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Porn Patrons: An Introductory Guide to Crowdfunding for Adult Filmmakers

Pink & White Productions recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign for Shine Louise Houston’s next film, Chemistry Eases the Pain. In the process, we’ve received a lot of interest from fellow producers who might be interested in exploring crowdfunding for their next adult film. We hope this guide will help share our experiences and prepare new campaigns for success.

Of course, what works for us may not work for others. For Chemistry, we were specifically interested in a one-time fundraiser to raise a budget larger than our ongoing projects, as this film calls for more people and more hours on set. Crowdfunding allows us to quickly generate income while maintaining artistic control and ownership, in a way that working with an established major producer might not. It also helps us reach our audiences and creates a buzz about our project.

There are reasons consumers might be attracted to crowdfunding adult films. For one, there’s privacy in paying through a mainstream platform, with a generic name showing up on a credit card statement rather than one of a porn site. There’s also the appeal of a one-time payment rather than the standard recurring membership subscription. Backers may also get a good deal when pre-ordering through a fundraiser. However the biggest draw might be the excitement of being involved in the project’s development — especially if there’s a personal interest in its importance. For our film, the story portrays queer women of color in an explicit way that doesn’t fetishize or tokenize, with discussions and desires we can relate to — something we can all agree is still too much of a rarity in this genre. Even if this may not be everyone’s preferred kind of erotica, it’s a vision people might still want to get behind because they believe it is a cause worth supporting.

Here’s some considerations we make during the crowdfunding process.

Before the Fundraiser

Organize your project information. Gather the log line, description, director’s statement, and budget. List your cast and crew, when and where the production takes place, and most importantly, your budget and the portion you want to crowdfunding to cover. Platforms take a percentage of the total amount raised, so take that fee into consideration. Also know that this is taxable income, so you’ll need to be able to accept the payment and report it to the IRS.

What kind of campaign? Will you do a fixed, “all or nothing” campaign or flexible, where you’ll retain the funds even if you fall short of your goal? (We’ve chosen flexible funding because we want to play it safe, but it’s shown that fixed campaigns provide a higher incentive for backers to donate.) Who on your team will manage the fundraiser, and how long will you want it to run? (We learned that shorter is better: 28 days was enough time for us to share the project with our community, but short enough that it didn’t consume our energy for too many weeks.) We highly recommend working with a team. Campaigns are more successful — and far less stressful — if you’re doing them with a buddy.

Adult-Friendly is a MUST. Review a crowdfunding platform’s Terms of Service before launching a campaign. A small few, like IndieGoGo, are okay funding adult content creators as long as the campaign meets certain guidelines. Unless the platform is specifically designed for adult content, it will likely not allow any explicit images or external links to adult websites. Act in accordance to their TOS or your fundraiser might be rejected. Take caution when offering adult items as rewards. When in doubt, ask! Customer support staff are eager to answer any questions about complying within their guidelines.

Collect your audience. Who are you reaching out to? Current customers? Industry peers? How will you contact them? Some people are more responsive via a personal email in their inbox, others via text, a few with a call, and some answer quickest in their social media DMs. While public contact information is available for export on most social media sites, always follow the cardinal rule: do not spam. It may help to keep a spreadsheet to track who your team has contacted, who has already donated or shared, etc. Think about all the festivals or social media accounts you have and brainstorm a list.

Create enticing perks. Research crowdfunding articles to brainstorm ideas about rewards. We found it helped to have a mix of price ranges and different types of rewards: ones that are physical, interactive, or involve recognition, that combined will appeal to different people. We created perks specific to our campaign, and, invited sponsored gifts of other adult industry items that backers might like, such as sex toys and underwear. (Ideally, sponsors of physical items will mail them directly to the backer, so there’s less shipping costs involved. You provide the mailing addresses after the campaign.)

Explain your project with a video. It’s been proven that campaigns with videos are far more successful than those without. Research fundraising video guides for inspiration. Give yourself a cushion of time to make the video, so if you make a mistake and need to redo anything, you’ll feel less rushed. If possible, share the video with a team for feedback before going live. It always helps to have a second pair of eyes. Remember that even though you’re fundraising for an adult project, the video cannot be sexually explicit in nature. Post the video on Vimeo, YouTube and anywhere else you can. You’ll use the embed code for the campaign page, but that video will be public on its hosting site so give it a title, description, and include the link to the fundraiser page. While you’re making the video, create images that capture people’s attention and illustrate what the project is about.

