Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Kickstarting an Idea

Share |

The ideas in “The 9th Annual Year in Ideas” from the New York Times Magazine range from the inspiring (“The Advertisement that Watches You” decrying domestic violence) to the practical (“The Kitchen Sink That Puts Out Fires”). For the unpublished, the unproduced, the unsung, one idea is a happy blend of both. Kickstarter is a website that is inspiring because it is so practical.

“At Kickstarter,” author Clive Thompson writes, “creative types post a description of a project they want to do, how much money they need for it and a deadline. If enough people pledge money that the artists reach (or surpass) their financial goals, then everyone is billed, paying in advance as you would for a magazine subscription. For goals that aren’t reached, nobody is charged.

In essence, Kickstarter offers a form of market research for artists. For perhaps the first time, an artist can quickly answer a nagging question: Does anyone actually want my art badly enough to pay for it?”

As of today — with 20 days to go and 87 backers behind them — the creative team behind RunTellmanRun: A Barefoot Odyssey are 81% funded toward their goal of $6000 for “a documentary short that will chronicle the first 654 miles of Tellman Knudson's barefoot run across America to combat youth homelessness.” A $5.00 pledge gets you an MP4 digital download of the film when it’s completed. Pledge $25.00 and you get the download plus a DVD copy. Fifty dollars gets you the download, the DVD and rough cut “sneak peaks” of the film as it’s being edited (one hopes some of the money will go toward a dictionary). And so it goes. Cough up $2000 and you get a cameo in the film.

That some projects surpass their goal doesn’t come as a surprise, as in Designing Obama ($84,613.81 pledged; 130% funded). If anything, the surprise is that Scott Thomas, design director of the Obama campaign, didn’t find funding through the more conventional means of a publisher’s advance. But Jason Scott must be pinching himself. As he explains it, Scott does “a range of projects related to computer history.” When his day job went belly up, Scott found himself with the time he always wanted to devote himself to his projects but without the funds to see them through. Enter 342 backers who supported the Jason Scott Sabbatical to the tune of $26,658, surpassing his goal of $25,000.

Canadian content? Rural Alberta Advantage set out to make 300 copies of a 7” record (two songs) exclusively for Kickstarter backers. The band raised $1700 above their $5000 goal, including a $3000 pledge from one backer whose return includes an exclusive show performed anywhere in North America.

Some projects draw backers with a Warholian lure of fifteen minutes of fame, like the cameo in RunTellmanRun or Christopher Howell’s The Monster Book. Kick in $300 and a linoleum block print monster, based on the story you provide to Howell, is included in the book.

No artist ever hungers for ideas. Transforming ideas into poems or a book or a film takes time. Time, as we know, is money. Money doesn’t come cheap, so to speak. Kickstarter may not be the answer to an artist’s prayers, but for many — gifted but unknown, committed but far from shore — it has proven to be a blessing.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Emil Sher

Emil Sher’s works include stage plays, screenplays and radio dramas. His published works include Making Waves, Mourning Dove and Hana’s Suitcase on Stage.

Go to Emil Sher’s Author Page