Kickstarter reward tiers: in-depth looks at our campaigns for MAGNETIC and TEN

So far, Sophia and I have run two modest Kickstarter campaigns – both successful – for our films TEN (stats on TEN) and MAGNETIC (I never wrote up my analysis, but Kicktraq summary of stats). In preparing for these campaigns, we spent a very long time researching how to structure reward tiers. It led to introspective investigations examining what crowdfunding is really about, whether we really wanted to be doing it, how other campaigns doing things differently create different general views about crowdfunding than we hope to portray, when it goes terribly awry, and numerous other philosophical and practical questions about raising money to make things. We learned a few things along the way (10 of them).

Whenever I have an opportunity, I try to share information that I might have found useful when I was starting out down this path. I certainly do not consider myself an authority on the matter, nor a scholar of crowdfunding and the psychological principles involved, but I can tell you what things worked well for us, and what things failed.

I wanted to present this breakdown looking at how we selected our reward tiers because it’s very tricky and because I think it is still something that most campaigns are not doing optimally. 

I am going to present a look at our tiers for MAGNETIC because I think we learned quite a lot from TEN and made some progress in making our rewards clearer, better, and more accurate in terms of promise time (sorry everyone who is owed a TEN DVD – almost done, I swear!).

We don’t view any contributions to the campaigns as donations – and never use that word. It implies that there is no gain or return for the people giving. You can give donations to charities doing good work to make the world better. We’re making a movie. Don’t give us a donation, become a backer and participate in helping to make this project and this art possible.

We never expect or demand that any of our friends, family, or fans give us anything. We do not judge anyone for not giving and there are no repercussions of not giving on our relationships. We want people to contribute because they want to be part of what we’re doing. We appreciate it very much, but never expect it.

There are a lot of pieces involved in making a good crowdfunding campaign and reward tiers is only one of them, but we’ll focus on that here.

The general breakdowns of where the rewards fall for our two campaigns are almost identical.

MAGNETIC 262 backer breakdown by reward tier

TEN 258 backer breakdown by reward tier

Note: on the campaign itself. I highly recommend actually spelling out the full reward at each level, rather than saying “plus all the earlier rewards” or “plus all $50 rewards.” This makes it much easier for backers to follow. In this post, for the sake of making it a little shorter, and because the discussion at each level is about what is added, I have changed the text from our original campaign to the shorthand.

Pledge $1 or more – 28 backers
One Tesla: an official thank you on our blog, web site, Facebook, and Twitter feed with a link of your choice (nothing offensive) included.
Estimated delivery: Nov 2013

This brings us to the first philosophical question – is the point of your campaign to raise money or to build an audience/family for your project (and to raise money).

If the former is the case, I recommend getting an additional part time job and skipping crowdfunding altogether. It will be easier, you will make more money, and you will feel less entitled to the money and/or guilty about the money. You can stop reading now and go check the job listings.

If you instead are interested in an audience/family for your project, you should have a $1 tier. In financial terms, a $1 tier is an absolute disaster in terms of your time, resources, and money, but it is a total win in terms of engagement, involvement, and friendship. It allows people with limited financial resources (and we know how that is right now thanks to these damn movies) to be part of your project with what is effectively a gesture of support.

We treated our $1 exactly the same as our other contributors in terms of how we valued them. Sophia sent every single contributor a thank you video (with a sock-puppet version of me playing along). You can imagine, this takes time to record, upload, tag, and email. Time is a precious resource in handling your crowdfunding campaign, and we committed to reaching out to every single person who chose to be part of our adventure. Sophia did her best to personalize these videos to the people who helped us out. Here is an example sent to one of our favorite people in town, Rob Potylo. (We upload these as unlisted, so they are only known to backers, but may be shared freely by the backers should they wish. Rob had shared it publicly, so we are assuming it is okay to share.)

We also decided that if we broke 200 backers, we would send all of our backers postcards signed by cast and crew. Now, a postcard costs almost 75 cents to get printed and mail. For every dollar contribution, Kickstarter and Amazon end up shaving off a good 15 cents or more. So, for a one dollar contribution, we net about 10 cents and we spend many, many minutes of time interacting.