Assemble a feedback team. It’s always better to have a group, especially when working with people who are lending their time for free, because we’re human and get busy when life happens. Invite trusted people — bonus points if they have an eye for detail. (We’ll use ourselves as an example: despite asking roughly two dozen peers to proofread our campaign, we were still short on critical feedback. Because of this, some mistakes were made, including accidentally allowing a perk that was supposed to be US-shipment only able to be purchased internationally. Oops! Fortunately those few backers were understanding.) If you know people who have an ‘eagle eye’  as their ability to catch mistakes will be invaluable.

Ask early. Once you have all your campaign info ready to go, identify your closest supporters and ask if they can commit to being an early backer. It’s important to reach at least 30% of your goal on day one. Since the majority of donations happen in the beginning and end of a campaign, it’s a shorter hill to finish if you have momentum at the start. Suggest a donation amount or range for these early backers so that you’ll have an estimate of how much they can commit to donating on Day One. Aim higher to account for backers forgetting or suddenly unable to donate (life happens!) and don’t take it personally if some of these early backers don’t follow through.

Prepare for the launch. Write a press release and make a list of any articles you’ve been featured in or have read about that covered films or filmmakers similar to you. Prepare a release for your general list, but specifically reach out to individual journalists with a pitch. Most will not be interested in covering crowdfunding campaigns, so consider other angles. This is also a good time to give interviews for blogs and podcasts who can plug the campaign link when you mention upcoming projects. Ask newsletters and weekly roundups to feature your fundraiser. The PinkLabel.TV blog has a Crowdfunding Porn category — let us know to include your campaign.

An easy URL. If you want to buy a domain name specifically for the film, purchase it early and redirect it to the campaign. A URL can be easier to remember than the campaign link, and when it’s over, any post that used the link will direct visitors to your film’s website. (We did this for our previous funded film SNAPSHOT, but chose not for Chemistry since it’s a smaller project. However in retrospect, it might have made things a little easier.)

Blast off! You’ve given your early backers a 24-hour head start and are now at 30% of your goal. Nice work! Start announcing it on every platform you have. Your closest supporters have already donated, so now you’ll hope to attract the confidence and curiosity of those new to your work. Publish your press releases and email blasts, and update your social media links, email signatures, website ads and sidebars, pinned posts, etc to your campaign. Schedule posts on social media with info about the fundraiser, such as the kinds of perks you’re offering, and facts about the film. Mix up the information you’re sharing so that it stays interesting to your followers.

During the Fundraiser

Ask, ask, ask. Can your cast and crew share the fundraiser? (Some might want to do it, while others might find it a chore – don’t expect everyone on your team to hop on the task, but do offer encouragement.) Enlist the help of those in your circle and those who you admire. There’s an investors adage that goes, “If You Want Money, Ask for Advice; If You Want Advice, Ask for Money.” Who can you ask?

Make a buzz. Do interviews with journalists and podcasters. If no one is biting, conduct your own Instagram Live video or Reddit AMA. Write your own article about the film to publish on sites related to your film and community. Different mediums will get your message to different people.

Keep sharing. Post updates about the project or campaign. Spotlight your cast, crew, supporters, and backer rewards. Add new perks throughout the campaign to keep it fresh. Limited items or deals create urgency. When you get a press hit, share it! You can post it a few different ways, such as with a simple link, one with a different image, one with a quote, etc. Tag relevant people and companies.

Find a healthy groove. Surround yourself with things that make you feel good: music that perks you up, food and snacks to keep your energy high, and take breaks offline to keep from burning out. You may want to lock your phone away at night. Sleep is your friend! The campaign will still be there when you wake up.

Thank people. If you know the backer is comfortable and the reward calls for public recognition, thank them with a tag to increase the chances that they’ll see it and share it others. Include a link so their friends and followers will know where to click to participate as well.

