[This article was originally posted elsewhere, but I deleted that... so it's here now. It was originally written in September of last year while our Kickstarter campaign was running. A lot has changed since then (the Kickstarter was a success and the film is currently in post-production), but the basic sentiment about the worth of Kickstarter remains. Although the campaign is over, we have set up a Paypal for anyone who wants to donate and receive the rewards. More information on that can be found here.]
I'm making a short film with my friend and co-director Gerard Chamberlain. It's called Reel, will feature crazy martial arts action, and I think it's going to be really cool. But almost as cool as the film is the way we've decided to fund it: Kickstarter. If you'd like to read more about the film, I encourage you to check out our Kickstarter page. But this isn't about Reel. It's about our decision to ask friends, family, and total strangers alike to help us pay for it.
When Gerard first approached me with the idea for Reel – one sparked by a conversation we had had months prior – he told me he wanted to do a Kickstarter. It's a sentiment I've heard from a lot of different people, and I can't help but feel like it's turned into something of a cliche. Instead of being a new and interesting way to put yourself and your work out there, it's become just another avenue for filmmakers, wannabe or otherwise.
But the thing that makes Kickstarter so compelling isn't the money but the community. The money's nice (and the point, at least in the short term), yet it's the way that every person who puts down money becomes invested in your project that makes it so unique. Not invested in a literal sense but an emotional one. Even putting down just $1 for some Ethereal Appreciation and overly long backer updates written at an ungodly hour is a sign that a person cares about the project in some small way. Or maybe they're just curious. On Kickstarter, that $1 satiates curiosity. But it's not until $5 that a backer receives anything of any value. And even then, it's just their name on a website.
But those people are every bit as important as the people who back us in return for actual goods, tangible or otherwise. Everything we do is for them.
Kickstarter is about transparency. While the Criterion Collection continues to set the gold standard for quality special features, for many they are going the way of the dodo. Digital downloads rarely come with behind-the-scenes featurettes (although increasingly studios have turned to YouTube for that purpose). But even then, these things are heavily packaged and often don't really give a sense of what the process is like.
Kickstarter is about that process. And that's why Kickstarter is brilliant. It gives you the chance to be boring and talk about heavily technical things only four people in the world care about. Anyone who isn't interested can skip it, but those four would appreciate it. And since those four are vital to the process (whether they pledge $1 or $10,000), writing for them is worthwhile. Creating an epic video featurette probably wouldn't be. It probably wouldn't even be worth the cost of lawyer's input on the end result.
We don't have lawyers. We simply have the desire to create, and the desire to involve other people in our creation. And we did it right from the start. In our pitch video, we showed an unedited fight scene. No camera angles, cuts, or sounds. It's just two guys doing their thing. I'm very happy with the result, and it was the result of hours and hours of practice. In the video, I said that this was pulling back the green curtain, and it's exactly that kind of thing that appeals to me. As a creator, I can bring that to anyone and everyone who's interested. And we can discuss how the fights progressed throughout pre-production and into the actual shooting of the scenes. That's exciting, because I'd love to see more of that kind of thing. I believe that's true for others as well.
And sure, money mattered when choosing Kickstarter specifically. Indiegogo, Kickstarter's closest rival, allows for flexible funding (as opposed to Kickstarter's all-or-nothing approach), though projects on Indiegogo are also much more likely to fail than those on Kickstarter. The flexible funding approach is beneficial in some ways (you get some money no matter what), but detrimental in others (less urgency can backfire and bring in fewer overall backers). Plus, we worked and reworked our pitch for weeks before submitting it to Kickstarter and believed that we could pass their approval without much trouble. Plus, Kickstarter's curation adds an air of legitimacy to the whole thing. (We decided to host our videos on Vimeo rather than YouTube for a similar reason, minus the curation.)
Even so, the decision to crowdfund wasn't just a matter of money, as nice as that is. We turned to Kickstarter because it was exciting. It excites us as creators and we hope that it excites others as potential backers. Although it's becoming increasingly mainstream, for every crowdfunding success story there are numerous failures. It's a risk we were willing to take, and one we wanted to take. We've jumped headfirst into the deep end of the pool, and we're taking everyone in with us.