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Kickstarter helps fund creative projects

Saturday, October 1, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:26 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 2, 2011
Polina Malikin sits in her studio at her house on Wednesday morning. Malikin is currently working on a short fiction film called "RIDE" for which she raised money by using Kickstarter, a website that provides artists with a platform for raising funds for projects.

COLUMBIA — Mary Margaret Sandbothe, a recent MU graduate, carries her doodles and comics in a tattered orange folder.

Some are drawn on the back of notes from class, others on receipts and bills. Her comics mark more than a year of collected work she calls "Two Smelly Kids That Like Each Other."

It chronicles the life of Sandbothe and her partner, Zora, tackling social issues like sexuality, gender and social taboos while living in the Midwest.

"I don't plan on becoming a comic book star or anything," Sandbothe said. "I just do them for fun."

What started out as a few funny doodles to pass the time in art history class has grown into a full-fledged book, fully funded through Kickstarter.com.

Kickstarter was launched two years ago and since then, more than 13,000 creative projects have been fully funded.

The website declares that it is the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Categories for projects include art, comics, dance, design, fashion, film, food, games, music, photography, technology, theater and writing.

Various amounts are solicited — from as little as $200 to $100,000 or more. Then people, called "backers," demonstrate their support for the project by pledging money to get it started.

The site sprang from a desire to initiate more artistic and design ideas in the world.

In 2002, Perry Chen, the website's creator, was living in New Orleans and wanted to throw a late-night concert to coincide with Jazz Fest. He thought the show would do well but ultimately decided it was too great a financial risk. 

"Once the dust settled, he couldn't shake the feeling that there was a better way to get the audience involved in helping bring creative projects to life," said Justin Kazmark, Kickstarter's director of communications. "That was the impetus."

Online, it all begins with a sales pitch to explain why someone's hard-earned money should fund another person's project.

The pitch can be presented in a variety of ways. Many, like Sandbothe, post videos, upload photos or write long descriptions about what they are trying to accomplish with their project.

"I think it’s a great opportunity for people to get their stuff out there," Sandbothe said.

Not only has her comic-book project been successfully funded on Kickstarter, but she has contributed to one as well.

Creative projects unveiled

Polina Malikin’s project falls into the film category for Kickstarter. Malikin is making a short film called "Ride" about two female cousins living in a small town.

"The film follows the relationship that develops between the two girls who really kind of need to rely on each other as their main sources of support," said Malikin, who is directing her own work for the first time.

The film will be shot in Columbia with non-professional actors. The crew is now in pre-production; shooting begins Monday.

Malikin said using Kickstarter has been a growing experience. She said she is used to soliciting funds for other people's projects, but when it came to asking for one of her own, she was hesitant.

"It felt really arrogant in some ways to ask for money, especially in what seems to be tight economic times, for my own, what could be called, a hobby," Malikin said. "And I still have conflicts about that."

Malikin decided that the process of asking people to back her project would be an experiment. If she didn't like it, she could always stop and give the money back.

It's all or nothing

Every project must be fully funded, or no money changes hands, Kazmark said. Because of this all-or-nothing policy, people are encouraged to put their projects on Kickstarter and also back the projects of others.

The Kickstarter site gives three reasons for its policy:

  • It's less risky for everyone.
  • It allows people to test concepts (or conditionally sell stuff) without risk.
  • It motivates.

Kickstarter does incur a certain amount of risk with every project, because if a project isn't successfully funded, the business doesn't  get paid, either. Kickstarter takes a 5 percent fee from funds raised, in addition to the roughly 3 to 5 percent fee Amazon charges for credit card processing.

"There is a part of me that's like, there's this website that is making money off of mostly low, middle-income artists," Malikin said. "But Kickstarter doesn't present itself as a non-profit. It's a business, and that's its business model and you sign up."

Since its launch, more than 900,000 people have backed projects on Kickstarter, Kazmark said. 

"Kickstarter brings artists and audiences closer together," Kazmark said. "Creators of all stripes launch projects on Kickstarter to get their projects off the ground."

David Rosman, who contributes a weekly column to the Columbia Missourian, uploaded his project idea to Kickstarter in August.  As a writer, Rosman used the site to both get his project out there and seek funding for it.

"I looked at several others. They didn't seem to meet the 'it has to be easy because I'm an old guy' rule," said Rosman, who has been writing for more than 30 years.

"Kickstarter was super easy to get it started, I hit the button and it was there."

Rosman's Kickstarter page describes his book, "A Christian Nation? An Examination of Christian Nation Theories and Proofs," as an examination of American political and religious history from 1492 to the 21st century.

The book looks at case law, documents and celebrations used by Christian nation proponents as "proofs" for their theories, examining each to determine validity, context and accuracy.

"There was no other method that I was able to find to be able to get small amounts of funding," Rosman said, referring to other project funding sites.

"Everyone else that I could have gotten money from, their minimums were so high that I didn't even talk to them. I don’t need $10,000, I don’t need $5,000. I needed $500 to $1,000."

There's no such think as a free lunch

On Kickstarter, it is not only the project creator who gets something out of the deal.

"There is always a value exchange between project creators and backers," Kazmark said.

"In exchange for pledges, backers receive one-of-a-kind experiences, creative rewards and the opportunity to be part of a community that brings a creative idea to life."

Rewards are generally what is produced by the project itself, such as a special edition hand-drawn comic book in Sandbothe’s case or a DVD of a short film from Malikin’s project.

Rewards are determined by the creator and are meant to encourage donations.

The clock is ticking

Creators provide a self-imposed deadline when projects must be funded, or the all-or-nothing rule kicks in.

"Had we not reached our mark, we would have been at about a fourth of our capacity for working on our project, and that really would have significantly altered the way that it would have come together," said experienced film-maker Brian Maurer, about 30 hours before his project was set to expire and still lacking about $700.

"But I'm fairly confident we're going to hit our mark."

Maurer's project, "The Pardoners," is the first in a TV mini-series of six based on Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." It will be shot in Columbia in October.

"It’s kind of like 'Law and Order,'" Maurer explained.

Detectives, criminals and other characters are intertwined in the plot.

Kickstarter offered him a safe and reliable way for people to donate funding for his project, he said.

"You can browse and see hundreds of other productions and see that people are raising $50, 60, 70,000," Maurer said. "There's a safety net, and people feel comfortable and want to be a part of it."

For thousands of creative and artistic people, an idea can turn into a full-blown endeavor.

"I would like to do more Kickstarters in the future. You know you can think of a million projects you would do if you just had some backers,” comic book artist Sandbothe said. "I would definitely use it again."

Project creators on Kickstarter are attempting to bring innovation and original work to the masses. Not all projects succeed, but that may be the chance a starving artist has to take.

So far, these Columbia-based projects have met their goals:

  • Sandbothe found 13 backers who donated $515 of her $500 goal.
  • Malikin’s project had 74 backers raise $3,820, more than her $2,500 goal.
  • Rosman’s project had 12 backers raise $540, also more than his $500 goal.

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