Deep Dive into Crowdfunding with Nathan Williams and Natalie Johns
Natalie is joining us from l. A. Uh, Nathan came up from Portland. Were super super lucky to have them. They both ran really incredible, really different crowdfunding campaigns. Natalie's for a documentary called I Am Talent, which will be premiering at the Los Angeles Film Festival Very, very soon. Whoa. Um, Nathan, you just recently completed your film. If there's a hell below, which will get to see a little sneak peek of. I wanted to invite them here because thes air people who did everything right. And we'll also tell you they did a lot of things wrong. Um, and that's the sort of beauty of this experience is how iterative it is. So I wanted to just start on and find out a little bit about why you chose crowdfunding in the first place. Yeah, Go for it. Um, well, we raised over half our budget with with equity fundraising. So it wasn't the entire budget of the film. Part of it was monetary saying we thought we could do this much with investors. And this is what we do to get, but also...
, um, crowdfunding is audience building at the same time. You audience building ordered crowd funds. But the act of crowdfunding grows in audience. And for us, one of the things that we really felt was it's a good test. If people are interested in this movie that if we launched a crowdfunding campaign and it just tanked, maybe we shouldn't make this movie like maybe the budget we want in order to make something that were hoping is entertaining. Like if no one supported it, do something that is an amazing risk to take. And I actually it's rare that you meet filmmakers who are sort of willing to admit this right that, well, I had a crowdfunding campaign that failed miserably. But the problem isn't the content, right? We don't know. It's a pretty important piece of data to gather whether or not ah, campaign is really successful or not. And I think it's so interesting cause these two films air so different. It just gives me, gives you a sense of sort of a breath of possibility. Natalie, How about you? Mine? Mine was a little bit of the opposite. I didn't have any equity funding. The reason I had to go for CROWDFUNDING was because nobody would take a risk and put the money on the film because the story was so risky. Uh, there was no big competition. He went there was not a big in the and, um, I was taking a risk on a kid who was coming from the streets and, you know, it might not be able to follow through with everything we were setting up for him, and it was just too much of a risk for the big incorporates to take. So I had to do it. It was otherwise the film wasn't gonna get made that, you know, I had a limited budget that I was putting up myself through my own production company and I needed the money to finish the film. And, ah, so it was It was out of pure necessity. I had a lot of interest from corporate sponsors and financiers, but just people were just very, very unwilling to take that final leap. What happened with the crowdfunding? There obviously was. It proved how it proved the power of the story because the response was so dramatic to it, and we raised the money we needed. But we not only raise the money we needed, but we sort of, you know, galvanize the Army of fans behind talent. And I think it's gonna prove really exciting when we actually released the film, just like the power of a crowdfunding campaign can do. So awesome. Yeah, so it's It's interesting to think about like how differently you might be approaching crowdfunding and the opportunities it provides right? Some of it is for us to discover whether or not we should be making this film. And for others of us, it's to make films that people with entrenched interests don't have the guts to make. And again, this is just why, like, I don't know, I gave up filmmaking to devote myself to this because I think the kinds of stories we're seeing rise up out of it are are things we literally would never get to see otherwise. And, man, if technology doesn't deliver on the promise of this like democratization of of, you know, content and storytelling and diversity of story telling them why why are we making all this stuff in the first place? Right? Just to, you know, make a few guys in Silicon Valley is the money? I hope not. Um, so before we get to the pitch videos, and it probably bears mentioning. Would you, Natalie, I should have done this earlier. Tell us a little bit about what your film is about. The film is about a young man called Talent by Yella, his South African, um, South African skateboarder from Durban, Uh, who lived in the streets. He was on and off the streets from about age now and full time on the streets from age 11. He had a real name for himself. Locally, a lot of international skateboarders came through, you know, recognized. He was incredibly gifted on escape of what really, really amazing skateboarder. But he was just missing the opportunities, was unable to take advantage of the opportunities because he was living on the street. In literature. It's etcetera, etcetera. So, um, the story followed his journey. We got him in a athletes visa that follows his journey from South Africa to California. Toe, you know, eke out a an existence through his passion, which was skateboarding. Thank you and anything when you tell us