For ten years I had dreamed of breathing life into a film about an elephant named Dao. I'd been lucky to be making films back-to- back and could never seem to find a long enough break to take Dao's story to the next stage.
Last year, I finally made the decision to take a breather from television and, instead, breathe life into The Story of Dao. Since it is an epic tale spanning 50 years in the life of an elephant, I knew the film would need a theatrical platform. This was uncharted territory for me...
I’d never tried group-funding. Never even considered it. It was a gray, rainy Monday when I decided to take the plunge. I typed in the letters: “www.kickstarter.com” …and within seconds I’d fallen down the rabbit hole. I climbed out hours later, head spinning, giddy with inspiration and possibility.
What great work was unfolding all around us – all thanks to group-funding. Could this, at last, be the key to The Story of Dao?
I was voracious. I visited nearly every project on Kickstarter, studying them all – their videos, their backer rewards, their successes and failures. I began to plot my campaign – who I could approach, how to shoot my video, what rewards I could offer, what to budget for a scout and how much I dared set as my goal. I created Facebook and web pages for The Story of Dao. I wrote my Kickstarter script, taped my video appeal, cut it down to 4 minutes, and began to create my Kickstarter page. It was an immense undertaking – but this, I would learn, was only the tip of the iceberg.
On April 1st, 2011, I launched Dao’s Kickstarter campaign. I gave myself 41 days to raise $20,000. If I didn’t reach my goal, I would get nothing. I remember the moment I hit the launch button – it felt like leaping off a cliff…
And then the magic of Kickstarter began to unfold… Within hours of launching, donations began to trickle in. $50 here, $10 there, $100. Almost all were from friends and colleagues at first, but as Dao’s Facebook Page gained “likes” and word began to spread, I began to receive contributions from strangers!
People came from out of the blue to support The Story of Dao, folks who were moved by the story or cared deeply about elephants (or both).
I spent the next month tweeting around the clock, posting updates, trying to find a balance between badgering and persistance... and after 41 days, Dao had gathered a flock of 217 angels and the goal had been met. The film was real.
A Kickstarter campaign is hard work. It’s harrowing at times (most of the time) – definitely not for the faint of heart. But if you manage to pull it off, it is extraordinarily rewarding. The benefits run far deeper than the monies raised. It is empowering. It is liberating. With my flock of angels behind me, I felt I had sprouted creative wings. Suddenly my ideas were unhampered by network requirements and television trends-du-jour. My vision for Dao could fly, free and unfettered.
It is interesting to note: although I have no network to deliver to, in many ways I feel more obligated to deliver the promised goods than ever before. With the trust of one’s backers comes a tremendous sense of accountability. I promised to make this film, and make it I will. Whenever I feel discouraged by the distance yet to go, I think of Dao’s huge flock of angels hovering in the wings, giving us lift. Together, we will fly...