By Stephanie Ewing (MA ’12) / Illustrations by Erik “E.N.” Rodriguez (’11)
*These may or may not be real projects on Kickstarter
Artists of all kinds have jumped on the crowd-funding bandwagon, proving online platforms can help raise the money needed to bring their creations to life. Columbia alumni, students, and faculty share lessons learned on their way to success.
Sean Jourdan’s crew (many of whom are Columbia alumni) filmed his thriller Teddy Boy in Colorado.
CREATOR: Sean J.S. Jourdan (MFA ’09 )
a feature-length film
March 14, 2012
April 16, 2012
Start fundraising early. Contact everyone you know and pitch the project.
In the video pitch for his Kickstarter campaign, filmmaker Sean J.S. Jourdan (MFA ’09), his wife, and their giggling baby daughter look directly into the camera and lay it all out for potential investors: “We want to do something special, something evocative, and just starting out, we don’t have the ability to just play it safe. I want to make something that one day, our daughter will be very proud of.”
When he launched his online fundraising campaign in March 2012, Jourdan had been a filmmaker for a decade, writing award-winning scripts, and producing and directing short films, including his 27-minute-long MFA thesis film, The Beekeeper, a finalist in Columbia College Chicago’s 2012 Written Image Screenwriting Prize. Ready to create his first feature-length film, Teddy Boy, Jourdan hit the pavement to raise capital the traditional way, but the studios and financiers weren’t biting. That’s when he turned to crowd funding, raising $35,633 from 244 backers—more than $2,000 beyond his original goal.
His film, Teddy Boy, finished shooting in June 2012 and is slated to begin showing to select audiences in July 2013. “Without Kickstarter,” Jourdan says, “I wouldn’t have been able to make my first feature film—at least not now. For the past year, I’ve been the ‘almost’ guy. Kickstarter allowed me not to wait for other people to say yes.”
In return for taking a small cut (4 to 9 percent) of the total amount raised, crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo let artists and creators of all kinds launch online campaigns to solicit donations from friends, family, and supportive strangers for a specific project that might otherwise languish unfunded or take many more years to complete by traditional means. Columbia alumni, students, and faculty are breaking new ground with crowd funding, proving Kickstarter (the most well known crowd-funding site) and similar sites can be a viable way to bring their creations into the world.
CREATOR: Alyson Beaton, Assistant Professor, Art + Design
modular, eco-friendly dollhouses
designed after real Chicago homes
March 25, 2012
April 25, 2012
Running a crowd-funding campaign is like starting your own business, so be prepared.
The Lille Huset pop-up shop allows Beaton to set up and sell her dollhouses on the road.
Alyson Beaton discusses her wild Kickstarter ride:
ON HER IDEA :I have an architecture background and always had in the back of my mind these design activities for kids. It was my daughter’s birthday, and I wanted to make her a dollhouse, so I figured out a way to make it using the laser cutter [at Columbia]. People said, “That’s really cool! You should make more!” So I did. The interest in the product was very encouraging, and everyone wanted one. So I cut [a few] more, took them to a market, and then sold out. I figured I must have a decent idea.
ON CHOOSING CROWD FUNDING:I did a lot of research to figure out what it was going to take to mass produce a product. I learned it was going to cost [at least $5,000] to mass produce about 1,000 [of the dollhouses]. Kickstarter was a no-brainer. The product evolved over a year of testing it, photographing it, and giving it to kids before hitting Kickstarter, but I went there because I wanted to develop it based on feedback from people.
ON THE CROWD-FUNDING PROCESS :Before [attending a Kickstarter workshop at Columbia], I didn’t think you needed much going into a campaign; you could just throw it together and hit “go.” But you really have to have your stuff together before you launch. I worked on my submission a month before I pressed ‘Go Live.’ I had my cousin who is a copywriter read over it, my friend who is a financial planner read over it—you don’t know who’s going to see it and you want to look as legitimate as possible. That initial money I got from the Kickstarter campaign helped me get my first business loan, because it showed that I had gotten $12,000—which is nothing to sneeze at. You do even have a little market data from [a Kickstarter campaign]. It helped my bank go, “OK, people did like your product, they did back you.”
