Filmmakers today have to be their own production companies, PR agencies, and distributors. Columbia Journalism School alum Salima Amina Koroma, class of 2013, exemplifies the way young filmmakers have taken control of all aspects of producing a documentary. Columbia Visuals talked to Salima about her Indiegogo campaign –the lessons she’s learned, and her advice for other filmmakers who want to crowdfund their documentaries.
Columbia Visuals: You produced part of your documentary while you were a student at Columbia; can you talk about how your video developed over the time you were enrolled in J-school?
Salima Amina Koroma: I wanted to make a film about the history of Asian-American rappers. That was what I was set on doing – like one of those cool hip-hop features you see on MTV or VH1 or something. But as I was shooting it, I stopped feeling as if I had to tell the entire history (because you can’t just tell that entire experience in a 40-minute doc), and the film naturally evolved into the story of four rappers who represent different challenges Asian-Americans face. Through the evolution of the film, it became more tangible: four characters who feel excluded from something bigger – something that everyone can relate to.
SAK: Don’t try to use too many characters. You lose track of your story and confuse the hell out of the audience. Also – sound is king! Sound is just as important as video. Lastly – and this is important – do something that you like! You’re going to spend at least a year on this project – make sure it really is a passion project.
CV: Tell us about the work you put into creating your Indiegogo campaign.
SAK: It took my partner and I months to come up with a campaign plan we were satisfied with. There are so many things to consider: what time of the year is it (if it’s summer, a lot of people are less willing to give because they’re paying for graduations, subleases, etc. If it’s winter, people give more around the holidays), how much the “perks” will cost (perks have to be deducted from your overall goal), who to reach out to, how to target the media, and so many other things.
CV: What is your daily routine in regards to promoting your film?
SAK: We didn’t have a daily routine as much as we had a weekly strategy. In terms of money, we had a goal we were looking to reach each week. Maybe $6,000 the first week, $4,000 the next week, and so on. Because we did that, we decided the first week we’d reach out to friends and family, the next week we’d reach out to media, the week after we’d reach out to the artists in our film and outside of the film, and the last week, we’d reach out to big donors. Some of that definitely overlapped. But the weekly thing was important. Daily, we were constantly reaching out to people. People we hadn’t even spoken to in years. People are more willing to contribute if you contact them personally.
CV: What has been your biggest struggles in launching your campaign?
SAK: Actually pushing the button to start. We put it off for weeks, nervous that we were forgetting something, that we were missing something. In the end, it was just our fear of not succeeding. You’ll always forget something. Thankfully Indiegogo is flexible so you can always fix your campaign in the middle of it. We’ve added perks, removed perks, even considered extending our campaign. It’s designed for you to adapt, so don’t be scared to start the damn thing. Also, we are getting a good amount of coverage on our campaign – but how do you turn that coverage into money? A lot of the Indiegogo campaign has been less about raising money and more about marketing the film, which is a good and bad thing.
CV: Looking back, what do you wish you’d known before launching your campaign?
SAK: So many things. I wish we had a list of contributors we had already locked down. That way, when we start our campaign, there’s already guaranteed money. With guaranteed money, other people are going to want to donate as well. Indiegogo also has an algorithm: If your campaign is being shared and talked about on social media, and if you are active on your campaign (adding updates and content to your gallery), they’ll put you at the top of their home page. Our campaign got on the second page, which is still great, but we were never quite able to touch the top.
CV: What has worked for you thus far?
SAK: My partner Jaeki [Cho] and I are very tireless. What’s worked for us is that we’re telling a story that’s never been told – the story of Asian-American rappers. Because we’ve honed in on that fact, so many people have supported. A lot of Asian-American rappers, many with huge networks, have consistently tweeted about it and posted to social media. Our topic is so important to a niche group of people who really, really want to see this film made. On practical terms, what’s worked for us most is reaching out to family and friends, organizations that have an interest in this topic and big names in the music industry.
CV: Any final words?
SAK: It’s important to have platforms. Be active on social media. Make sure you’re linking your URL everywhere. Make sure you have reached out to the audience and media that will support you. Get co-signs from important people in your movement. For the next 30 days (or 45 or 60 – depending on the length of your campaign) your entire world is going to revolve around making your goal.