Not worth it for the money, but absolutely worth it for the new friends and supporters!

We considered breaking up the tiers even more with a $5 reward, but ultimately decided that everything we wanted to offer everyone would sit at the $1 tier. We didn’t have anything we wanted to split and require a $5 contribution for. Many people gave us some money between $1 and $10 while selecting the $1 tier.

We added the 200+ backer incentive part-way through our campaign, to encourage people already participating to share with their friends.

If we surpass 200 backers: 

  • We’ll mail everyone a postcard from set signed by cast and crew.
  • We’ll provide a free MP3 download package of all of our major music releases – that includes, all of the releases from: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, Darling Pet Munkee, Space Balloons, The Motion Sick, Blitzkriegbliss, and a sundry of other tracks, in one big musical bundle.

Pledge $10 or more – 48 backers
Ten Tesla: $1 reward and a thank you credit in the film (all film credits will be submitted to IMDB).
Estimated delivery: Dec 2013

This one is a no-brainer! Offer a credit in the film for relatively little money. It costs you nothing, acknowledges the support of the contributors in an official capacity, and it encourages people who don’t know you well to be part of the campaign. When I look at campaigns, I often go for the level with the “thanks” credit. You can check out the “thanks” section on my IMDB page and see a few that I’ve given to, with more on the way. Would I have given without that credit? Well, a funny thing happened. Since it became relatively normal for campaigns to give “thanks” credits at low tiers, I kind of have come to expect it. Often, if I see a campaign where thanks doesn’t hit until $25 or more, I skip it. If they had a $10 thanks, I might go for it if I like the project, even if I don’t know anyone involved. Is the credit important in any way to me? Nope. It just shows me that the filmmakers value the contributors, which I value.

The “dirty” secret: for both of our films, we gave a thanks credit to everyone who contributed – even at the $1 level. That said, we had quite a few people select $10 specifically for the credit. There are people browsing campaigns trying to pad their IMDB pages – more on that later when we hit associate producer.

Pledge $20 or more – 65 backers
Twenty Tesla: A digital download copy of the film and a digital download copy of the score and soundtrack music from the film, and $10 reward
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016

For $20, you get the movie and the soundtrack. That’s pretty much the whole final product of this adventure, and $20 is where it is. A lot of people look to support at the tier where they receive the product of the campaign – it should be high enough in value that you make something off it, but low enough that it encourages a quantity of people to go for it.

AND THIS IS A HUGE ONE!!! No rewards in the crowdfunding campaign should be more expensive than the retail value of the product (or at least not much more). In other words, if I offer tier to backers, you can bet I am not going to come out and sell the thing, at least initially, for much less than $20 ($10 movie / $10 soundtrack perhaps – but $20). Maybe we can go a little lower and consider the value of the credit, postcard, etc., but not much. Backers will feel cheated, and rightfully so!!!

It does also help if the backers see/get the movie way before anyone else does. That adds value to the package. This all costs nothing on a per-unit basis.

Pledge $30 or more – 43 backers
Thirty Tesla: A special, limited-edition DVD of the film (for backers only), signed by cast and crew and $20 reward
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016
Add $10 USD to ship outside the US

Essentially the same as the $20 tier, but a limited-edition physical copy of the movie. When we send this, it will be a specific package that will NEVER be released to the general public. This way, if someone buys the eventual DVD release, the backers will have still received something special.

And shipping overseas has become insane! It will cost way more than $10 even to send a DVD. You might think about how you just sent some stuff to Europe a couple of years ago and it wasn’t so bad, but costs have skyrocketed. Don’t underestimate this cost if you are going to have a lot of foreign backers. Check rates at before launching! I included the “add $10” to all rewards, but am not including it at every level in this post.

The increase from $20 to $30, which is actually about $9 additional after site costs, includes the manufacture of a DVD and shipping. You’re easily looking at a $5 increase in your cost to make this reward happen. So, the additional yield is maybe $4. In this sense, the $20 reward level is much more lucrative per dollar given, though people feel often more connected with a physical object that sits on their shelf. We’ve considered different ways to provide objects that are low cost, but still “valuable” to backers.

