By Mike Berlin
The overarching requirement for inclusion on Kickstarter is creativity. The company reviews proposals (60% of which on average are accepted) and does not allow political fundraising or humanitarian aid solicitation.
Otherwise, there is little limit to what “creativity” means, especially for non-film endeavors. A cursory search of recently funded projects yields a $950 campaign for an “Authentic New Orleans Pralines” company’s new website, a $3,000 campaign for a magnetic levitation sculpture, and a $20,000 campaign for the Versalette, a recycled fabric that can be fashioned in over 15 ways to serve as almost any article of clothing a woman would ever need. In March 2011, The Imagination Station raised over $67,000 to erect a statue of RoboCop in Detroit after the city’s mayor, David Bing, publicly responded on Twitter, thanking a user for his suggestion to build one—an astronomical sum for a local art project.
Just as a single Tweet will rarely make a project, going “viral” on Kickstarter doesn’t guarantee Rebecca Blackian results. But the documentary Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, which examines the aftermath of the college student’s 1998 murder, gained relative success after a gay-blog domino line of support. Within a 48-hour period, director Michele Josue raised $7,000 -- 14% of her $50,000 goal -- and had gained more than 100 new backers, all of whom would then spread word of the project through their Facebook walls.
With $40 million spent on 4,700 successful projects, the film sector of Kickstarter has garnered the largest percentage of the over $125 million raised since its inception in 2009. From a trade viewpoint -- especially for independent film -- the products to emerge from this groundswell have made an unprecedented impact. Sundance, the industry’s indie paragon, opened its 2011 festival with Pariah, Dee Rees’s story of a conflicted black lesbian’s coming out. The film raised over $10,000 on Kickstarter to finance the festival run and became a smash hit, grabbing awards and critical praise when it opened this past December.
“We came up against some crazy stuff when I was trying to finance the film,” says Pariah’s producer, Nekisa Cooper. “I literally had someone say to me, ‘Gosh, you guys are great, the script is fantastic, but it’s black and gay. If it were just black or just gay, then maybe it would warrant an investment.’ ”
This year, 15 of the 110 films accepted into Sundance executed successful Kickstarter campaigns, including the “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!” phenom–turned–porn star Chris Crocker documentary, ME @ the ZOO, by Chris Moukarbel, and Keep the Lights On, Ira Sachs’s narrative exploration of late-’90s New York gay life.
“Kickstarter was the way to begin to involve a community in our project,” says Sachs, “to excite and let them in on it.”