How to Succeed at Kickstarter: A Statistically Unsound Guide

Funded

Yesterday one of the Kickstarter stories we were following came to a surprisingly abrupt end as Melissa Joan Hart closed the campaign for Darci’s Walk of Shame two weeks early and with a mere fraction of the target raised. Clearly Hart and chums were hoping to have the same success as Rob Thomas with his Veronica Mars project and Zach Braff with his ongoing Wish I Was Here endeavours but Hart could see she wasn’t going to pass the $2-million mark she needed and pulled the plug.

So why didn’t Darci experience the same success as her contemporaries? Is it as simple as the fact that Sabrina Goes to Rome was a long time ago, was awful and that Hart has a much smaller fan base than Braff and Veronica Mars? Is there a convoluted and inaccurate mathematical analysis I can perform? I bloody well hope so.

To begin my numbers-based investigation I gathered together some statistics for each project. I looked at their Kickstarter success, or lack thereof and the three lead actors Twitter accounts to get an idea of fan base size. I also looked at the three existing titles which the respective Kickstarter projects relate to (Veronica Mars, Garden State, and Sabrina Goes to Rome) and noted their IMDb user rating and the number of years since their release. Here’s what I gathered:

Kickstarter Stats

The first thing to note is that Mars and Braff are pretty similar when it comes to their average pledges and Twitter followers yet differ greatly in the amount of money they have raised. Melissa Joan Hart has much less money and followers but gets far more money per pledge. No proper trend here so I will be ignoring the number of Twitter followers a lead actor has.

At a quick glance however it does seem that a higher IMDb rating for the previous release and a more recent release make for a larger amount of money raised. The bubble chart below makes this clear:

Kickstarter Chart 1

The size of the bubbles is the amount of money raised on Kickstarter and the largest is for the highest rated film/show which was released the most recently. From here I continued on my pointless journey and created a new metric of IMDb score divided by the number of years since release (a sort of combined recency and quality score) and plotted it against the amount raised:

Kickstarter Chart 2

And there we have it! A direct relationship between how much you can raise on Kickstarter for your film based upon the recency and quality of your previous work.

Kickstarter Formula

Amazing! Inaccurate! Time-wasting! Superb!

An endlessly useful formula I think you’ll agree. What this means is that we can calculate the ideal value of IMDb Rating/Years Since Release that will get you to the $2-million mark. That value is 0.705 and is also endlessly useful because we can use it to make the table below:

Years to Succeed

This tells us how many years you can wait until you try to make a follow-up film on Kickstarter based on your TV show or film’s rating on IMDb. For example Buffy the Vampire Slayer has an IMDb rating of 8 and has been off-air for 10 years so still has another 1.35 years until it will no longer raise sufficient funds on Kickstarter. On the other hand Freaks and Geeks has an IMDb rating of 8.9 but has been gone for 13 years now so is just too late.

So if you own the rights to an existing franchise and fancy raising money on Kickstarter use my handy formula to see how much you will be able to raise. You are welcome.

DISCLAIMER: This is in no way accurate, does not take enough projects into account, and ignores far too many other factors to be of any use.

Darci’s Walk of Shame April 2013 – May 2013

Darci's Walk of Shame

11th April 2013 – 13th May 2013

“Darci soon realizes it’s not going to be quite as easy as she hoped. To make it back in time, she faces an obstacle course of hurdles that would make a hardcore Marine fall to his knees and sob like a baby. But like the Marines, Darci has her reputation to uphold, and nothing is going to stop her from trying to erase what she considers to be the biggest mistake of her life.”

Veronica Mars What Have You Kickstarted?

Darci's Walk of Shame

Me and Kickstarter have been on an emotional rollercoaster of late and my poor friends have been subjected to a rant or two. Let’s see if I can get all of the rant out of me now so I can move on with my life and stop fretting.

