How to Make a Successful Kickstarter Video

We live in a very visual society. Long before the Internet or televisions, people got their information through the written or spoken word via newspapers and radio. Once TV became the consumer's choice for content delivery, advertisers were clamoring to run commercials to get their products known. In half a century, we've gone from three networks telling us what we'll watch to visual candy available anytime, anywhere via YouTube and beyond, allowing us to be in control of our viewing content. We've become a society dependent on visual information and the best way to get any message across is through the use of video. So it would make sense that if you're looking to get the attention of financial backers for your gizmo that you have a video to show it off. 

First Create the Campaign

Thanks to innovators on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and many other online crowdfunding sites with the know-how to appeal to the masses, you no longer have to wade through the quagmire of paperwork and face rejection from traditional money lenders to get a product launched. As we reported in the September 2014 issue, Power to the People: Crowdfunding Your Video Project, people worldwide are getting funding support from complete strangers by creating online campaigns to sell their product through specialized crowdfunding sites.

Each crowdfunding site has various rules you follow, but basically you're soliciting funds for your project through the site for a specified percentage of the proceeds.

Creating the campaign site is fairly simple, if you've ever created a personal website like a Facebook account or personal blog, you already have the skills needed to create a Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter and Indiegogo both have online help pages that will walk you through the steps to creating your personal campaign along with tips on how the campaign works, what procedures to follow to legally enlist the aid of backers and suggestions to creating the video needed to go along with your campaign. What they don't tell you much about is how to make that video. That's where Videomaker comes in.

Next Create the Sizzle

Once you've figured out how you want to create the Kickstarter campaign to sell your doohickey, you need to sell the campaign. Even the most amazing doohickey on earth won't get any attention if your potential funders can't figure out what it is, why you're building it and what's in it for them. Most of these crowdfunding sites have a team of marketing specialists that will help you setup your site and lay out your plans, but they aren't going to advertise your product or create your ad campaign for you. They tell you that a support video is a good feature for your campaign, but their tips on creating one are mostly limited to "make it entertaining."

If you've never made a video other than short clips you've posted on Facebook or Snapchat, don't fret. You don't have to have a video to sell your project, but it helps quite a bit. Remember, we're a society of visual information gatherers. Kickstarter suggests that, "A video is strongly encouraged but not required. More than 80 percent of projects have videos, and those that don't have a much lower success rate."

Screen grab of Reading Rainbow Kickstarter video
Screen grab of Reading Rainbow Kickstarter video

Easy as Lights, Camera, Action

Thanks to mobile phones, newer point-and-shoot cameras and simple action cams (and Videomaker's pioneering efforts at educating the masses), anyone can create video nowadays. People might not always be creating good video, but nearly everyone understands the basic concepts of shooting and uploading video. Newbies to the process might not be a Steven Spielberg, and you don't need to be for a simple campaign video for a crowdfunding site. The key word is “simple.”

Your video doesn't have to have a lot of details, but it needs enough to get your possible backers interested. What makes videos work is their message, not their production value. Still, a clean production is necessary to capture and hold the viewers' attention. It should have enough production value and organization for your potential funders to trust you know what you're doing so that they might feel comfortable with dropping some cash in your donation jar.

According to Kickstarter, you don't have to have an extremely professional video. Some of their favorite videos are low-level DIYers. Animated, hand-drawn stick-people will work if the message is good, but you need to get the message across as clearly and concisely as possible… and you must reach that audience in the first eight to 10 seconds. Take too long to get to the point and a "ping" notice that a new kitten video was just uploaded is going to take their attention away.

Screen grab Veronica Mars Kickstarter video

The Devil's in the Details

After you've captured their attention, then you need to give them the details they'll need to make an educated decision on whether they want to back you or not. Ideally, your completed video should be two to three minutes in length, and like any good story, have a proper beginning, middle and end. What you don’t want to make is an infomercial. 'Fess up. How many late-night infomercials have you watched all the way through? They are extremely long, and repeat the information over and over and over again because they know that channel surfers are only going to see a bit of it when they skip around the dial.

