How Sarah Outen planned her film Kickstarter

On 1 April 2011, British rower and adventurer Sarah Outen set off in her kayak from London. Her aim was simple: to circle the globe entirely under her own steam - cycling, kayaking and rowing across Europe, Asia, the Pacific, North America, the Atlantic and eventually home. It took her five years to complete that mission.

She returned home not just with epic stories to tell but also with many hours of video footage. Now she is raising money via crowdfunding to enable her to make the film of her journey. At the time of the interview, her Kickstarter was still open. It closed with £42,093 pledged of £40,000 goal, from 732 backers. 

This is the story of the planning behind her Kickstarter. 

The interview answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.


You were filming during the course of the expedition. When did you sit down and work out how you actually were going to fund the making of that film?

I always knew that I wanted to make a film. It was much like the rest of the expedition - we’ll try multiple approaches and see what works. Before, during and after the journey, we were in talks with various production companies and channels. We had some approaches and offers and plenty of rejections!

I had this strong sense - I’m not going to give away my journey to the wrong person. I need the story to be told with justice, I want a really beautiful piece of documentary to come out of it. If the right person does not come along, we will make it ourselves. That’s the situation we are in now. 

I came out of the journey with debt and I am still paying that off now. I can’t remember when crowd funding became popular, various pals of mine have made films that way. It feels like a good way to do our film. Front the money through lots of people putting in little bits. The journey happened like that as well. It was not just one sponsor, it was lots. 

Before we dig into the Kickstarter itself, what would the right offer have looked like?

A mix of financial value and enough involvement from me to feel like my values were reflected. It would have been great to have had an offer from a broadcaster, in terms of the reach and professional support. Equally, some of my friends have had TV films of their journeys and they were really frustrated by the butchery that was done to them. 

When it became clear that there were no offers that made sense, I put the film on the back burner while I got the book out of the way, because I had a contract for that.

How did you link up with Jen Randall? 

Jen is quite late to the project. On the journey there was never a film maker in for that role and that role alone. I was watching Operation Moffat, one of Jen Randall’s films, about two years and I thought, ‘right, she is the person that I want!’  I love the style, the humour, the authenticity and creativity of her films. When she told me that her way of telling stories is to pull them apart and upside down, I knew I wanted her onside.

"To me Sarah embodies the curiosity and joy that is the real heart of adventure - she does it because she loves it, and isn't afraid to express that. But beneath the love of the ride is a fierce determination and grit that see her through situations most of use wouldn't even consider... often solo. As a character I was behind Sarah and her story from the get-go. Then when she sent me some of her footage I knew I had to get on board with this project, such a beautiful variety of people, landscapes and experiences that she tirelessly captured. I'm so excited to tell this story with such a firecracker at the heart of it."
- Jen Randall
Jen Randall and Sarah Outen.

Jen Randall and Sarah Outen.

How many hours of footage do you have?

I don’t know yet, I have not been through them all. That is a job for me to sort out in the next couple of months. For me to hand that over to Jen as the editor, it needs to make a bit more sense than it probably does right now. 

How much of that footage have you ever allowed to be shown by other people?

Not very much. Justine Curgenven [a filmmaker, and Sarah's partner on the kayaking legs] made some short films of the kayaking. Part way through the journey I made a few films and then I realised I had so much other stuff to do, it to wait. There is plenty of stuff that has not been seen by anybody probably. 

In the last few weeks I have been going back through finding clips for Jen - it has been really powerful to be transported back to the moment

This is mostly footage that you shot yourself?

Yes, probably 90% of it was shot by me. One of my regrets is that we did not get more shot by external sources, but at the time, that was not the priority and the funding was not there. 

Why did you decide to use the Kickstarter platform?

Most of the folks that I know who have crowdfunded films have gone via Kickstarter. Jen has been really pleased with the way that Kickstarter operated and the support they gave her when she crowdfunded Psycho Vertical.

Psycho Vertical is creative documentary based on climber and writer Andy Kirkpatrick's best selling auto-biography. In mid-2016 Jen raised £18,697 on a £17,500 goal on Kickstarter, from 386 backers.

Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform. If you don’t reach your target, you don’t get any of the money. Why not use a platform where you get whatever has been pledged?

We thought that maybe people would be more compelled to pledge if they see that you only get it if you reach your target

Do you have a strategy if you turn out to be close but you are not going to make it in your 24-day time limit?

I don’t know. My brother has said that he is prepared to top it up for us and I might have to pay him back to get us over the line. We will see. Reading about projects and talking to other folks that have done it, I understand that there is often the model of spike, plateau, and spike. 

Even though we are plateaued at the moment, we are still getting money coming in. I am confident that the final ten days, seven days, four days, there will be a spike. Hopefully it is enough to get us over the line. 

Sarah Outen Crowdfunding title.jpg

Your current overall budget is £60,000. How did you reach that figure, and how did you decide to go after £40,000 in the Kickstarter?

 We sat down for a couple of days in summer and basically categorised the whole process, the final production, and post production. Just like I do for any other budget. What do we need? What do we have already? Plus a bit of contingency, plus Kickstarter fees. 

Then we split that whole figure down, because we need more than 40k to make the film. We set ourselves a target of getting external sponsors that would not have to go through the Kickstarter machine, because you lose out fees and commission. 

We took a while to settle on the split between Kickstarter and external funding. I suppose when we reach the 28th October, we will find out if we got split right. 

