GUIDING LIGHTS: CHI THAI ON CROWDFUNDING AND THE MERCURY 13
06 October 2016
Even once they've left the programme, we like to keep track of what previous Guiding Lights participants are up to. Here, Guiding Lights 7 producer Chi Thai talks about crowdfunding The Purple Plain, a film inspired by the Mercury 13.
As an emerging producer, it is commonplace to have a pipeline of films in development. Given the challenges of film finance and distribution in today’s economic landscape, some take a great deal of time to find their feet, and, sadly, some never do. Being in constant development when you’re still trying to make your breakthrough means it’s easy to start feeling like a fraud. In order to try and rectify this, I vowed at the end of 2015 that I wouldn’t let another year pass without seeing something through to completion. It didn’t matter how small the project was, it just mattered that it was of quality and it was a finished work. Through a combination of being a squeaky wheel and being in the right place at the right time, that special opportunity did arise. And when it did, I grabbed it with both hands.
The opportunity was the chance to produce a film called The Purple Plain, a BFI-backed short through the Film London Calling Plus scheme. It tells the forgotten true story of the Mercury 13, the first American women who tested for space flight. Unfortunately however, although these remarkable ladies scored better than their male peers, they were nonetheless denied the chance to claim the moon.
It has been great to spend a part of this year actually in production, remembering the thrill of making films. But there’s been another part of this adventure. I knew when starting on The Purple Plain that I wanted (as well as needed) to run a crowdfunding campaign. I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to have this experience and I was hungry to learn about what it took to do this well. I feel that today, being able to run a successful crowdfunding campaign is part of your basic producer’s toolkit, and I was missing this. As I write this blog I am very relieved to be entering the very last 48 hours of a fruitful campaign.
Managing a crowdfunding campaign was a nail-biting experience for me. Once you launch, it’s easy to enter into a neurotic / obsessive mode of clicking refresh constantly on your backer report. Have you done too much social media, or too little? How many updates do you need to publish to keep engaging your backers and motivating them to share your campaign? How can you broaden your network and punch through the noise of the now countless crowdfunding campaigns all vying for attention. I am far from an expert, but I’ll share some advice given to me by a friend, Moo Yu, a games developer who ran the Knights & Bikes campaign earlier in the year with his co-conspirator Rex Crowle. He sent this to me just as I embarked on my campaign and everything he said has proved to be true:
- don’t let the campaign consume you, especially from day 5 to 20. Things really slow down during this phase and it felt (at least for me) like I was powerless. But things do come together during the last week, so there’s no reason to panic.
- cadence is important and actually helps with the first part. We settled on two Tweets per day (post launch frenzy) and two updates during the week. Find your own cadence and stick with it. It’ll keep you from going insane.
I would also add, don’t underestimate what the crowdfunding platform can do for you. I chose to use Kickstarter, mainly because I have a slightly better history of backing projects with them. The platform, through their own marketing, brought us close to a third of our pledges, and those pledges were amongst the most generous. It also really helped when they selected us as a “ProjectWeLove”. There was a clear correlation between getting that endorsement and more supporters. And lastly, listen to all the advice that is freely available – from creating a good video and engaging information about your story, to developing a good dialogue with your backers, and finding concise and appealing ways to share your story with the world.
I can’t sign off without confessing, I got a little bit of help from my friends at Lighthouse, which proves that what Emily Kyriakides says of being part of Guiding Lights is very true – “It never really ends!”
You can see The Purple Plain at The BFI London Film Festival.
The Purple Plain crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.
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