Recently completed or funded campaigns

Here’s a few updates on those projects that I’ve talked about so far. The campaign for A Thousand Natural Shocks exceeded their goal and are still going strong, and wraps up July 26th. The show debuted on July 2nd, and the final show is July 30th, and will be filmed.

On the gaming front , both ACE DETECTIVE (a card game) and CLANG (a video game) wrapped up on July 9th, each having met their funding goal. Super Retro Squad will meet theirs as well when their campaign wraps up on the 19th.

The fiction projects I’ve mentioned seem to be doing quite well. Butch Fatale, Deep Cuts and Mitigated Futures were all funded (quite a while ago, actually, I grabbed one of the last few seats on the Deep Cuts and Mitigated Futures bandwagons). Fiction is my favorite art form/entertainment medium so I’m happy to see any well-presented projects do well,and I’m always looking for more.

Final Frontier Design got a big boost when a backer purchased a complete suit, which was 50% of their total goal, so they were funded on July 15th.

That’s it for now. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet, please consider backing the projects still on the current campaigns list, if they grab your interest. And help spread the word!

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Caveat…oh hell you know what I’m going to say

There’s something I haven’t yet addressed here that I probably should; the risk you take as a backer. When you fund a project, no matter what sort of checks are in place, you are taking a risk. Whether it’s a Kickstarter campaign, or any of the other platforms,they take no responsibility for the projects they host. They provide a service, connecting eager producers with willing backers and enabling the funding to take place. They do this for a fee. If a project is funded, and the project meets their goals and provides rewards on schedule, everyone is happy.

But on the wind there’s an expectation that the first big crowdfunding scandal or theft isn’t far off. There’s also a sense that the platform might benefit the haves more than the have nots, i.e. an established producer will fare better than an upstart and even take away funding from them. To this second concern I can only say that it’s a new platform, but the old advantages still exist. It’s the first that makes me nervous.

My worst fear isn’t some sort of massive fraud executed by people who have no intention of ever meeting their goals. I feel like that kind of campaign might be easy to spot, though I suspect there’s already been several little ones. My real fear is the huge project that the producers can’t pull off. It’s the project that has a slick, engaging campaign, by someone you might not have heard of but who seems to have good intentions. They don’t destroy their funding goal, but just barely meet it, and it turns out it’s not enough.

They scrap, and fight to get their product ready, but they just can’t make it happen. They had planned to work full time on it but the money ran out, and they aren’t done yet. They then have two choices; ship an incomplete project, or take much, much longer to finish and blow through their deadlines. Either way, backers lose. And I suppose there’s a third choice: they fail to ship at all. I would think as a show of good faith they would simply release whatever was done, if for no other reason than to try to avoid legal action. But maybe not.

What scares me about this is the macro impact. Obviously it’s lousy for the backers. But the bigger concern I have is for the impact on the notion of crowdfunding as a whole. We who have bought into the idea have faith in our producers, and they nearly always reward that faith. But the skeptics are just waiting for a big project to fail, and I worry if the failure is big enough, it could turn a lot of people off, and possibly even start hurting other campaigns and the idea as a whole. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, and stuff would get made and people would buy it, and something else new would come along. But we’ve got a good thing going, and I hope we don’t mess it up.

When you back a project, I think it’s to your benefit to be prepared for your reward to be delayed or even never delivered. You’re spending money months in advance of actually getting the thing you want, and a lot can happen during that time, and you probably don’t know much about the people you bought that thing from. I think crowdfunding is great, and a lot of people benefit from it on both sides of the transaction. But it is a transaction. Money can muddy things up quickly and can make smart people do stupid things. Let’s all be careful out there and try to be savvy about what we back or talk about.

The weekly geek

Hi everybody! I liked the way the weekly summary post turned out last week so I thought I would try it again. I hope you all had a good week.

As I continue to explore the various data sources for good ways to find projects, I’ve found a number of sites doing similar work to what I’m trying to do. This may be self defeating, but I love you all so much that I’m going to share what I find. So here they are: G4TV (Nerdsourcing), io9 (Crowdfund This) and SparkFun (A curated Kickstarter page).

Via ShackNews, a new games-only crowdfunding site, Gamesplanet Labs was recently launched.