ON THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED:In the end I made $12,000, which was great and over my goal [of $8,000], but I needed more money, and kept thinking, “Oh, it would be great to make so much more. If I made $100,000, I’d be so happy!” In hindsight, though, it was the right amount of money, because even just mailing out the 181 backer gifts took me three months. The initial run of my product needed revisions, and if I had gotten more Kickstarter orders, I would have made twice as many and had twice as many out there that I needed to revise.
Beaton sold all her initial production run of 1,000 dollhouses financed by Kickstarter, and with her business loan, has been creating and selling subsequent runs and seasonal collections online at lillehusetshop.com (prices range between $8 and $170) and through national and international retail outlets, including Barneys New York.
CREATORS: Darryl Holliday (BA ’12)
Erik Rodriguez (’11)
The Illustrated Press: Chicago
a comics journalism book of Chicago news and history
April 2, 2012
May 1, 2012
Think like a salesperson, and become your own marketer.
The Illustrated Press: Chicago hit stores in September.
When Darryl Holliday (BA ’12) and Erik Rodriguez (’11) tell others they create comics journalism, most people are a little confused.
“They think we’re talking about editorial cartoons or the comics section,” says Holliday. Instead, Holliday and Rodriguez present the news, with real facts and quotes, frame by frame with illustrations, just like in graphic novels or comic books. Holliday writes and Rodriguez illustrates stories ranging from a Cook County Courthouse wedding to Chicago neighborhood histories.
Rodriguez and Holliday met at Columbia through their work on the student newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle. Intrigued by comics journalism, the pair wanted to collect their various stand-alone stories into a book. Before he graduated, Holliday won a Weisman Award from Columbia worth $1,000, but he and Rodriguez still needed to raise $3,500 on their own in order to print and sell their book.
“The best way to explain comics journalism is to show it,” says Rodriguez. “And I think the ‘comics’ aspect helped sell the project to a different kind of crowd [on Kickstarter].”
Getting the campaign up and running was an “incredibly stressful” process that included writing the pitch and shooting a promotional video, “having to be out there and being judged,” and constantly haranguing friends, family, and colleagues on social media for donations before and during their month-long campaign, says Holliday. But running a Kickstarter campaign was also rewarding beyond just securing the funding required to print The Illustrated Press. “It was really the start of us marketing ourselves,” says Rodriguez. Holliday agrees. “It made us much more confident and introduced us to people, which in turn made it easier to pitch other places.”
The Illustrated Press: Chicago was printed and hit the stands of Chicago bookstores and Etsy.com in September 2012. The Harold Washington Library Center chose work from The Illustrated Press to display in its main hall through July. Holliday, a reporter, and Rodriguez, a graphic designer and production manager at The Columbia Chronicle, also create freelance comics journalism pieces for WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate station, and explore ways to present comics journalism online.
Gewargis Envia (BA ’12)
Mason Arrington (BA ’12)
Larry Griffin IV (BA ’12)
Peter Gabriel (BA ’12)
From left to right: Gewargis Envia (BA ’12), Mason Arrington (BA ’12), Larry Griffin IV (BA ’12), and Peter Gabriel (BA ’12)
a retro-looking, role-playing video game
July 5, 2012
August 7, 2012
Take the time to get your project as advanced as possible before launching your campaign.
Top: Noah Johnson is one of 350 Moon Intern project backers who will appear as a character in the video game. Each character is drawn to resemble the backer in the game's low-resolution art style. Above: Players will navigate the moonscape as they perform odd jobs and random tasks in order to pay the rent.
