“Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
Guest Post by Elise McCave
This past week “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
” arrived on Netflix. It’s been quite a road to launching the doc on the streaming service, including a New York Film Festival premiere and a theatrical run in New York. Not too shabby for a project that some thought would never see the light of day.
“There had never been a film about Joan Didion
before. When we tried to get production funds, people said they wanted to see a movie about Joan but their enthusiasm didn’t translate into what we needed: a production deal or significant funding. Part of their hesitation was that they didn’t see the audience for it,” said Mary Recine
, one of the doc’s producers. She explained, “We knew we had something valuable — a film about a fierce and iconic writer made by her nephew, who had his own following. We knew that ultimately we needed a marketing campaign that highlighted Joan’s appeal to several generations of readers and viewers, as much as we needed a fundraising campaign. Doing a Kickstarter campaign and working with Alex Daly
as campaign manager just made sense.”
So the team, led by actor and director Griffin Dunne
— Joan’s nephew — and producers Mary and Annabelle Dunne
, Joan’s grandniece — first launched the film into the world with a Kickstarter campaign in October 2014. I’m the Director of Narrative Film at the funding platform.
Not only did the project generate extensive press, including coverage from Vogue and The Guardian, it also hit the project’s modest $80k goal in just over a day and went on to raise more than $220k to set things in motion with great momentum.
But what was it that made it such a runaway success? And are there lessons that other filmmakers can take from the film team’s experience to give their fundraising campaigns the same boost? I spoke with Annabelle, Mary, and Alex, crowdfunding veteran and author of “The Crowdsourceress,” about their collaboration with Kickstarter.
“My team and I built a campaign around exclusive access: through the filmmakers’ docu-style video and through the highly personal, intimate rewards,” said Alex. Annabelle added, “We wanted to give people a glimpse of what sort of things they could expect from this project. An intimate look at Joan’s life and work, largely through her own words.”
Rewards gave a sneak peak into both Joan’s life, but also into the filmmaking process — access to the filmmakers’ production notes, to Joan and husband John’s columns in the Saturday Evening Post, to a handwritten list of her 12 most important books to read before you die, and to her recipe book from years of entertaining in Malibu. “Whatever we came up with, we made sure it connected directly to Joan Didion
. The rewards were all about her, and fans wanted them,” Alex said.
The team built up social media accounts on Instagram and Twitter with the intention of posting sticky content and starting conversations with people who would go on to become supporters.
“We posted images that paired beautiful, rare archival photos with quotes from Joan,” recalled Alex. “If we found a great photo on one account, sometimes we’d tag a few of the other users who we knew loved her, as if to say, ‘Hey, check this out!’ Soon, it started to feel like we were all in a secret club together.”
“The social media aspect was surprising,” said Annabelle. “I don’t think any of us were quite aware of how strong Joan’s image and following would be on social media. Certainly for a writer, that was unprecedented. It was important to us that we could harness the social media energy to build into something bigger and more engaging. Something that would ultimately prompt people to go out and read her work.”
The fan club helped to spread the word organically and, paired with some exceptional press, launch day was a hit.
Once the project was funded — by day two — they kept the momentum going. Annabelle, Mary, Alex and their teams weren’t just funding a film, they were directly engaging with its future audience, so their strategy focused on community building.
So they drove the campaign with new rewards, updates with special content, influencer takeovers, and more. Stylist and fashion editor Christopher Niquet was invited to make Joan Didion
t-shirts as a new reward tier. Artist Avery Nejam made a print of Joan. An original “Panic in Needle Park” manuscript signed by Joan and director Jerry Schatzberg
was offered up.
“Griffin and Annabelle had a direct, intimate familial connection to Joan; thousands of strangers had a direct, intimate literary connection to Joan. Crowdsourcing allowed us to put the two together,” said Mary.
But, as Annabelle noted, “once we were funded, the hard part started! We had to focus all of our energy on producing a film that would live up to the expectations we had created from our campaign’s success. While also trying to stay in communication with our backers and the community of early supporters of the project.”
Once the Kickstarter campaign concluded there was “tangible proof that there was a large audience for a documentary about Joan,” Annabelle said. “We’d had positive feedback from the backers, along with some incredible press highlighting Joan’s cultural relevance. It was exactly the sort of thing that a large scale distributor like Netflix responds to. While we knew that the money raised from Kickstarter would never be able to fully finance the film, it was an instrumental tool in partnering to become a Netflix Original.”
This exemplary Kickstarter campaign, run by a team of whip-smart women, ended up raising nearly three times its goal and was a clear sign to audiences, investors, and distributors alike, that there was — and is — enormous enthusiasm for a film about this literary giant, beloved for her cool prose and iconic style.Elise McCave
works with Kickstarter’s community of filmmakers on the strategy and messaging of their campaigns, and supporting them through the process as they raise funds and build communities around their projects.
Guest Post: How a Joan Didion
Doc Became a Kickstarter Success and Landed at Netflix was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.