Noah J Nelson on Friday, Oct. 18th
Crowdfunding seems like the kind of thing that would get easier over time. The comedy duo of Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine have gone to the Kickstarter well twice before, and each time it's been a success.
First was a campaign for a Robotic Edition of the Mark Twain classic "Huckleberry Finn." The second was a distribution campaign for their film "The Selling".
"Huck Finn" was a viral success, and "The Selling" made its goal, despite having the disadvantage of being a campaign for distribution funds for a film at a time when that was an unproven strategy.
So why are Diani & Devine stressing out over the campaign for their next feature film "Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse" days before their campaign launches?
(Full disclosure: Diani & Devine are both regular panelists on our podcast about crowdfunding, The CrowdCrowd.)
The nervousness stems from the fact they have done this before. They know exactly just how much of a slog a crowdfunding campaign can be. The pair began prepping materials in June for a project that will be launched on Tuesday the 22nd.
The long lead time has a lot to do with the amount of money they're trying to raise: $100,000.
"We recognize that we have a very large goal," said Diani.
"A goal larger than our current reach," added Devine.
"We think. We're not sure, but we think. We wouldn't be too worried if we were going to raise fifty (thousand)," concluded Diani.
To reach beyond the fans already in their grasp from "Huck Finn" and "The Selling" the duo are crafting an aggressive campaign. They've prepared a video for each day the project is in funding, a few of which will feature their cast of veteran actors. The cast count shows like "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "The Legend of Korra" amongst their accomplishments.
The daily video is an anomaly in the "fire and forget" land of Kickstarter. Many first time project creators make the mistake of launching their campaigns and thinking the money will roll in.
Diani & Devine have actually experienced exactly that before. The "Huck Finn" campaign went viral on the strength of the pitch video they made for the project. They're hoping that by stacking the new campaign with original videos that at least one of them will catch fire.
Illustrating the Core Idea
Producing multiple videos also lets the duo show what will make the movie fun: watching the pair succumb to the end of the world. At present Diani is sporting an almost frightening unkempt beard and Devine's roots are showing. They've sacrificed their usual grooming routines in order to illustrate just how they'd look if they survived an actual apocalypse.
"The idea is that you get to see us change over the course of the movie," said Diani, "so we wanted you to see us change over the course of the campaign video."
They've stayed "in character" a little longer than they originally anticipated. Producing the campaign videos meant calling in favors from friends, something every successful crowdfunding campaign has to do.
Dollars and Sense
Over the past few months of conversations with the pair one worry has stood out above all others: how to set up the reward tiers. This can be the trickiest part of a campaign. After all, the goal is to get as many backers as possible, but to also have an actual budget to make the film when all is said and done.
This is a major way that artistic endeavor campaigns are different from "pre-order" style campaigns. Listening to Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler on a recent podcast it is clear that the former are the point of Kickstarter, but they are infinitely more complex than the later.
Something as simple as the cost of a T-Shirt can put the whole project out of sorts.
"It's really the lowest tiers that have the most costs associated with them," said Devine. "The ratio of costs for a $500 item is a lot better than for a $50 item. That $50 item might cost us $11 dollars."
Another money matter that blindsides first timers that Diani & Devine are planning around? The IRS.
"We're trying to figure out what kind of tax hit we're going to take raising money before the end of the year,"said Diani. "We don't really have a chance to spend a lot of it in order to write it off. Is that going to hit us hard?"
Ready to Launch
In the week before launch the duo gave me a preview of their actual page. When it is revealed next Tuesday you'll see what I did: one of the most transparent and concise film project pages I've ever seen.
The costs of making a film are laid out in big, simple graphics that make it clear where the money is heading. What's perhaps most disheartening is that with a $100,000 ask a full $10,000 is going to be eaten up by site and processing fees.
It's a sobering reality: even the cost of doing Internet business is almost prohibitively expensive.
Diani & Devine are pretty much laying their careers on the line with this campaign. The amount of effort they've already put into marketing the project is a testament to their dedication. The success of the campaign hinges now on two factors: how well their sense of humor connects with audiences, and how much heat an intensely plotted campaign can generate.
As the campaign rolls on we'll be checking in with Diani & Devine to monitor progress. Others are already watching the campaign. Kickstarter itself has taken notice, reblogging the Tumblr announcement that the campaign will have a daily video.
While this campaign alone can't test the long-term veracity of the crowdfunding model, it can yield a lot of data about how audiences respond to a concerted effort by indie creators with an existing, if modest, following. Crowdfunding is still seen as the great hope for indie creators, and Diani & Devine's third campaign is the next great battleground for that idea.
Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer • crowdfunding • crowdfunding campaigns • Diani & Devine • Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse • Etta Devine • Gabe Diani • indie film • kickstarter • The CrowdCrowd • The Legend of Korra • toplogo