Film on Kickstarter

From LaPorte, Indiana to Geoff Edgers’ Kinks movie to film debuts to an Andrei Tarkovsky doc, there have already been some excellent film projects successfully funded through Kickstarter. This is no surprise to us — the IRS, Stonecutters and the movie industry run neck and neck for Most Byzantine Organization — and today we wanted to highlight a few current film projects that deserve some attention. In no particular order:

Live Radical and Change the World: I’ll admit: after watching the pitch video to Matthew Lessner’s new film, I wasn’t sure what to think. Hipsters playing Lord of the Flies in the woods of the Pacific Northwest? But then I watched the second teaser clip, which reveals a satire/farce that I would pay $12 to see, no question. I also like the $5 reward: “A black and white reproduction of Che Guevara shaking hands with Ralph Waldo Emerson.”

For Thousands of Miles — A Documentary About Leaving Everything Behind: This is the second film project from Mike Ambs; his first was the enchanting Project Pedal, whose video I adored with its somber tones and Malick feel. Thousands of Miles is part two of that project, a very personal effort by Mike to document both the events of and his reaction to a two-month bike trip that changed his life. Watch the clip and get sucked in.

Lake Beast: Lake Beast is an animated short from Vance Reeser, and it is spectacular. If you have a spare five minutes, walk don’t run to Vance’s project video, which unfolds his film in its working stages beautifully. It’s a genuine work of art on its own — no kidding. As a backer of the project, it’s been a particular treat. Vance’s project updates have been fantastic, including a post explaining what visuals inspired the film and a very personal post detailing what inspired the story in the first place. Vance is really giving it his all.

Mister Rogers & Me: I will let Christofer and Benjamin Wagner begin the pitch for this film. It’s hard to put it better:

I first met “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” creator Fred Rogers at his summer home in Nantucket, Massachusetts, in September 2001. My mother rented the cottage next door, so Mister Rogers really was my neighbor.

My brother and I have been working on our documentary, “Mister Rogers & Me” every since.

The Kickstarter project will help finish production on the film, which includes an appearance by the late Tim Russert talking about Mister Rogers’ importance. With eight days to go and $1,300 to raise, they’re in the home stretch, but they need some help.

Please Allow Me to Terminate Your Shirt: Based on a ludicrous premise reminiscent of Patrick Stewart’s Extras appearance (“I can see everything”), Steve Macfarlane’s project is amateur filmmaking at its finest. Whatever it means, I also like this reward: “You will get a high-five in the mail. Don’t ask how!!”

March! The Movie: There’s an understated charm to March!, a very New York film about real estate, greed politics, and self-righteousness. But it’s a comedy. The work of five East Villagers, it details what happens when a landlord kicks out his tenants to build himself a mansion. Worth a look.

The Horror: And finally, there’s a small handful of horror films up on the site worth checking out.

Always a Bridesmaid is a horror-comedy short that’s overflowing with ridiculousness — rewards include props from the film (like that idea).

Dr. Bonesaw is another, this one with a much bigger budget: $63,000 is its goal. While a bit pricey, there is an amazing reward: the film has five victims, and they are selling off the victim parts for $2,000 each. They’ve had one taker to date. Very creative.

And finally there’s Night of the Punks, an ’80s-style horror flick in the Evil Dead vein.

Good luck to everyone!

Creator Q&A: April Smith

Last night, one of our most popular projects for quite a while now came to a close: April Smith’s quest to make a new record. Led by an excellent pitch video that several projects have imitated, the project racked up over $13,000 during its run.

April was very creative with her project. She set several mini-goals: help me hit this threshold by Friday and everyone gets a free song, that kind of thing. And it always worked for her. Perhaps most inventively, recently April tweeted that the next three pledges would automatically get bumped up a reward tier: even if you only dropped $50, the $100 tier would be yours. Smart.

While her Kickstarter project was ongoing, April had an incredible run of big shows and attention. She played Lollapallooza this year (and Rolling Stone loved it). Billboard did a video interview with her. She’s played some big headlining shows in New York. The timing of Kickstarter’s launch and April’s ascendancy couldn’t have been synchronized better.

We sent April a few questions last night about her project. We’d like to congratulate her on her success

Please tell us about your project and background.

My Kickstarter project was a fundraiser to make my next album. Basically, I wanted to make a really great album without a label. I knew I’d have to pay for the production, studios and musicians myself. So I figured out a reasonable goal that would help me make the album I wanted to, the way I wanted to. I set my goal at $10K, and then I launched. When my project was over, I raised $13,100! So I guess 13 is my new lucky number.