a little bit about your film. Uh, my film is a thriller about a journalist who is contacted by a woman who claims to work for, um, unnamed National Security Agency who says she has something to leak in an Edward Snowden sort of way and wants to meet the journalist out in the middle of nowhere where no one can listen their conversation, and then things get more complicated. Okay. And skateboard documentary. But I'm hoping this will give you sort of a range of things that we can learn from them today. Can you guys talk to me first about? I mean, Natalie, I was there while you were prepping your campaign. So I am aware of how much hard work you put into the prep. Can you, um, talk to the audience for a little bit? About how you went about what went about preparing your campaign? Um uh, well, I had bean shooted in myself for a little while already, so I had content toe edit together. Um, and I was already putting together. I have been putting together. It's much like you put together a pitch document or pitch package. If you're going out to find financing, you know, you've got your overview of the campaign. You do a little pitch video. And so I was able to put together some of the content that I had already shot with him and knew where the story was going. I knew where the story wanted to go on. Then what? I just incorporated. And that was from the perspective of the filmmakers why, you know, somebody should get involved in on what our goal was with the end product. So it was It was all about the pitch video number one. Well, that was a good starting point. And then it was just strategizing on. You know, who who we knew would would, you know, asset of coal, high profile donors or people who, when you would influences who we knew would help us make the campaign more visible. It was sort of gathering those people, briefing them, talking to them about what you know, what I go was It was really just, like had been reaching out to a lot of people to this sort of to raise money in the first place or to raise the profile of the serum escape border. But it was really sort of galvanising people into action in a particular direction, which took a lot of communication, just like massive, massive communication and all the sort of different tiers of of people be the public influences, be they, you know, people who might donate and in all the way down to, you know, activating people back home in the escape community that Newman loved him and connecting with him and seeing what they would do once we launched the campaign. But, you know, we're talking about about 2 to 3 months worth of preparation before we actually launched the campaign, right? So I just want to highlight, right? You're You're talking about clearly articulating your goals for the campaign and making that work for various different kinds of influencers and helpers. And I would just like to know, talk to me a little bit about the difference. So, you know, you had Kenny Anderson and Tony Hawk involved in your campaign. You also had L. R G, which is a major brand. Talked to us a little bit about where ah, like, what was the difference in how you talk to some of your sort of key influencers who were going to do tweeting on your behalf versus brands? Well, with the brands, it's gonna be a little bit more structured and strategized eso basically, with the brands, you really need to give them the lead time because they've got a ton of other campaigns going on and a lot of their own sort of promotional plans in place. So they need the lead time and you need to sort of work out a schedule. It's really, really complicated, like a chicks or puzzle of working out everybody's schedule. But the brands, your sort of focusing on this is our goal at Target Gold for release and then, you know, having to be a little bit flexible to slaughter if they say, Well, we launching our, you know, our summer line or our new look book that day. So it's not ideal for us or we've got a new skate video coming out that days. It's not ideal for us. So we had to figure out scheduling with the big brands takes a little bit more time and then, you know, with the individual influences, that was really You can't push. You can't force something like that. You know, they has to be a genuine like interest in what you're doing, and that is, you know, you can communicate clearly about what you're doing. And but that really is down to like being a part of the community. And it was, you know, telling story and talents connections. And then sort of I have bean. I had been building support within the community for a year before I launched the campaign had been talking to people individually. So it's, you know, that the community building their community has to be in place before you can't reach out bland and say, Hey, support my crowdfunding campaign. You know, there has to be something a personal connection for those influences to either the filmmaker or the story. It's really important as well. I'm gonna keep coming back to what Brian said at the beginning. You have to make everyone involved feel like they matter beyond their sort of utility to you. Write like you're only useful to me in this way. Can you do this? No, you're you know, a powerfully important influence. I mean, in your case, in the life of the subject of your documentary, I think