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February 18 at 1:04pm

Miao Wang On The Secrets of Her Kickstarter Success

By Ted Hope

We have a guest post today from Miao Wang, director of Beijing Taxi, set to premiere shortly in SXSW.

A number of people have asked me for my secrets in regards to Beijing Taxi’s successful recent Kickstarter campaign. Frankly, the campaign’s success far exceeded my expectations. As is often the case, I simply had no alternative. I had gotten the last of my rejection letters from the post production grants I applied for. I had just received my invitation to have BEIJING TAXI’s world premiere at SXSW. It gave me a much-needed boost of energy and a deadline to push for! I knew having SXSW’s world premiere would be a crucial element in the fundraising effort, yet it was a couple of weeks before I could publicly announce it. The pressure is on! It was either get into mounting debt for the post production expenses, or do my best to raise as much as I can! It seemed like a win-win situation. I had heard about Kickstarter a few month ago, but didn’t manage to find an invitation to post a project until the last minute. Luckily my friends at Argot Pictures came to the rescue and helped me secured an invitation. I was due to start color correction and sound mix in two weeks!

There were several limitations to the Kickstarter campaign from the very beginning. I knew I had to raise at least $10,000 in a very short period of time. I had to decide whether to go for a lower goal, like $5000, which is much more achievable, or just go for the full $10,000 bare minimum I truly needed to raise. $10,000 seemed like an impossible goal in 30 days, but I immediately decided on a back up plan. I will raise as much as I can through Kickstarter, and if in the last day we’re far from the goal, I have asked my family to essentially be on-call to pledge a “temporary loan” to make sure I don’t lose what has been raised up to that point. I also felt that, knowing the reality of the full amount I have to raise, people will feel more inclined to make a pledge amount that will make a difference.

Chinese new year always felt like an auspicious date to pick for a fundraiser, especially given it’s appropriateness for the film’s China theme. This year, Chinese new year was on February 14, 31 days away from the date I received the Kickstarter invitation. However, I had already started brainstorming creative ideas for pledge rewards a few days before that, so that I would be set to post and launch the project right away!

In terms of pledge rewards, I feel like it’s important to create some value in the rewards. I always believe that if you put your heart into creating something, people will sense that, and more willing to stand behind that. You’ve put all your heart into this film you’ve worked on for so long, your rewards should in some ways reflect the same heart and attention you’ve put into the film and not just something you slapped together. In two previous local NY based fundraiser parties, my team and I have obsessively handmade art objects like flipbooks (made from sequential frame grabs from the film) and an art book made with images from the film. We still had a bunch of the flipbooks and one art book left, so I naturally included them as part of the rewards. I diligently looked through some of the most successful projects on Kickstarter to get inspired for ideas as well as see how I can cater them to my project. I also wanted to think about cultural related reward incentives specific to Beijing. The dumpling class, a personal tour of Beijing with the director seemed like enticing rewards for those with deeper pockets.

To get the word out for the Kickstarter campaign, I set out on a major push in two phases. I signed up with a mailing list manager service (Mailchimp). I exported all my contacts from my many different stages of life into the mailing list manager. This allowed me to send out a beautifully designed graphics rich email campaign, and not just a text-based email. I sent out my first email blast as soon as I launched my Kickstarter campaign. In this first blast I was not yet allowed to publicize SXSW, so I just posted the headline as “accepted for premiere at a major film festival, details coming soon…” I also included some BEIJING TAXI updates from the last year, including grants received and labs attended. I knew SXSW was to make its press release on February 4, 10 days before my Kickstarter deadline, so I had to be ready to go on a massive e-blast campaign right away. As expected, the first phase brought in some pledges from closer friends, but it was far from enough and pledges started to trail off a week or so after the email blast. I couldn’t send out too many blasts because I wanted to send out the important announcement of SXSW on the 4th. In the meanwhile, I posted the Kickstarter widget on the home page of BEIJING TAXI’s website, tried to plaster my Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as reach out to my funders and supporters to help with the outreach. Many friends have kindly cross posted on their Facebook and other social networking sites. My diligent intern Aiyana Parker also helped me research film blogs and Asian related blogs. We made a list of those to reach out to once SXSW is announced. Phase two – SXSW announcement. As soon as SXSW news is released, I added the SXSW laurel on the home page of BEIJING TAXI’s website. I also sent out my second email blast with the headline “BEIJING TAXI : World Premiere at SXSW!!” in the subject line of the email. Sure enough, pledges starting flooding in. Aiyana emailed all the film blogs and Asian culture related blogs to help give a shout out to the Kickstarter campaign that was to end in 10 days. The sense of urgency prompted many to help.

