The Importance of Video

Kickstarter projects aren’t required to have videos, but we highly recommend it. Video is the best way to communicate the emotions, motivations, and character of a project, and the sincerity and seriousness of the creator. It’s also more fun. Whenever I click on a project only to see there’s no video, I’m immediately disappointed. The project feels less complete, and it’s easier to question someone’s commitment to their idea.

These assumptions are supported by the numbers. Of the nearly 1,000 projects that have completed funding so far, projects with videos have had a success rate of 54% while ones without have had a success rate of 39%. A striking difference.

Of course it’s not the presence of a video alone. It stands to reason that creators who took the time to create and upload a video probably put more time into other parts of their project as well. And of course plenty of projects with video have not been successful — just having something there isn’t enough.

A number of projects have been particularly imaginative with their videos and storytelling. One of these is Kali Holloway’s Live Wrong and Prosper. (Full disclosure: Kali is my girlfriend but I had zero to do with her video.) Kali’s project is to turn her game of asking people what awful, ridiculous things they would do for $1,000,000 into a self-published party book.

For her video, though, Kali doesn’t talk about the book at all. Instead she and a friend walked around Brooklyn doing man-on-the-street interviews with random people asking them what they would do for cash. Take a look:

The video does a couple of things: it clearly conveys the essence of the idea without spelling it out, and it shifts the focus from the idea itself to Kali’s dedication to the idea. It’s humiliating to stand on a street corner and ask people questions; Kali’s willingness to subject herself to this makes her project all the more endearing.

A good video can also make you care about a project you never would have before. Karl Cronin’s Somatic Natural History Archive of the USA is one of those. The title is a challenge (what does that even mean?) until you watch his amazing video. The premise is that Karl is a choreographer working on dances/poses/movements that will evoke, imitate, and celebrate 10,000 different plants and animals found in the United States. Which sounds… weird. Until you watch the clip itself.

A regular challenge I see in project videos is how to approach rewards. How important is it to walk people through every tier and option versus letting people see it for themselves? Once people begin counting down each and every reward most of the time I’m reaching for the stop button. But there have been a couple of exceptions: Allison Weiss’ project (she was the first to do the reward walk-through) and Ben Hicks’ Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time. I won’t spoil Ben’s joke, but he very cleverly shares his reward options in the clip. I wouldn’t have pledged to his project without it.

There are many more of these of course, and we’ve covered some before here on the blog. I’d love to hear what videos have convinced you to back or at least take a second look. And if you’re a creator thinking about making a video of your own, definitely read Robin Sloan’s awesome video guide first. It will set you on the right path.

The NY Times Year in Ideas

This past weekend, Kickstarter had the tremendous honor of being included in the New York Times Magazine’s annual Year in Ideas. The article mentioned three specific Kickstarter projects: Allison Weiss makes a record, Emily Richmond sails around the world, and Scott Thomas’ Designing Obama. All three do a fantastic job of exemplifying Kickstarter’s potential — if you’re new to the site, definitely check those out. And don’t forget to play around on the Discover Projects page, too.

The Degenerate Craft Fair -- Week Two

As Yancey has mentioned, Kickstarter was recently asked to participate in the Degenerate Craft Fair — a DIY craft-gala taking place at three different locations over the course of three weekends this month. The launch party, which happened last Friday at Silent Barn in Brooklyn,  was a rockin’ success. We met a lot of great people, heard a lot of cool project ideas, and listened to live music from local faves The Beets. We had a great time, and we can’t wait to see what will happen next!

This weeks fair takes place on December 13th at 303 Grand, a revolving store-front/experimental art space in Brooklyn. We’ll be there from 5-10pm with our pals from The Underground Library. The DJ starts at 7pm, and there will be free Brooklyn Brewery beer and mulled wine (hey — it’s cold out!) starting at 8pm. As if you needed an excuse to come hang out!

Can’t wait to see you there (and hear about all your great ideas)!

The Mysterious Letters Aftermath

And then there’s Mysterious Letters, a Kickstarter project from two artists — Michael and Lenka — to mail everyone in the world a personal letter. It began in April with a small village named Cushendall in Northern Ireland, where the letters caused quite a stir (their project video is the BBC news broadcast about it). Then came their successfully funded Kickstarter project and — last week — the article snipped above.