How much detail should you reveal about your project? Not a lot but just enough. Don't undersell yourself so that the audience feels they can't make a solid and educated decision. As we pointed out earlier, you want to stick to a two-to-three minute limit, and if you feel you're not supplying enough information, you can request they read your posts for more. Leave them wanting more, as they say in Hollywood. The four points you need to express through your video are:

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Introduce your project
  3. State why you need financial support
  4. Tell them what's in it for them

These are all things you should have already set up for your campaign; you're just reiterating it in the video.

Screen grab of Coolest Cooler Kickstarter video

Bare Minimum Gear

For those of you who aren't video producers by trade or hobby, let's look at the bare minimum you'll need for a good quality video. After all, you're trying to get money for your project, not spend more on gear you might not use again. For some very thorough and easy-to-follow techniques for newbies, check out Videomaker's Beginner's Guide page online. It's a fount of quality information and chock full of tips for shooting, lighting, editing and more.

Camera: Since your video is for online-only viewing, you don't need a fancy or expensive camera. A reasonably new compact video camera or smartphone will do. Ideally, this camera should allow you to plug in an external microphone, but you can work around that, too. More on that in a bit. Many people are shooting with DSLRs, which are great for video. Used correctly, they can give you a very professional look with crisp color and the nice depth of field that most video producers strive for. If your smartphone is four years old or newer, it too will offer you good imaging, if used correctly. These tips by contributing editor Kyle Cassidy can show you how.

Microphone: Audio is half of your video, so, yes, you must have a microphone. Many people shy away at this point, "But I don't know anything about audio!" It's OK. We're making it simple, remember? The biggest error new video producers make is not caring about the quality of the sound. When was the last time you watched a very poor online video? Most likely your perception of the quality of the video actually had to do with the audio. Believe it or not, people will tune out and walk away if the audio is bad, even if the video quality is good. On the other hand, people will watch it to the end if the audio is clear and understandable, even if the video is dark, shaky and poorly shot. So, yes. You need a mic. (If your camera doesn't have a mic input, and you're desperate, see the sidebar, Tricks to Recording Without a Separate Microphone. It's time-consuming, and requires patience, but it can be done.)

If you've ever created a personal website like a Facebook account or personal blog, you already have the skills needed to create a Kickstarter campaign.

The three most common types of mics that would work for a video of this level are a shotgun, lavalier or handheld/studio mic. For a simple piece like we're planning, you can get one of these mics at your neighborhood electronics store for less than $30. They come wired or wireless and there are pros and cons to both. Wireless allows you to walk and talk or stand farther from the camera without the audio cable getting in the way, but you might have signal interference or battery issues. A wired mic is solid and dependable, but you're restricted to the length of the cord. Wired mics cost less.

Lights: You don't need expensive lighting gear or tons of filters, diffusion scrims and lighting paraphernalia. In fact, one big light source is free: the sun, however you can't rotate it when it moves behind your subject as your day progresses, but there are ways to control it. If your subject is large and requires you to be outside, consider shooting the secondary video, called B-roll, outside and shooting the A-roll, (your talking head and voiceovers) inside. This controls the audio and lighting better.

Let's say you've decided to shoot indoors, because it is easier to control, and we're all about making this simple, right? You can do it with one, but we suggest two lights. Maybe three. It depends on your background and product. Turn off any overhead room lights and use lamps you can control. Set your main light at a 45-degree angle from your subject. Not dead on. (We want to avoid the deer-in-the-headlights look!) This main light can be an ordinary shaded lamp. Set another light also at a 45-degree angle on the other side, but pull it back farther. This is your fill light. Your third light can be a lamp low on the ground splashing on the backdrop, or a paper lantern hanging just above and behind you and your subject for a back-light. Want more drama? Try some mood lighting, as explained in this article, The Art of Low Key Lighting.

