The Best Possible Example of How Not to Do Kickstarter

By  · Published on September 13th, 2013

This is probably the worst Kickstarter campaign ever made. Granted, it doesn’t have pay-me-to-stalk-Adam-Sandler comic appeal (or that project’s success!), but it does feature an individual with purported ties to the industry failing at every single level and offering a great teaching moment for people seeking crowdfunding (or a rubbernecking opportunity for everyone else).

That’s the good news. There’s a lot of advice buried in the rubble.

According to her website, Linda Stuart is a former lecturer at the American Film Institute, a former staff story analyst at Paramount and a script consultant for hire who will provide a full script overview (with handwritten and typed notes) for only $1,200 (a steal! (note: not a steal)). Now she wants $5M to make a comedy called Kate Allen is Getting a Life that might star several actresses who were popular in the late 1990s.

She emailed us asking to publicize the campaign, and I can honestly say that we’re going to do that. Just not in the way she was probably hoping for. Fortunately, others can learn from these mistakes and find themselves on their way to crowdfunding success. If that’s your goal, check out everything Stuart did and do the opposite.

Mistake #1: A Generic Title

Stuart’s script is Kate Allen is Getting a Life, but her Kickstarter appeal is called “Film w/ Thora Birch, Heather Matarazzo, Jennifer Elise Cox”.

First of all, this says nothing about the movie and, instead, opts for name recognition in an ironic way. I don’t mean this with even an ounce of disrespect, but those names don’t carry a lot of recognition after a decade without a mainstream appearance. As cynical as we can all be about studios relying too heavily on last names we’ll all know, there’s a reality to how effectively they can draw an audience (on the internet especially).

Whether you agree with that drawing power or not, Stuart was gambling with the first impression of her appeal solely with the popularity of those names to make you want to pull your wallet out. She probably would have done better with “A New Romantic Comedy About Chasing Your Passion Starring Thora Birch” or at least something that doesn’t come with a complimentary pillow.

Mistake #2: Whatever That Header Picture Is/Not Having a Video

Here’s where things get a bit surreal. Not only does Stuart avoid making an impassioned video plea for donations (the lifeblood of a successful campaign), she chooses to use a picture of herself instead of, say, the actresses she’s touting in the title. To be fair, she says she has letters of interest from Birch and the others (more on that later), so maybe she doesn’t have permission to use their likenesses (even as she uses their names) for fundraising. Confused yet? Good.

However, the image choice isn’t the real issue. Even though she explains directly what the movie is, who will (potentially) be in it and why she’s turning to Kickstarter (the studios are insular, potential financing deals wouldn’t let her direct), she’s effectively asking the public to support her in that freedom without showing us any proof of her skills as a director. If we’re thinking of Kickstarter in terms of a job application (which it is), she hasn’t even handed in a resume.

Beyond the simple mistake of it, it’s also more than a little insulting to a Kickstarter crowd to ask for $5M and not take the time to at least webcam yourself asking nicely. Which leads us to:

Mistake #3: Oh, yeah. That Insanely High Fundraising Goal

Five. Million. Dollars.

Five. Million. Dollars.

Did I say it got surreal up there? Because we’re still on the alternative universe train. And it sounds like this.

This detail makes me think this whole thing could be some kind of outsider art or satirical punch at crowdfunding, but assuming it’s genuine absurdity instead of a comment on it, it’s difficult to imagine how Stuart could dream that $5M would be a reasonable amount to ask for without delusion coming into play. Here’s a bit of context:

Perspective, please.

The fact that she’s gotten $11 pledged instead of a flat zero is sort of randomly hilarious, but even with a ridiculously large goal in place, she might still be able to get more donated by changing the worst sin of her pitch:

Mistake #4: Only One Donation Level, That’s Really High, and Comes With a Crappy Incentive

Here’s the deal – if you donate $1,000 to Stuart’s Kickstarter project, she’ll give you $25.

As you can see from the sidebar, I’m not making that up. She even reiterates in her text-only spiel that if you donate a grand, she’ll give you twenty-five bucks back (alongside a thank-you credit in the movie that you can get for donating $1). You don’t even get to be an In-Name-Only Associate Producer or anything. Hell, you don’t even get a VHS copy of the movie. Maybe her local tote bag store was closed on launch day?

Spike Lee had dozens and dozens of levels before cracking $1,000, and you got to be in the movie(!) or score some custom Air Jordans for it. Veronica Mars invited you to the red carpet premiere and after party at that level. So did Zach Braff.