For this second round, Michael (who lives in London) and Lenka (who lives in Pittsburgh) choose Postal Hill, a neighborhood of about 600 in Pittsburgh. They first unveiled the location in a Q&A with us here on the blog:

“The second batch (the ones we’re writing in November) will be written from an old Barber’s shop in Pittsburgh. I am in the middle of sweeping it out and fixing it up at the moment.”

They announced that the mailing had gone out in a project update, and within a week of that, one of the recipients of a letter commented on the Kickstarter blog post. It was the first connection anyone had made between Kickstarter and the letters.

Here’s what he described in his comment:

“Yesterday, Tuesday, November 24, 2009, I got 2 packages in the mail
with no return address. I’m always happy to get something that isn’t
junk mail or bills so I eagerly opened one of these: a 9X12” envelope.
There was 6¢ postage due on this. Inside was a collage made from
6 pieces of paper of various sizes glued overtop each other
(in gradually decreasing dimensions) onto a 7th piece of paper.
On top of all that was a sortof address label with a
seemingly personal handwritten note:

“michael,
love from michael +
lenka”

I opened the 2nd package, a smaller padded envelope, & found a small saucer
(of the type a teacup might be placed on) which had handwritten on the top:

“CONGRATULATIONS
To
[my given name]
for
Everything You’ve
Achieved
so far.”

& on the back:

“WELL DONE !
Michael
+
Lenka
11/16/09”

The commenter, named tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, then goes onto beautifully detail the story of how he came to find the blog and the origin of the letters themselves. He also explains, as you might expect, that some people — particularly the elderly — were frightened by the letters.

That fear was the focus of the AP wire story that went out about the project, and even got picked up by the New York Times. “Pittsburgh mystery letters revealed as art project,” reads the headline (I like how “revealed” implies people had been waiting blue-faced for this revelation).

The piece includes this amazing anecdote:

Anna Misiaszek, who runs Alfred’s Deli Plus with her husband, said the letter that arrived at their shop seemed silly. It read: “Next time someone tries to bamboozle you with the cup and ball trick (on holiday in Turkey, at a city bus station …) choose the cup on the right.”

“This is something crazy. I treat this like a joke,” she said Tuesday.

She initially tore up the letter and tossed it in the trash, but later retrieved it when she was told it was an art project.

They also got sneered at for their silliness by a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist:

Clayton, who recently moved to Pittsburgh, and Crowe apparently don’t have day jobs.

If they did, they probably wouldn’t have found the time to painstakingly craft the 467 unsolicited letters they sent in April to residents of Cushendail, a small village in Ireland, to kick off the project.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s story by Diana Nelson Jones is actually pretty fantastic. One part:

At Tai + Lee Architects on Brereton Street, architect William Hopkins received an envelope at his home up the street. The address is written in rounded, no-frills British handwriting; Polish Hill is not capitalized. Inside was a strip of a letter. The paper and the envelope look grayish and well-handled, like artifacts from an attic trunk. On the back of the strip instructions are written around and inside round stickers like the kind used to price yard sale items. “You have part 2,” it reads. Two nearby neighbors have parts one and three. Who has part four?

“I don’t know, there are things about it that seem a little …” Ms. Clague waved her hand back and forth to indicate mixed feelings. “If you are fearful, it doesn’t take much” to inspire fear.

“It’s a psychological test. To me, it’s interesting on that level,” she said.

On their blog, Michael and Lenka have been posting all 620 letters that they’ve sent, including this gem:

Love it.

We’ve written a lot about this project — something definitely struck us about it from the get-go. And as a backer, I read the articles above with proud delight. Though I didn’t write a letter or contribute in that way, I felt like this project was mine. Every backer is a part of this story. That’s the beauty of it.

It’s a remarkable privilege to watch an idea’s conception, execution, and conclusion in a single, unbroken context. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it before. Michael and Lenka presented their idea. They were funded in two weeks. They announced that letters are being sent. Two days later, a recipient traces the completely unmarked letter to the page where it originated.

Such an amazing conclusion to a story that’s far from over.