Editing Software: Oh, oh. Now we're getting in deep. If you're a regular Videomaker reader, you've got this covered. If you landed here because you're trying to figure out how to make a Kickstarter video and you've never edited anything in your life, this might seem a bit scary. Don't fret. In the old days of video editing it was quite complex, but today there are many online editing tools that don't require much more than a simple cut-and-paste technique. And that's actually a good thing, because you do not want to use fancy graphics or crazy wipes on your video. Remember, you want your viewers to enjoy the video, not admire how many effects your editing program has. WeVideo has a free plan of their cloud-based editing software and you can find more programs for tablets and smartphones from this Videomaker feature: Cloud Based Editing Using Tablets and Smartphones.

Finally, what if you don't have a video camera? Many people make very entertaining movies using still photos or graphics. We've seen some of the best “videos” that don't use video in the traditional sense at all. If that's your skillset, give that a go. As long as the finished product moves and entertains, that's all that matters. Oh, and has a point and purpose that's easy to follow. And that's where we're going next.

Screen grab of Video Game High School Kickstarter video

Simple Techniques to Get 'er Done

Ever hear of the KISS principle? Keep it simple, stupid. You aren't making an Academy Award winning or blockbuster movie. You are making a video to get people interested in your product, so bypass the flying tigers, car chases and fiery effects. You want to open with your pitch, and reiterate your plea, the end and the middle tells your story.

  • SHOOTING: Choose a simple backdrop for your video. If it's your living room, pull all the family photos off the wall. Don't set up too close to the backdrop, if you can help it. You need space to prevent shadows and soften the background. If your subject is small, and needs special closeup shots, consider shooting a donut-style video, like news reporters do. You shoot your opening pitch and closing statement on camera, and then read a script to voice-over the filling of the video.
  • AUDIO: The first is to get very close to the mic, and we mean close. The farther away you are, the more your mic will pick up extraneous sounds around you. Practice reading a script so you don't sound wooden, and pay attention to words that produce plosives and sibilance — those popping "p" and hissing "s" sounds. Do a couple practice runs and if you hear these annoyances on the playback, moving the mic a bit to the side should help.
  • MUSIC: Nowadays, basically every video has some kind of music, and yours should too. Somehow, it makes a speech-centric video appear a bit more entertaining. The trick is to keep the level of the music low enough so as not to overpower the speaker or become irritating like a buzzing fly. One of the most important things you need to know about your music, though, is to keep it legal. Kickstarter specifies on its site that your video will be pulled down if it is found to have copyrighted music that you can't prove you have permission to use. The good news is you can find lots of royalty-free music from websites at a reasonable price. Read more about how and pricing in Royalty Free Music Tips.
  • GRAPHICS: Words on the screen are necessary for the viewer to grasp the purpose of the video, especially when showing a "for more information" page. Typically, the best graphics will use a simple white font on a black or dark background. Don't cram too many words onto a page, use several pages, and you should hold the page up long enough to read through three times. (But no longer, title pages can get boring.) You should have at least an opening and closing graphic, but they don't have to be the very first thing or last thing a viewer sees. You can have an on-camera introduction first, followed by the graphic and an on-camera "thank-you" after the closing graphic.

No skills using graphic or text software? Fake it. Use the famous Bob Dylan "dropping cue cards" effect, type it out on an old fashioned type-writer, write on a chalkboard, scribble on napkins, whatever it takes to get the message across, and be clever in the process. The trick is to be consistent and have a purpose.

Screen grab of Potato Salad Kickstarter video

Do you want to make them laugh or make them cry?

Everyone loves a funny, clever well-produced video, but what if you're trying to finance a heart transplant for your newborn baby? The main point to your video is to inform your potential audience, and you need to address the emotions accordingly. If your project calls for funny and clever, then you can use upbeat music with faster editing and shorter scenes. An emotionally touching video should have a slower pace and appropriate music, but don't get too sappy because that will turn people off. You need balance, which is what you find in any well-made movie, whether it's a tearjerker or swashbuckling comedy. The point is, you do need to entertain them enough to keep them interested. If they stay entertained, or rather — interested — they're more likely to want to support your cause, regardless of the emotion of the story.

Screen grab of Digital Bolex Kickstarter video

If you build it, will they come?

