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In this blog series, we explore with you the various ways in which collectives and individuals have financed their projects. This week we speak to Phenomena Collective, consisting of three photographers, Sara Galbiati, Peter Helles Eriksen and Tobias Selnaes Markussen. Their project Phenomena explores the modern American UFO evidence, through the eyes of believers and witnesses. Here they talk about how they funded their book.

Could you tell us about your project Phenomena?

Phenomena is an investigation of the belief in UFO’s and extraterrestrial life. We travelled across Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico to try and understand not only what makes people believe in aliens, but also what it takes to create a belief system.

We met as many people as possible and interviewed them with an open mind. It was important that we refrained from judgement; we wanted to give people the benefit of the doubt. In the US there is a lot of statistical data that there is life beyond earth. We added statements from NASA and facts about the universe to show how people connected their beliefs and interpretations to science and evidence. Laying a foundation of critical sources was a way for us to give credibility to this phenomenon; the project is not about finding the truth or proving whether there is life out there or not, we wanted to share our curiosity and document people and their beliefs.

Why did you fund Phenomena through Kickstarter?

Initially, we set out to explore our ideas, to see where the project was going to take us and hopefully get the funding we were looking for but we knew we couldn’t take anything as granted. Kickstarter created a community of support for our project and gave us a sense of perspective on what we were doing. Having a group of people that were interested early on in the process confirmed that we were on the right track.  We had to communicate about what we were doing and this forced us to have discussions about what the work is about and how we were going to convey that to people all around the world who had never seen it before. When we started to see donations from Britain, Australia, South America, it not only allowed us to see where our audience was but it also gave us the motivation to continue.

When we launched the campaign we were already editing the book and planning an exhibition in Ireland. Having feedback from a community of crowd funders made clear what we wanted to achieve with the book and exhibition. The editing process became more efficient and the campaign helped us to discuss things we may not have thought of, had we not done the Kickstarter campaign.

Besides Kickstarter helping to fund our work, it was a great tool for marketing and distribution. It created a direct line to a new audience. During the campaign, we got a lot of unexpected attention from American media who had been browsing for stories on Kickstarter and our project even got picked up by CNN. At one point we reached the most popular project within the photography category on Kickstarter and so people who were just browsing the platform would see our project being featured. Around an eighth of our supporters came directly from the crowd funding community and the whole project became a lot more successful than we could have dreamt of because of Kickstarter.

Were you supported by any other sources of funding and what were they?

We received a couple of different grants from national art institutions in Denmark and publishers from the South of France.

How did you create your Kickstarter campaign?

First of all, we had a plan.  We were really surprised by how much work we had to put into the campaign to make sure that it happened. It takes tonnes of planning beforehand and you have to know where to publish what and when. We designed our whole month of kick-starter/crowd funding beforehand and knew every small step we had to take to achieve our goal.

We had the help from two interns, one made the video for the campaign and another researched and designed our strategy prior to the launch of the campaign. We put together a timeline so we knew what we had to do, how it would work and be communicated. This included planning stories such as behind the scenes updates of us editing the book and information on our exhibition in France that would make people feel involved on social media and build interest around the work. It’s like writing a play or film; you need to make that narrative work.

It was important to make the campaign personal and relatable; people need to feel like they invested in something worthwhile and they need to like you. You want to tell people ‘We’re building this community and we want you to be part of it.’ We had all these updates at critical points saying that we reached so much percent and we followed the campaign analytics. When people can see your progress and you have reached 50% of your goal in a third of the time it encourages more people to jump on board and be part of the community and story you are creating. Kickstarter isn’t just about raising money, it's a look into someone else’s workspace, someone else’s mind, and someone else’s whereabouts. Creating that narrative was crucial to keep up the enthusiasm and the positive energy throughout the process.

Did you ever find the process of Crowd-funding ever changed what you were trying to create?

No. In our case, we already shot the project and we already did a dummy for the book. We had been working on the project for years and we were going through the final phase of editing for the book and exhibition. For us, it was a helpful tool to understand and refine what we were doing. 

What advice would you to anyone that is planning to fund in this way?

Just be aware that it is a brilliant tool but it also takes a lot of effort to be successful. It really surprised us how much time we had to put in to keep the flow of communication throughout the campaign.  Start planning way ahead and create a timeline and narrative before you go into it. Keep a calendar and put in things on each day to stay organised. You have to think of all these things otherwise its not going to happen. If you just jump into it and think, okay I’m just going to do it day by day and keep the flow going, you will be overwhelmed by the amount of material you need to put out there to keep that momentum going.

You have to really analysis your product. Let's say it’s a Photobook – think about how it will be presented and figure out what kind of rewards you want to give to your donors. We didn’t only sell the book we sold tote bags, t-shirts and postcards and prints. Create a pricing structure and consider what will sell to whom. You have to make nice mock ups of each product. If the campaign is running for one month you should spend at least 3 weeks preparing. It’s a good investment to be well prepared.

Get inspiration from other people's efforts. Look into how other campaigns work, how do they present themselves both visually and with written statements and video. Put a lot of effort into the video, when people are browsing you need to catch their attention in the first 10 – 15 seconds.  So spend time on other pages and see where they are failing or succeeding. Look at who is getting funding in the other categories and what they are doing. There are also a lot of guides out there that you can look into. We had this project leader and he did all of this work so maybe the best advice would be to work with others. Charm some of your best friends that can do a video and someone that can plan the project. It's really difficult to be a single photographer publishing a Photobook and funding campaign by yourself. You can benefit from having a team around you to distribute the workload and to keep up the spirit. Try to include more people to cover it.

Read more about Phenomena here.

Image: © Phenomena Collective

Read our other blogs in this series -

Photographers share their funding advice: Interview with Emilia Telese

Photographers share their funding advice: Interview with Simon Bray and Tom Musgrove

Photographers share their funding advice: Interview with Nicola Shipley

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