Animal Collective to Africa

Joshua Dibb is a member of Animal Collective, arguably the biggest band in all of indie rock and one of the biggest bands in the world. Last month Deacon (Josh’s performing name) was invited to perform at the Festival in the Desert, a wild gathering in Mali in the Northern Sahara. With its extremely rugged setting (literally in the middle of the world’s largest, non-polar desert), it’s one of the last music festivals not sullied by energy drink sponsorships and all of the other marketing tie-ins that make everything that was once fun and exciting lame and boring. Basically, we just really really really wish we were going.

It’s extremely expensive to go. You must travel via caravan because the roads are non-existent and the journey isn’t safe. It runs somewhere around $5,000 per person on travel alone, and joining Josh will be a small group of folks who will be performing with him and documenting their experience. Hence his project’s $25,000 goal.

The rewards themselves are the fruits of the journey. Photographs (likely Polaroids) taken by Josh in Africa; a CD of his performance, field recordings, and other found sounds from the trip; a scrapbook collecting the spirit of the entire journey printed in extremely limited quantities just for his Kickstarter supporters. For a band already known for its incredible creations (a vinyl box set of theirs easily goes for hundreds on eBay), it’s an impressive set of fetish-able objects.

The project’s description notes: “Josh is ecstatic at being able to share this experience with those who believe in the project. Having you be a part of this trip creates a feeling of community and kinship with fans that cannot easily be put into words.” That’s what has us so excited — to get specially made things from your favorite artist and to have a tangible impact on their life is such an incredible opportunity.

We’re backing Josh’s project, and we’d love your help in making this journey a reality. To support this dream, visit the project page. Thanks!

Why I Pledge: Eliot Sykes

A couple of days ago, we got a customer service email from someone curious about how their money as a backer flowed to project creators. During the course of our exchange, the customer, named Eliot Sykes (above), casually mentioned that he has started a ritual wherein everyday he picks a different Kickstarter project to which he pledges $1.

Obviously we were struck by this idea. We spend so much time discussing what makes people donate that it almost felt like we had conjured Eliot out of thin air. Needless to say our curiosity was piqued, and upon further prodding, what Eliot told us about what he backs and why is something that every project creator needs to hear.

Personally, I was most struck by his enthusiasm for the actual people behind the projects he backs. ”It is important the creator is passionate and working on a project that excites me,” Eliot says. “A real person promoting a project they genuinely care about.” In other words, if you believe in what you’re doing, then others will, too.

Also, check out what he has to say about setting a minimum pledge amount that’s greater than $1:

“I don’t expect a reward at $1 but I would like a broader choice in how much to pledge to your project. How much I pledge is more of a factor of how big my wallet is, and less of a factor of how much I believe in your project. Plus it isn’t just the money the backers donate, there is unquantifiable promotion too.”

Please take the time to read our Q&A with Eliot below. And creators, let’s hope your project manages to earn Eliot’s $1 and enthusiasm.

How did you first come upon Kickstarter?

I can’t remember where I first heard about it — Twitter maybe? Or a blog post? Anyway I remember browsing Kickstarter when it first launched and there were just a handful of projects. I thought, “what a cool idea I hope it works out.”  So a few months pass by, I’m going through my bookmarks tagged “Fun” to take a break from work and clicked through to Kickstarter to see it had become rampant with projects. It was as if those early projects had gone casual-unprotected-sex-mad and produced a ton of offspring.

What do you look for in a project? What makes you want to donate?

I don’t think there’s a particular category of project. So far I’ve pledged to writing, comic, painting, acts of kindness ,and documentary projects, and music shortly I hope, as I haven’t looked at any music projects yet. It is important the creator is passionate and working on a project that excites me.

It helps if the creator makes it personal somehow, like how these two creators talk to the camera in their videos: Kel McDonald for her Sorcery 101 graphic novel project and Emily Grenader for her Giant Crowd Painting. I hope they don’t mind me saying, and I think this is a good thing, the way they talk to the camera isn’t polished, it is just right, a real person promoting a project they genuinely care about. That’s what struck me about those two projects, I would love to be able to pledge more.

What would you LIKE to see in projects that you maybe don’t? What do you think project creators could do to really make people want to donate?

- Creators being on twitter and links to their twitter profiles, it’ll help their promotional efforts and it is fun to be able to communicate with the creator directly and publicly. @nickdpi is good at that for his Cadence & Slang book project.