“Moon Intern is a game we couldn’t have made without Kickstarter,” says lead designer, artist, and creator Larry Griffin IV (BA ’12), who, like many independent game designers, used crowd funding to gain a foothold in a competitive market dominated by big-name production companies. Griffin met fellow game design majors Peter Gabriel (BA ’12, lead programmer), Mason Arrington (BA ’12, gameplay scripter), and Gewargis Envia (BA ’12, user interface lead) in Columbia’s game design classes, where they worked together on their large group game design senior project.
lG: Moon Intern started for me when I was learning [game development] my freshman or sophomore year. It evolved over the years, talking with Peter [Gabriel], from this idea of being some guy on the moon doing jobs to having stories and plots. About a year ago, we decided it was going to be a Kickstarter project. Tom Dowd [associate professor, Interactive Arts and Media] told us about Kickstarter. It stayed in the back of my head as a really feasible way to achieve funding for projects. It was pretty scary starting the campaign; we were not too keen on asking for money. But I didn’t see it as begging, so much as pre-ordering.
GE: I was very confident before we started, but as the campaign went on, I kept getting more down, worrying in the slow periods that we weren’t going to make it.
MA: …But then we got onto Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a gaming blog, and we just took off, and I knew then that we were going to succeed.
PG: But then there was another game, from another university, in a situation just like us—except they made something like $150,000 on their first day. So you wonder: How did their project do that? Why didn’t ours?
GE: And we figured it had to be, in part, that they had gameplay, a really cool-looking demo to show. We didn’t, really. We hadn’t actually started production on the game yet—though we did have some nice art and a small Flash demo—but they’d already been in production for a quarter to a third of a year already.
PG: It doesn’t matter how much you say about your project, when you have something to show for it, people practically hurl their money at the computer screen.
The Moon Intern team is planning to launch the game by the end of 2013 and is in talks with Sony to coordinate a possible PlayStation 3 release.
Kickstarter Dos & Don’ts
Successful crowd-funding campaigns feature video pitches and written explanations of projects, and offer small thank-you gifts to project investors, called backers. But backers don’t see the intense business planning, marketing, and legwork that goes on before a successful crowd-funding campaign even launches. Columbia entrepreneurs offer their tips on making a campaign as successful as possible.
DO! Understand what you are getting into.
“A lot of people don’t know what they’re getting into when they’re using Kickstarter,”
says Art + Design assistant professor Alyson Beaton, creator of Lille Huset dollhouses.
“You’re starting a business, whether you want to or not, because you have to.”
Filmmaker Sean J.S. Jourdan (MFA ’09) conducted extensive research before starting
his campaign and found that Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing funding scheme (projects only
get funded if they reach or exceed their goals) was useful: “This all-or-nothing approach really did light a fire under me.” Beaton agrees: “It really pressures you to get your [stuff] together. Either you’re going to get it together and get started, or you’re going to fail, email everyone to tell them you’re giving their money back, and cry.”
DO! Start early and get your network involved.
Jourdan says that about 90 percent of his film project’s backers were connections of
his in one way or another. “Much like finished films, many Kickstarter projects fail under the premise that if we build it they will come. Start fundraising early. Call your friends and family. Start reconnecting with folks from your past, then pitch and get them excited.”
DO! Have a prototype to show so potential backers can get excited.
Journalist Darryl Holliday (BA ’12) and illustrator Erik Rodriguez (’11) say because their comics journalism project was visually oriented, it helped sell their concept to potential backers. This is an insight that the creators of video game Moon Intern wish they had heeded during their campaign, even though the project was successfully funded. “We got really lucky for not having real gameplay to show during the Kickstarter campaign,” says creator Larry Griffin IV (BA ’12). “If you have [a working prototype to show people] during the campaign, you’re going to have a much easier time.”
DON’T! Launch your campaign until you are truly ready.
“There were probably five different points in time where we were about to launch the Kickstarter, but pushed it back by a couple of weeks or a month,” Griffin says, saying that this time allowed the team to improve the product. “But every time we did, it was better in the end.”
DON’T! Be afraid to go for it.
“There’s a lot of risk in running these campaigns,” says Jourdan. “But don’t be afraid. Just like the film should have your heart in it, your campaign should also have your heart. If people get a glimpse of your heart, they’ll believe in you … and put their hard-earned money on the line.”
—Stephanie Ewing (MA ’12)