one of the things that's, um, I'd really like to learn more about Natalie from a documentary perspective is, and this is something that documentarians who raised hundreds of millions of dollars through crowdfunding over the last couple of years. The buy in of your subject, right? And what? How do you balance making sure that you're respecting your subject, not exploiting your subject, that sort of thing in the process of crowdfunding campaign, did you? I mean, I know that you and talent are very close. Um, what kind of conversations did you have with him about the crowdfunding campaign? I mean, the conversations were, you know, very much based around what he would have to do as well as part of it. You know that this is this has always been an investment. Went in his life for him. A supposed Teoh meet me just personally wanting to make the film because it was a great story and I had to do it doesn't feel like it was always it always. The purpose of it was to help him in his life and his future. So the conversation was very much, you know, he had to participate what she did. I mean, it's amazing Ah, how quickly he took to social media and how social media has been such huge influence in his life and his journey off the streets, and it was initially set up for him by people who knew him and loved him back in South Africa. That sort of, ah, social media kind of prisons. But slowly but surely, he sort of taken that over himself. And he was very active, you know, very, very active. So the conversation was always, you know, this is a much for you. Visitors for me, Um and so we're sort of equal partners and, you know, making sure this gets out to the world and people love him. Crushes it on Instagram. He's at I am talent on instagram, right? It's T h a l e N t Superfund to follow. I wasn't honestly, not that into skateboarding until I started following him, and now I follow like Thrasher magazine and all that. I have developed a whole new interest as a result of following him, even though I'm definitely too old to start skateboarding. I tried once I broke my but I'm not doing it again. That's that's super helpful. And I think for documentary filmmakers it's really important to underscore the relationship with your subjects on. And there are tons of great case studies out there. One of the documentaries that's been going around the festival circuit premiered at Sundance this year called Welcome to Leaf. They had very sensitive subject matter, and I would really recommend for documentarians who were who are confronting sensitive subject matter to check out their campaign on how they did that stuff. Because not everybody has the benefit of a really close personal relationship with a documentary subject who also happens to crush it on social media. Right? That's a tremendous number of advantages toe have in that campaign. Nathan, can you talk to us a little bit about how you prepared your campaign? You got ready? Um, the first thing I did was even though I had done a couple smaller CROWDFUNDING campaigns before for shorts, for just a couple $1000 was really just research what people had done. I mean, I'm a filmmaker, I'm thinking Smart person, and I hustled, but I'm not built to crowd fund. I don't feel like all my original ideas will be great. So steal people's ideas. He would work, see what would work for your project, you know. So I looked at dozens and dozens and my producers looked at dozens and dozens, and we talked about like, Oh, this is cool. This could work if we change this talked to a couple of filmmakers I know in depth, both of which are Seattle based Tracy Rector, whose whose ah, documentarian and Ben Dobbins, who has kind of a growing media empire, appear on both of them, had really great things to share from their own crowdfunding. And again, it wasn't like they said, Here's the formula do X y Z, but get some really great wisdom from each of them. And then we just sat down and really planned out. You know who our audience was, what channels we were gonna utilize. Andi set up this Master Google doc of dates, Days of the week, you know, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook on seeding spark our own website. Um and then who was doing what? What the content was, what money level we should be at and sort of have this master plan and then what's you launch it? It all changes like, you know, it's not just like, oh, it just runs itself after that because something's working. Some things don't but, um, yeah, But we probably spent a good two months prepping on and then actually building actively building up to the launch for a few weeks, Right? One of the things I loved about your campaign was how each week I felt like you had something new and exciting. And so years was one of the rare campaigns that doesn't have that short of hideous plateau. It did have a bit sort of towards that when you got to 86% right? You had that little flat thing. But for the most part, they had this incredible trajectory towards actually you over funded right by, like, or 40%? Yeah, maybe 2025. 30. It was because Sorry, I should have warned you that I was gonna ask these questions. Uh, it's really interesting. Thio Thio. Follow their to look back over their campaign and see how each week felt like it had a new fresh idea in it. And we'll go over some of those