACK: Is that how it went with your previous campaigns?
Daly: The first Kickstarter I did we did raised over $80,000 and had almost 800 backers. We walked away being like, wow, there are close to 800 people that believe in this film. The second film, we got on the Kickstarter newsletter and over 1,000 people from around the world donated. That was so exciting because it wasn’t connections, it wasn’t family members, it wasn’t friends. It was just random people who believed in the project.
YACK: These days, people often complain about their inbox being flooded and their Facebook and Twitter feeds getting out of control. How do you connect with your audience without annoying people?
Daly: Sometimes I have to be like, for this Kickstarter campaign I’m going to have to be annoying. You have to constantly remind people about it, even if it does get annoying. You have to be very, very, very present. And if that means constantly updating Facebook and constantly sending newsletters and emails, you have to do it because the time is limited and you have to reach your goal.
YACK: Some people feel that a wealthy filmmaker like Spike Lee shouldn’t ask fans for money on Kickstarter. What’s your take on that?
Daly: The issue has been pretty contentious for a while. I haven’t really checked out Spike Lee’s campaign, but a lot of people were pissed about Zach Braff’s as he is a celebrity and it seems unfair because the dude is already rich. But money wasn’t the reason he went to Kickstarter. From what he said, he didn’t want investors to have creative control. It makes sense, and I understand it. Melissa Joan Hart tried to do a Kickstarter as well, and it failed. You’d think her Kickstarter would be funded because she has so many fans, so she clearly did something wrong.
YACK: What’s some other advice that you’d give for crowdsourcing newbies?
Daly: Make killer rewards — people actually get really excited by them. T-shirts and posters are cool, but also attaching exciting big people to the project is good. For Changing the Game, we have an award-winning illustrator making our poster. A video on the Kickstarter page is monumentally important, mostly because sometimes people get bored reading text. If they see a video that’s compelling and exciting and visually thrilling, that’s very attractive. I think some people are just like, “Let’s do a Kickstarter!” and might not be aware of how much work goes into it. The lack of preparation is where mistakes can be made.
YACK: Finally, on a lighter note, what are some documentaries that you’d recommend?
Daly: There’s a really great one called Tarnation. And 51 Birch Street is another. I really like docs that watch like films — that are artistic and you feel like you’re watching a narrative. Ross McElwee’s films are really amazing — Sherman’s March is one of his films. I was obsessed with Searching for Sugar Man. I mean, who wasn’t? It was fantastic.
Alexandra’s Neighborhood Recommendations
Favorite Restaurant: Diner
Favorite Bar/Lounge: Glasslands
Check out the Kickstarter page for Alexandra’s current project, Changing The Game, which is active through August 9. Follow Alexandra on Twitter and at VannAlexandra.com. Also, the Kickstarter Film Festival is taking place in Williamburg this Saturday at 7pm in a lot on South 3rd Street between Wythe and Kent Avenue.