Care about privacy. People sometimes don’t want to share how much they’ve contributed to a campaign, or even use their name at all, and this is especially worth considering for fundraisers of adult projects. Make sure someone is okay being tagged, and remind people that they can donate anonymously or with a private amount if they don’t feel comfortable with that information being public. We also let backers know that it would appear on their credit card statement with a discreet name.

Use referral links. Create a bonus contest to reward those who support your campaign through sharing. It’s said that the best time to introduce the contest is when the campaign is about 60% finished, but we’ve heard feedback from people wishing they’d known from day one. How you choose to do this is up to you. Remember you can invite your cast and crew to take part in the contest. Offer rewards. Platforms will not let you award cash incentives — ie no cash, prepaid debit cards, or bitcoins — however they will allow gift cards to any store, which can be just as useful.

Post backer updates. These updates will be emailed to your donors, who are amongst your closest supporters and want to help you. With these updates, you can offer secret perks just for them or special links they can share with friends. There are a lot of templates to help you compose your update message. The key here is keeping people in the loop. They want you to see you succeed!

Ask companies to pledge a ‘dollar-for-dollar’ challenge. They’ll choose the maximum amount they’ll commit to donating, and challenge you to raise it in a set time, for example, 24-hours. Announce the donor and encourage contributions so that you’ll meet your goal. At the end of the challenge, the donor will make their promised contribution and you’ll be that much further ahead.

Break up large goals into smaller ones. A big goal can feel unattainable, but by breaking it up into smaller pieces, mini milestones will be easier to achieve. These smaller stepping stones can be in dollars, percentages, in the number of backers participating, etc. Share these goals on social media and encourage people to rally behind your small successes as you reach towards the big one.

After the fundraiser

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Send a thank you update to backers and let them know how to keep in touch. Export the list of contacts so you can organize reward fulfillment. Contact each sponsor who donated backer gifts to thank them and connect them to their donor if applicable. Publish a press release to announce your success and highlight those who helped you get there with their name in the film credits.

Reset. Update your social media bios, email signatures, blog sidebars, etc to remove the link to your campaign. If you were using a URL to redirect to the campaign, you can now point it to the film’s website or a page on your own website.

Or keep going? Some crowdfunding platforms offer ongoing options for successful campaigns. We’re trying one for the first time with “Indemand” for campaigns that have met their goal deadlines. Keeping the campaign going means anyone late to the party can still join in. We’ve wrapped up any perks donated by those outside the company, and have clear, film-specific ones with extended deadlines for new backers. We haven’t pushed much effort on the campaign after it ended, but so far have made a little over $500 by keeping the campaign going.

Take a break! Congratulate yourself on a job well done and take some much needed time off. Get outside, delete social media apps off your phone, focus on another project, write a crowdfunding guide… 😉 … do whatever you need to do to mentally move on from the intense campaign period.

Reflect and regroup. If you didn’t make the goal, make a note of some of the things that didn’t work and how you might do them differently the next time. Our first campaign fell short of our expectations, mostly because we didn’t invite enough early backers to meet a the strong 30% head start. Thankfully we had opted for flexible funding, so we were able to complete the film on a smaller budget. The mistakes we learned were put into good use for this second attempt and we succeeded!

Prepare for next time. When the campaign ends, you’ll be able to export a spreadsheet of backers for future fundraisers. Keep notes about what worked and what didn’t so you’ll be able to improve upon the next campaign.

Final thoughts. Asking for money can be stressful and uncomfortable. Refrain from thinking “if all my followers just gave $1, I’d make my goal!” and instead ask yourself: “Have I reached out individually to each follower?” And get to asking! Instead of thinking, “No one will want to donate money,” try to remember you’re offering a pre-order of the film and an invitation to participate in an intimate way with your project. Rejection is part of asking. Some people will not be able to donate, or even spread the word, and that’s okay! Some may wait until the day just after the campaign to let you know they are sorry that they’ve missed it. Perhaps they wanted to support, but were embarrassed about not being able to afford it. Perhaps the project didn’t appeal to them, but they didn’t want to tell you that. We can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t take it personally. Focus instead on the task at hand: the achievements you’ve made, and the goals you have set out to accomplish.

Questions? Advice to add? This guide is just an introduction, based on our own experiences. If you have experiences and tips, let us know in the comments!

Posted April 8, 2019

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