Kickstarter Case Study: The Iran Job

Meet Sara Nodjoumi and Till Schauder. They're husband and wife documentary filmmakers currently finishing a project called The Iran Job, waiting to hear about their film festival submissions and obsessively checking Kickstarter to track the progress of their campaign to raise money needed for the film's final touches. All in all, it's an exciting, nerve-wracking time of anticipation in their household. Sara and Till's four year old has even gotten into the spirit of things, randomly yelling out words like Kickstarter and Facebook.

The Iran Job follows Kevin Sheppard, an American basketball player from St. Croix who is recruited to play for the Iranian Super League. Judging from the trailer, the film's a winner. Till describes Kevin as smart, warm and funny. You can see from his interactions in the film that Kevin's got a quick humor and is a sharp observer. He becomes friends with three Iranian women and this unlikely friendship coincides with the Green Movement in Iran. It's basketball that brought Kevin to Iran and the arena fills with cries of "Kevin, Kevin." At the same time, the streets are filling with Green Movement protesters calling out "Where is my vote?"

This is all great stuff. But the story behind the story is great too. For Sara and Till, the post-production process has them on pins and needles. Till had this to say about Kickstarter:

"The Kickstarter campaign is the first time anyone is seeing the film outside of our circle and it's really exciting because it's [just been a few days now] and we're getting incredible traction. We've done some research on these campaigns and we're doing well. We're getting pledges and backers and Facebook Likes. We were expecting that in the beginning it would just be family and friends in our own network, but already on the second day people started pledging that we don't know, from all over the world."

They showed a fantastic amount of self-control in not sneaking to check the Kickstarter website to see if they'd gotten any new backers while we were talking. But it's hard not to hit the Refresh button and hope the numbers change. It's addicting. I'm not sure how I've gotten sucked in to compulsively checking a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary film about basketball in Iran, but that's what makes my job fun.

Sara and Till have gotten some pretty fine attention since the film's appeal crosses over from basketball to global politics to women's right. Supporters include Abigail Disney (Executive Producer), Christane Amanpour, Maz Jobrani, Karim Sadjadpour and Gloria Steinem. The Kickstarter campaign is one more piece in making the film.

In case you aren't familiar with Kickstarter, it works like this: Submit your project (check the guidelines first). Once it's up on the Kickstarter site, you'll have a specified time period to get pledges for your project. If you don't reach your targeted funding amount, no monies are paid. But if you reach or exceed your goal, you get your funding. Now for the people who have pledged, not only is there the supreme satisfaction of lending support to a cool project, but depending on the dollar amount kicked in, they'll walk away with a DVD, poster or other expression of gratitude.

By pledging $25 to The Iran Job, you've pre-ordered a copy of the DVD. So it's a good deal for you and for the filmmakers. With pledges coming in from all over the world and for varying amounts, you can see why Sara and Till are glued to the Kickstarter website.

There's more to this story than just fundraising. Till traveled in and out of Iran with a small cache of recording equipment and mailed footage to his mother in Germany to ensure it would safely make it out of the country. Germany has better relations with Iran than America does. His mother then sent it on to the U.S. and everyone kept their fingers crossed that nothing went wrong during the process.

Of course, there was the time Till was detained in Iran while Sara was home with one child and 5 months pregnant. I asked him if the Iranian authorities knew he was making the film.

"We still don't know. The guy at the airport didn't speak English. He just swiped my passport and said Blacklist. And then I was taken to this room for 24 hours and sent back on the next plane out. Nobody there gave me any explanation, but then I wrote a letter to the Iranian embassy in Berlin. Having entered as a German citizen, that embassy was in charge and I never got any response. I tried again, calling and nothing. It's possible that they generally sort of crack down on people in the media in the wake of the election, but we haven't found out. I'd love to know."

So you see, documentary filmmakers lead exciting lives. There's creativity in shooting, storytelling, funding and smuggling. And now the 50-day game show atmosphere of the Kickstarter campaign. Please join in the fun. Click here for The Iran Job Kickstarter campaign and Like them on Facebook. And watch for the film to come out in 2012.