Ultimately, we care most about backers connecting with us and the project and the money backers provide to the campaign isn’t “paid back” via these rewards until after the production is complete. (Save up some money to fulfill rewards!!!)

Pledge $42 or more – 4 backers
Forty-Two Tesla: A limited-edition physical hand-made mix-tape copy of the score and soundtrack music from the film and $30 reward
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016

Very similar to the above, but we add the handmade cassette copy of the soundtrack. This is special because some of the aesthetic of the film is tied to mix tapes and cassettes. As such, we wanted the opportunity to provide an item that is tied to the content of the film. (We’ll probably also release the movie itself on a dubbed VHS, but we didn’t know that when we did the KS campaign.)

Pledge $50 or more –  20 backers
Fifty Tesla: A VIP ticket to a Boston-area screening of the film (or a special online screening with Directors available for Q&A for those outside of the Boston area) plus the $40 reward. For an extra ticket to the VIP screening, add $10.
Estimated delivery: Oct 2014

Around $50, we think it’s good to offer exclusive access to special events associated with the film. This allows backers to be the very first to see the film and to get to ask questions which ultimately will help us understand what stood out to people and where they got confused to finalize the cut of the movie.

I’d very much like to note that we do not ask for feedback in an open critique sense. We mostly don’t find it valuable, and we’ve come to recognize that compromising any aspect of our vision to meet the requests of a single audience member destroys the integrity of the vision and ultimately will displease someone else. We very often get conflicting feedback. The same thing is usually most loved and most hated. That said, the Q&A is useful because questions demonstrate what people found important and what people missed or found confusing. From the first cut of TEN we showed to our backers to the current cut of the film, we actually ended up cutting about 9 minutes to better hone the message and goals of the film and to remove as much distraction from that as possible.  So, anyone who sees the movie as part of this reward is seeing something that no one else will see.

Pledge $60 or more – 6 backers
Sixty Tesla: 11×17 Movie Poster numbered and signed by cast and crew plus $50 reward.
Estimated delivery: Oct 2014

More special, limited items that do not add much to our production costs.

Pledge $70 or more – 0 backers
Seventy Tesla: A short rap written & performed on video for you by Allix Mortis – celebrate a birthday or special occasion or just being you with a custom rap! Plus $60 reward.
Estimated delivery: Feb 2015

At $70, we started getting into the really unique, custom things that we create for you. Many of these end up not getting selected. A lot of times, people also have a certain amount of money they want to give and they look for rewards in blocks of $25 or $50, so it’s always a good idea to have rewards available at each tier.

While Allix did not rap for this reward, rap skills did make the cut for a later tier. Here’s a preview:

Pledge $75 or more – 3 backers
Seventy-Five Tesla: A t-shirt plus $60 reward.
Estimated delivery: Oct 2014

Another item – a t-shirt. Again, the addition of items that might be sold later is done at “retail” increases in the value of the items. We don’t ask for a $50 increase for a shirt that will sell for $15. That makes people sad.

Pledge $100 or more – 9 backers
One-Hundred Tesla: The cast and/or crew will record a one-take lipsync video to the song of your choosing. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Mar 2016

This is a silly one, but it ends up being one of our most popular rewards. It does take a lot of time, and often set time, which is valuable, to create these, but they are often good mental breaks on set. This is an opportunity to make us do something silly. Here are the MAGNETIC lipsyncs:

TEN lipsyncs: 

We also try to be creative with these. Sometimes they aren’t really just lipsyncs. For example, we may have rewritten “Barbie Girl” to be about the backer, done some interpretive dance, or handwritten all the super-fast lyrics to a hip-hop song.

