News Column

A real Kickstarter for movies and music

October 20, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 20--Danny Yourd is producing a documentary on Ukrainian street kids addicted to alcohol and cold medicine; Jared Show is shooting a comedy-horror about Bigfoot running amok in Ellwood City.

Their films couldn't be much farther apart thematically, though the two local movie-makers share an ever-growing vision on how to bring their projects to fruition.

They're asking regular folks to donate money online.

Yourd, of Moon Township, and Show, an Ellwood City native, both turned to Kickstarter, a website where filmmakers and musicians seek start-up money from fans.

Similar "crowd-funding" sites, including Indiegogo and PledgeMusic, are a new business model that allows indie artists to truly stay independent, with their only return costs being things like autographed merchandise.

"It allows us to retain all ownership and creative freedoms," said Yourd, whose previously produced film, "Blood Brother," won a Grand Jury Prize at the esteemed Sundance Film Festival. "And as indie filmmakers, Kickstarter allows us to connect with people who are interested in our film and want to support it. It's cool to incorporate fans at that early stage."

KICKSTARTER WORKS

In a 35-day period this summer, Yourd and Pittsburgh film director Steve Hoover raised $49,736 from 641 Kickstarter backers for their documentary "Gennadiy." That money will pay for production and pre-production costs for their Ukrainian shot film.

For their previous India-set HIV/AIDS documentary "Blood Brother" they raised $9,000 on Kickstarter, which covered their overseas flights; then generated $12,000 more on Indiegogo to properly publicize their Sundance-selected film.

For his "Bigfoot: The Movie," Show raised $2,706 in the first eight days of a 15-day Kickstarter campaign seeking $10,000. Shooting starts Nov. 8 in Ellwood City, with a cast that includes Curt Wootton, star of the popular web series "Pittsburgh Dad," and former Patterson Township resident Joanie Dodds, from DIY channel's "Run My Renovation" and a 2006 runner-up on "America's Next Top Model."

The now California-based Show, who does freelance editing for FX's "Sons of Anarchy," tried for several years to get his Bigfoot movie off the ground, before opting for a Kickstarter campaign.

In years past, he might have stuck with the more traditional method of seeking a formal financial investor or two, though that often comes with a steep price.

"When you have investors involved they have their own ideas on things like who should be the star of the movie," Show, a 1998 Riverside High grad said. "It turns out to be a different movie than what you had planned. It's like too many cooks in the kitchen."

HOW IT WORKS

On his Kickstarter page, Show takes a plain-spoken approach to attract backers who value art over business. He explains how $10,000 in donations would let him hire a professional special effects makeup artist to create a Bigfoot that's far more believable than just some actor in a mask. Such donations also will help pay for realistic props "instead of having to use fake-looking BB guns and the actor yelling out "Bang!,'" he said.

Kickstarter pages include a "Risks and Challenges" heading, where the moviemaker or band speculates on best-case and worst-case scenarios to help prospective donors decide if it's worth their financial risk.

The website also lets the artists outline specific rewards that donors will receive, such as thank-you postcards, autographed posters and DVDs or CDs.

"It's tricky to come up with T-shirts or some other tangible objects," Yourd said.

If the artist spends too much money on rewards it could be counter-productive to the initial money-making intent.

A simple $10 donation gets your name listed in the credits of the Bigfoot movie, though anyone who steps forward with $1,000 gets an autographed poster and DVD, plus a "thank you" phone call from Wootton doing either his "Pittsburgh Dad" routine or an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation. Best of all, a $1,000 donation gets you a role as an extra in the movie.

Musicians, too, have gotten creative with their crowd-funding rewards.

Local rockers The Clarks will play an intimate acoustic show for you and 25 friends for a $4,000 donation. For $12,500, the band will plug in and play a full-on electric show for you and 75 buddies.

Also offering more ground-level donations like an autographed CD for $20, or an autographed poster and lyrics for $100, The Clarks raised more than 200 percent of their PledgeMusic goal to finance their soon-to-be-released ninth studio album, "Feathers & Bones."

MANY ARE TRYING IT

Like the Clarks, Pittsburgh rocker Joe Grushecky -- who's been making albums since 1979 -- took his first leap into crowd funding for his brand-new album "Somewhere East of Eden."

"He was a bit skeptical, but to his credit, when I asked him to 'Trust me on this one,' he did," said Grushecky's marketing director, Bob Chiappardi from Concrete Marketing. "Yesterday he told me that he really enjoyed the experience and was happy we did it."

And why not: Grushecky's PledgeMusic campaign topped 300 percent of its goal, thanks to incentives like a private dinner with the singer, or a chance to pick which cover song he plays live.

Bands announce their campaigns through social media and on their websites in increasingly creative videos.

The Clarks' Scott Blasey and Greg Joseph strummed and sang a few verses from some new songs on their PledgeMusic video.

Pittsburgh pop-rock band Falling Andes stood atop a hill and brandished a sword, spoofing an artsy, black-and-white film before doing a more serious sit-down video explanation of why they need fans to donate.

"The expenses involved with creating a professional record are quite high, and the income of an independent rock band is quite low," singer Dan Peluso of Beaver said.

For its recently finished sophomore album Falling Andes went with Indiegogo "because they offer a 'flexible funding' pricing option, as opposed to Kickstarter's 'all-or-nothing' pricing, in which you only receive the donations if you reach your goal," Peluso said.

So even though Falling Andes didn't reach its goal, "we were still able to receive the donations made on this campaign to help fund the album."

Until recently, crowd-funding sites were mostly the domain of young bands like Falling Andes.

But now even platinum-selling bands and famous filmmakers are going that route, which has raised arguments of fairness.

SHOULD CELEBRITIES BE ALLOWED?

"Why are you giving your money to celebrities?" questioned a column from Dylan Gadino, editor-in-chief of Laughspin.com who claimed successful and financially secure Hollywood types are abusing Kickstarter, which he contends was designed for people without the connections or capital to realize their dreams.

The poster boy for the anti-celebrity-crowd-funding movement is Zach Braff, director and star of 2004's acclaimed "Garden State," who launched a $2 million Kickstarter campaign for a film that would star him and Kate Hudson. Fans donated the $2 million in three days, raising the level to $3 million several weeks later by which time Braff closed the campaign.

Director Rob Thomas made $5.7 million on Kickstarter -- well over the $2 million goal -- for a film version of his former TV show "Veronica Mars," while Spike Lee raised $1.4 million on Kickstarter for a future film.

In his crowd-funding pitch, Lee said the current climate and artistic tastes of the Hollywood studio system left him little option.

"I'm not hating, just stating the facts," Lee said. "Superheroes, comic books, 3D special effects, blowing up the planet nine times and fly through the air while transforming is not my thang."

Toad the Wet Sprocket, the alternative-rock band known for Billboard hits "Walk on the Ocean," "All I Want," and "Fall Down," independently released Tuesday its first new studio album in 16 years thanks to a Kickstarter campaign. The band's worldwide fan base kicked in with $50,000 in less than 24 hours. In return, backers received a bonus version of the album, and later an acoustic EP when the campaign surpassed a second goal of $150,000.

Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips said Kickstarter was a full-circle response from a band that began as teenaged garage rockers who made their first two records on their own before licensing them to the Columbia label.

"The music world has changed a great deal since then, but brought us back to the indie world," Phillips said. "We are once again an unsigned band, and that offers us great flexibility and a chance to avoid some of the pitfalls of a traditional record deal. Through our Kickstarter campaign we will be able to launch the new record independently, directly to and funded by those who care most about our music. Perhaps we'll partner with a company later on, but for now we are more than happy to have this be between us and our fans."

Donators seem to outnumber the critics questioning if Lee and other celebrities are doing the right thing competing for crowd-funding dollars.

"People might not agree with that because they're raising so much money, but I don't see a bad to it," filmmaker Yourd said. "That's a way for fans to get behind a movement. I would vouch for it. If it's one of my favorite bands, why not support it and get some awesome music out of it?"

Yourd said, "I guess time will tell if they're doing it correctly and rewarding people as they said they would."

Local rockers The Hawkeyes will poke fun at the concept with their Nov. 2 "Van Crowdfunding" show at the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville. Everyone who attends gets merchandise and a performance right then and there, with proceeds helping the touring band buy a new van.

"Basically this show is how we want to "crowd-fund' for a particular goal, rather than use Indiegogo or Kickstarter," Hawkeyes singer Jay Wiley of Ellwood City said. "We feel that if our fans are willing to donate money then we should be willing to give a performance to coincide with that."

Wiley said his musician friends often debate the merits of crowd-funding. He thinks it's OK if it's for something like a band wanting to tour for an anti-bullying campaign.

Wiley said, "But if there's someone out there simply wanting to do something just for the sake of doing it or it's there dream per se, and they are fully capable of putting the work into their project in order to fund it, then I'm against it."

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(c)2013 Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)

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