Lights Online Film School recently interviewed Deidre Schoo and Michael Nichols about their filmmaking and fundraising process relating to their new feature documentary entitled “Flex is Kings”. They are currently very close to raising $40,000 through kickstarter and below they’ve shared their thoughts on how they’ve managed to develop such a successful campaign (visit their Kickstarter campaign page here). Before we jump into the interview take a couple of minutes to watch the trailer for their documentary below.
Hi Deidre and Michael. We found out about your project when there was only a week to go in your funding campaign. You’ve put together a great Kickstarter campaign and you’ve managed to raise a lot of money so far. But with only 7 days left you’ve raised only $20,000 of your total $40,000 goal. However, I’ve noticed in the last few days your campaign has been supercharged and it seems as though you’re going to reach your target. Can you tell us a little bit more about how the funding timeline for the documentary took shape? Was it slow to start? Why do you think there is a funding frenzy around the project in these last few days?
DS: The trend with Kickstarter funding seems to be lots of excitement and activity at the beginning but then things settle down and hit a lull. Towards the end of the campaign things pick up again – there is a new urgency. Our campaign is following that pattern but it has taken us a little longer to pick back up at the end. We had been getting consistent and really nice press throughout the campaign but we have been doing everything ourselves. We consulted with lots of people and have had lots of friends step up and donate their time and tweets to us but getting press that can make a big impact was harder than we anticipated.
Let’s talk about some of your findings from this Kickstarter campaign. First of all, what was your schedule like managing this funding campaign?
DS: Hectic! I was pretty full time running the campaign – reaching out to press and friends, writing our updates, planning our live event. Mike was juggling this with a full time job so he really had it hard – I don’t think he has slept much the past several weeks!
MN: Yes, it was much more stressful than I’d anticipated. Deidre stepped up and ran things around the clock, while I’d cram in campaign work evenings and mornings. With so much on the line it was difficult thinking about anything else this past month.
What were some of the promotional ideas that fell short of your expectations?
DS: We hoped our live event would get picked up and written about more than it did. The event was amazing but now we realize that we should have done it at the beginning of our campaign – as a kick off event and introduction to the dance scene that our film is about.
MN: I think people left the event feeling like they’d seen something they’d never seen before, becoming “flex” evangelicals and spreading the word. And we’re only able to capitalize on that for a few days.
What marketing efforts led to the most successful funding days?
DS: People responded most to direct emails – each time we sent an email there was a response. Also, posting reminders on Facebook (See Facebook page here) has been pretty successful. When we post on Facebook then it reminds our friends who are already familiar with (and fans of) the project to post as well. It’s that repeated posting that gets something into the network’s consciousness and produces results.
Did you find that different promotional efforts targeted audiences with different funding abilities? For example, were your marketing efforts different when you were trying to get more expensive pledges vs. more affordable pledges?
DS: Not really. It became clear pretty quickly that people are going to contribute what they’re comfortable giving.
Tell us a little more about your thoughts on Kickstarter rewards. Are people really investing in your rewards or they investing in your team and your idea?
DS: This will probably vary project to project. For us, I think people are investing in the team and the idea.
MN: Yes, I don’t imagine anyone contributed mainly for the rewards.
If you were to run another Kickstarter campaign for your next film what would you change in the way you approached offering rewards?
DS: That’s a hard question – we tried to make our rewards relate to the project but it seemed that people gave an amount based on the project and not the award. Maybe people would be swayed to another giving level if there was an unrelated reward – spa treatment or something fun like that – but I don’t know…
MN: That is hard. One reward that I noticed people posting about on various blogs was the password-protected video showing Flizzo doing his bird trick. One woman on thehairpin.com stated that she upped her amount so she could see this. So I think behind the scenes incentives could be worth exploring more in the future.
Do you feel that this Kickstarter campaign, beyond helping you fund the film, has offered you any other benefits?
DS: Absolutely. We have received a lot of exposure from being in such a public place. We have been contacted by other artists and production companies. If you run a good Kickstarter campaign and you have a good project, the Kickstarter will offer your project more than just funding.
MN: Definitely. There were several days when it really looked like we wouldn’t reach our goal, but then we stepped back and realized that we’d already gained so much in the way of artist/distributor/press connections that the campaign was a success no matter what.
You followed these dancers around for 2 years after a chance encounter with one of the dancers at a pub in Harlem. From this first point of contact how difficult was it to gain access into this inner circle of dancers?
DS: It was fairly difficult. I had to do a lot of research to find the first dance competition I went to – I knew the name of the competition but that was all. And it was hard to find online at that time – now it’s easy. But I showed up and met some dancers, kept in touch, kept going and became known. When we wanted to get into their personal lives though – go into their homes – that took another push. It took us a few weeks to take that step, earn that additional level of trust and explain to the community what we wanted to do.
MN: I think that for any good documentary you’ve got to put in that time earning the trust of your subjects. We approached this as a collaboration with dancers, rather than a filmmaker/subject relationship.
You filmed for 2 years, but I’m assuming you had other jobs and responsibilities during that time. How did you manage your time to ensure you got the coverage from the dance community you were looking for?
DS: We did lots of juggling. Thankfully, we had a very dedicated group of people working on the project. Sometimes we would all be able to go out and sometimes just two would go. We traded off a lot, made many sacrifices and somehow got it covered. It was hard but we really had a devoted core group of people who were competent and trustworthy and the dancers accepted the entire team.
MN: It was daunting at times. Half the team (myself and our editor, Chris Walker) work full time as editors, and we’d never have been able to make the film without Deidre and Ryan Hancock’s somewhat-more-flexible schedules as freelancers. Everyone pretty much gave up their weekends for two years to get this thing shot.
How did you approach the structure of your documentary? Did you have a concept of your documentary’s ending, goals and character arcs soon after you began filming or did these things evolve naturally over time?
DS: It took a good six months of filming before we knew which dancers would provide the main narratives. We were following dancers who we had a hunch about – they were charismatic and compelling – and waited as their lives developed. Some people had more going on and became the main storylines while others took the role of secondary storyline.
MN: This type of observational/longitudinal storytelling doesn’t allow for many clear answers going in, but we knew we’d be able to use the 4 yearly Battlefests as some sort of dramatic device to give the story momentum in our characters’ lives.
There will be the comparisons with other dance documentaries such as “Rize” and their documentation of the dance known as krumping. How do you feel you’ve differentiated yourselves with this documentary from other dance documentaries in the market today?
MN: Rize was an amazing and inspirational film for both of us. We also looked towards Paris is Burning and Bombay Beach as creative ways to tell a story about fascinating communities. I think our film is unique because of our characters. Dancing is the fun backdrop for a story of ambitious people struggling to have creative and meaningful lives in a neglected neighborhood. In that sense, it’s not necessarily a dance documentary.
DS: So true. It’s a documentary about an incredible community that dances!
Let’s jump into a few technical questions now. What cameras did you use to shoot the film?
DS: Canon 5D Mark II
What lenses did you use?
DS: 35 and 50 mm primes
What audio equipment was used during filming?
DS: Zoom, shotgun, wireless mics
What was the estimated production budget for the film (before your Kickstarter campaign)?
DS: Total budget from production to completion is $175k
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights with us! If you’re reading this right now and you’d like to contribute and help make this documentary a reality you can visit the Kickstarter page here. You can contribute as little as $1 and as much as $10,000! Good luck wrapping up your campaign Deidre and Michael.