From the budget section of the Kickstarter page:
We've already both invested personal funds and time and are securing further outside backing - this Kickstarter campaign is the final push to bring it to completion.  Your pledges will pay for:  production, direction and editing time, composition of score and licensing, sound mixing, travel expenses and insurance for the overseas stuff, studio hire,  marketing and Kickstarter rewards and fees.

Are these external sponsors already in place or will you go after them once you know you have secured the Kickstarter? 

We have got £10,000 of external sponsorship already. That is split between two sponsors and I am in talks with about another six organisations that I have worked with before. Hopefully we can secure another two at £5,000 so we get that £20,000 presenting sponsor tier filled. 

My experience is that costs only ever rise, so it could be that we are topping up at the end. We are keen to look at finishing funding - there are various grant organisations, some of them run through film festivals, where you can apply for top-up funding to help you finish a film. 

What do the £5,000 sponsors receive for their investment?

It is about exclusivity and visibility. It is bespoke to a degree, but within a framework. They are going to be presenting sponsors. Each sponsor will get the screen to themselves for a few seconds at the start and at the end. They will also get exclusive content and showings for themselves and product placements, if that makes sense. 

So far all the sponsors have been involved in the journey anyway, so their stuff is throughout the film. For one of the organisations, which is a charity where I am an ambassador, I will go and spend a certain number of days with the schools that they work with

Sarah Outen rowing Happy Socks.jpg

How much work did you do planning the Kickstarter before launching?

It was quite a lot of work, not just in mobilising the base but also in preparing the whole package. Thinking about our rewards, our story, how we are going to present that. Planning and shooting the film. 

Mobilising the base, that started long ago in just talking about making a film. In the weeks preceding the launch, we were getting in touch with folks, saying we are about to launch this, hopefully we can count on your support.

There is certainly more this week, because in recognising that peak, plateau, peak pattern, I am lining up various interviews and publicity that are going to go out over the final ten days. 

How did you decide on your different pledge levels and what you would be giving?

I try and think about the audience, who they are and how they have supported me before. Also you are going to have some people coming in that are totally new to the project. Looking at other Kickstarter projects, it seemed advisable to keep the number of rewards relatively small - I think we have got eleven at the moment. Having something that everybody can engage with, definitely some things at a lower level but equally making sure that it is worthwhile pledge after Kickstarter fees. 

I put my kayak from my expedition in there, that is gone. We had everything from… I think we are in for £18 for the film right up to the kayak which went for £1,250. The average Kickstarter pledge seems to be about £30. We have got quite a few offerings in that 30 to 45 level of engagement. 

We have looked at what has been really popular and changed the availability on some of them. I didn’t think that anybody would want a paddle and a picnic with me but we have sold over ten now, so I will keep adding those.

Some of them involve costs in their own right, like the mug and the book. There is the cost of production and posting?

Yes, that has all been factored in. Hopefully we have got those calculations right.

Dare To Do book.jpg

You are offering copies of your book Dare To Do. That was done with a traditional publisher, does that mean that you have to buy copies of your book back at the author’s discount?

Yes, which is quite expensive; I buy books at half price, so sometimes it could be almost cheaper to get them from Amazon. It is about £5 a book for me.

Who is working with you running the Kickstarter?

It is just me and Jen. We touch base with each other every few days.  Then it is about mobilising our army of supporters - fellow adventuring folk, friends and family - writing specific emails to each of them asking them to share the link.  

Last week we put out a couple of 20 second clips from the journey. Everybody loves a little bit of video. 

You’ve been chosen as a Project we Love by Kickstarter. What does that mean?

It just means that you get a little badge on your page and you get featured on their Project we Love page. You might think ‘oh that is not very much’, but if you look at all the stats, we have had pledges through that link, and through ‘Discovery’. Maybe 5% of pledges have come just through Kickstarter. People moseying around and thinking‘oh, that looks fun’. Yes, that has been good for us; happy to have that extra boost in the profile. 

In your budget, is there any salary compensation for you and/or Jen for the hours of work that will go into making this film, or are you hoping to make that money back by selling the film in the long run?

We have put money in for ourselves. Before on my projects, I haven’t. On my journey, I pay everyone else, but not myself. With this project initially I said that I did not want anything for me and Jen said ‘I really think you should.’ 

In doing that, I can look at my year ahead and know that I do not have to say yes to every speaking offer that I get. I can be a bit more discerning about it, because there is money coming in each month. 

Your speaking engagements your primary income stream?

Yes they are. I feel like I am in a transition at the moment, in that I am ready to stop telling the story. I’m making the film, maybe there will be another year afterwards of promoting and talking about it. I don’t want to be doing speaking all the time. 

Halfway through the Kickstarter, any lessons learned so far? 

It has been a lot of work in managing it. You are going to spend a lot of time answering emails, posting stuff, answering questions, and so on. It is something to be aware of. 

Also in your rewards, remember that the postage price gets included as part of your Kickstarter total. You don’t want to be faced with a big surprise at the end of it when you realise you cannot honour your offer.

You have 16,000 Twitter followers and 4,000 Facebook likes on your page. How many people do you need to back this for it to work? 

We reckon we need 600 people to back it. I don’t think you have any right to expect backing. I feel really humbled by the fact that more than 300 people have got behind it and probably many more have shared it.

The Kickstarter finally closed with £42,093 pledged of £40,000 goal, from 732 backers. 

Sarah Outen on shore.jpg

Find Jen Randall on the web: