Kickstarter is a great service and one that I’ve covered before in some detail, but recently I got around to thinking, just who is Kickstarter ideally suited for (from the animation world)? What got me started on this train of thought was a project that I’ll discuss in detail further down (that was brought to my attention by Amid Amidi), and after looking at it, I did spend some time perusing the other animation projects on the site but came away scratching my head.
The reason is simple, there’s a complete smorgasbord of projects on there and it’s hard to make a distinction between all of them (unless of course a major name is attached). However, what did become apparent is that there are a few main types of projects:
- Short films
- Production “sprints”
- Feature films
Starting with the pitches, they are basically exactly that; a Kickstarter to make something that will be used to convince someone else that the project is a good idea. I discussed one extensively in this post and was a bit harsh on the guy, but it was justifiable (and to be fair, we emailed afterward so everything’s cool). This kind most recently came to light with The Goon; essentially a very expensive pitch reel to be used on major studios. That’s great and all, but the budget for that film was astronomical, and a huge name was attached too. The vast majority of this kind of Kickstarter are of this variety; small, independent guys trying to find their way in the world. Kickstarter isn’t ideally suited to them for the precise reason that they’re using it in the first place; nobody knows them!
Episodes and Series
Moving up the scale, episodes and series are quite popular with many projects aiming to create either a single episode or a series of episodes/shorts. The budgets for these are generally higher but the production values tend to be larger too. These projects can be solicited by either individuals or small studios. One that I am familiar with is the one I helped back, the Vegtoons series. The Kickstarter was for one episode but the ultimate goal is an entire series with production being done by Cartoon Saloon.
These projects tend to have a lot more of the unknown about them insofar that what happens after the episode or series is created is sometimes undefined. At least in the Vegtoons instance, a series is promised. It should be noted that there is a lot of crossover between this category and the one above. Plenty of projects are for one episode in a potential series that can be used to gauge interest or as a proof of concept for an investor.
These projects are ideally suited to a small studio rather than an individual. The reason is simple; a studio would be in a more immediate position to get going should production commence. An individual would still need to find a studio and organise the production.
The short films projects are very common with plenty of individual animators and collectives looking to get the funds necessary to complete their masterpieces. The scope of these projects varies but almost all are for funds to complete either the entire of the remainder of production. The latter coming almost always after the creator runs out of their own time/money to complete things in a successful manner.
These projects have even more unknowns than the series’. The reason, quite simply, is what happens to the short film after it is created? I saw one campaign that was simply looking for funds to enter a film in festivals! In any case, the reward of a short film is inevitably the film itself (either in a download or DVD). the economics of these campaigns are more than a bit blurry but at the end of the day they represent the closest approximation of creators interacting with their fans. Naturally there will be disappointments from time to time (I’ve heard noises about John K’s project potentially being one of them) but short film campaigns represent both the largest variety within the Kickstarter community and the closest point where creators and fans interact and meet each others needs.
These projects are the odd man out of the other Kickstarter projects in that they are not complete projects. Rather, they are campaigns to complete stages of a project. The notion being that initial stages require less money and therefore fewer backers whereas the middle or final stages of production will require significantly more money and therefore more backers. The idea behind this structure is that word of mouth can build during production so that the largest potential pool of backers is acquired at just the right time.
Such a method can greatly enhance the success of a project, especially if the audience has yet to be reached. Michael Sporn’s POE film fell just short of funding but could well have been successful (on Kickstarter at least; he eventually received significant funds through Indiegogo) had he broken the production into more segments and run a campaign for each of them.
This method requires multiple visits to the ‘trough’ that may eventually run dry. That said, if a production is well run and keeps its fans informed and updated, there is little reason to suspect that they will stop supporting it. the TUBE Open Movie project is one such example; wherein it is being funded in stages but keeps its backers up to date on progress and even invites them to help!
This is, literally, the holy grail of campaigning. Getting a feature film funded is one of the most difficult tasks in the entertainment business. There are countless stories of independent filmmakers taking on multiple credit cards of debt just to get their films made. Professional investment is tricky and time-consuming and the results aren’t guaranteed (deals falling through, investor jitters, etc.) Kickstarter takes a lot of that out of the equation but it doesn’t help in the budgeting department. Animated feature films are still phenomenally expansive and successful Kickstarter campaigns have all been well below what a theatrical-standard feature film would cost.
Some have gone for the “sprint” route discussed above (the TUBE Open Movie is just one example) whereas others have managed to go the whole hog (Dick Figures) although in fairness, they were not going to maximum quality (or length). It’s hard to see how feature films can find a true home on Kickstarter as the costs are so huge and since only studios are likely to undertake one, they will already have sufficient abilities to raise money or at least talk directly to the people that do.
Is Kickstarter a replacement for traditional investment? No, but that isn’t stopping some people from trying, like this project. Granted, the $250,000 isn’t to finish the entire film, but it does represent a significant chunk of the cost of a film. Michael Barrier has a good opinion of Kickstarter on his website and Mark Sonntag chimes in in the comments with some thoughts that echo my feeling of Kickstarter when it comes to major films. That is, it’s hard to solicit funds from people for such a major project with little more than gifts being the reward. Equity makes people sit up and take notice, and the lure of a return is even better. One way that feature films could succeed on Kickstarter is to basically give everyone a piece of the pie. It’s something that may come along eventually, but for now, it seems that Kickstarter is off-limits to large budget feature films.
To conclude, it’s clear that Kickstarter really does help a large swathe of the animation community get their projects up and running. Unfortunately plenty of projects (both worthy and unworthy) go unfunded and perceived quality isn’t really a yardstick for success. Where Kickstarter seems to shine best is in getting physical objects into the hands of backers. Sending DVDs of a short is one thing, but funding DVDs of something that is already successful is another thing.
Take for example the webcomic Narbonic. Cartoonist Shaenon Garrity successfully funded two print volumes (proudly displayed on my bookshelf) through Kickstarter. She was able to take advantage of the fact that she was funding physical objects and the fact that Narbonic was a great webcomic with a devoted fanbase. Animators looking to use Kickstarter should take note; it’s much easier to raise funds when you already have an audience but when you do, Kickstarter can be a great tool to fulfilling your dreams.