StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Kickstarter Case Study: Left Turn Films’ 1st Campaign Earns $6,000. Their 2nd: $246,000! How Did They Do It? (2/2)

By Alex Watson

In Part 1 of our new Case Study on Crowd-funding, we introduced Left Turn Films, described the fundamentals of Kickstarter, and examined the producer’s first modest but successful campaign with Sons of Perdition.

This week, we document the experience of Left Turn’s upcoming film, An Honest Liar, the #4 all time documentary success story on Kickstarter, grossing $246,989.



  • “An Honest Liar tells the incredible story of the famed magician, skeptic and enemy of deception, James “The Amazing” Randi.”
  • “The film brings to life his carefully-designed projects that publicly expose psychics, faith healers and con artists.”
  • “Today, Randi himself faces the price of a deception that might result in the loss of his partner of 26 years.”

Production Timeline

Here are the key phases in Left Turn’s development and production process for Liar:

  • First Stage:
    • “We began production in July, 2011.”
    • “We started funding the projects solely out of our pockets, which really strained us.”
    • “Eventually we acquired enough footage to cut a decent trailer, which allowed us to approach broadcasters and investors and consider a Kickstarter campaign.”
  • Second Stage:
    • “We released the trailer on our Facebook page and YouTube to reach out to the few people that we knew.”
    • “Within days, with really no effort to publicize, we started receiving donations, which reached up to $1,000 / day from sources across the globe.”
    • “This was really a validation for us – we knew we were touching an audience that is passionately interested in the subject.”
  • Third Stage:
    • Won the pitch competition at MIPDOC 2012.
    • Participated in IFP’s Spotlight on Documentaries.
    • “We used HotDocs 2012 to launch our film… to get it before the eyes of the commissioning editors.”
    • “We worked very, very hard on our pitch and video, and we feel like we did something very unique and interesting.”
    • “We took a number of great meetings at HotDocs, and built momentum.”
    • Sheffield Doc/Fest MeetMarket was really where we were able to get those very important one-on-one meetings and close a number of deals.”
    • “Throughout this process, we were able to get our project in front of important decision-makers, some of whom we knew from prior films.”
    • “We got the greatest exposure this way.”
  • Fourth Stage:
    • “We started receiving interest in the film from broadcasters & investors, and we put together enough funding to begin production in earnest.”
  • Fifth Stage:
    • “We knew we wanted to launch a Kickstarter campaign, but we had trouble timing it around our production schedule.  It was going to take a full month of our time, and we needed to devote our full attention to that project.”
    • “In order to even consider this option, we completed a lot of research, background, and prep work.”
    • “Patience was the biggest thing – the campaigns that fail are those that go in too early.”
    • “We needed to have an audience before actually launching, and we felt that we had acquired that in the past year to make our campaign successful.”
  • Beyond:
    • “People have come on board in different times in the past year or so.”
    • “It’s a very fluid, changing process.”
    • “Our production accelerates as contributions increase.”

Production Budget

  • “Mid / high six figures”
    • “We know there really isn’t a second chance to do something like this.”
    • “The project requires a bigger budget than we had with Sons to make the documentary more cinematic, including recreations, and so on.”
  • Heavy archival Contribution
    • “The James Randi Educational Foundation had collected or recorded off-air hundreds of TV shows and gatherings.”
    • “They gave us 300-400 tapes, which we used to help cut the trailer.”
    • “We’ll have to deal with the archive rights later on – we haven’t yet crossed that bridge.”

Marketing & Budget

  • “We have to engage our audience well before film is completed.”
    • “Fortunately for us, Randi already has a big following, which gave us an almost immediate audience that most docs do not have.”
  • “Additionally, we have also been fortunate enough to get a number of celebrities to be a part of the film.”
    • “As clichéd as it might sound, ‘if you want success, get a name and get a face.’”
    • “This without question helped us to broaden our audience.”
  • “Throughout this process, we’ve been very careful with our identity.”
    • “There needs to be a consistency so that the audience or potential investors know what to expect.”
  • “Since we are still in production, we have no real marketing budget as of now.”
    • “Social media is our marketing tool at the moment, and the reason we have such a significant audience is because of promotional elements and marketing strategies we have used to endorse our Kickstarter campaign.”
    • “If we hadn’t planned this campaign, we probably wouldn’t have reached out to the public like we did.”

Sources of Funds

  • “Initially, it was a combination of private donations and equity investments.”
  • Later, this “turned into soft money: Kickstarter and  attempts to reach broadcasters.”
    • Many have been international, like BBC Storyville & SBS Australia
    • “We’ve held off on the domestic US market so far.”
  • “We have yet to complete the gap funding we need to complete the film, and are still seeking more financing.”

The Kickstarter Campaign

  • “We initiated the Kickstarter campaign because we needed additional funding.”
  • “We prepped on and off for over 6 months, planning, engaging an audience and collecting rewards.”
  • “The most amount of time and energy was put in during the month prior to launch.”
  • “The campaign itself lasted 30 days, but we are still, even 6 months after it ended, still shipping out items.”
  • “But part of our crowd-funding goal was to make sure that money wasn’t our sole focus.”
  • “Our strategy was to really include people — to make them feel like they are a valued part of something important.”
    • “Most people who make donations care deeply about the subject, which is a universal condition of a Kickstarter campaign.”
    • “Ultimately, we wanted to bring people into a club they would be a part of, and not just through the completion of the film, but afterwards during the distribution effort.”
  • “We wanted this crowd-funding campaign to be less transactional and more inter-actional.”
  • “Our two-fold approach differs from that of SOP, which was a smaller campaign that was geared just towards raising money.”


  • Our goal was to raise $148,000.
  • We actually raised $246,989!
    • Nearly 3,100 people contributed!
    • The average contribution was around $80.00
  • “In the end, our net was about 60-65% of the entire amount.”
    • “Kickstarter and Amazon payments take a percentage.”
    • “We lost about 4% to people who changed or cancelled their bank accounts.”
    • “We also had costs with the employing of Film Presence, who did a wonderful job with assisting with our overall social networking campaign.”
    • “The cost of the rewards, as well as the cost of packaging, shipping and labor costs was also a very large amount of funds.”
  • “What we ultimately gained, in addition to the funds, was a very engaged and excited audience that will follow and promote the film for years and that is worth every minute and dollar spent.”



  • Preparation
    • “We prepared and prepared and prepared for this, so that when we launched, we weren’t playing catch up anywhere else. We wanted to focus all of our time on the Kickstarter campaign.”
  • Interaction
    • “We engaged with audiences in a pre-scheduled timeline, including the release of collateral and videos.”
    • “Even though you may do lots of prep, you have to be ready to modify it as it goes: steer it, add things, make changes, etc.”
    • “It’s like you’re a whitewater rafter and you want to try and navigate the river as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
  • Patience
    • “Part of preparation – we had to go at the right time when we felt we had an audience large enough to make our campaign successful.”
    • “We spent a great deal of hours and energy on this campaign, and while it was worth every minute, it did slow down the actual production of the film itself.”
  • Follow-up
    • “Transferred all rewards onto website – a lot of people wanted to contribute even after our Kickstarter had ended.”
    • “Since the conclusion of the campaign, we have made significant amount of money this way.”
    • Crowd-Funding has been a continual process
  • Utilization of Film Presence significantly helped our outreach

More on Kickstarter Strategy: The Plimpton! Campaign

  • We covered this fast-changing niche by publishing a Case Study on a stylish feature doc about the legendary American adventurer and writer George Plimpton.
  • In Part One, we discuss the Backstory of Plimpton!
  • Part Two delves into the Kickstarter Campaign: its strategy and implementation.
  • Part Three reveals the Takeaways of co-producers/directors Tom Bean and Luke Poling.

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


  • More than 3,000 docs have been successfully funded.
  • And over $58 million has been pledged to documentary projects since launch.
  • The average is about $16,000…
  • Liar surpassed this mark by over $225k!



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.