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Kickstarter – A Blessing or A Curse?

Kickstarter - A Blessing or A Curse?

I recently did an experiment, keeping a tally of how many Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns I was given the “opportunity” to support over a 2 week period. The answer? 11. I’ll tell you why I think that’s crazy in a moment, but first, I’d like to provide a few details into my own filmmaking journey so you can “consider the source”, as wise folks always say.

I started making films in the 11th grade at Columbia High School in Maplewood, NJ. I’m talking about shooting on Super8mm film…developing it myself…editing on a moviola — it was awesome. My 16 year old ideas didn’t require much money, partly because I did not have an allowance or a crew, but they still served to help me learn what I could.

I went to NYU undergraduate film school, making countless projects, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll reference my senior thesis “3D” — a film that starred Kerry Washington, Dorian Missick, Al Thompson, and Charles Parnell and for which I had to raise $24,000. That was quite the jump from my junior year film that cost $700, but it was a helluva intro to fundraising, marketing, and pitching to strangers. I learned that whether you’re asking for $1 or $1000, you better know what you’re talking about and not expect folks to help you out just because they know you or, real talk — are family. I also learned the importance of legal documents after dealing with some shady music business people, but that’s another post too, and of course, Industry Rule #4080.

After taking “3D” to Sundance and several other festivals, I began plotting every filmmaker’s inevitable next step — how to raise money for my feature debut “Premium“. We started with a budget of around $3MM, which turned into $1.5MM, morphed into $750K, and eventually plateaued at $520K. Being neither rich, nor wealthy, the immediate question became, “where we gonna get that dough from, y’all?” This was 22 times more money than my previous project and my network hadn’t really grown any. We had the talented Dorian Missick attached, some great key crew with much more experience than myself, and a commitment to make it happen by hook or crook. But, that didn’t provide a roadmap to raising the money. There was no YouTube or Vimeo. No Kickstarter or Indiegogo. It was 2005. 

So, how did we do it? 

My producing partner, Kevin Frakes, and I put together a thorough business plan that outlined the who, what, why, and how behind all of our choices. We educated potential investors on the filmmaking process, the entertainment industry, and provided a clear answer toward every possible question, especially how the money would be spent and how they would be repaid if they invested. Forbes magazine  eventually profiled me in their investment guide after we reached our funding goal. 

We dedicated just as much effort to compiling a creative package to support the project. Think “Kickstarter Video” before the term ever existed. I produced an electronic press kit (EPK) featuring interviews from key cast and crew I’d worked with on various short films, intercutting clips from them in my work next to say, Dorian in a scene with Hugh Grant from “Two Weeks Notice“. I also made a short film, “Confessions of Cool” designed to set up folks to fully understand the script from page one. I even threw parties, exclusive investor presentations, and brought my laptop into people’s kitchen’s on weekends, walking them through my Powerpoint slides.

All of these things, and many other finer points, combined to help us meet our goal with the help of 35 people. Investments ranged from $5,000 to $100,000, and it made me realize that people do actually want to support, you just have to do your job of shaping the path to a mutually beneficial final result. If you don’t think people are investing in you for selfish reasons, then you should stop reading this right now.

Which brings me back to my point about why those 11 Kickstarter “opportunities” is crazy. I’ve broken it down into 3 areas:

1) Not every artist seems to have asked themselves the straight-up-no-bullshit question, “would I give this project money based off of the presentation that I see here?” I feel safe saying that many of these folks would not. And that’s exactly why I won’t either.

2) Many people seem to be crowdsourcing because it’s there, waiting for foolish friends and family that just might help them make something they wouldn’t otherwise put much effort toward. They’re also not using it to their advantage when thinking about how best to exploit it. It’s no different than the ease of web coding making folks create websites that they wouldn’t otherwise make if it took any real effort and planning. 

3) Not everyone is at a point where they should even be asking for money. No one should receive an email that, at its basic level, is asking another person to pay for their PRACTICE. Have you found your voice? Do you have more than an elementary understanding of film language and storytelling? Have you considered not only the market for your project, but the marketing? Please stop thinking your every whim should be bankrolled by your “network”. Skin in the game is proof of passion and dedication and when it’s not there, it’s more than transparent.

I understand it’s not 2005 anymore. The world has changed and I’m happy about the democratization of all these disciplines. But, as someone who has raised money in the more “hand to hand combat” sense, I look at Kickstarter/Indiegogo with wide eyes as I imagine how much MORE I might have raised for “Premium” had the platform been available to me. It’s not just about checking online to see who pledged how much, it’s about using these crowdsourcing platforms to power a well thought out creative product with a thorough business plan and marketing strategy. It’s there to make it easier to connect with those that might find supporting your project something that aligns with their interests and it makes it possible for folks you’ll never meet face-to-face to contribute with the click of a button. That’s what’s up.

The gatekeepers, to all of our applause, have been removed, “allowing” us to do things never before possible. But, let’s not forget the value of what they provide when politics, race, and nepotism aren’t ingredients in the process. Studios and agents search for material that is well written and fits into the marketplace. Smaller production companies do the same, oftentimes with more of a focus on niche markets and more challenging material. Both work to get the best talent on board, develop the script to its best draft, and harness the power of their dollar to make sure the world knows a project is in the pipeline and folks should be excited!

Before you decide to swipe that Visa at B&H Photo and cop yourself a videocamera, computer, and editing system, I hope and trust that you will put your project through the same set of gatekeeper checks and balances to ensure that you are not diving in before it’s ready. There’s no glory in volume if the shit ain’t tight. And there’s no such thing as a beta version of film. When it’s made, it’s made, and you will be judged. Oh how I know, lol.

The point of this all is not to attack. I hope there are some worthy nuggets that can be applied to your own projects, but also shared with anybody who might be hitting you up for a contribution but maybe isn’t quite ready themselves. Don’t just mumble under your breath, “here we go, another mutha…“. If you know them, let them know, and tell them you’re here when it’s time.

Personally, Candice Sanchez McFarlane and I are about to embark upon the fundraising/producing journey again with our heist script “$FREE.99” and I invite you to check in here on Shadow & Act regularly as I provide a window into the upcoming process. 

The world is a better place with more stories in it — but there are two missing words from this sentence.

The world is a better place with more stories TOLD WELL

Let’s make it happen.

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