I can’t say enough that I have been so moved by all the wonderful family, friends, clients, co-workers, colleagues from my entire life who have pledged their support to make this campaign a success. It would not have been possible without them. Aside from the loving support of those who know me, Kickstarter’s website has been in itself an incredible outlet to reach out to new supporters. The biggest pledge for our campaign actually came from someone who just stumbled upon the project while browsing Kickstarter. This backer sent me a message and expressed interest in making a significant pledge. We exchanged a few Skype video chats. I mailed him a preview screener of the DVD. He decided he liked the project and went ahead with a pledge at the $5000 level! Some other associate producer ($500) level pledges have also come from a group of volunteers for a non-profit organization called Wokai.org. A couple of people were interested in supporting the film. They approached me about possibly having a private screening event for a very small group of people interested in making an associate producer level pledge. It was less than 8 days before the end of the campaign. They helped throw together this small private home screening party where we met. Three people from the group made a pledge as a result.

To me, the success of this Kickstarter campaign is not only in having over-reached our pledge goal, which is on its own an incredible feat, but also in the new supporters and interests in the film that has been gathered along the way. More than just a fundraiser, the campaign has served as a fantastic promotional and outreach tool for the film.

Beijing native Miao Wang has a B.A. in economics from the University of Chicago and a M.F.A. in design/film from Parsons. Her award-winning documentary YELLOW OX MOUNTAIN has screened at over 20 venues and broadcast on WNET Thirteen. She apprenticed at Maysles Films. Miao has been awarded grants from Sundance, NYSCA and the Jerome Foundation. She is a fellow of Tribeca All Access, IFP Filmmakers Lab and the IFP Market.

BEIJING TAXI http://www.beijingtaxithefilm.com
FACEBOOK http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beijing-Taxi/61435502672?ref=s
TWITTER https://twitter.com/beijingtaxifilm

PS.  Word of Miao’s success has started to spread.  Lonely Planet just covered it.  Spread the word.


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  • http://www.shericandler.com Sheri Candler

    Hi Miao (and Ted)

    Great information you shared on your successful campaign, so great to hear. I am writing an article on Kickstarter and would love to include some of your insights for success. We’ll talk.

    I did want to ask, do you think that the incentives you offered helped at all? I personally have donated to projects with no consideration to the perks. If I liked the project, knew the filmmaker or supported what they were trying to accomplish, I pledged. Especially in your upper level perks, do you think the incentives made a difference or made you stand out from the multitude of other projects? It really is just a question. For some maybe it does.

    All the work that you did to find backers, I am sure you will be doing to keep that audience engaged for your premiere and beyond. You definitely should and maybe without the campaign, you might not have done.

  • http://www.beijingtaxithefilm.com Miao

    Dear Sheri,

    First and foremost, yes the project has to speak for itself. The trailer or the clip you post is the central showcase for your project. The rewards are the perks of course. People certainly first pay attention to the project, rewards are secondary. I don’t think anyone will fund a project just because the rewards sound great. I do think the reward incentives provides some good guidance for how much someone will pledge though. Someone might pledge $300 instead of $500 if there wasn’t the option for a $500 reward for Associate Producer’s credit. It’s always easier to pick from multiple choice than to decide on your own number.

    You are also a hundred percent correct the work to find backers never ends, but Kickstarter has served as one great platform to find some of those backers.

    I realized I think we don’t have a link to the Beijing Taxi Kickstarter campaign, and it’s not as easy to find on Kickstarter since it’s already funded. So, for those curious to see the campaign:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/miaowang/beijing-taxi-three-taxi-drivers-bumpy-ride-to-mo

    All best,
    Miao

  • Dylan Nelson

    Miao,

    Congratulations on your amazing success with fundraising and with your film. However, I’m concerned about the trend of selling credits, especially at the associate producer level. I’m a documentary producer and work extremely hard for my credit … and I also work with TRUE associate producers who spend years laboring long and hard on projects, completely immersed in every detail. It is an insult to their sustained and dedicated contribution to the craft of filmmaking to sell their credit for a few hundred bucks.

    Best,

    Dylan

  • Dylan Nelson

    A followup… As someone beginning fund-raising for two new micro-budget docs, I do understand that creative fundraising strategies are necessary. But to preserve the integrity of those of us who actually do the work, I think there needs to be a distinction between WORKING producers and FUNDING producers. Why can’t one create a new category – associate funding producer, executive funding producer, etc.? Or even list ‘contributors’ at various levels in the credits, much like any nonprofit does?

  • http://www.sunandmoonvision.org/filmforgood Becky Sangha

    Great article! Always inspiring to hear a woman filmmaker’s story of success! I love highlighting new, inspiring ways for filmmakers to finish their projects, and your story will definitely be referred to in an upcoming post I’m writing for the Film for Good blog!

  • trevor75

    I was laughing quite a bit at most of these points, simply because I could easily think of a short film I made that used at least one of them. Great to see a list like this though! superior essays

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