For some time now
Shadow and Act has covered many a filmmaker working to raise funds for their
films whether it was for production, post-production, getting their crew to a
film festival, and the like. 
However, it is rare when we get to cover a filmmaker, especially one not
very well known or from one of the top film schools, who not only was wildly
successful in getting their full amount, but also was able to pull out all the
stops in the final days of their campaign to make it happen. 

Meet Rhasaan Nichols. 

A Philadelphia, PA
native and graduate of Yale University, this young man dreamt of being a doctor
most of his life, a dream that carried him through a disadvantaged childhood all the
way up to the Ivy League. But instead of becoming enamored of pre-med life, at
Yale he discovered a love for film and changed his focus from medicine to
movies, developing a niche for documentaries and a yearning to highlight cultural
issues and the human experience through his current production company Nichols
Makes Sense.

Now you may have seen his recent documentary, "Letters to My Sister," a touching film about his little sister Chenee
who was born with cerebral palsy.  For
that film, Nichols received a fellowship from international communications and
advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi at the Martha’s Vineyard
African-American film festival in 2013, which he readily admits helped him
learn to polish his skills as filmmaker and prepared him for his latest film.

“How To Win” centers on Orlando ‘Magic’ Washington, a young
Black high-school senior and veritable genius.  With his whole future laid out for him, what he really wants
is to control his own fate and land the girl of his dreams.  Now with his dream girl finally single,
Magic must navigate the questionable advice of his friends along with his
insecurities, to finally get what he wants.  A personal story to Nichols, the real lesson he wants audiences
to learn are two-fold:  for better or
worse, the real win is in having
the heart to even try, and, that he is eager to tell stories about who he calls “the new
Black man” – not just the media-accepted athlete or a criminal, but kids being
kids growing up to want more than the American dream and think beyond the one
job/one life standard. These are images of Black men being denied in pop
culture. “How to Win” therefore serves as what Nichols calls, “a humanizing re-introduction
of young black from a young man’s perspective. “


While he shot the film over three days in early November
2014, funding it through generosity and a maxing out of his credit cards, he
needed more capital to pay for outstanding production expenses, editing, color
grading, and more intensive post-production, and so his Kickstarter campaign
was launched…and the first 20 days were practically silent.

“I spent 20 days talking to myself and waiting for something
to happen,” says Nichols. “I tagged specific segments of my friends in stories
in order to make them part of my success story, many of which you can see on my
Creative District project page.” But that
wasn’t enough as he quickly entered the home stretch.  Like many other filmmakers, he had read a number of advice
columns on how to do Kickstarter the right way, and thought he could rely on
his inner circle of friends and family to support him after sending out blanket
emails.  All a dud. 

It wasn’t until Nichols was referred to a fellow Yale
graduate, Soma Water founder Michael Del Ponte who was previously successful at
raising $100,000 in nine days, and altered Del Ponte’s guide to suit his own
needs, that he unlocked the somewhat simple yet highly affective rulebook to
land donors.  Nichols then:

1.  created a landing page
links to his social media and the campaign so that people could share his info
all from one place

2. began to use Facebook and
Klout to audit his list of friends to the most personal and influential ones
and invited them to his landing page to help donate and market his film

3.  also wrote several advance
emails, and sent them out through, 1) Boomerang for Gmail, which allows email scheduling,
and 2) Facebook, which his new research showed that most traffic comes to
Kickstarter from.  All of these
were individualized to multiple old friends, compelling them to donate with
various types of absorbing content and personal stories.  Two out of every three friends were
more than willing to donate money to him.

This momentum allowed Nichols
to try riskier approaches, like when he tagged his closest college friends in a
humorous and eye-catching post regarding his never finding true love and
near-obsession with internet personality Ayisha Diaz – a plot that got results.
He was also able to track his results through

All in all, with five hours
left in day 30, Rhasaan Nichols met his $10,000 funding goal.   A huge bonus was his managing to reconnect with many old classmates and acquaintances that came up on his
newsfeed, but he didn’t not feel close enough to actually interact with on
social media.  The personal
connection, much like the one many directors aim their film audiences will
achieve when viewing their work, was and will continue to be the key to
Nichols’ success. 

Make sure to watch the trailer
for “How To Win” below and visit the “How To Win” Kickstarter page for more information. 
And keep up with Rhasaan Nichols on Instagram at Saan0149 and his film endeavors.  You will indeed soon see him at a film
festival near you.