Mosquita y Mari's rise to success was better than the playoffs. Watching the project dominate our Popular category in its final day, our whole office bit our fingernails as director Aurora Guerrero raised $20,000 in the last 24 hours of her campaign, pushing her film across its $80,000 finish line just in time for their deadline. The project totaled 888 backers (love that) raising a total of $82,468.
Inspired by Guerrero's own background, Mosquita y Mari is a "coming of age story that focuses on a tender love between two young Chicanas that struggles to find its place in their lives and in today's world. As their friendship grows, a yearning to explore their strange yet beautiful connection surfaces." Featuring multiple explorations of identity, MyM's collision of worlds is seen through the eyes of two teenage Latinas. Unlike filmmaker Jennifer Fox who raised $150k in order to deliver her fully completed film, Guerrero turned to Kickstarer for production funds, asking her backers to trust and believe in her vision without getting to see the results right away. Nearly nine hundred backers took that leap of faith, and just one day after she reached her goal, Mosquita y Mari held its first open casting call. Guerrero and her Kickstarting team — Producer Char Agabao, Producer Chad Burris, and Campaign Manager Laurie Ignacio — joined forces to answer a few questions about their success.
Is this your first time publicly raising funds? How might the Kickstarter route compare to how you've financed your work in the past?
This was our first time crowdsourcing. Prior to our Kickstarter campaign we had gone the traditional route of approaching investors and companies about the project. Like many indie filmmakers we encountered a lot of hesitation on the part of investors. There was never a sense of excitement like what we encountered on Kickstarter. Not even close! Going out to one's audiences prior to the finished film makes sense. In our case, our audiences understand the critical role they play in the making of films like ours. They see the shortage; they hear stories of films that never got made because investors/companies didn't want to take the risk. We think they're tired of that and want to be able to make the difference. They want to be able to decide before hand what they get to sit back and watch rather than put that decision-making in someone else's hands. For us, the experience of Kickstarter was validating. We sat back, after it was all done, with no doubt in our minds. We knew that as we moved forward we had found the perfect investors who wanted nothing more than to see the story of MyM projected on the screen.
How did you come up with your rewards? How important were they to your success? And what do you think about the Kickstarter rewards system as opposed to traditional investment?
In coming up with the rewards we took inventory of our networks. We knew that we would attract Latinas, artists, teachers, students, women, activists. So we came up with rewards they would enjoy or could use for the sort of work they do. We came up with the idea of partnering with a very popular Xicana artist, Favianna Rodriguez, who has created beautiful images for different social justice struggles to design an original poster for MyM. We priced that reward item high because we knew it would be an attractive item for many. For our teachers and activists we offered a set of short films that Aurora has worked on that are great educational tools.
Looking back we actually don't think the rewards played a huge role in attracting people. People were excited to be a part of the making of this project even before they made it to the campaign page. Most of our backers were already sold after seeing our Kickstarter video that was all over the internet. By the time they made it to our page we feel most already knew what they would be giving. Some of the rewards might have influenced some to give more, like maybe Favianna's poster or the set of videos. The one reward that stood out to us the most was the tee-shirt we offered at the very end that read: Mosquita y Mari Si Se Pudo! Translated it means "It Was Possible!" We were being bold when we released that as an incentive to our backers because we were about $45,000 away from our goal and we had only 3-4 days left on the campaign. But we wanted it to send a message to our base. We wanted them to know that we remained grounded in our faith that our communities would step up. When we miraculously made our goal several of our backers took the jpeg of the design and made it their Facebook picture. That was awesome! Such a sense of ownership from everyone!
Did you have a campaign schedule? Meaning, did you know ahead of time when you were going to e-blast, FB/Tweet, hold any in-person fundraising events, etc.? What worked best?
We started planning for our Kickstarter campaign well in advance of our launch date. We knew that in order to make our large goal we would need to do our homework. We reviewed articles and testimonials from people who have used Kickstarter and even checked out live tweets during SXSW's crowdfunding sessions to get ideas on how to approach our campaign. The overarching theme was to get our campaign in front of as many eyes as possible so we developed an email, social media, and press plan. Before the launch, we sent email blasts and used Facebook notes to let people know the campaign was coming. We had a great head start as our Facebook page had over 1,400 people before our KS campaign even started so we had a waiting audience ready to donate. We sent email blasts pre-launch, after the first week and then hard in the last week.
For press, we created a press kit that we sent to bloggers and journalists. There was a real hunger to highlight our story among writers who covered youth, immigration, arts, and LGBTQ issues and we had articles in La Opinion, HispanicLA, Colorlines.com andIndieWire. For social media, we had members of the team on Facebook and Twitter everyday giving updates and trying to get the word out. We thanked donors every day and gave status updates every step of the way. We also had several people submit videos showing why they donated-- these were very powerful as it showed that there was a community behind us. As for offline fundraising events, we relied heavily on the Mosquita y Mari fanbase. People held house parties and university students even held bake sales for MyM. Young Latinas really worked hard to fundraise for this campaign as they all saw their lives reflected in the story.
Were there lulls in your campaign? What did you do in those times? Were you ever worried you weren't going to make it? (You had an incredible surge at the very end--tell us about that crazy experience!)
We were thrilled to see how many people came out to support in the last few days. We were definitely sweating it for a while there, but we held on to the faith that the community really wanted this film to be made. That said, we didn't have the traditional Kickstarter trajectory for success. We were only half way to our goal a few days out from our deadline and it did a number to our nerves, but we used some creative tactics in the last few days like adding a tee-shirt to the mix and other rewards. In the end, most people who came in really donated because they believed in this project. Old friends came out of the woodwork and complete strangers donated because they had seen all the coverage we got in social media.
The last 24 hours was incredible! The surge was one of the most exciting moments for our team and for many of our backers. People were coming in every minute and many others increased their donations way more than we expected. If you read our Facebook posts on Mosquita y Mari's page or Aurora's FB page you can read people's comments. They equated the experience to watching the NBA finals! To get a better sense of how emotional the experience was for us, check out the video Aurora made right after we made our goal. It says it all!
How did you choose your funding goal?
It was based on our production budget. We were awarded a partial production grant from Latino Public Broadcast late last year so we calculated from there what we needed to get through production. Initially we were nervous about setting the goal high. We went back and forth several times wondering if we could really meet our goal. We tried to come up with a number based on our networks but looking back we don't feel that was a true teller. Several contacts we thought would give generously didn't while a few donors we didn't know at all made up for it. Setting our goal was definitely the most difficult thing for us to figure out. You can't predict where people's personal finances will be during the run of a campaign or how many unknown donors you'll be able to attract. Honestly, we really took a leap of faith knowing we had a unique story and a strong team behind it.
How did you use Project Updates?
From the very beginning we saw our backers as part of our team so we often went out to them for support. Our strategy was to build the excitement on our project by sharing press that we were getting at the time. As our our campaign reached mid-way we then began posting updates that asked for their help spreading the word to their friends and family. We drafted up emails they could easily cut and paste to their social media outlets. We noticed that many did step up to the call and would share with their people. We knew that we had a base of supporters that understood that to build momentum and community around something you have to take the time to do it in a personal way. As soon as our supporters put their stamps of approval on our project--either through their personalized notes on Facebook, personalized pitch videos, or personalized emails--the word on MyM spread like CRAZY! People started inquiring about the project. Finally at the end, we asked our backers to increase their donations to help us make our goal. We noticed that over 50% of our backers did. With all the energy most of them had put into the effort it wasn't a big sell on our part to get them to step up.
Now that you've raised $82k, what's next? Do you think having a completed film as opposed to raising development/production funds makes a significant difference to backers? How'd you craft that pitch?
We had already started pre-production and casting, but with the looming fear that we may not make our funding goal. Once we did, we immediately hit the ground running. Aurora was already in LA coordinating community casting calls, and we started to plan our respective trips out to LA, look back to the schedule, and start finding a home base/office space. We are continuing pre-production and very quickly starting to lock all of our elements to get us ready to shoot in July.
Trying to fundraise for a film in development or production is a challenge. We'd been lead to believe that you needed names or really commercial content to get people on board. We had already faced these factors trying to fundraise on our own. The beauty of Kickstarter is that it assigns a face or team to a project--a personality and visual representation as to what they hope the project could be. There is something very honest and refreshing about this approach that seems to get people excited about the idea of collaborating as a community and having control over the content that gets made. They now have the power to get a film greenlit, and that is a very positive and accessible way to think about independent filmmaking. Having a completed film, however, always seems easier for people to want to support--they know that the filmmakers have the ability to get it made and simply need an extra push. If a project is half-done, the pitch, of course, would be the same idea. We made it this far, we just need a boost to get us through. It depends on the story and how strongly it speaks to the backers to take that risk with the filmmaker. Kickstarter helps us realize that passion, not names or a long list of achievements, is still an important element in film, and that we can be moved enough by a filmmaker's passion to come out of pocket and really support a vision.
How did you first begin fundraising for this project, and at what point did you decide to use Kickstarter?
Initially, we took all the traditional routes. We went to several companies, pitched ourselves and pitched the project. When that didn't work, we examined the possibility of using recognizable names or Latino talent to attach to maybe attract some financing. The truth is that our story is about two teen, urban Latina, Spanish-speaking girls and sadly, these girls don't exist out there in the media, beyond Dora the Explorer. We went to the LGBTQ community, hoping to find an angel investor there. We applied to every grant that could work for us and finally, we were given a chance by Latino Public Broadcasting. But the grant was less than half of what we needed to just get the film in the can. At that point, we decided we needed to fill the gap of what we needed. We noticed a lot of fellow filmmakers do well with Kickstarter, but most of them raising money for post. Our desire to shoot this summer since we had gotten so close already motivated us to give it a shot. Our goal was higher than what is asked for on average, but again, we felt very strongly about getting it done. It was worth the sleepless nights!
With 888 backers, what's your plan for fulfilling your rewards?! Any advice to project creators?
Fortunately for us, Kickstarter has a very well organized database for tracking all of our backers and the rewards they signed up for. We have a production assistant who is tracking all this information and making sure the rewards get sent out. At the same time, we are working with the vendors who were kind enough to offer their products as rewards, and ordering the appropriate amounts. Hopefully we'll have rewards out as soon as possible! Our advice would be to see if you have friends or know people who have DIY goods that are willing to donate their products as rewards. It's a great way to promote them and an awesome way for them to help your project. Its nice to do some grassroots cross-promotion!