Money is necessary to make a movie but difficult to acquire with no filmmaking experience and only a crazy idea. I approached quite a few production companies with Unbranded but they either wanted total creative control or money upfront. We didn’t have any money and didn’t want Unbranded to be junk TV so we decided to do it on our own through a relatively new website called Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding site where a user posts a video, describes their project, sets a dollar goal, and targets a specific time frame. Donors give money and in return have the satisfaction of bringing a project to life as well as rewards that depend on the size of their contribution (such as a DVD or book.) If you don’t reach your goal during the time frame, no one’s credit card is processed and you get nothing. We put all of our eggs in one basket, shot for the stars with a $150,000 goal, made a forty-five day time frame, and began the preparation process.
The first, and most crucial component of our Kickstarter campaign was creating a quality video that could go viral. We accomplished this by making a stunning four minute video shot by Denver Miller, Phill Baribeau, and myself. It was then edited by Phill Baribeau. My skin crawls at the memory of seeing the video for the first time, watching it really sunk in the enormity of the task we had chosen. The video was amazing but needed a way to reach the masses.
We needed large organizations with similar ideals and audience to endorse our trip, provide advertising, and make the Kickstarter campaign succeed. Fortunately Kate Bradley of Western Horseman Magazine wrote an article on my 2010 ride and she arranged a meeting with herself, Senior Editor Darrel Dodds, and I to discuss ideas. After the meeting, Western Horseman Magazine, the largest equine magazine in the world with over 150,000 monthly subscriptions, endorsed our project and offered to put a free one-page ad in the issue corresponding with our Kickstarter campaign! I was floored by the kindness and support Western Horseman gave to our project and to this day have a loyal, great relationship. Later on, their one-page magazine ad would be a crucial component that tipped the scales making our Kickstarter campaign succeed.
Another key organization that endorsed Unbranded at its infancy was the Mustang Heritage Foundation. The Mustang Heritage Foundation is a wonderful organization that helps the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) increase the adoption rates of horses through special programs. With their support we knew we our project would spread quickly through the small mustang world and attract audiences who are likely to support Unbranded financially.
On December 17, 2012 we launched our Kickstarter campaign. I’ll never forget the trepidation of seeing a $150,000 goal, only 45 days to reach it, and clicking the mouse to begin. Only after it was live did it dawn on me that we needed to raise over $3,000 per day for the next month and a half to reach our goal. It was terrifying but way too far to turn back.
We notified all of our contacts and within weeks had newspaper articles in Amarillo, San Angelo, College Station, Austin, and Lubbock. Western Horseman Magazine, The Mustang Heritage Foundation, and countless other organizations spread our the word of our project both online and offline. We started an intense email newsletter, launched a website, and started a Facebook page that grew to over 7,000 people. We called friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, friends of friends, anyone we could get ahold of telling them to donate what they could and spread the word. Within 24 hours we had raised over $10,000 and we were off to the races!
The initial funding was largely friends and family. After their contributions, the success of our Kickstarter campaign relied solely upon the goodwill of strangers and acquaintances. We were not disappointed but we did made a horrible mistake in choosing to run the campaign during the holiday season. The campaign started on December 17th, a time when many people focus on family, food, and festivities. After an initial spike in funding from close friends and family we lost momentum, falling considerably short of our $3,000/day average for days on end. I became obsessed by necessity. We emailed every horse trainer, BLM employee, state representative, horse rescue center, and chapter of the backcountry horseman associations that we could think of.
Just as we started to run out of strings to pull and holiday season came to an end, Unbranded took on a life of its own. People all over the world began to share our project and donate. Random strangers donated $1, $10, $100, $1,000, even $10,000! It was insane. When the February issue of Western Horseman hit newsstands and mailboxes around January 10th there was a massive spike in donations that fueled our momentum to the finish line.
On January 27th, 2013 we reached our $150,000 goal. Four days later our Kickstarter campaign ended. 1,062 backers donated $171,453 in 45 days. In addition, 200 other people outside of Kickstarter donated $60,000. The generosity of family, friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers kickstarted Unbranded to life. We had the support, we had the money, now all we had to do was finish training a bunch of green mustangs, ride them 3,000 miles across the country, and make a movie.
As I write this, I realize that just two years ago from today we were in the midst of our Kickstarter campaign. Many thanks to all of our generous backers who helped us bring Unbranded to life. We have come a long way!