Show me the money! Utah Valley filmmakers seek (and find) funding for their projects on Kickstarter

2011-06-05T00:20:00Z 2011-06-06T14:17:59Z Show me the money! Utah Valley filmmakers seek (and find) funding for their projects on KickstarterCody Clark — Daily Herald Daily Herald
June 05, 2011 12:20 am  • 

So you need a lot of money and there’s not much time to get it. Unless you have friends in the venture capital or investment banking industries, the options are limited: Win the lottery. Inherit. Rob a bank. Or maybe you just need a little bit of a kick. Kickstarter, a website that set sail in 2009, is rapidly emerging as a leading means of putting a price tag on your dreams ... and finding someone else to pay for them.

You can seek funding for a variety of bright ideas on Kickstarter — in April, a couple of California dreamers successfully raised $96,248 to launch a line of snap-together desktop trebuchets — but it’s become especially popular, including in Utah Valley, as a means of raising money to make movies.

The concept is simple. You announce the details of your project and the amount of money that you need to make it all happen. After that, any visitor to Kickstarter who likes the way you think can pledge to donate all or (in most cases) a portion of your estimated costs. Project creators are required to offer “rewards,” small incentives that encourage donation, but can set those parameters themselves.

Clark Schaffer, a veteran of the Hollywood visual effects industry who lives in Spanish Fork, has been hunting for the financial backing to make his first feature-length film for more than a year now. Schaffer, 43, said he’s talked to a number of people who express interest in his project, but ultimately turn him down. The bad economy comes up a lot, but even in the best of financial climates, films are a high-risk, high-reward proposition.

“It takes a special investor,” Schaffer said, to put money into a film.

Or maybe it takes a whole bunch of special investors. After seeing others have success on Kickstarter, Schaffer decided to give it a shot. He’s hoping to raise $100,000 to fund production of “Cleverer,” a sci-fi caper about a failed, middle-aged inventor who discovers the secret of teleportation. The clock is ticking: Kickstarter requires creators to be fully funded by a specific deadline in order to get their money.

You either get the full amount from however many “backers” your project has, or no money changes hands and everyone walks away free from obligation.

Brother can you spare a dime?

Schaffer is aiming high. If “Cleverer” gets funded by its July 12 deadline, then he’ll have pulled in the 15th-highest (as of earlier this week) amount to be raised from Kickstarter. (The all-time record, so far, is $941,718 raised from 13,512 backers to fund the launch of a product that attaches your iPod nano to a top-of-the-line wristwatch.)

His reach is not unprecedented, however, even just in Utah Valley. Last December, creative media developer Christopher Salmon, who lives in Pleasant Grove, successfully reaped $161,774 from 2,001 backers to fund production of a CGI-animated short film based on the Neil Gaiman short story “The Price.”

Salmon, 45, said his most important backer was Gaiman himself. A longtime fan of “genre stuff — science fiction and scary movies,” Salmon got the idea to make a short film based on one of Gaiman’s stories from a potential freelance contract. To obtain information about filmmaking rights, Salmon went straight to the horse’s mouth: “I sent a blind email to Neil Gaiman. I just about fell out of my chair when I got an email back.”

After directing Salmon to first contact his agent, Gaiman eventually took a personal interest in the project, plugging it on his blog and agreeing to participate in a few of the rewards offered to backers on Kickstarter. Salmon said that what sold Gaiman on “The Price” is an “animatic” (a simplified mock-up of an animated film) — it proved that Salmon could deliver what he promised.

Gaiman’s blessing, Salmon said, is probably what sold most (if not all) of his backers on “The Price” — some of those backers told him so themselves. “You get lots of cool feedback,” he said. “People write letters and explain their donations.”

Of course, even a famous author is no guarantee of success: Salmon met his funding goal with about 12 hours to spare. With an original idea and a script he wrote himself, Schaffer is relying heavily on self-promotion and word-of-mouth. “I treat it like part of my job,” he said. “I’ll devote at least an hour a day to doing something proactive to get the word out.”

So far, he’s done everything from pounding his message on Facebook and Twitter, to leaving business cards at comic book stores, to appearing on sci-fi podcasts.

Take as much as you need

Some project owners don’t try to get their entire budget from Kickstarter. Davey Morrison Dillard lives in Provo and is attempting to make a feature-length version of the recent play “WWJD” by Brigham Young University graduate Anna Lewis. Dillard, 23, said that he’s hoping to get half his budget — a mere $5,000 — from Kickstarter, and raise the other half by other means.

A BYU film school student, Dillard said that he hopes to keep his overall costs low relying on a general attitude of quid pro quo among fellow film students, who frequently help each other bring their filmmaking schemes to fruition. “Almost everyone is working for free,” he said. “Most of the money will go toward equipment rental, location fees, craft services. It’s a bare minimum approach.”

“WWJD” may also have a bit of an advantage by virtue of being offbeat and unusual — two qualities that frequently attract attention on Kickstarter. The story is about four friends in college whose lives are literally blessed by the unforeseen appearance of a fifth amigo, none other than Jesus himself, who serves them and hangs out with them.

Dillard said that the basic concept may sound weird, or even off-putting, but that people tend to love the story once they get into it.

Another local filmmaker who sought only partial funding from Kickstarter is Spanish Fork resident Tom Durham. Durham, who spoke to the Daily Herald last year, said that his sci-fi time travel film “95ers: ECHOES” is a dream project both for himself and his actress wife, Ali.

Durham worked on “95ers” piecemeal over a four-year period before deciding to give Kickstarter a whirl. The Durhams had gotten used to a recurring pattern. “We shoot as long as we can, and then we’re broke and then we have to save up money and shoot some more,” Durham said.

Kickstarter brought in $17,020 from 224 backers, exceeding the couple’s goal of $12,000 and helping a prolonged and very expensive filmmaking journey suddenly arrive at its destination. Of course, finishing a film is one thing. Getting it distributed, whether in theaters, or on television, or via Internet streaming is an entirely different prospect.

Most filmmakers are happy to cross that bridge when they come to it — coming to it is hard enough. Schaffer said he envisions about three more months of pre-production on “Cleverer,” followed by a three-week film shoot and roughly six months of post-production work — if he can get his budget.

With his production costs no longer an obstacle, Salmon anticipates completing “The Price” by year’s end. And after that? For now he has a hopeful eye on the Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

Now, if only there were a Kickstarter for film distribution ...

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