The New Filmmaking

“Here is the new way: filmmakers doing it themselves — paying for their own distribution, marketing films through social networking sites and Twitter blasts, putting their work up free on the Web to build a reputation, cozying up to concierges at luxury hotels in film festival cities to get them to whisper into the right ears.” — Michael Cieply, New York Times

This is how Geoff Edgers made Do It Again, his Kinks movie. This is how Jason Bitner and Joe Beshenkovsky are making their LaPorte, Indiana documentary. This is what many filmmakers are being forced to do if their project is not “commercially viable” in the exact right way (subject to change whenever and for whatever reason)(or no reason at all), and it’s been the case for the past thirty years. The difference now, of course, is that the studios’ stranglehold on the means of distribution and production has been eased (somewhat) by technology, and there are at least options now for filmmakers, Kickstarter among them.

The Times article also talks about Anvil!, the excellent documentary on an also-ran Canadian hair metal band:

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” a documentary about a Canadian metal band, turned into the do-it-yourself equivalent of a smash hit when it stretched a three-screen opening in April into a four-month run, still under way, on more than 150 screens around the country.

“I paid for everything, I took a second mortgage on my house,” said Sacha Gervasi, the film’s director.

Mr. Gervasi, whose studio writing credits include “The Terminal,” directed by Steven Spielberg, nearly three years ago, began filming “Anvil!” with his own money in hopes of attracting a conventional distributor. The movie played well at Sundance in 2008, but offers were low.

So Mr. Gervasi put up more money — his total cost was in “the upper hundred thousands,” he said — to distribute the film through a company called Abramorama, while selling the DVD and television rights to VH1.

What’s interesting is how close Gervasi’s approach to distributing his film is to what the band does in the film to make a record: borrow money, load up the credit cards, roll the dice. I left Anvil! feeling like I had just witnessed a 90-minute commercial for why Kickstarter exists. The level of passion that they and their fans feel for their music is proportional to how little the record companies care for them or understand what they’re trying to do. And for many artists, that’s the end of the line.

It’s not the end of line for Anvil because the filmmaker took drastic measures due to simple necessity. Every month or two we get trend articles like this one on inventive, creative, and potentially demeaning things people have to do to have their work seen, and it will often paint these decisions as political or a form of protest. But, Radiohead excepted, it’s not that: it’s just that they have no other choice if they want to present their vision without compromise. It’s necessity.

Technology — and Kickstarter in particular — can offer a different path to all kinds of creative endeavors, and people are increasingly choosing that option. It enables passionate pursuits to be more than commodities in some multi-national conglomerate’s portfolio, and it helps these things to exist in the first place. The less we all have to rely on the entertainment-industrial complex for our passions, the better.

Run, Blago, Run Reward

Just got my rewards from Mr. CRO’s Run, Blago, Run project, a pop-up Chicago art show riffing on former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. For a reasonable $25 I get a T-shirt — which I will wear with pride — and a gold-sealed package of five stickers. Kickstarter has made checking the mail exciting again. Thanks, Mr. CRO!

Selling the Project

When it comes to successful projects, sometimes it’s not so much that a project’s goal is so compelling, it’s that its story was told the right way. Which brings us to two Kickstarter projects that do that very well: Jerry Paffendorf’s Loveland and Help Polyvinyl Save 10,000 Records From Destruction.

Polyvinyl’s project, which is our most successful to date at 1,553% funded, has a ton of things going for it. First, it comes from a well-respected source with a built-in audience. That always helps. Second, it offered great rewards: $50 gets you a box of 26 CDs and two DVDs. Hard to beat that, either.

But the other thing that Polyvinyl’s project did was tell a story. If you look at the nuts and bolts of the project, it’s essentially just a record label clearing out remnant inventory for basic space reasons. Polyvinyl didn’t tell the story that way, though. Instead, Polyvinyl made it personal (real people in the project image) and gave it a hook: “these records could be destroyed if you don’t do your part.” It’s an excellent job of framing a project, making it more compelling.

Jerry Paffendorf’s Loveland is similar. It’s a unique idea: Jerry is buying a 1,000,000-square inch piece of property in Detroit, and he’s selling pieces of it for $1 an inch. It’s whimsical and bold and audacious, and even if people aren’t sure what to do with their purchased inches (myself included), it feels like a good thing to do, and Jerry’s enthusiasm makes us feel like we’re a part of something new and interesting. Hard to top that.

What I wanted to look at in particular, though, were Jerry’s rewards, which reveal a lot about the reward process and how to best present yourself. Take a look:

There are two things that should jump out at you very quickly:

  1. Every reward has a theme. (Remember the $5 milkshake in Pulp Fiction?)
  2. There is zero advantage to choosing the $12 or more reward over the $1 one, and yet it’s being selected almost three times as often.

The reason is clear: he packaged it, gave it a hook, and reinforced it elsewhere in the project. (Jerry wears a T-shirt in his pitch video that reads: “I’ve got 12 inches in Detroit” and he makes a few other references, too.)

Jerry took the time to sculpt the presentation, and it has obviously worked: while his project has easily exceeded its $1,000 goal (it’s at $1,400 at the moment), he’s done this with only 54 backers. Without that hook, he could easily be sitting at $54 dollars (and 5% raised) rather than $1,400.

The lesson to be learned here is that putting in the extra time to craft a project from top to bottom pays off. Over and over we see that the projects that go the extra mile (like the LaPorte, Indiana project, which we’ll discuss later this week) are that much more successful. We encourage all creators and prospective creators to follow their example and think about how their project can be as memorable as a $5 milkshake.

April Smith's Big Day

As we mentioned earlier in the week, Kickstarter’s own April Smith is on this weekend’s Lollapalooza bill in Chicago, and she took the stage earlier today. During her performance, a friend in the audience texted this:

So cool! Thanks April.

And continuing in April’s big day, Billboard ran a great profile on her today as well, and in a video piece, April performs her Dexter-inspired song and talks about Kickstarter! See it here:

Congratulations to April. Well done. And if you haven’t supported her project yet, you can check it out here.

Creator Q&A: Five Times August

Brad Skistimas’ Five Times August project is one of the more ambitious projects we’ve had on Kickstarter. The project, which will fund the recording and release of Brad’s new Five Times August album, is seeking $20,000 in one month. The project has raised over $7,000 so far, and funding ends on August 17th. Rewards include a copy of the album, dinner with the band, handwritten lyrics, and even a song written for you.

Brad is approaching his project the right way. As he told us, “I decided to go to the fans on this one… THEY are my record label for this album.” He also has some of the best advice we’ve seen on how to mobilize your network:

I’ve been using a lot of my social networking websites and the Five Times August e-mail list. I usually post one or two tweets a day reminding people to pledge. I think it’s all about repetition. A lot of people had to see the link a bunch of times before they went to go find out what it was, but now I have quite a few backers reposting the link to their family and friends, too.

Brad has been working his project hard on both Facebook and Twitter, and his project updates have been fantastic. Brad agreed to take a few minutes to answer some questions about how things are going, and his answers are a must-read for anyone making a project or thinking of making one.

Tell us about your project.
I’m attempting to raise $20,000 in 31 Days to help fund the release of Five Times August’s next album Life As A Song. FTA is sort of my “one man band.” I’ve accomplished quite a lot as an independent artist and after talking with quite a few major labels in the past I decided that wasn’t the right path for me. I believe with the way the music industry is going artist’s don’t necessarily need record labels anymore. There are a lot of hard working, talented bands and artist’s out there that aren’t afraid to do the work themselves, they just need proper funding. I decided to go to the fans on this one. With their pledges they are essentially pre-ordering the next album and getting a unique opportunity to be a part of the release. In essence, THEY are my record label for this album.

How’s it going so far?
It’s going well, I am a little behind schedule but I still think we can do it. I chose a large amount of money in a short amount of time, so it was a risky venture to start, but it’s a realistic goal, it’s all about getting the message out to the community. I’ve had a good time thinking of creative ways to get people to the project page.

What’s been your most popular reward?
The most popular reward has been the $25 tier. Those who pledge will get a digital download of the album two months in advance of the official release, a signed CD copy of the album when it comes out, and their name will be listed in the thank you list of the CD liner notes.

What’s your strategy for getting your project funded?
I’ve been using a lot of my social networking websites and the Five Times August e-mail list. I usually post one or two tweets a day reminding people to pledge. I think it’s all about repetition. A lot of people had to see the link a bunch of times before they went to go find out what it was, but now I have quite a few backers reposting the link to their family and friends, too. I’m also trying to offer some unique rewards too.

Handwritten lyrics to their three favorite songs, out of print/rare CD’s, personal video performances, guitar lessons, dinner together, I’m even offering a weekend camping trip! Also, every backer gets exclusive updates with mini-podcasts, and rare audio, pics, and video to enjoy along the 31 days while we strive to reach the goal.

What will you do with the money?
The money will help fund all the extra promotion, manufacturing, and publicity costs for the album. I’ve actually already finished recording, mixing and mastering, but I still need to get the physical CD’s pressed and manufactured, delivered to Best Buy stores, print tour posters, pay for the publicist, etc. A lot of people don’t realize more money goes into promoting an album than actually making it. Having these funds will help spread awareness and promote it to a larger audience, giving it the boost it needs to be a successful release.

Any closing thoughts?
I’m just really thankful a website like this exists. It’s a really great opportunity to be a part of. I love the idea of building a supportive online community to help make individual dreams a reality. That’s why I decided to make my own pledge to the project. If we achieve the $20,000 goal I will be giving back to the community by donating half of my CD sales for the rest of the year to a variety of charities. I think it’s important to help others once you’ve been helped, and that’s what I plan to do.

Hamburger Eyes Arrives

Our copy of Hamburger Eyes came in the mail yesterday, and we could not be more impressed. The photography is incredible — stark black-and-white spanning what looks to be the last thirty years — and the quality of the book itself is very impressive.

In an interview with creator Ray Potes that we posted here, he explained what impact Kickstarter had on the project:

When you publish something or make anything and put it out there yourself, it’s always hard to say if people get it or not. Does the world appreciate this stuff? Am I blowing it? Wasting my time? And with a site like Kickstarter, you have all the answers right away.

We’re proud to have had any role in this. Congrats, Ray! For more on Hamburger Eyes, check their website.

April Smith at Lollapalooza

Guess it must be Music Wednesday here at Kickstarter HQ, because we’ve got another cool bit of music news to share. April Smith, whose project has been doing very well, will be playing Lollapalooza this weekend in Chicago. That’s a serious honor on its own, but even cooler is that today Rolling Stone pegged her as one of the artists to watch. Here’s what they had to say:

We’ll be checking in with April to see how her set went, and we’ll be checking her project updates, too. If you’re new to April’s music, we shot a video of her playing earlier this summer. It was fantastic! Here it is:

Rural Alberta Advantage: "Eye of the Tiger"

Last night I caught the Rural Alberta Advantage — whose Kickstarter project finished successfully over the weekend — at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. It was packed, and as they always do, Nils, Amy, and Paul totally killed it. They finished up with an encore of Nils solo doing “Eye of the Tiger” and then they debuted a brand new song. My iPhone footage of both is above. Give it a look.