Thursday morning I woke up to dozens of voice mails, text messages and Facebook notifications all saying the same thing: the Kickstarter campaign for my web series "EastSiders" had reached its goal of $15,000 in just four days. I was shocked, grateful and a little confused -- how did this happen?
"EastSiders" is a dark comedy about a gay couple dealing with the aftermath of infidelity in Silver Lake, Calif. We premiered the first two episodes online at EastSiderstheseries.com in December, and our videos have amassed over 88,000 views in less than a month. We've been featured in USA Today, The Huffington Post, AfterElton, Towleroad, Queerty, Next Magazine, Instinct Mag, Frontiers LA, NewNowNext, Homorazzi and many other amazing blogs. We knew we had found an audience, but in the age of cat videos, quantity is not necessarily the same thing as quality. I personally watch and instantly forget dozens of videos a day. Until we launched the campaign we had no way of knowing if people were excited enough about the series to help us make a full season, but we didn't have any other options available to us. There isn't a lot of money floating around the industry for indie web content -- especially longer narrative work. The only way that our project could exist was for the viewers to make it a reality.
Over the last few years, crowdfunding has become a popular option for filmmakers that don't have access to traditional financing. As anyone with friends in the entertainment industry knows, more and more people are turning to sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to raise fund for their projects.
On any given day my Facebook feed is swarming with posts from my friends about their campaigns, or their friends' campaigns, or their friends' friends' campaigns, or posts from my friends complaining about the number of Kickstarter campaigns on their Facebook feed. Many of these campaigns end in heartbreak, raising little to no money or, worse, coming up just shy of the amount they need. This is an especially tragic story for Kickstarter projects, which don't get to keep any of the funds they've amassed if they don't meet their goal by the end of the campaign.
As an actor, I've been involved in a number of crowdfunded projects, some successfully funded but many more failed. Some of the failed campaigns simply didn't play their cards right; setting their goal too high, not establishing a strong social media presence or not coming up with exciting enough perks for donating. But many more have failed on premise; the project simply wasn't compelling enough to attract enough interest in the project outside of the filmmaker's own circle. If you're trying to raise a significant amount of money, you will need many more people to back you than just your extended family.
Thankfully, many independent gay filmmakers have found traction through crowdfunding, particularly for web content. Adam Goldman's "The Outs" raised $22,339 to complete the series, Sebastian La Cause's "Hustling" raised $18,295 to shoot a second season and Brad Bell and Jane Espenson's "Husbands" raised $60,000 for theirs. "DTLA," which has been broadcast on both Logo and Logo Online, raised $33,525 for post production. Outside of the web, Bridegroom, Linda Bloodworth Thomason's documentary film inspired by Shane Bitney Crone's viral video telling the tragic story of his partner's death, raised $384,375, well past its goal of $300,000. Gaymercon, a new GLBT gaming convention, raised $91,388, far more than their goal of $25,000. All of these projects, in fact, significantly surpassed the goals set for their campaigns.
Other projects that have made a splash in the last year alone include "Jennifer Lewis and Shangela," "Hunting Season," "Gay's Anatomy," "Vicky and Lysander" and "It Gets Betterish," among many others.
With more than three weeks remaining in our Kickstarter campaign, we have increased our goal to $20,000, so that we can increase the show's production value, and afford to fully pay our cast and crew who up until now have been volunteering their talents to the project. It is amazing to me that crowdfunding not only has the potential to help create gay web content, it might also have the capacity to make producing gay web content a viable profession.
The question remains: What is it about all of these projects that has struck a chord with audiences and backers, apart from their sexual orientation? The obvious answer is that there is a dearth of good GLBT material -- there aren't enough stories out there to satisfy an increasingly hungry audience. I know that the audience is eager for quality content because my friends and I are all members of that audience -- that's what motivated us to make "EastSiders." But I think the success of all of these projects on Kickstarter goes deeper than that; people want eclectic, innovative voices to represent the modern gay experience, and they want to take ownership of their own depiction. They are frustrated at the lack of complexity many gay characters are allotted and they want to see stories about flawed, interesting people that they can relate to.
With Logo now hosting web content on their official site and the recent launch of the new LGBT-themed youtube channel Gwist this month, hopefully the industry is taking notice that these stories have an audience.
Regardless, I find it incredibly empowering that gay and gay friendly viewers have a say in greenlighting indie projects, because it means that we finally have a say in how we are represented.
Follow Kit Williamson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kitwilliamson