- Coordinated efforts to get the projects promoted. For example, with only a little organization some projects could get more exposure on Digg and Stumbleupon if all the backers voted it up, or if they all wrote a letter to a targeted newspaper, magazine or blog requesting they feature the project.  Maybe there are some tools and advice Kickstarter could provide to encourage this targeted promotion more.

- Allow donations from a $1 up. There’s been two projects I’ve wanted to donate to but their lowest donation is $5. I’ve commented to ask for them to consider reducing it (no response yet :( ), I’m not sure why they do it. Perhaps they think backers who’ve donated $5 would have only pledged $1 instead, and I expect there’s some truth in that, however I don’t think it’s quite in the open spirit of Kickstarter, I don’t expect a reward at $1 but I would like a broader choice in how much to pledge to your project. How much I pledge is more of a factor of how big my wallet is, and less of a factor of how much I believe in your project. Plus it isn’t just the money the backers donate, there is unquantifiable promotion too.

- More jokey rewards that don’t cost the creator anything other than a few seconds like “For $1 I’ll dedicate my first cup of coffee tomorrow to you” or “I’ll post a clip to YouTube of me shouting any word you like”

- It helps if creators are themselves, personal, accessible, fun, and show how much they care about a project.

Any other thoughts?

I’d love to see some Kickstarter projects on Missed Connections.  I’m also thinking a project involving gratitude journals would be fun, as one of my other daily web vices along with Kickstarter is thankfulfor.com — if you’re looking for a happiness boost a daily gratitude journal (online or off) is a good start.

I think there are a lot of projects out there that don’t need a funding kick-start but could do with a promotional kick-start, I wonder if this is something Kickstarter could offer?  Perhaps a Digg-style site that is edited for creative projects (the creative projects don’t need to have been started on Kickstarter — Digg is great but can be a bit too coarse grained, there’s only broad relevent topics for creative projects like “Movies” and “Design”).  A couple of projects I like that could benefit from this are Paul Shortt’s missed connection interventions and Sophie Blackall’s missed connections illustrations (the reason I like missed connections so much is thanks to my pet project, http://www.missedconnections.com/).

Craft Fair Signage

As we mentioned last week, during the month of December Kickstarter and a host of our awesome creators will be participating in the Degenerate Craft Fair in NYC. The New York-based members of the Kickstarter team will be on hand, as will the creators. Expect a full schedule of who/what/when/where next week.

Anyway, we didn’t have any kind of signage or anything for the event, so our co-founder Charles Adler, former project creator Kit Geary, and Sarah Vidosh decided to get craftsy. This morning I received a ginormous package containing these big plush letters:

Hmm… What could they possibly spell?

So cool! A huge huge HUGE thanks to Charles, Kit, and Sarah for their hard work and impressive craftsmanship.

Opening night of the Degenerate Craft Fair is Friday at Silent Barn in Brooklyn from 8 - 10pm. Cassie and I will be on hand (along with newest Kickstarterer Fred Benenson), so come say hi and admire our sign. Can’t wait to meet you!

Creator Q&A: In Transit

Some might call Jonathan Dueck’s work unusual — he draws, paints, and scratches on old 16mm movies, then projects them with accompaniment from unique, specially curated musical pieces — but we think of it as artistically clever recycling. Over the last four years Jonathan has completed over 20 of his handmade films, and his sonic collaborators have ranged the gambit from feverish drone-artists I Heart Lung to experimental solo popster Chad VanGaalen. Jonathan plans to self-release the entire collection as a CD/DVD package, which includes a 50+ page booklet of full-color stills. Beautiful to both our eyes and ears!

Check out what Jonathan had to say about his project below. Support it here

Where did you come up with this idea? What inspired you to start doing this? 

