To Kickstarter or not to Kickstarter, that is the question.
If you know me you know I have rather strong opinions about Kickstarter. But any industry-insider you talk to is saying it’s “The Future.” Of course it is, right? Because while people think they’re sticking it to “The Man” (the studios) by funding what THEY want made, “The Man” is laughing all the way to the bank because they will be collecting profits on a movie they didn’t have to fully invest in! (Warner Bros. and Veronica Mars.)
The thing is, there are still relatively few large projects that have gone this route: David Fincher’s THE GOON, Rob Thomas’ VERONICA MARS, and Zach Braff’s WISH I WAS HERE to name a few. I even accept the argument that high profile projects alert the larger public to the crowdfunding site itself. More traffic could mean more projects funded. However, I’d like to point out that we haven’t seen how any of these projects actually do in the market place.
I don’t agree with it totally because I don’t think you should make the fans pay to have it made, and also pay to go see it in theaters or buy the DVD (or music, or game, or software, or whatever you’re Kickstarting)… This is amplified by the fact that “Backers” don’t even have a chance to earn their investment back. ***I’m aware that this may change in the future and that makes me happy. But then again, when was it ever smart to invest in a movie without so much as reading the script?***
Fine. But is there a place for Kickstarter in the world of telling stories with moving images? Could I, an indie filmmaker with stories to tell, use it to make them a reality? Let’s investigate:
I’m currently in the early stages of putting together a short film of the “To be or not to be” speech from Hamlet. Not only do I have a different take on the character and the speech, one that has not been done by any of the amazing men to act the role in film, but I actually have a desire to spread Shakespeare to a wider audience. Shakespeare could be given single handed credit for getting me involved in this crazy industry in the first place (okay, he may have to share credit with my high school drama teacher).
On a shoe string budget I need about $5,000 to get this 4 page script shot. Why not go to Kickstarter? Let’s look at both sides:
* Kickstarter wants me to give rewards to those who back me. Usually a bunch of stuff that doesn’t mean shit to anyone unless you’re famous: Signed scripts, a ‘thank you’ in the credits, a cast photograph, T-shirts, hats, etc. Kickstarter tells you to add up this cost and tack it to the amount you are trying to raise. That means backers are paying for their own unwanted crap and all it did was raise the amount I needed to make my movie.
* Kickstarter takes a cut of 5% and “Payment processing fees” are 3-5%. So now I need to add 8-10% plus the cost of “rewards” to the goal amount. (For those of you doing the math Kickstarter made over $285,000 on the Veronica Mars deal. How many $1, $10, $35, and $50 backers were simply used to pay Kickstarter? That’s NOT including the other 3-5% for processing fees.
* For my $5,000 project it would be about $450 in fees, and let’s bring it up to an even 6K after I design, purchase, and ship my “rewards.” Now a sixth of my entire budget won’t be seen on the screen.
* No matter how great my project is, it doesn’t matter if I don’t have the social reach. I know that if I push a trailer or a short film I want people to watch (and by push I mean annoy the hell out of my friends and family to repost), I know from experience that I can personally get about 1500 views in a week. That is a FREE video. If I was charging people (or even making them sign up for a mailing list) that number would drop DRASTICALLY. These star-fueled Kickstarter campaigns were immediately and continually in the 24 hour news cycle. I don’t have star power. So I have me and who ever I can get to repost. I could spend money for a publicist to help get the word out… but that would cost even more. Let’s say I got a RIDICULOUSLY low quote of $1,000 to help get the word out. Now I need 100 backers to give $10 just to cover the new expense… Okay, maybe Kickstarter is good, but just not good for projects this small? I’m open to this idea, but the number of projects on the site asking for small amounts tells me differently.
* Who is my social reach? My friends and family. Let’s be honest with ourselves – On an indie level that’s who we’re asking to fund our projects. It may not be ALL of the funding you get, but it will be most of it, and it will certainly be your large dollar donors. In that case, why would you want to rob your family and friends of 8-10% of their money and give it to Kickstarter and processing fees? Not to mention the crap rewards you no longer have to worry about. Why not just ask them for the money? The answer is usually because you’re chicken. (I’m ready to argue this with anyone who desires)
* You can’t make a return on a short film. If you know someone who did, stop before you use it to argue because you know as well as I do that is the exception to the rule. In fact, it’s closer to winning the lottery. Kickstarter could be a place where it’s not about the money. In my case, maybe someone who loves Shakespeare and wants to promote Shakespeare in a new and sexy way to attract young fans to the Bard will find my campaign and back me.
* If you don’t play the lotto you can’t win the lotto. This model (or something very close to it) seems to be exactly the direction the movie business is headed. Get in now and be an early adopter.
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Wow, that seems to be a lopsided argument. A knock-out. Then why my dilemma? That’s what makes Kickstarter so appealing… I have a story to tell, and I don’t have enough money to tell it. I’m possibly open to compromising my belief system to tell my stories. I have no idea what I’ll do.
What would you do in my shoes? Are my thoughts wrong? Why do you love or hate Kickstarter? I’d love to have this conversation with you in the comments below. In the immortal words – “To be or not to be, that is the question.”