At this point, I can only assume that the $11 Stuart pulled in is from friends testing to make sure the Back This Project button wasn’t broken.

Mistake #5: Talking in Hollywood Speak

This may seem like a minor infringement after the mountain of other issues, but it also could have been the saving grace of a misguided campaign. Even if it weren’t spoken directly into a camera, a heartfelt call to action might have turned an eyebrow-raiser into a quirky dark horse.

Instead, Stuart laces her pitch with generic industry speak.

KATE ALLEN IS GETTING A LIFE will be a funny, heartfelt comedy with mainstream audience appeal.

Why would mainstream audience appeal matter to a contributor? It would to a financier thinking about a Netflix deal down the line, but not to someone looking to support something interesting and worthwhile.

The risks of film financing are such that no one knows if a particular film will be successful, but I am seeking a very reasonable amount of film financing in Hollywood terms. Steven Soderbergh’s recent hit film MAGIC MIKE was budgeted at $7 million and has made well over $100 million, so the financial and creative rewards can be great.

The financial rewards can be great…for the filmmaker. For the people donating $1,000, the financial rewards are exactly $25. Clearly our definitions of “great” differ. Also, you aren’t Steven Soderbergh.

Plus, while explaining that your ludicrous funding goal is reasonable in Hollywood terms is only a dash condescending, it’s also up to the audience to decide whether or not what you’re asking for is ultimately a fair target. When you choose to enter the Thunderdome, the audience becomes King. Besides, even though that amount of money might be reasonable in Hollywood (questionable), it’s outlandish on Kickstarter (which is where you are right now), and tossing statements like that out there hint that you’re concerned only with your rewards from the endeavor and not with the audience’s (as if we couldn’t tell that by the literal lack of rewards being offered to the audience).

I have secured letters of interest from Thora Birch, Heather Matarazzo and Jennifer Elise Cox on my own for my romantic comedy KATE ALLEN IS GETTING A LIFE, but the challenges I am facing are mainly that the big film studios and production companies are highly exclusive and insular. For the most part, they will only accept screenplays from people they know, and will only do business with people they know.

This is a tricky one. A Letter of Interest is an industry document that’s not a contract. It’s also a confusing element for a project like this because not everyone will know what it is. Either you have these actresses attached or you don’t, and even while a financier’s ears might be perked, it’s a giant question mark for someone choosing to donate money at this level. I won’t go as far to say that it’s dishonest in this context, but when what you’ve chosen as your biggest selling point isn’t even secure, there’s a problem.

Imagine when legions of Thora Birch fans drop a grand each to make this happen only to see Birch drop out of something she wasn’t even attached to in the first place. Now stop laughing. It’s not like they were going to get a DVD or anything, anyway.

But the biggest problem with all the industry-ese is something I can’t quote because it’s not in her pitch. Nowhere does Stuart explain why the movie is so important to her. Did she write it as a mirror to her own struggles as an aspiring writer? Was she moved by a situation that made her want to write about refusing to give up on dreams? Did she pick a high concept plot out of a hat?

We’ll never know those answers because in the grand tradition of screenwriting, she only tells us that her “heart and soul” are invested in the film instead of showing us. Ultimately it’s that – along with exciting proof of your abilities as a filmmaker, an interesting plot and perhaps some concept art – which propels people to give.

Optional Mistake #6: Not Donating to Other Kickstarter Campaigns

Spike Lee was criticized for saying in his pitch video that he’d been told about Kickstarter by a student weeks before he launched it – the intimation being that he saw it solely as a lark, a what-the-hell moneymaking venture instead of as a meaningful new tool – but Lee also took the time to engage with the community by donating money to several projects just before and in the weeks following his launch. He may have been new to the game, but he was interested enough in helping others who were playing it.

Obviously that’s not a must-have for all campaigns, but it’s also zero percent surprising that Stuart hasn’t donated to any other campaigns.

What Have We Learned

The cardinal rules of Kickstarter have perhaps never been so clearly displayed in reverse.

I have to admit that I struggled with writing this because it felt slightly mean-spirited, but in the end we’re not talking about an amateur who’s lost their way; we’re talking about a woman claiming experience at a professional capacity in the film industry who has earned a living from a book called “Getting Your Script Through the Hollywood Maze” while trying to snake $1,250 from aspiring writers for script coverage. The enormity of her $11 misstep here offers a sizable rubric for avoiding failure by staring directly at it.

Stuart may not have meant to, but she’s done a great service for aspiring filmmakers looking to crowdfunding as an option even as she’s proven that she doesn’t know how to get through the maze herself.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.