If I really think about it I think it all started way back in high school.  Grade 11 or 12.  In my school we had an option to create our own course for a semester.  Not many people actually did this, but my art teacher suggested that I think of something to do for this and present it to her and the principal.  One day she showed some Norman McLaren films in class and the whole idea of camera-less animation took hold of my imagination.  So I spent a whole semester working on two short films with synched soundtracks that I made on cassette tapes.  To watch the films properly somebody had to start the cassette player at the same time as the film projector.  It was really lo-tech…I guess nothing has changed that much with this project except now I have a computer to help me synch the sound tracks!  After high school and later in art school I didn’t work very much with film or animation except for a couple isolated projects here and there.  Then in 2006 I really wanted to work on a longer term project for some reason so I contacted Chris Schlarb (of I Heart Lung, Xn.) and asked him if he wanted to do a project with me using camera-less animation and his incredible talent with improvised music.  I’ve always been inspired by his guitar playing and ear for sound and I thought that his style would go really well with some of these films that I was working on.  Anyway after a year of working on these I thought it would be fun to expand the project to include some other musicians/artists.  I ended up making a lot of work for myself!

You have a really interesting list of collaborators — tell me a bit more about what it was like to work with them!

Well first let me explain the simple system that we all worked within.  Once I chose the people I wanted to work with and they agreed, I started working on 5 separate films for each artist.  Once I finished a set I would send it to the intended artist while I worked on the next set.  Each artist did not prepare anything until they saw the actual films I had made for them.  Each artist responded really differently to the task, though.  When I first asked Chad to be part of the project  I only had some clips of what I was working on for I Heart Lung.  I didn’t have any sound or anything for them, but I brought these clips to his house to show him what I might give him to work on. After seeing the initial clips he knew right away that he was going to use these new analog synths that he was building in his basement.  Out of everyone’s soundtracks on this project his are the most “illustrative.”  I Heart Lung’s contribution really capture the feeling of the images and pay close attention to the sweeping movements of them.  They made these super short films feel really grand and epic. DENEIR responded slowly over time sending one piece at a time.  Each one he made was well worth the wait, and I think he really captured the violence and dread that is felt with the rough physical treatment of the films themselves.  Ryan of Son Lux responded with a whole bunch of pieces inspired by the group of films as a whole.  We then worked together choosing which of his soundtracks would go best with specific films and then he went back and edited them to fit.  Ryan was the most professional of the group.  He was a pleasure to work with.

You’re interested in collaborative art — what’s the difference in experience between making art with other people/a community versus on your own? Is one better than the other to you? 

I think what I like best about collaborating with others or being in the public is the opportunity for improvisation.  You go into a project with a certain pre-determined structure, but there is so much freedom within that structure that I am always surprised and inspired by what happens during.  When I am working with others I never know what to expect and it really challenges me to grow as an artist and a person.  Its really exciting to me. Lately, I have been working on a few projects on my own in my studio and it is a very different experience entirely.  I enjoy both for different reasons.  When I work on my own I can really focus in on a specific idea and explore that in whatever way I want.  When I work with others it can’t only be about me.  Often ideas that I work on by myself evolve into larger projects that I want to work on with others.  I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other.  Each way of working has its pros and cons.  Maybe that answer is too diplomatic?

What do you see yourself doing next? More work with film — or would you like to move in another direction?

I think I will take a break from working with film like this for a while.  It is a pretty labour intensive way of working.  One minute of film would take me probably two weeks of pretty long days to complete.  I will be printing large images taken from stills of these films for different gallery shows that I have coming up.  Also, I am working on presenting a new 20 minute edit of the films in a live setting where I would invite a configuration of local musicians to improvise a live soundtrack over the films to an audience.

I have also been working on whole bunch of work around a series of dioramas that I’m making where I am the central character in a life-threatening or dangerous situation.  There is one where I am rescuing a small child from an erupting volcano.  I seem to be pretty obsessed with these right now because I am making prints, photographs, large drawings, animations, and short stories all based around these things.

How have people responded to your use of Kickstarter so far? 

Kickstarter has been such a huge surprise and encouragement to me.  A bunch of people that I don’t know have backed the project already, and some others have given way more than I would ever have expected.  It has been a positive experience all around.  I have found that the more excited about the project that I am the easier it is for other people to engage in it.

Closing Thoughts? 

I just feel so honoured to have worked with these incredible musicians on this project.  I think everyone should support them by checking out their newest material:
- Black Mold (Chad VanGaalen)”Snow Blindness is Crystal Ants”
- I Heart Lung “Interoceans”
- DENEIR “Nowhen”
- Son Lux “At War with Walls and Mazes”

Also thanks to my amazing wife Heather for being great.