Did you have a strategy with your project?

I handed out flyers at every show we played, tweeted about my Kickstarter project a bunch and I posted updates on Kickstarter too. I would blog on my website and always mention my project on radio and in interviews. I just tried to get the word out to as many people possible. My fans and friends were really instrumental too. I’d tweet about it and then they’d all retweet… I could never have done it on my own.

What was your most popular reward?

The $50 level was my most popular. My fans get a signed physical copy of the album a week before it’s released, an April Smith T-shirt, a digital copy of the album before it comes out, their name and link on my website, a free download of “Terrible Things,” and exclusive video updates from the studio.

Did anything surprise you?

Even though I know, and have always known, how wonderful my fans and supporters are, I was overwhelmed by their generosity. They were always retweeting about my project, telling their friends and spreading the word any way they could. Giving their time and helping me promote was just as valuable as a pledge.

What advice would you give a new project creator?

Use all of your social networking tools! Twitter, Facebook and Myspace were great for me. Send emails to your fans and keep them updated.

Any closing thoughts?

Kickstarter was truly a blast… I realized that I have the best fans I could hope for! I’m definitely going to donate to other Kickstarter projects too. I promised my invites to some other talented people so I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with their projects.

Kickstarter NYC Meetup

Next Thursday, September 17th, there will be a Kickstarter meet-up in NYC at Le Poisson Rouge in the West Village from 6-9pm. We’d love to see you there.

The event is the culmination of the New York Makes a Book Kickstarter project, a collaborative, 100-page book made by 100 New Yorkers. Copies of the book will be handed out for the very first time to all of the authors, who will each wear a nametag bearing their page number. Picture a yearbook signing: this is what we’re imagining. Additional copies of the book will be on sale as well. (The book turned out great.)

Both Perry and I will be on-hand, as well as many Kickstarter project creators and backers. The event is open to everyone, so come out and say hello. See you there.

Announcing Fees

In Kickstarter’s first four months, more than 100 projects have been successfully funded and more than $500,000 has been pledged. Through our creators’ hard work and the incredible generosity of their backers, adventures have been booked, art has been created, and records have been pressed. It’s been a great start, and we want to continue growing Kickstarter: adding new features, increasing our server capacity, and generally making things awesomer. Our goal is to build a sustainable business that will support creators for a very long time.

Since launch, Kickstarter has been completely free. Now that we’ve hammered out our early kinks, we’re getting ready to charge for our service. Here’s how it will work:

Projects that launch on or after September 15th will be charged 5% of their funding total if — and only if — they are successfully funded. Projects that don’t reach their funding goal will have no fees, and launching projects and backing projects will still be free. Tying our fee to a project’s success aligns our interests with those of project creators: if your project succeeds, then so do we.

To clarify: This fee only applies to projects launched on or after September 15th (after midnight EST b/w September 14th and 15th). All currently active projects, regardless of end date, will be unaffected. This means that any project launched in the next two weeks will also be exempt; take advantage of the grace period while you can. If you launch a project on September 14th that ends in December, it will still be free.

The "Awesomeness" of Not Making It

Yesterday, a writer named E. Christopher Clark tweeted the above. His project was Help Me Finish My Second Book and Share It With the World, which came up short of its $1,600 goal. Christopher worked hard on his project, it just didn’t catch that spark.

But Christopher’s story doesn’t end there. His original project was looking for funds to purchase a computer and microphone, and as Christopher details in the first couple minutes of this video posted on his site, some incredible supporters donated what he needed when the project didn’t reach its goal.

Christopher’s project is a reminder of something we don’t talk about enough: just because a project’s funding failed doesn’t make the endeavor unsuccessful. Launching a project builds community — it’s an excuse to spread the word and rally people around a cause — and brings valuable feedback whether your project is successful or not. Plus, you have those backers to call on in the future.

Congrats to Christopher, and we tip our caps to your especially generous supporters.

Project Dashboard

We recently updated the project dashboard to enable a bird’s-eye view for project creators on all of the activity surrounding their project. It’s a real-time stream of comments, pledges, queries, and other action specific to each project. Here’s a screenshot:

The new dashboard gives project creators even greater control, and enables them to monitor their progress very easily. They can post project updates, they can contact their backers, and they can collect their backers’ information all from this one hub.

The project dashboard is viewable only to each project’s creator, but its effect should be felt by backers, too — it’s easier than ever for creators to respond to questions and comments, and to keep everyone in the loop.

