Based on his bestselling memoir of the same name, documentary LIFE ITSELF explores the legacy of film critic Roger Ebert’s life. Directed by Steve James, the film premiered at Sundance in 2014 — exactly 20 years after the premiere of Steve James’ classic HOOP DREAMS. Here, we take a closer look at the campaign used to spread the word about the work, and how crowdfunding played a part.

The objective:

 Use crowdfunding to build community

The solution:

Offer ability for supporters to stream the film at the same time as the Sundance premiere

In addition to raising funds, the LIFE ITSELF campaign was about building audience and community around the film. Steve James’ HOOP DREAMS premiered at Sundance 20 years before LIFE ITSELF, and the community that Sundance represented both for the film, the filmmakers and for Roger Ebert and his family were so important. How can the Internet make the supporters of the film feel like they are part of the community?

The best way to achieve that was to give those 1,500 eligible supporters the chance to watch the film at the exact same time as the Sundance Premiere. They could stream it as many times as they liked for two weeks. After the premiere, fans were treated to a live video Q&A from the filmmakers, courtesy of YouTube. Fans rejoiced.

The screening showed that you can use the Internet to build off the intimate setting of a festival premiere and provide a lift to your existing promotional and marketing efforts. Events like festivals are great at building awareness and interest. Offering your most passionate supporters the ability to participate wherever they are, represents the true value of community on the Internet.

The takeaway: 

Have a clear plan

The producers of LIFE ITSELF knew they wanted to stream the film at the same time as the Sundance premiere, and were very clear with their supporters on Indiegogo how it was going to work. Be prepared for questions about how fans can access the film and for how long. Pairing with a live event means you need to be ready to respond to questions quickly so your supporters don’t feel left out!