Are Kickstarter and IndieGogo ruining webseries?

I can feel most independent webseries creators already notching their arrows in my direction. How could Kickstarter/IndieGogo possibly be bad for webseries? It’s often the only way webseries can get funded!

Well, yes. That’s true. Often it is. And I have nothing against either operation. I use them both and have supported friends’ stageplays, records, films and webseries. In fact, I have sat on a panel with Kickstarter’s kickstarter, Yancey Strickland, and found him a great guy with a lot of great motivations and a really fantastic success story. He and his colleagues are doing wonderful, altruistic work for many, many people. Much better work than me, in fact, so I should probably just shut my damn mouth, right?

But what I’m most interested in is quality of web video. Let’s try that filter out.

It used to be (in the aulden dayes of 2008 and before!) that if you wanted to make a webseries, you either had to find some sponsor willing to pay for it (in which case, most of the time, it turned out crappy), or you did it yourself on credit cards (in which case, most of the time, it turned out cheap). Today, everyone can get their shit together, put together a pitch, and send it out to 100+ friends.

Everyone can do this. That is the benefit, and that is the problem.

ISSUE 1: Kickstarter pretty much funds everything. Because it’s social. If you are reasonably popular, you sell your pitch reasonably well, and your friends are not all reasonably homeless, you can count on milking 10 or 25 bucks from them each to do pretty much whatever you want. Extend that to your colleagues, your Facebook friends, the people on Twitter, and probably a couple of older and wealthier relatives, and you can pretty easily get your $5,000.

But just because your friends are willing to support you doesn’t make it good. (In fact, experience has taught me that sometimes folks are willing to support projects just to get their creators to shut up about it already). The money is now available – for everybody. Which means people who were too timid of spending money, too afraid of taking a risk, or too unsure of the quality of their ideas are now jumping in. Because what’s to lose? It’s not my money, and it’s not real money. Right?

I don’t mean to be aggressive or Randian on anybody here. But I do think that if you have a good idea, you know you have a good idea, and you do whatever it takes to make it. If it crashes and burns along the way, congratulations: you’ve failed, the most important step in success. If it doesn’t crash and burn, then congratulations: you’ve just taken one massive, exciting step towards your next failure.

With crowd-sourced funding of yet-to-be-produced projects, there is little natural weeding of poor ideas. It used to be a little easier to separate the wheat from the chaff, webseries-wise,  in that there was just so little of either. Now there’s a lot of both. The meritocrats believe that good content will naturally rise to the top. I don’t believe that anymore. I believe that a glut of chaff will continue to hide most of it, and we keep shoveling in that chaff.

(At least until we have better filtering, which will be the subject of several future entries).

ISSUE 2: These sites are unwittingly setting the standard rate of production for webseries. It seems to be, most people are asking for $5K to $10K for a 6-to-10-episode season. With most webisodes clocking in at 3 minutes these days, let’s do some terrible math and estimate that we are producing our webseries for a rate of about $300-$500 per produced minute.

Now, I’m all for low-budget video. I haven’t really done anything but. My highest budget for an actual webseries (excluding commercial projects) was a half million; yet, that was for about five and a half hours of broadcast-quality content (roughly 3 feature films). I love low-budget, and nothing makes me more angry than “directors” who think they can’t shoot a single frame without a crane, gib arm and pyrotechnics.

Except for being undervalued. That makes me madder. And I’m starting to get afraid here. Because we were producing The Burg for $100 a produced minute, and no one got paid. We shot 60 pages in 3 days for All’s Faire. But that’s supposed to not be the case anymore, in 2011. This is supposed to be becoming an industry. Kickstarter/Indiegogo is setting a potentially dangerous precedent here: 1, you have to have money, but 2, it should only be a little money. If this is defining what webseries are and which ones get made, then should we be concerned about the motivation for more professionals to really get into the business (and thus, real audiences)?

Now before anyone accuses me of being mean, elitist, curmudgeonly, needlessly antagonistic, or just a douche, I want to make it clear: I am indeed doing the online equivalent of throwing a bunch of darts into the air at the holiday party, and hoping they don’t hit me. Everybody loves Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and they’re making a lot of great stuff happen. I’m just asking questions.

Nor do I have alternatives to suggest. Although I do have interest in a different kind of crowd-sourced model: the audience-supported one. By which I mean, the actual audience that you know you actually have, because you made the first season on your own and built it up. Anyone But Me is the constantly cited example of this, but they’re not the only ones. Reason I like this is it combines the feel-good-social-video model (which we all love to embrace in theory) with the hardcore-objectivist-meritocracy model (that’s what actual business runs on). I, personally, think that’s a more viable longterm trend for web video.

What do you think? Does the good done far, far outweigh the bad? Disagreements? Darts? Throw ’em my way.


2 Comments on “Are Kickstarter and IndieGogo ruining webseries?”

  1. Some excellent question there Thom, some of which I’ve been thinking but just not as detailed as you have been. Most budgets for broadcast quality webseries should be coming in at around $7000-$10000 per 10 minute episode in order to keep the quality high and even then that’s still cutting costs. What a lot of creators don’t realize is how much good production quality and hiring the people who can make that quality pop, really costs. I know the argument: “but I can make it for so much less because I own this and this guy is doing it for free…” I myself have made the argument and I know from experience how many corners I had to cut. Way too many, and those corners always show. Crowd funding is definitely lot a good long term solution.. especially when you come back for season 2 and you’re asking the same people for money again. There are alternate ways to raise proper funds where you don’t have to cut corners, and the best way to start that is to have a good solid production. Time is the one thing we independent producers have and yet we’re always in such a rush…

  2. First of all I don’t know how you shot 60 pages in 3 days and lived to tell the tale. We shot 58 pages in 6 days and it was nuts so congrats on that. I’m about $5000 short of completing the project and I don’t think I could raise it on one of these sites. If I had friends and family to go to for it- I wouldn’t need to launch a funding campaign. In fact, if friends and family are who you are looking to donate you’d be better off with a paypal button. If success on these sites is meeting the goal the creators set then most of these funding efforts for web series are in fact unsuccessful. I think these sites are most helpful after a show has at least 1 season out then you are targeting people who love what you do enough to want to pay to see more and not people who have to rely on a pitch. After that it gets tricky, I think you can go to the well too often and your audience will get what I call crowdsource fatigue. Basically, they can help you get over the hump but at some point, you need to be self-sustaining. Now I know there are people out there who consider themselves patrons of the arts, what would really be cool is if we could cultivate a group who specifically believed and wanted to back web series. Actually that might be a great idea, for these sites to provide the functionality for people to join groups.

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