Is Kickstarter a Young Person's Game?

Lee Wilkof - P 2013
Courtesy of Subject

Lee Wilkof - P 2013

Millennials, shmillennials: 62-year-old Lee Wilkof, the original Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors," has turned to the crowdsourcing site to get his Nathan Lane-starring passion project off the ground.

“Over the past 40 years as an actor I've had great breaks, some huge flops, met a few jerks, but mostly I have worked with incredible people,” New York-based actor Lee Wilkof says of his career in show business. “I know the business, and I'm ready to move forward with a project that everyone can get behind.”

At 62, Wilkof is the unlikely force behind a new indie film Kickstarter campaign. The crowdsourcing site is a bubbling talent pool of creative voices, but besides Spike Lee, the success stories have skewed towards a younger generation. With a sharp screenplay, recognizable cast (including Nathan Lane, Ted Lavine, and Laurie Metcalf), and a $450,000 goal, Wilkof hopes to reverse -- or at least buck -- the trend. With 28 days left, he's so for collected $58,000 of it.

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Wilkof, who originated the part of Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors and has seen consistent theater and film work through 2013, makes his directorial debut with No Pay, Nudity, a riff on an the acting life. Lavine stars as Lester Rosenthal, a former soap star whose career in the theater is dwindling along with his family's patience. Most of his time is spent in the Equity Lounge, where he crosses paths with a slightly demented actress (Metcalf), a Brando-type whose temper destroyed his career (Lane), and Stephen (Boyd Gaines), a quiet loner who loves the company. Wilkof and screenwriter Ethan Sandler tie them together with anecdotal antics drawn from the director's experiences.

“I came up for the story of No Pay, Nudity during a dark period four or five years ago,” Wilkof says. “I think it's safe to say I was struggling with not only not working very much, but coming to grips that certain dreams I had were not likely to come to fruition, and my definition of success as an actor had to be reassessed." Like many artists, Wilkof turned to his craft to work through it. “In the last few years I've made peace with a lot of these issues, but I'm still an actor who wants to work and still find myself with certain fantasies of my youthful dreams I had as a young actor being fulfilled."

A demographic breakdown of Kickstarter's audience reveals that males account for 78 percent of visitors, and 57 percent of the total audience is under the age of 34. With video game wizards, inventors with the next great lifehack, and an indie film scene flooded with genre projects, Kickstarter is a young person's game. Wilkof knows it.

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“It is rather low key and character driven,” he says of his project. “No blood. No guns. Just a few slow, figurative punches to the gut. In our current climate, sure it's a challenge. But there are still people who like a quieter story with some laughs and tears.”

Wilkof did try to fund No Pay, Nudity through conventional financing strategies., but found investors weren't ready to pony up for a first time director. So he turned to Kickstarter. In the video for his campaign, Wilkof appears in New York's Times Square asking for support. A woman approaches him with a few bucks. “You look like you could use some help,” she says.

“You see --  even young people like that want to give us money!” Wilkof jokes.