For Web-Financed Film Projects, a Curtain Rise


Yancey Strickler, left, and Perry Chen, two founders of Kickstarter, at the site of its film festival.

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Kickstarter is a concept: a Web site that puts together creative types seeking money with backers willing to chip in micro- and macro-payments, a way to crowd-source the financing of ideas. Started last year, the company has become an unexpected influence on indie culture, a new model for a D.I.Y. generation.

And on Friday Kickstarter will also become a curator, when it hosts the first Kickstarter Film Festival. The event, part of the Rooftop Films series, will present some of the projects that patrons of the site have financed, from features and animation to quirkier stuff like a video of a dance anthropology performance piece.

“For a lot of these things there isn’t a clear place for their work to be shared, especially for some that have never gotten theatrical distribution or were never intended for that,” said Yancey Strickler, a founder of Kickstarter, a start-up, which has 10 employees, eight of whom operate out of a walk-up apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “Some of these projects are just bedroom kind of things, so I really like the idea of giving that a forum.”

Among the works to be shown, drawn from the more than 5,000 projects that Kickstarter has financed to date, are “Jens Pulver: Driven,” a documentary about an ultimate fighter; “Staring Into the Sun,” an ethnomusicology inquiry into Ethiopian tribes; “A Short Lecture of a Different Time,” a theatrical work that, according to its author, combines “Nintendo graphics, gameboy music, theoretical physics, spoken word and shadow puppetry”; “The Dancing Ecologist,” in which an artist studying neuroscience interprets the lives of plants and animals as movements; and “The Woods,” a cinéma-vérité-style feature made when the director and two dozen of his closest friends moved into a house in rural Oregon.

The 90-minute program will offer snippets from each piece, many of them debut films. The brief spotlight is meant to drive interest and build audiences, which is especially crucial for aspiring directors. Musicians can busk; artists can sell sketches. But filmmakers have a harder time underwriting their projects as they go. (The company charges a fee of 5 percent of a project’s total financing, but only if the goal is reached.)

The company “is definitely a force,” said Dan Nuxoll, the program director at Rooftop Films. “Almost every filmmaker I know who’s self-funding their project does a Kickstarter at this point.” (Sure sign of making an impact: becoming a term of art.) In the indie film world, Mr. Nuxoll said, “it’s changed things.”

That’s true even for people who are not novices. Matthew Lessner, the director of “The Woods,” made his directorial debut with a viral video starring Michael Cera and has worked on videos for of-the-moment bands like Dirty Projectors and Fools Gold. He had already shot the film, his first feature, financing it on credit cards two years ago. But then the economy collapsed, and Mr. Lessner, 26, was left without money to finish it.

Enter Kickstarter, where Mr. Lessner was able to raise more than $11,000 from 95 backers to complete the film. “One of the things that’s most exciting about Kickstarter to me, it really provides an opportunity for films that otherwise would not have a chance,” Mr. Lessner said.

Because he wanted to shoot and edit in an unconventional way, “I thought from the outset this was not a film that we could get traditional funding for,” he said. Having the support of dozens of strangers — the most generous backer got an executive producer credit — “helps give it an extra push for getting it done,” he said. He hopes to begin submitting his film to festivals later this summer.

Kickstarter’s appeal isn’t limited to movies, so the festival, to be held on the roof of the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn, will also feature a menu of Kickstarter-backed snacks: artisanal drinks from Brooklyn Soda Works, homemade desserts from the Ice Cream Club and Cakestarter, and vegetables from the Brooklyn Grange farm. There will also be music from the Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band, the focus of the Kickstarter-financed documentary “Brasslands.”

Presumably some financiers will turn up at the Can Factory to see the work they have endowed. What if they don’t like the finished product? The filmmakers and organizers shrugged off that concern. They noted that the payback is not meant to be financial.

“One of the things that’s nice about Kickstarter is that it’s not people investing,” Mr. Nuxoll of Rooftop said. “There’s no return beyond your involvement in the project. The idea is to support these artists on what they’re doing on the level they’re doing it.”

But Olivia Wyatt, the director of “Staring Into the Sun,” has already dealt with a version of backer’s remorse, from the indie film world’s original kickstarters: parents. After she showed her father a clip of her project, which follows the music and dance of 13 tribes in Southern Ethiopia, his response was: “ ‘Oh, I can’t stand the music,’ ” Ms. Wyatt, 27, recalled, audibly deflated.

“And I was like, this is going to be terrible because the whole film is about the music. And my mom writes back, ‘I think you should use something more jazzy.’ ” (On viewing the completed film, Ms. Wyatt happily reported, her mother was “mesmerized.”)

For the Kickstarter crew, the mere fact of having a real live event is reward enough. The exciting part is bringing “Kickstarter into the real world,” said Mr. Strickler, who has personally put money into 216 projects so far. “Those of us who work here, we spend all day just going through the site and honestly marveling at what people are doing. We’re really creating a kind of Kickstarter universe for this one night.

By MELENA RYZIK

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