As much as the video you make should help your crowdfunding campaign, you shouldn't, as they say, put all your eggs in one basket. In the Videomaker feature Telling the Story of Sriracha, Director Griffin Hammond talks about how he got attention for his Kickstarter campaign to help finance his documentary. "Too many [Kickstarter] creators expect their great idea to find an audience for them," he stated. "If you don't identify and engage your audience in advance," he added, "who do you think will fund your project?" Hammond not only reached his Kickstarter goal of $5,000, he received promises of more than $21,000 in a month. He drummed up excitement for his documentary through social media and his opening video helped bring interested parties to his Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter blogger Jake Parker adds, "Your Kickstarter page should have lots of pictures. If you’re going to write out lots of words, break it up into smaller chunks."

Hire a Pro

If you really think you can't do it, there are a lot of professional producers that specialize in Kickstarter videos, here’s a few:

They can painlessly walk you through the steps, all you may need to do is be on camera and supply your passion.

Finally, what if you don't think you can sell yourself on camera, should you hire someone to be your voice? Ponder this thought closely. People aren't investing in just your project, they are investing in you. A sincere well-spoken pitch will touch them better than an over-modulated professional speaker will. On the other hand, wooden scared-looking speakers might cause them to lose confidence in your ability to produce the product. Practice reading so you don't sound wooden, consider the short donut-style package we mentioned, and be real. That's what your audience wants to see.

Brian Foo, creator of Continuous City says, "Tell a story, show that you're a normal person, be as genuine as possible, make your pitch clear (i.e. someone can repeat it to someone else), have good sound in your video." And watch other Kickstarter campaigns. Check out the Kickstarter's Projects we Love page. The best way to see what type of video works is to watch popular campaigns and see what grabs your attention. One thing video producers do a lot is watch a lot of other producers' work and you should, too. It's how they learn and improve. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


Tricks to Recording Without a Separate Microphone

Yes, you can record a decent video with the built-in microphone, but we don't recommend going this route unless you have a lot of patience and are good at pre-planning. That said, there are a couple ways to go about it.

First, set your stage in a very quiet, small room. The less extraneous noise around you the better your audio will be. Your on-camera mic wants to pick up the loudest sound, so working too far from the mic will cause it to raise the sound levels in the room which will bring in the hum of your air conditioning, the computer's fans and even your neighbor's lawn mower. Don't work in a garage, try to use a carpeted room. The best room might be a walk-in closet and an added bonus is the clothing will help muffle outside sound. A backdrop with texture and a splash of color is always great. In a tiny space, you can set yourself near, but not too close to the backdrop, and set the camera in the doorway.

If you plan to edit your video, another trick is to use two cameras or smartphones, one to record your audio, the other to record your video. Set the voice-recording camera on a stand, table or shelf a few inches away and out of the frame of the other camera that's set about six to nine feet away on a tripod or some other support. Hit record on both cameras, clap your hands for an audio cue for match editing later and start speaking. If you flub your lines, don't stop the recordings, allow a few seconds of silence and start speaking again. Then, you can dub in the voice-camera's audio over the video-camera's audio in your editing software. (Videomaker has many articles online that demonstrate how to execute this technique.)


No Tripod… No Worries

Professional producers and video enthusiasts swear by a good, solid tripod. They also have a few other stabilizing devices in their toolkit including floating stabilizers, jibs and fun remote-controlled devices made to fly, float and crawl across the terrain. For the rest of us, a simple tripod will do. But if you're not a video producer, simply making a video for your Kickstarter campaign; do you need to invest in yet another tool you won't use? Not really. Just remember that your camera needs support of some kind.

Here's a trick many people don't know about. Most cameras have a 1/4-inch thread for a tripod, which is the same exact size as the thread for an ordinary lampshade. Simple remove the shade from the lamp, screw your camera on the post, and lift the lamp’s height any way you can! Smartphones don't usually have this feature, but a few rubber-bands and hairclips, as illustrated in Getting Great Video From a Mobile Phone are easy DIY fixes.

Jennifer O’Rourke is a multi Emmy award-winning video producer and writer.

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