My emotions started high when Veronica Mars achieved more than double its goal of $2-million. This was a show that I loved which wasn’t going to get a film made any other way. The film was largely being made for the sheer love of it all and us fans were happy to lend a financial hand. I did have some reservations about what this would mean for the future of funding for smaller films but all in all was pleased that Rob Thomas would finally be making a film follow-up to one of my all time favourite shows.

Veronica Mars

Then over a week ago I received an email/tweet/telegram from a friend telling me to have a look at Melissa Joan Hart’s Kickstarter as she was trying to emulate the success of Veronica Mars in a way we found ridiculous. The film Hart is trying to get made is called Darci’s Walk of Shame and is to be written and directed by Tibor Takács. Don’t remember Tibor? He directed the visually uninspired TV film Sabrina Goes to Rome. It’s not exactly the pedigree that inspires this particular Kickstarter user and their rewards were near carbon copies of the Mars project. This seemed less of a passion project and more a half-hearted attempt to get Hart a film to work on.

Darci's Walk of Shame

At this point I was all ready to write a slightly mean piece entitled Melissa Joan Hart, Veronica Mars is Smarter than You which would have been amusing and smug and make me feel like a happy little blogger. Then Zach Braff entered the fray.

Zach Braff is a bit of a special case where I am concerned. His debut, and so far solo, film as writer/director Garden State was the first film that made me realise there were other cinematic options outside the mainstream. The film is far from perfect but it is special to me and I have been waiting for a second feature from the Scrubs star for quite some time now. Braff last week launched his own Kickstarter for a second film, Wish I Was Here, with his eyes set on the now standard target of $2-million. I was elated. How much would I give? How much could I afford to give? This was all very exciting and gave my article a happy ending rather than a simple rant. And then…

And then…

Wish I Was Here

And then I read his Kickstarter in full and had a think. Never a wise proposition. It turned out that Zach Braff had already successfully raised the money for this second film but had turned down the deal when Veronica Mars opened his eyes to an alternative funding route. Braff cites creative freedom as his motivation for taking the Kickstarter route and while this may well be true a large financial incentive should also be taken into account. With his original funding deal Braff would presumably have had to relinquish some of the film’s profit to his investors one it had been released. With the Kickstarter model Braff receives all his money from fan donors, and let’s be clear these are donors and not investors, and so takes on no financial risk for himself or anyone else.

Zach Braff, a man who at one point was earning $350,000 per episode on Scrubs, is asking his fans to pay for his next film. Yes, I realise that is totally at the fans discretion (and I hypocritically have yet to decide if I will join them) and they receive various rewards, but I can’t help but fixate on the fact that the film would have gone ahead with or without Kickstarter. Braff is not even offering a copy of the film as part of any reward tier; you can donate as much as $10,000 but you’ll still have to pay when the film itself comes out.

I like Zach Braff and I don’t think he is being particularly conniving or deceitful in his Kickstarter campaign but this was not his only option. If his Kickstarter had somehow failed to reach its target I imagine we would have still been able to see a relatively unchanged Wish I Was Here in a year’s time. In the meantime there are various projects that genuinely need Kickstarter to get them the funding they need for production. To pick one at random the feature film Bonobo is looking for just £7,500 to fund filming this summer but is struggling with no big names attached and no existing fan base.

Bonobo

When alternative funding sources are available, and have been offered, it seems almost insulting to instead ask for handouts from admittedly willing fans. I don’t think I will be able to afford it if every film I want to see requires a donation from me before it can enter production. When a film’s budget enters into the millions then they are likely to be expecting the profits to reflect this. Hollywood is a lucrative industry built on large investments and larger rewards. Relying on us to fund their projects means they remove the risk but keep the potential profits for themselves.

As I said I am a hypocrite and a fan and can’t promise that I will boycott all future larger Kickstarter project but I hope that anyone willing to give a millionaire $30 to make their next feature will consider throwing a few pounds at a smaller film like Bonobo. I can’t promise that Bonobo will be any good but after All New People I can’t promise that Wish I Was Here will be either.