Creator's Guide to Video

Yesterday a new project by Robin Sloan called Robin writes a book went live, and something about his project jumped out at us immediately: Robin’s video was really, really good. It’s crisp, it’s well edited, and the structure is very strong.

Robin’s bio mentioned that he’s worked with Current, so on a lark I sent him an email asking if he would be willing to pen a little video guide for the community touching on what kind of camera to use, how to edit, how to best capture sound, etc. Robin readily agreed, and his excellent recommendations are below. We thank him for his generous advice, and encourage everyone to check out his project.

Here’s Robin:

I’m no video expert, but — good news! — you don’t have to be a video expert to make a good video for your Kickstarter project. And besides, a lot of the advice you’ll find for general-purpose video production doesn’t apply to this kind of video. So here are some of my Kickstarter-specific tips.


LIGHT. Your most crucial task is to get lots of light for your camera to work with. This doesn’t mean the picture is going to be brighter; it means it’s going to be sharper. So don’t record your video at night, even indoors. And know that you’re going to have to move lights around; this might make you feel dorky and presumptuous, but that’s how you’ll know you’re doing it right. Get some light coming in from the front of you and some from the side. Any light source works: lamps, windows, even mirrors.

LIGHT, PART 2. This is gonna seem like a silly detail, but try to get a dot of light reflected in your eyes. It makes you look more alive. Seriously! Lights on the other side of the room can supply this. So can a desk lamp, if you cover it with a piece of paper and then punch a small hole through the paper.

SOUND. This is actually even more important than the image. If you have a microphone you can plug into your computer, use it. Otherwise, just make sure you’re in a room that’s quiet and echo-free. Listen for the low, rumbly noisemakers we tend to tune out — refrigerators, air-conditioning units, etc. — and either get some distance or turn them off while you’re recording.

COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. Don’t use music, images, video, or other content that you don’t have the rights to. Using copyrighted material is almost always against the law and can lead to expensive lawsuits down the road. The easiest way to avoid copyright troubles? Either create all the content yourself or use content that is free for public use. For example, you may be able to use some Creative Commons-licensed music — per the terms of their licenses — that's available on Soundcloud.

GEAR. If you’ve got a Mac laptop, the built-in camera works fine. Otherwise, consider using a digital still camera in video mode. They’re a cinch to handle, and it’s easy to get the video onto your computer when you’re finished.

GEAR, PART 2. If you have a friend with one of the newest Nikon or Canon digital SLRs, ask them for help. These cameras can shoot HD video through fancy SLR lenses, and it looks beautiful — better than anything you can get with even a high-end video camera. (I used a Nikon D90 for my video.)

PLANNING. This is just my personal theory, and others might disagree: I think the purpose of a Kickstarter video is to show your face and bring some emotion to the page. Period. So don’t worry about recapitulating all the details. Instead, tell us who you are, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how you feel about the whole thing.

RECORDING. Here’s what you do: Write a quick outline with three or four bullet points, max. Start recording. Give your spiel. As soon as you’re done, decide what you liked about what you just said. Then, do it again immediately. Repeat this process five times. You’ll notice yourself getting more comfortable and conversational in front of the camera with every take. (Prediction: the best bits will come from your first take and your last.)

RECORDING, PART 2. If you get tongue-tied or flub a line, don’t give up on the take. Just take a breath, look at the camera, and start from where you messed up. You can edit it together later.

EDITING. Focus on isolating the good parts: the really crisp, clear lines, as well as the fun moments where we see something happening on your face — a slow smile, an arched eyebrow, a pregnant pause as you’re searching for the right words. Edit those together in big chunks. Windows Movie Maker and iMovie both work fine for this. Don’t overdo it. You want to showcase the good stuff you recorded, not obscure it with fancy editing.

EDITING, PART 2. Be ruthless. When you think you’re done, take a break, then come back and cut out 25% of the video. YOU MUST. People are going to visit your Kickstarter page, press “play” on your video, and… then what? This is the crucial moment. Put yourself in the seat of a potential backer and make sure your video, especially the first 20 seconds, is pure punch. (Fact: My first cut was 2X as long as the one I ended up using, and began with a wonky exposition on the economies of scale of book publishing. Zzzzz.)

ENCODING. On Windows, use WMV format. On Mac, use H.264. In both cases, the key variable is the “bit rate,” so look for that box. If it’s measured in kilobits per second (kbps), try 1500 to start. If it’s measured in megabits per second (Mbps), try 1.5. If the file is too big: Make that number smaller. If the quality seems bad: Make it bigger.

If anyone has any other tips to add to this discussion, please leave them in the comments.