While crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have proved to be a boon to many indie filmmakers trying to raise money for their next projects, most filmmakers trying to raise money this way don’t have anywhere near the name recognition of recent successful crowdfunders like Zach Braff, Spike Lee, or Kristen Bell. As many indie filmmakers have learned in the wake of such big-name successes, simply posting the project on a crowdfunding site and talking about it on Facebook or Twitter isn’t always enough to convince dozens of donors open their wallets (even 1990s “It” girl Melissa Joan Hart only raised a fraction of her $2 million goal when she turned to Kickstarter to raise money for a comeback movie). With a glut of indie movies trying to raise money via crowdfunding websites, how can passionate filmmakers get their campaigns noticed?
As for the cast and crew behind indie comedy Tribute to Fluffy, they figured they’d stay ahead of the curve by crowdfunding the old fashioned way.
Tribute to Fluffy follows a young struggling stand-up comedian, Jackson Gilbert, at his lowest point after being dumped by his girlfriend (Natalia) of six years. She’s been so fed up with his lack of ambition coupled by his irresponsible misplacing Fluffy, a gift he gave Natalia on their one year anniversary, that she decides to call it quits on their relationship and pursue an interest she’s had to teach English abroad. Jackson decides with the help of his best friends in the comedy world that the best way to win her back is by throwing her a huge comedy show paying homage to the lost rabbit to prove to Natalia that he’s capable of changing.
The Tribute to Fluffy team has taken the novel approach of combining the fundraising opportunities of the crowdfunding website Indiegogo and its far digital reach with old-fashioned grassroots street marketing in the Greater Los Angeles area. Since early April the team has manned a “Fluffy booth” in various locations including the Santa Monica Promenade, the USC Festival of Books, Hollywood Boulevard, and Venice Beach. The idea behind the booth is to not just raise money by soliciting donations, but to also increase the profile of the film beyond social media.
Director Micah Cyrus admits that their new approach to fundraising came about because using crowdfunding websites the normal way wasn’t successful. He explains, “We put together a Kickstarter campaign last fall and it failed. As you know with Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing so we didn’t see anything. We realized that the campaign was a premature launch and I ultimately learned so much through that experience that helped shape us for what’s become the best version of our story, some killer marketing adjustments, and even new key cast members that wouldn’t have been replaced had we been in the position to shoot at our intended November 2013 goal.”
Cyrus took that failure as an opportunity to try fundraising again, but this time combining crowdfunding with traditional street marketing techniques. He continues, “After seeing the Kickstarter campaign fail, I told myself that I wouldn’t take the same approach of sitting in front of the computer over the 30 days. Unless we have a star talent or someone with a social media presence attached to the film, it can’t sit alone and gain traction. I decided we need to take our campaign to the streets and go where we can interact with people. That instantly birthed the idea for the Fluffy booth. We did some serious brainstorming sessions to figure out what materials to have available, how we’d approach people, and so on.”
However, it isn’t like the street campaign isn’t without its own hurdles. Cyrus admits, “It’s absolutely tough, but I’m having a blast while learning. I’ve noticed that the majority of tourists, in particular international tourists from the Venice Boardwalk, to the Santa Monica Promenade or Hollywood Boulevard, don’t seem to care that much. The response from people tied into the film industry or even people who know someone who has done a crowdfunding campaign or attempted to piece together a project on their own do understand and are super responsive and kind. I’ve received comments from those people such as ‘Wow, I wish I thought of this idea’ or ‘My sister is trying to make a movie too and I understand. Here’s $5 and good luck.”
Another part of the street campaign strategy included reaching out to sponsors who could offer them something other than money to support Tribute to Fluffy. Cyrus explains, “I put together a Corporate Sponsorship packet about a month before launching our campaign and reached out to about 70 different companies. We were very fortunate enough to get a few companies on board to aid us in our campaign and those are: Lyft, Bai (natural juice company), King Bond Bail Agency, and Flappers Comedy Club. They didn’t give us money toward our product, but rather gave us product or service that we have used in our campaign as swag/incentives. For example, Bai gave us hundreds of bottles of their favored product Bai5 that we’ve been handing out to people on the street. This has literally saved us as people may not respond to ‘Would you like to help my film campaign?’, however they definitely do respond to ‘Would you like to help support my film campaign? You get a free cold refreshing bottle of juice for doing so.’ That’s definitely worked seven out of ten times.”
Of course, this being Southern California, Cyrus and his team have experienced some truly out-there responses while out on the campaign trail. “When we were at the Venice Boardwalk, a man approached myself and one of my actresses, Kristen, asking if we were a couple. We replied ‘no’ and told him about the project and our relationship as director/actor. He insisted that we would make a great couple and asked if we would kiss each other and he would donate if so. My actress has a boyfriend and I wouldn’t compromise our friendship for $1. The request was a bit strange but then I remembered that we were in Venice (land of the strange).”
Hollywood Boulevard also provided plenty of ridiculous moments. Cyrus recalls, “We started out having to fight for a spot between an older guy who was selling ice cold waters and Gatorade from his cooler and another guy who was selling his self-produced rap CDs. My producer Ana De Diego and I naively asked the beverage guy if our spot was okay and about 5 minutes later we were escorted away as there’s an invisible line on Hollywood Boulevard that you can’t cross as that becomes private property. Of course, the guy selling drinks tricked us because we were messing up his sales by offering our free bottles of Bai drinks to people. We then moved over and had to compete with Korean radical Christians who were loudly screaming in unbearable tones ‘Kumbaya’ and a Mickey Mouse who kept creepily checking out Ana.”
But it got even weirder. “About an hour later, we decided to go across the street to the side of Hollywood Boulevard by the El Capitan Theater and we were approached by a ‘Producer’ from ABC who asked if we would answer a few questions in front of camera about pop culture for a news segment. I acquiesced this request since I was wearing my Fluffy t-shirt and if it aired then that would make good publicity. I got in front of camera and started answering questions from a strange looking man whose beard was cheaply glued to his face. He kept asking questions about the rapper Drake and I figured out after the second or third question that it was in fact Drake disguised as a reporter and I yelled out that I knew this was a prank. The real producers turned bright red and shut me up as Drake took off running around the corner. I should’ve played stupid because it ended up airing that night on Jimmy Kimmel and I didn’t make the cut!”
As with most indie filmmaker making their first films, getting funding is only one of the many hurdles. Cyrus also pointed to other challenges with getting Tribute to Fluffy off the ground. He says, “I’ve spoken to so many filmmakers over this journey from a few I met directly at the Sundance Film Festival this past January to directors that I boldly approached for a coffee to pick their brains. Everyone agreed that the timing and patience are a definite link you just have to overcome. When I say timing, I mean the prolonged process of being able to start and keeping the endurance to wake up the next day ready to go harder. Something my old boss told me after giving my two weeks’ notice last July after asking him how we knew it was the right trajectory being an entrepreneur was that it felt right even through the trials and tribulations. He said, ‘Micah, you’ll know win or fail whether or not this is what you’re meant to do and you won’t find out unless you try to fly.’ He was right because I could blab about some of the stuff that’s happened to us from investor scams to actors dropping out.”
Nonetheless, he remains positive about the final results, adding, “Despite the challenges, I go through every motion without it feeling like work. I’ve found joy in putting this project together and I can’t wait to see it through on the big screen.” In addition, it seems like the street marketing experience has generated plenty of ideas for Cyrus’ next project!
Upon the completion of the Indiegogo campaign on May 1, Tribute to Fluffy will continue pre-production and then launch into filming. For more information or to contribute to the project, see the links below: