The Autobiography of Jane Eyre
Project Name: The Autobiography of Jane Eyre
Type of Production/Project: Digital Media (transmedia)
Funding Period: November 2013 to January 2014
Funding Target: $5,000
Funds Raised: $11,176 (224% of target)
Number of Contributors: 263
Average Contribution: $42.49
The Autobiography of Jane Eyre (AoJE) is a modern day transmedia adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, Jane Eyre, set in Vancouver, BC. Once the creators Nessa Aref and Alysson Hall decided to move ahead with the project, the pair set about building a production team made up of fellow recent graduates and students from the Greater Vancouver Area. These students were looking to break into the entertainment industry and needed to gain experience.
The idea for the series was inspired by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a popular transmedia series based on the Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, created by Hank Green and Bernie Su. In AoJE, the title character is even a self-proclaimed fan and follower of Lizzie Bennet, who she claims inspired her to start her own vlog, the central story-telling vehicle for the series. In addition to the vlog, which airs on YouTube, Jane and other main characters in the story have personas on a variety of social media platforms (e.g. Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram) where fans of the series can follow and interact with them (or watch them interact with each other). The story and characters are further developed through these secondary channels and they keep the audience engaged between episodes of Jane’s vlog. The AoJE team also engages its audience outside the story via their official out-of-story social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook.
The Crowdfunding Story
The AoJE project was initially launched with strongly managed expectations and a “let’s do it and see what happens” attitude, which meant that it was also launched without any established budget. The objective of the project was to bring a great idea to life and provide concrete experience and some real production credits to the students and recent graduates on the team. Having no budget meant that every cost related to the production—from the production team’s time, to actors, to sets, costumes, props and equipment--was either provided on a pro-bono basis or paid for out of pocket by the producers and other team members.
When the team completed about half of the projected number of episodes for the series, they had exhausted all their resources and needed to find funding in order to be able to complete the series with the level of production quality they had established and their fans had come to expect. And so their journey into crowdfunding began.
What the AoJE team did not expect was to develop such a strong a loyal following. Indeed, they had amassed over 1000 subscribers/followers before the crowdfunding campaign even launched. While this might be impressive for a nascent web series without a budget, the project simply did not have the level of viewership necessary to pique the interest of other funding sources such as sponsorships. So, the team chose to go in the direction of crowdfunding where they could leverage their existing fan base of loyal supporters and where the quality of the content could speak for itself to garner support; if the content is good enough people will want to support it, after all.
The AoJE team knew that they could make a very small budget go a long way and felt confident that they would be able to reach their modest $5,000 goal. It also helped that several team members had previous experience with crowdfunding, making the group confident that they knew exactly what to do (and what not to do) in order to be successful. The team at AoJE also felt certain that their existing fan base was devoted to the project and would want to help ensure it was completed, either by directly contributing or by promoting the campaign.
And they couldn’t have been more right. Not only did the campaign successfully meet the initial funding goal, but it did so on the first day and surpassed it within the first weekend. In the end, the campaign managed to raise over $11,000, roughly two and half times what the team at AoJE originally set out to raise.
Keeping the audience engaged and motivated
One of the strategies that the AoJE team used from the get-go in their campaign design was to have special group incentives, in addition to the individual incentives being offered, that would be unlocked when the campaign reached certain funding milestones. The team prepared a series of bonus content videos—including behind-the-scenes footage and additional in-story content. Knowing how dedicated their fans were to the series, the team knew their fans would be motivated by the prospect of additional content not only to contribute to the campaign, but to contribute more and to promote the campaign to their own networks in order to reach the next funding milestone and unlock the associated video. When they reached their initial funding goal within the first day, however, the AoJE team needed to come up with a new release schedule for the planned incentive videos. They knew that if they released all the originally-planned incentive videos at once, the great momentum behind the campaign was likely to fizzle out. And although they had reached their initial goal, they wanted to see how far the campaign could go—any additional funds would allow them to provide small stipends to the production team and cast, in addition to recouping what the team had invested in out-of-pocket production costs and funding basic production costs for the remaining episodes. The team knew that if they wanted to keep existing fans and new supporters engaged for the duration of the campaign, they needed to stagger the release of the incentive videos even if the initial milestones for their release had already been met on day one.
The team also faced the challenge of developing a new series of additional videos that would be released when the campaign reached certain stretch goal milestones. Continuing to engage supporters with additional content was an important factor in keeping the momentum behind the campaign going, something that is especially challenging when a campaign meets its initial funding goal so quickly. The AoJE team quickly realized how hungry their fans (old and new) were for that bonus content and they knew it would be critical to keep it coming, so that’s what they did.
One reason the incentive videos worked so well to keep the crowd engaged and maintain the campaign’s momentum is that the team at AoJE was very deliberate and thoughtful when it came to choosing the content for those videos. It had to provide the audience with an experience so unique and so exciting that fans would work in whatever way they could to get the campaign to the next funding milestone. To assess what the crowd wanted to see most, the team went straight to the proverbial horse’s mouth: they listened to what their fans were saying on social media. For example, one of the reasons that they chose to include behind-the-scenes content was because fans had previously asked for it and had responded very positively to previous releases of behind-the-scenes content. Moreover, the team knew that real, candid behind-the-scenes content is quite rare in the film and TV industry – an industry that typically keeps the raw production process well hidden. They knew the demand was there and they knew it was the type of content that audiences rarely have access to, making it a great strategic choice for the incentive videos.
A success that caught everyone by surprise
The AoJE team already knew that they had a core audience of devoted fans, but what surprised them most about the crowdfunding campaign was just how dedicated and passionate those fans were. The crowdfunding campaign had given their fans something to rally behind (other than the show itself). And all of a sudden their fans had a voice, a loud one at that. Part of the reason for the campaign’s great success stems from the fact that AoJE fans rallied and took it upon themselves to share and promote the campaign on behalf of AoJE. No one expected the audience to react so strongly, but in the end everyone was rewarded by the enthusiastic response—AoJE got extra budget and fans got extra content.
Ultimately what made the campaign such a great success is what made a small, no-budget, independent, largely-student-produced transmedia project successful to begin with: a well-engaged, passionate audience. What AoJE has done well from the get-go is to engage their audience in authentic ways and draw them into both the fictional world and the real-world production process. The team always felt it was very important to present themselves as real people behind a great project, not as a neutral external entity. They work hard to make sure that their out-of-story interactions with their fans are real and authentic and above all accessible. But they also make sure to interact with their fans in authentic ways in-story to engage them as much as possible in the fictional world and provide a richer experience.