Pledge $115 or more – 3 backers All gone!
One-Hundred-Fifteen Tesla: We’ve had a lot of requests for opportunities to make cameos. MAGNETIC only has one cast member, BUT, at this reward level, your name (or an imaginary name of your choosing – accepted at our discretion) will be used in one of the phone calls that Alice makes (she’s calling to inform people that their children have died). Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Oct 2014

Appearances in the film are always popular! And again, we try to keep these options affordable, so that people without a ton of money can select them. Just as many of your backers are looking to give you around $50, many of your backers are hoping to give you around $100, so we try to cluster a lot of rewards around the $100-$200 range. It’s a significant amount of money, but also an amount that many people can afford.

We were limited in our film because we have no cameos or secondary roles, so we got creative about finding ways to incorporate people into MAGNETIC. For this reward, your name will be included in a phone call. It’s a little grim as it’s a phone call about a death, but so it goes…

For TEN, we allowed backers in a tier like this to put artwork of their choice into the movie. We had two takers and included a scene where the wonderful Molly DeVon, very much in character, insults the backer! We’re professional like that!

Pledge $125 or more – 5 backers All gone!
One-Hundred-Twenty-Five Tesla: …we will put a polaroid of you in the movie, say your name (or whatever name you’d like your character to have), your scientific position, and why you ultimately perished. We’ll even let you choose a reasonable (i.e., not silly) scientific position. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Mar 2015

Again, as we tend to see a lot of action around the $100-$200 mark, we sold out of all of the film appearances in this previous category, and in this one, which allowed you to have your photograph shown and your name mentioned. Again, no longer alive, but who really is?

Pledge $150 or more – 1 backer
One-Hundred-Fifty Tesla: A copy of the script signed and numbered by cast and crew. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Oct 2014

Limited-edition production script! Good for people in this bracket who don’t want to be listed as dead in the movie. Who wouldn’t though?

For TEN, we ended up giving almost all of our cast scripts to backers via this type of reward tier.

Pledge $151 or more – 1 backer
One-Hundred-Fifty-One Tesla: A Boston-area coffee-date with Sophia and Michael where we talk about whatever you’d like. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Oct 2014

Hang out with us! We’re mostly okay.

Pledge $152 or more – 2 backers Limited (3 left of 5)
One-Hundred-Fifty-Two Tesla: Audio commentary by Sophia and Michael on any movie of your choosing (we must approve the choice – no horrifically gross/violent/misogynistic choices please). We will provide you with an mp3 of commentary. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Oct 2014

Some more “make us do stuff that takes a long time” rewards! We do a special commentary for you on a film. Haven’t done this yet, but it should be interesting. I think we stole this idea from Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys.

Pledge $153 or more – 0 backers
One-Hundred-Fifty-Three Tesla: Acoustic cover song of your choice performed by Sophia and Michael (song will be under 5 minutes and potentially simplified). Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Oct 2014

As we came to film via music, we wanted to offer some musical rewards.

Pledge $178 or more – 0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)
Sophia will paint you something! (your request is up to her discretion, if it is an animal in human clothing, she’s already excited.) You can see examples of her work here: Painting will be acrylic on canvas (size up to 18×24), unframed. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Dec 2014

Even more “make us do stuff that takes a long time” rewards!

Pledge $199 or more – 0 backers Limited (3 left of 3)
One-Hundred-Ninety-Nine Tesla: A 60-minute skype burlesque or drag act development workshop with Allix Mortis. Just starting out in burlesque/drag? Have questions? Have a great idea for a routine but no idea how to execute? Ask Allix! Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Feb 2015

We added the this reward late in the campaign along with a few others that were sort of ways to spark the imaginations of people following along.

Pledge $200 or more – 1 backer All gone!
Two-Hundred Tesla: The portable cassette player used extensively in the film (with a digital still image of a scene it is in and a signed certificate of authenticity). You can choose for it to be signed by cast/crew or not. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Dec 2014


Pledge $201 or more – 1 backer All gone!
Two-Hundred-One Tesla: Film slate used for the movie signed by cast & crew (with a digital still image of the slate in action and a signed certificate of authenticity). Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016

Get a prop from the movie or a piece of the production! With TEN, we gave away all of our pig masks, butcher mask, and other small props as rewards around the $200 level. Some of you own them:

