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Interview with Kickstarter’s Yancey Strickler: ‘It’s Understandable that Filmmakers Would Feel Anxiety’

Interview with Kickstarter's Yancey Strickler: 'It's Understandable that Filmmakers Would Feel Anxiety'

When Spike Lee defended himself against the original critics of his Kickstarter campaign, he mentioned that Kickstarter heads Perry Chen and Yancey Strickler had explained to him why celebrities on Kickstarter weren’t bad for less well-known creators.  In fact, as the story goes, they bring more people to the platform and more money circulates to creators as a result.

Over Kickstarter’s history Yancey and his team have felt the need to explain the role of more established creators on Kickstarter (see “Blockbuster Effects” from March 2012, “Who Is Kickstarter For?” from May 2013, and this week’s “The Truth about Spike Lee and Kickstarter.”).  But still complaints are hurled at the Kickstarter heads; there was even a change.org petition launched to keep Hollywood off Kickstarter. (Obama’s site probably isn’t the place to make a complaint.  The petition has only 62 signatures.)

We asked Strickler to do his best to tell us what he thinks is going on when smaller creators see celebrities as competition, eating up their chance at donations. Here’s what he said:

lot of people are complaining that celebrities are taking away
attention — and backers — from lesser-known creators.  Where do you
think this sentiment is coming from, and, as I know you’re all very
hands-on with creators, how are you trying to address it?

certainly view our roles as being the stewards of Kickstarter, pioneers
of this whole thing.  We are constantly working to educate people and
help them understand Kickstarter. Almost five million people have backed
a Kickstarter project.  There are a lot of people that are introduced
through a family member or a neighbor… or Spike Lee. Within some
circles there’s a sense that everyone knows about Kickstarter.  But
that’s not true of everyone.  We’ve been trying to write posts on our
site that help our users frame expectations.  Ultimately, we have a
great vantage point.  We try to be as transparent as we can be. We’re
trying to watch and understand what’s going on, and we’re doing our best
to explain it as it happens.

one thing I don’t see being mentioned when people complain about people
like Spike Lee, Zach Braff or “Veronica Mars” on Kickstarter is the
reasons that people might want to support these campaigns.  These three
campaigns were all successful, people wanted to support them.  What is
the voice of the supporter saying?

different person-to-person within a campaign.  Kickstarter’s a mix of a
lot of different things.  It’s sometimes about patronage.  [Justin, a Kickstarter publicist] wrote a blog post, “Kickstarter before Kickstarter,”
where he talks about the first English translation of “The Iliad” by
Alexander Pope.  That was Kickstarter before Kickstarter.  The only
difference is there was no internet and the patrons were all rich.  

a value exchange in every pledge to a project.  It’s why we require
every project to offer rewards, a copy of the comic, the film… that’s
always there.  We have this concept that Kickstarter is not a store.
 This is not like going to Best Buy.  There’s a process here.  You’re
going to be privy to it, and sometimes the process is going to be
rockier than other times.  But this is far more interesting.  This
experience goes far beyond getting something. 

funny — I’ve seen a number of people asking for more info about what
Spike Lee’s movie is — this kind of information didn’t used to be
shared. Kickstarter is so much more transparent.  With a Kickstarter
campaign, you know who the author of that thing is.  You know what the
DP of this movie looks like.  You know who designed that thing, and you
know what factory is being used to produce it.  These are things that
didn’t happen before. If we could wind back the clock five years, we
would see a very different world when it comes to the way we relate to
art and culture.

what do you think is really causing all of these creators to be nervous
about how the scale of the largest projects on Kickstarter is changing?

understandable that filmmakers would respond with some anxiety, just
because most of the technological developments that have happened for
the past 10 or 15 years have not worked out well for artists.  I think
people are conditioned to view these things with anxiety — I think what
is happening with Kickstarter is very different.  This is a windfall
for everyone.  Everyone benefits from this system being more well-known.
 “They’re using the same thing Spike Lee used?? Cool!  That’s legit.”  

reason Kickstarter exists is to help bring creative projects to life.
We see no conflict with these types of projects. I do feel frustrated
when I see people within the film world be critical of Spike Lee or Zach
Braff seeking alternative funding.  They know how much the universe has
changed. This isn’t the ’70s when filmmakers like Robert Altman could
get whatever they wanted made. That piece on Indiewire by Dan Mirvish,
about why indie film is not a great investment — was a really
fascinating article with some difficult truths.  The world is very
different.  We can see that with Ted Hope going to the San Francisco
Film Society.

projects are hard to get funded because they’re rarely good
investments. The point of art isn’t to make money, it’s to have
something exist and have other people appreciate it. Kickstarter exists
so projects can find funding just because people like them and want to
see them exist. Spike Lee’s project is a great example of that.

So how did Spike Lee get in touch with you?  He’s always talking about what you and Perry told him.

Lee walked in the front door same as everybody else.  A guy who worked
for him sent a letter to customer service, he said Spike’s interested in
Kickstarter, is there someone that can help?  I lead the communications
team, outreach is a part of that.  And so I spoke with him.  I work
with creators a lot, answering whatever concerns are there.  It’s by far
the most fun thing I get to do.  We’re really excited to do that.

you think that at the heart of it people feel uncomfortable asking for
money, and that might be part of what makes people skeptical of the
whole thing working out, especially now that big players are on it?

might think it’s too good to be true.  We said this in the Zach Braff
post:  The world is structured in a way that says when someone’s winning
someone else must be losing. But this isn’t true — Kickstarter is
its own creative universe.  Kickstarter is one of the most sincere,
friendly places on the Internet.  That makes it vulnerable and open to criticism.  It’s like you’re showing a cape to the Internet to come chase.  

growth of Kickstarter over the past four years has changed things.  The
act of artists reaching out directly to their communities is something
that has become completely normalized and socialized. Not quite yet at
the highest ends of the spectrum, which is why you see this conflict.
But the promise of the internet for some time was that, post-Napster,
we’d all be able to directly support the artists we love. That wasn’t
true until now. Kickstarter is that. It’s the first time that’s happened
— clearing that bar, making it socially acceptable, and doing it
outside of the merch table. I think it’s one of the most important
things Kickstarter has done.

speaking of those widgets, there are new technologies like Flattr that
try to do facilitate this.  Do you think Kickstarter is the first of
many new technologies that will help solve the problem of creators not
getting fairly compensated for their work?

a philosophical hurdle that got cleared — nothing comes to mind that’s
really doing the same thing right now.  I just feel that it’s a
conceptual leap that has happened.  It’s something I’m excited for.  The
idea behind Kickstarter is arguably centuries old — this is Mozart,
Beethoven and Medici.  We took it, built a bunch of mechanics around it.
 We built this thing that is being copied by everyone so that people
could make creative things.  The goal is for more things to be created.
We’re excited to see where it goes.

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