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Zachary Levi is turning to the fans.
On Tuesday, the Chuck and Thor 2 star launches a 46-day crowd-funding campaign, “I Want My Nerd HQ,” to help partially finance the popular fan event Nerd HQ, which is eyeing its fourth year at San Diego’s Comic-Con this July. Levi, who began Nerd HQ in 2011, is hoping to reach a target goal of $1 million through Indiegogo, a crowd-funding platform similar in vein to Kickstarter. Since Nerd HQ began three years ago, attendance has grown from 20,000 in its inaugural year to 32,000 in 2013, raising $215,000 for Operation Smile through celebrity panel series “Conversations for a Cause” in its most recent outing. So why turn to crowd-funding now?
“Nerd HQ was this thing we started and believed in for three years, and we just found that the financial model for how we were doing it just wasn’t working anymore,” the 33-year-old actor tells The Hollywood Reporter. The plan was to keep Nerd HQ “as free and accessible as we could,” which meant Levi and his counterparts relied on sponsorship dollars — “that way we could put all the cost on that” for things such as securing the venue and paying production staff. While that strategy worked the first two years, “it didn’t really work well at all” last summer, Levi admits, alluding to sponsors pulling out at the last moment, forcing him to pay out of his own pocket. “I got hit hard with it; that was a sign of ‘I don’t know if this really works anymore.’ ” That doesn’t mean Nerd HQ will be solely financed by the fans; Levi insists sponsorships will still be on the docket — he’s just guaranteeing that last year won’t happen again.
Levi has high hopes that the crowd-funding campaign, his first, will pay off — due in part to immense fan support on Twitter and the fact that they have a proven product — though he’s aware of the risks. “I feel like if they believe in it the way I believe in it, then we can all do this together,” he says. “Who knows what’s going to happen. But I really have a peace about it.” If there’s any hesitation or doubt, Levi isn’t shy about verbalizing it. “Maybe I’m crazy — it wouldn’t be the first time,” he says with a laugh. If “I Want My Nerd HQ” doesn’t meet its $1 million goal, Levi still plans on moving forward with the event, hopefully with a return trip to Petco. “If this crowd-funding thing doesn’t happen in the way that I think it will, I still have to take a long hard look at doing the event because I really do believe in it and the good that it brings,” he says.
The biggest difference from Levi’s crowd-funding effort to others, such as the Veronica Mars and Zach Braff‘s Kickstarters, is the lack of a rewards structure, an intentional move on his part to keep donators on equal footing — no matter the amount of money given, whether it’s $5 or $100. “The more that you can bring people together for a common good and a common goal and not disenfranchise them along the way, the more powerful it is,” Levi says. And in an effort to recognize the donators, a “massive donor wall” will be resurrected at Nerd HQ with their names emblazoned for all to see. “It’ll be a cool aesthetic thing, let alone a great way to thank everybody to say, ‘Hey, you’re awesome.’ “
Last year’s Nerd HQ highlights from July 18-21, 2013, included film and television panels for Doctor Who, Sherlock, Hannibal, Orphan Black, Supernatural, Haven, Psych, 300: Rise of an Empire, Kick-Ass 2, I, Frankenstein and Riddick, with a celebrity guest lineup that featured Joss Whedon, Tom Hiddleston, Matt Smith, Richard Madden, Nathan Fillion, Steven Moffat, Joe Manganiello, Evangelline Lilly and Tatiana Maslany.
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