Pledge $202 or more – 0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)
Two-Hundred-Two Tesla: Sophia and Michael will write and record a basic song about any topic you want (within reason!). They’ll write lyrics for you, they’ll use your lyrics, they’ll play on your song…whatever you’d like! (Note: recording done at The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library home studio).Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016

More music, which was what we were more known for. For TEN, we offered a short biographical song upgrade at a pretty low cost and made this:

Pledge $250 or more – 0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)
Two-Hundred-Fifty Tesla: Green vintage Western Electric rotary phone used extensively in the film (with a digital still image a scene it is in and a signed certificate of authenticity). You can choose for it to be signed by cast/crew or not. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016

One of our more expensive props! It’s an actual vintage phone that we used in the movie.

Pledge $251 or more – 3 backers
Two-Hundred-Fifty-One Tesla: Associate Producer credit on the film. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016


Pledge $2,500 or more – 0 backers
Two-Thousand-Five-Hundred Tesla!!!! Executive Producer! You’ll be listed in the main credits and IMDB. We’ll send you rough cuts and progress reports that no one outside the cast and crew will see. We’ll reserve seats for you and introduce you at a premiere event in the Boston area some time in 2016. (travel and lodging not included). Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Mar 2016

I am pulling these out of order, but these probably belong grouped together. Selling producer credits seems controversial in some ways, but the fact is, it’s essentially what has been done forever. The precise roles of specific producer titles is really mostly a mystery, but one idea is that Executive Producers figure out major funding sources, and associate producers figure out minor funding sources. Now, this is not always what people in these roles do, but sometimes it is…for someone else’s perspective, see:

“An associate producer position is usually separated from an executive producer position, though what an associate producer does may often be similar to what an executive producer does. An executive producer often provides funding, acts as an intermediary for a distribution outlet, or simply did one great thing for the producer. An associate producer will likely do regular tasks, though the title is negotiable. For example, if one individual provides a large sum of funding they may request that they are credited as an associate producer credit so that they add this to their filmography. It is these kind of allowances that make it hard to say what an associate producer will do in a production because it is strictly determined by each situation.”

As such, we decided to offer the options to be Executive or Associate Producer for a sum of money. These roles do not include creative control in any form. We kind of expected no one to take us up on the offers, given the costs, but we had a few enthusiastic supporters who really liked the project, thought it had great potential, and wanted an associate credit. We thank them!!!

Other campaigns offer these credits at much lower cost (or much higher cost). It’s really up to the filmmakers to decide what feels appropriate for their campaign. Some people even give some creative control or at least input to these backers.

Pledge $351 or more – 0 backers
Three-Hundred-Fifty-One Tesla: Sophia and Michael will play a 1 hour acoustic concert in your living room, in your car, on your roof, anywhere legal and relatively non-hazardous in the New England/New York City area. To be scheduled at mutual convenience. Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016

We do music stuff!

Pledge $500 or more – 0 backers Limited (3 left of 3)
Five-Hundred Tesla: Michael and Sophia will do a one-day music video shoot for your band (or help with a short film of any kind) in the Boston area (Inquire for videos outside the Boston area. If travel and lodging expenses are covered, it may be possible) and will provide the raw footage to you (we will not do any editing). (Depending on concept, you may also have to pay any additional production costs for props, cast, location, etc.) – some examples of their one-day shoot work: and Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016


Pledge $1,000 or more – 0 backers Limited (3 left of 3)
Thousand Tesla: Michael and Sophia will do a one-day music video shoot for your band (or help with a short film of any kind) in the Boston area (Inquire for videos outside the Boston area. If travel and lodging expenses are covered, it may be possible) and provide a basic final edit (up to 25 hours of editing).Depending on concept, you may also have to pay any additional production costs for props, cast, location, etc. some examples of their one-day shoot work: and Plus $75 reward.
Estimated delivery: Feb 2016

We do film stuff for you!!! We present these higher-cost rewards with the expectation that it’s unlikely that many people will take us up on them. In fact, we did one relatively big project, which evolved from a reward like this in TEN. It was a lot of fun, but certainly also a lot of work!