Industry News

Founders Series: How to Crowdfund a Christmas Movie in Hollywood!

Aisling Browne
Written by Aisling Browne

OFF3R caught up with the creators of the “I’ll Be Next Door For Christmas” movie. We jumped at the chance to get the inside scoop and learn about why they decided to crowdfund on Wefunder. Heres hoping it premieres in London!! 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and the team. What have you guys created in the past? 

David: I’m David Willis, writer/director/producer of “I’ll Be Next Door For Christmas,” and founder and CEO of That Christmas Movie LLC, the company that’s producing the movie. I worked on TV shows like “Cybill” and “Caroline in the City,” but the coolest thing I did was my first first job in show business —- I was a street magician in New York City. Gotta have the street cred, right? Our executive producer, Jay Kogen has written for some cool shows like “The Simpsons” and “Frasier,” and has won 4 Emmys®, which he never talks about because he’s classy, so I like to brag for him. Our composer, Donny Markowitz, won an Oscar® for the song “I’ve Had the Time Of My Life” from “Dirty Dancing,” so he’s a musician which is automatically cool. Jennifer Tilly just joined our team as the first actor onboard. She’s cool because she wins poker tournaments.

Katherine: Movies were a big part of my life growing up so I naturally wanted to make it my career, be it writing, producing or any help I can give on a set.  I co-produced on an indie drama called “I Am Still Here”.  It’s an unflinching view of a girl forced to grow up in the world of child sex trafficking.  

Tell us a little about “I’ll be next door for Christmas” and how it came about?

David: I love Christmas movies, especially the comedies, but the major studios don’t make many of them. When you ask people what their favorite Christmas movie is, they often mention something from years ago. So I decided to write one that we could make on a low budget but with high production quality. I wrote it to take place at two houses right next door to each other, that way we can set up and stay there for weeks. It saves a lot of money and time when the crew doesn’t have to change locations. I’ve always wanted to write and direct a modern French farce piece (“The Birdcage” is an example of that style) with people pretending to be someone else, crazy plans to deceive your family, chances for physical comedy, etc., and all in the name of love. That’s how I came up with the story, by imagining how to use all those elements.

Katherine: I came on to the project with David before we shot the promo trailer for “I’ll Be Next Door for Christmas”.  Besides giving some notes on the script, I happened to have a lot of Christmas items of my own that peppered the set with holiday flair.  Who knew ugly Christmas sweaters would be needed after December?

Why did you decide to Crowdfund? Did you find this process very different to the other ways you’ve raised money for a movie before?

David: Very different! And better. In two weeks, I’ve raised 60% of what I raised talking to rich people for a year. I once had a surreal conversation with a filthy rich guy while we sat in these rattan wingback chairs next to his private lake as I tried to explain the movie business to him. I realised that flying around to meet with these people was too time-consuming and soul crushing, plus I hate rattan, so I embraced the idea of equity crowdfunding. Now I get to explain it to the crowd, to the audience, instead of mercurial individuals. I get to tell the audience they can be part of the Hollywood magic, and have a chance to make money while doing so.

Katherine: When I worked on a previous crowdfunding project, we had to be careful of perks because shipping out things like T-shirts, posters, dvds, etc. would really cut into our costs.  Now with investment crowdfunding, you don’t have to worry about that so much because instead of a donation, people get to invest in the project.  With that potential return on the investment, I think it’s little more comforting for people to put in for a project without needing a perk to incentivise them.

Would you recommend equity crowdfunding to other people in the industry?

David: Yes. But they have to be prepared for the fact that they must be very transparent and accessible to the public.  You’re bringing the public on investors in this endeavour, and you have a responsibility to make them money. So no inflated expenses or salaries! Our company motto is “Put it all up on the screen.” That means every dollar of the budget possible must be seen on the screen. Don’t rent swanky offices in Beverly Hills, get cheaper ones in North Hollywood and put the money you save up on the screen in the form of better sets, costumes, actors, etc. I’m sure your British film producers are nice and polite, but Hollywood can be a town with huge egos, and you can’t go into an Equity Crowdfunding raise with an entitled attitude. It’s a privilege to have small investors (what you called ‘restricted investors’ in your country) trust you with their money, and you owe it to them to deliver a great movie at a great budget. If you’re a producer prone to excesses, then you’d best stick with the major studios, because they’re built for that sort of thing. No one can guarantee a smash hit movie, but when the average person trusts you with their hard-earned money, you’d better damned well deliver them a great movie in great financial shape that’s in a position to make some money for them. Our company takes that responsibility very, very seriously.

Katherine:Yes!  For anyone who wants to see their projects succeed.  It’s a very from-the-ground-up approach, I think because it’s so new, so you really have to be dedicated and put in the work.

What are you using the funding for?

To make the movie. If we raise the entire budget through the Regulation CF raise, then it all goes to the making and marketing of the movie.Very simple and very clean.

From experience, what was the hardest and most unexpected part about fundraising?

David: The paperwork. This ain’t Kickstarter, folks. It’s tons of legal and financial paperwork. It’s as tedious as doing your taxes times 1,000.

Katherine: Finding your audience.  Tailoring ads to show to specific groups of people.  Sometimes targeted groups you think would be interested have a low click rate on the ad.  I think too because investment crowdfunding is so new in the U.S., lots of people don’t fully understand it and so are hesitant to try it out — until we explain it to them, and then they see the beauty of it.

What advice would you give to others starting to fundraise a movie this way?

David: Do your homework! Look at every equity crowdfunding offering you can. What do you like about them? What do you hate? What works? I emailed a bunch of CEOs who had done this successfully and they were generous with their advice. You’ve been doing this in the U.K. for a lot longer, so there’s plenty to look at and learn from there. Even thought the laws are different, I still looked at to see what was working for you all over there.

Katherine: If you want to save money as you prepare to launch your campaign, it really helps to have a jack-of-all-trades on the team.  David has worked tirelessly to learn all aspects of crowdfunding in order to set up the campaign, our website and advertise on social media.  Farming these jobs out to people who may not be as invested in the project could hurt the campaign. What are the top 3 do’s and top 3 don’ts you’ve learned on raising funding?

David: DO’s: 1. “Genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains” is the old saying. Take the pains to polish your offering page. It will live on there forever, so you’d better be proud of it. 2. Assemble a great team. It’s grueling work, and you need people you can trust and rely on to go through this with you. 3. Give yourself at least 3 months to put your campaign together, and 3 months to run the offering. Everything takes more time that you think it will.

DON’TS: 1. Don’t rush. It will cost you money. 2. Don’t go in blindly with a weak script. Test your script with a table read and polish it like crazy, and make sure it’s a story ready to be told. 3.Don’t let anyone deter you. People may tell you it won’t work. If you believe them, then you don’t deserve to make a movie.

Katherine: These aren’t in any particular order for me but — Seek advice from friends!  It’s great to have fresh eyes look at your campaign page and give notes before it’s launched.  And in our case, we knew someone who worked in advertising, so getting her educated opinion was invaluable.

— Get the script (or product) in the best shape possible before launch.  There’s so much more that needs to be done once the campaign’s launched rather than still fine-tuning the script.  David and co-writer Jenna had fellow comedy writers read the script and give their feedback.  The script has been through many drafts to become as strong as it is now and it’s ready to go into production.

— Do show your script (product) in action!  Shooting high-quality clips from our film helps an audience see the look and tone that the movie will be.  They can see we’re making a family friendly Christmas comedy, not a horror or a sentimental tear-jerker.

— In terms of a Don’t – Don’t assume anything.  Always be looking for new potential investors or new groups to target.  Almost nothing ever goes according to plan so you have to be prepared.  It’s that flexibility and tenacity that leads to more success in the long run.

What’s your favourite thing about the movie?

David: Working with actors. They bring such gifts — their humour, their vulnerability, their spark of genius. When all that comes together with the script in front of the camera… magic can happen.

Katherine: In the script, I love the Christmas Cave and can’t wait to see it come to life in all its festive glory.  Also, I’ve never been on a set that required a snow machine so that will be cool to see it in action.

Is it weird shooting a Christmas movie in Spring?

David: We’re shooting in July here in Los Angeles, so that’s even weirder. But it will be fun! And yes, there will be snow machines. And reindeer.

Katherine: It’s more abnormal to be thinking about Christmas so much when everyone else is more focused on Memorial Day and Independence Day plans. But in terms of filming, no, since films — holiday movies included – need those months to for post-production in order to release the finished film.

What would you rather do – skip Christmas for 5 years or celebrate it every day for a month?

David: Every day, starting with today — what present did you get me? *taps his foot* I’m waiting….

Katherine: Every day for a month!  I love baking and need the excuse to eat like it’s the holidays.  Plus, I left my tree and lights up until April this year so it seems like I’m already doing that.

Anything else to add that I haven’t covered?

We’re breaking totally new ground here. While the U.K. has done a few feature films this way, this simply hasn’t been done in the U.S.before, so it’s pretty exciting. We’re the very first feature length narrative to use Equity Crowdfunding here. No one has seen it before. And we’re the very first Christmas movie in the world to do it. I gotta tell you, it’s pretty cool to be on the cutting edge. We’re super excited to give the audiences more than a movie — we’re giving them ownership. And by the way, our movie is open to investors outside America, so if you guys aren’t too busy Brexiting, please check out our campaign.

If you’re interested in finding out more about their crowdfunding campaign please visit Wefunder. Your capital is at Risk.

About the author

Aisling Browne

Aisling Browne

Aisling is the partnerships manager at OFF3R. Prior to OFF3R, she spent time working in New York at a property development business and subsequently for the British Red Cross in London. Aisling has a BA in Politics and International Relations.