Is This the Worst Kickstarter Movie Campaign in History?
Unbeknownst to them, Thora Birch and Jennifer Elise Cox are among the stars touted on the crowdfunding site by first-time filmmaker Linda Stuart, who's seeking $5 million for the project.
"It was the written equivalent of a public stoning," prospective writer-director Linda Stuart tells The Hollywood Reporter of reactions to her ongoing crowdfunding campaign for the feature film Kate Allen Is Getting a Life. After popular movie blog Film School Rejects published the article "The Best Possible Example of How Not to Do Kickstarter," an analytical breakdown of Stuart's project, the Hollywood hopeful became target No. 1 for Internet backlash. The site suggested that it was "probably the worst Kickstarter campaign ever made." The harsh criticism left Stuart baffled, yet even more driven to accomplish her goal.
"I want to do it. That's my dream. The true essence of a dream is that you would do it for a free. Or a dollar," she says.
In the case of Kate Allen Is Getting a Life, the asking price rounds out at a hefty $5 million. As a commenter on her Kickstarter page notes, that's a milestone only three projects in the site's history have ever hit, with only one of them being a film project (the game-changing Veronica Mars, which raised over $3 million on top of its $2 million goal). Stuart, a story analyst for hire and the author of the industry-focused Getting Your Script Through the Hollywood Maze, says the success of Veronica Mars was inspirational. The fact that she's gunning for $5 million without an established fan base is "irrelevant."
"If you go on Kickstarter, not every project is established," she says. "That's not the essence of Kickstarter. It's not just for the elite of Hollywood. Anybody can go on there."
While Kickstarter may be a breeding ground for indie film, Stuart is decidedly Hollywood-minded in her campaign efforts. Her project page reads like a script breakdown. "Film w/ Thora Birch, Heather Matarazzo, Jennifer Elise Cox," reads the header. She goes on to outline character and plot details, describing the movie biz-set comedy with a theme of "never giving up on your dreams." When describing it to THR, she likens the movie to the work of Nancy Meyers, emphasizing a need for high production value and an elaborate soundtrack. Down and dirty this is not -- which caused backlash when the campaign went viral.
"[People] e-mailed me comments like 'I really hope this is a joke,' " she says. "What do they think, it would be better if I asked for $10,000? You can't make the kind of film I want to make for that. If you want to do Blair Witch Project, then the genre sells the film and you can do it with a handheld camera. I always wanted this film to be mainstream Hollywood if I could."
It's here that Film School Rejects managing editor and "How Not to Do Kickstarter" author Scott Beggs saw a disconnect. He tells THR that Stuart's movie could appeal to the Kickstarter crowd if the approach felt geared for Kickstarter. "People who support projects on [crowdfunding] sites do so because they see clearly displayed passion, films that are blissfully outside the mainstream and/or audio-visual proof of strong, untapped talent," says Beggs, whose site routinely covers Kickstarter projects. "You also want to see prep work, concept art and a plan -- a project that's solely waiting on money to press 'Go,' not one that's using the money to figure out what it's doing."
Beggs says he saw Stuart's campaign as an opportunity to shed light on common problems many aspiring filmmakers face when utilizing crowdfunding. He highlights the generic title and astronomical budget, along with Stuart's lack of supplemental videos (where many directors make face-to-face contact with their donors), the misuse of incentives and a vague connection to the film's proposed cast. "Crowdfunding could grow to become an even larger behemoth, but right now it's not the place for a first-time director to score $5 million," he says.
Stuart feels that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to Kickstarter, despite Kate Allen Is Getting a Life's lack of traction. Initially, a Kickstarter representative contacted Stuart urging her to shoot a video, an addition that helps site projects succeed at a 20 percent higher rate, according to Kickstarter's communication team. Stuart declined, opting for a picture of herself.
Explains Stuart, "I e-mailed her, 'You don't know what I've gone through to get to this step. I appreciate your thoughts, but I can't make a video. These are your sensibilities, but please allow me to put it up there. I know how to write, I'm a published author. I'm not a neophyte.' So she approved it."
Currently, Stuart is offering the incentive: $50 gets a person's name in the credits and a copy of the finished film, following Kickstarter's own recommendations. "There's no reason why someone who succeeded in raising their goal should give away half the money they succeeded in raising," she says.
When it comes to the cast, Stuart did receive letters of interest from all three actresses in the summer of 2012. Elise Cox confirms the letter with THR, though she was unaware of the use of her name in the campaign. Birch's reps say that "Thora was not aware of this Kickstarter campaign, and she has not been involved with this project for over a year." Matarazzo could not be reached for comment.
Stuart is not letting the ripple effect of the negative responses get her down. Nor is she planning to alter the goal. In fact, she's already compromising. "[Beggs] thought it was outrageous that I wanted $5 million when, really, I want $7 million," Stuart says. "If you look at Steven Soderbergh's budget for Magic Mike last year, it was $7 [million] to $7.5 [million]. He could have easily made that movie for $40 million."
With 10 days to go and $243 in the pot (as of this report), Stuart is pessimistic about hitting her goal. "It's probably not going to make it unless there's a miracle." But she's no stranger to twisting bumps in the road into selling points. According to Stuart, she was offered a distribution deal for Kate Allen Is Getting a Life by Fries Film Group but turned it down due to creative differences ("[They] offered me a contract I wouldn't have my dog sign."). Stuart embraced it, turning the fact into part of the Kickstarter campaign. Now she's looking for new financiers.
Stuart says she was wrongfully persecuted by the "mob mentality" of the Internet. Her "first-time filmmaker" label was like a scarlet letter, her $5 million goal a dubious act. When she gets the money, she'll prove people wrong.
"If someone wants to ask for $100 million and they're a first-time director, that's fine," she says. "When Quentin Tarantino was starting out, he didn't just want to be a screenwriter. Harmony Korine, who directed Spring Breakers, he sold a script or two before, but who says any person can't do that?"