StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Kickstarter Case Study: Left Turn Films’ First Campaign Earns $6,000. And Their Second $246,000!! (1/2)

By Alex Watson

In 2010 Left Turn Films‘ Director & Producer Tyler Measom executed a modest but successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund the premiere of Sons of Perdition: The Story of Polygamy’s Exiled Youth.

The goal was only $5,000.

Fast forward three years:  Tyler and co-producer/director Justin Weinstein used Kickstarter to raise almost $250,000 for their latest film An Honest Liar.

Based on my conversations with Tyler and Justin, this 2-part Case Study analyzes Left Turn Films’ exponential success with crowd-funding.


Crowd-funding is a hot topic as a financial strategy for doc producers and independent filmmakers.

  • Kickstarter is the leading brand in the emerging field of crowd-funding platforms.
  • Its total monthly ‘pledges’ rocketed from zero in April ’09 to more than $738 million in August ’13!

The Deal

  • Kickstarter earns a fee of 5% of the funds raised in a campaign.
  • There is a payment processing fee that ranges from 3-5%.

The Process

There are four key steps:

  1. Build a site for your project on Kickstarter.
  2. Set a financial goal. This is a highly strategic decision.
  3. Offer rewards for the various donation levels:
    • For films, rewards range from a ’director’s thank-you note’ to opening night tickets and free drinks at the after-party.
    • At the highest level, contributors could earn a ‘special thanks’ in the credits as associate producers.
  4. Set a term: Campaigns typically run for 30-90 days.

Hit Your Target or Go Bust!

  • Less than half of Kickstarter campaigns are successfully funded.
  • It is “all funded or nothing,” meaning that unless you hit your funding target, each donor receives a refund for their contribution.



  • Sons of Perdition follows three boys after they leave the isolation of their community in Colorado City and join an underground network of exiled FLDS (Mormon) teens.”
  • “With limited educations and rarely a stable address, the obstacles they face are enormous.”
  • “With unprecedented access, Sons of Perdition takes audiences on a three-year-journey into the lives of these remarkable teens, providing the inside analysis to make this intimate portrait a big story—a timely, critical look at faith, family and religious exile in mainstream America.”


Production Budget

  • $400,000.
  • “It was rather low, especially for how long the filming process was.”


  • Sons of Perdition was among the earliest acquisitions made by Oprah’s new OWN Network for its Documentary Club.

Kickstarter Campaign

  • According to Tyler Measom, “At that time (2010), Kickstarter was relatively new, and I knew very little about it.”
  • “The money we raised actually didn’t go towards the production budget.”
    • “We started the campaign within two weeks of completion of the film with the pure intent of getting the kids who were the subjects of the film to Tribeca for opening night.”
    • “We couldn’t have done this without Kickstarter, because every other penny we had went into the film itself.”
  • “We were very fortunate to actually hit our goal.”
  • “Honestly, we were in awe that people would give us money.”


  • “Our goal was to raise $5,000 – we actually raised $6,206.”

Bottom Line

  • The KS campaign “really was monetarily driven.”


An Honest Liar is the incredible story of famed magician/skeptic and enemy of deception, James “The Amazing” Randi. In next week’s post, we cover:

  • Production Timeline
  • Production Budget
  • Marketing
  • Sources of Funding
  • Kickstarter Campaign: Strategy
  • $246,989 raised!
  • Success secrets!
  • Takeaways

The Top 10 Kickstarter Docs

  1. “Chug” $591,804
  2. “BronyCon: The Documentary” $322,022
  3. “Be Here Now – The Andy Whitfield Story” $302,810
  4. “An Honest Liar” $246,989
  5. “Medical Inc. The Movie” $241,948
  6. “The Culture High” $240,022
  7. “Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story” $223,422
  8. “Landfill Harmonic” $214,129
  9. “FrackNation” $212,265
  10. “Dungeons and Dragons: A Documentary” $195,480



Don’t miss our previous 3-part crowd-funding Case Study on a stylish feature doc about the legendary American adventurer and writer George Plimpton.

  • In Part 1, we discuss the Backstory of the Plimpton! documentary.
  • In Part 2, we analyze the Kickstarter Campaign
  • Part 3 covers the Takeaways by the talented co-producers/directors: what did Tom Bean and Luke Poling learn from their campaign?

And BTW, Plimpton! is a wonderful film. One of my recent favorite docs!



US Networks: What do they Want? What’s the Deal? And the Things They Won’t Tell You…
Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Don’t miss my intensive half-day master class with industry veteran Ed Hersh at WESTDOC 2013.

Our workshop is dedicated to helping producers understand the chaotic and rapidly-changing nonfiction marketplace so that they can get their projects green lit.

I met with Ed this morning and over coffee we developed a jam-packed ‘curriculum’ for our Masterclass!

We thought up a subtitle for our list of topics: “How to Get in the Door, and What to Do When You Get There!”

We will build on the Standing-Room-Only success of last year’s Master Class with Stephen Harris, the former A&E development exec and now ‘red hot’ LA-based producer. Check out the video highlights of the 2012 Master Class here.

This year, Ed and I will take a tour of the network landscape: which networks commission docs, specials and series, including reality series, and focusing on key industry trends.

Register here!

We’ll use our video clips, Powerpoints, ratings data and other valuable resources to bang home the teachable moments.

What We’ll Cover

Topics that we will cover include:

  • Understanding network “filters”
  • Series vs. one-offs: what you need to know
  • What are their audiences, key demos and current program strategies, and how that should affect your pitch?
  • Why do some producers seem to get “all” the green lights, and others don’t
  • When your experience counts. And when it doesn’t!
  • The network commissioning process: What you need to know before you pitch, when you’re in the room, and what happens afterwards.
  • The pitch: Five key Do’s and Don’ts that will increase your chances of success.
  • What are the five things that MUST be in your pitch to have it even considered
  • What are the key deal terms for work-for-hire commissions, co-productions and acquisitions.
  • What do the networks pay for programs? And is that negotiable?
  • Do emerging producers need an agent? Or is it better to partner with an established producer? And what’s the deal for ‘marrying up?’

There will be plenty of time for Q&A and post-workshop networking.

Westdoc Producers’ Master Class
Built for Success: Developing and Producing Non-Fiction Programming in Today’s Environment
US Networks: What do they Want? What’s the Deal? And the things they won’t tell you…

Sunday, September 15th, 2013
$199 for WESTDOC attendees
Register here.

Or email me ([email protected]) if you have any questions about the Master Class.