Here are a few quick project updates on some of our favorites. Kickstarter-funded Fireside Magazine will now be open for submissions beginning in August, for one month.

Escape Pod Comics had a few more interesting updates, including more on the inspiration for the campaign. Menachem was also interviewed here.

Final Frontier Design was a featured project this week. Curious to see what effect that has.

Here also are a few new projects. Also via the Kickstarter Projects We Love Email (give me a break, it was a holiday week), come two projects, an open source robot submarine…

OpenROV is an open source robotic submarine designed to make underwater exploration possible for everyone. It’s also an online community of professional and amateur ROV (remotely operated vehicle) enthusiasts on OpenROV.com.

The Goal: to inspire and enable anyone to become a DIY Ocean Explorer.

We believe in the power of open source communities to create amazing tools and experiences. This is an invitation to become a co-developer of the OpenROV project.

…and a new magazine.

Tomorrow is a one-shot magazine about creative destruction—a fitting concept for eight recently unemployed journalists and designers. Our next move: Pushing others to jump out of their comfort zones, too, and writing and designing the hell out of the results. For the next month, we will crash on one issue of a magazine. No salaries, no health care, no ergonomic office chairs. No foundation grants, no advisory boards, no independently wealthy vanity investors—for now, at least. That means no filler, no product placement, no luxury gift guides. It means we won’t be afraid to publish things that are complicated or sexy or weird… the kinds of things that might just get you fired. (We’ve been there.) Tomorrow will feature original articles and essays about what’s on the cusp, plus fresh design, illustrations, and photography in a quality print publication.

And here’s a bit of information in the media I found interesting this week on crowdfunding in general.

Kickstarter’s release of their stats page has created a lot of coverage of the types and amounts of projects that get funded, but what I found most interesting was the 30% tipping point, after which funding becomes much more likely. People have known about the tipping point for some time but the release of project stats has provided significant support for this theory. My initial reaction was that 30% seems a low bar to clear. My guess is that most projects that break through the 30% barrier do so in their first week and pick up steam from there. I believe many campaigns stall out in the middle two weeks, and so getting to 30% quickly is a good test of the viability of the campaign. When you reach the Kickstarter doldrums, you have enough interest to sustain the project, and get to the last 25% of the funding period more than half funded. This can encourage those on the fence to take the plunge. Planning on how to get the first 30% quickly seems a good strategy to follow, either through priming your audience ahead of time to get them to back as soon as possible, or perhaps trying to find backers before the campaign starts, specifically those who might be interested in the big rewards.

This past week I ran across a number of good “food for thought” discussions on how to use crowdfunding to raise money.  First is Kevin Clark, a composer discussing how to plan your Kickstarter. He has a series of posts going, of which I’ve linked to the third such post. And here’s one talking about how Kickstarter is not a magical pony, and that hard work and building an audience are still the key. Lastly, Northwestern University students are on the case, researching how to design a successful campaign. Meta-alert: They are running their own campaign to distribute their findings.

I could be wrong, but there seemed to be a lot of traditional media coverage of crowdfunding this week. This seems due to some new US laws that will soon allow small businesses to use crowdfunding to find true investors as opposed to donors or backers. The distinction is important in that donors, of course, are owed nothing further, backers are usually sold a reward, but investors get a share of your business. They become part owners with you. These new laws are leading to new platforms. I’m curious to see whether the investment-banking mindset is able to copy with the wisdom of crowds or whether the platforms are too limiting in what they allow to be placed on offer. The Atlantic also weighed in on the perils and promise of our crowdfunded future, including a good discussion of what the new laws mean.

Happy funding!

The weekly geek

Here’s a a variety of things I learned about this week.

SF Signal has a crowdfunding roundup that started up last week. I don’t know how often it will run but I suspect it will be weekly. Here it is.

And here is an interesting analysis of Kickstarter funding success, sent to me by @dalmatianjaws.

A Thousand Natural Shocks, the dance and story collaboration by Megan Kurashige and Kat Howard, was featured in the weekly Projects We Love email along with CLANG. Megan and Kat were interviewed here on Wednesday.

Menachem of Escape Pod Comics has a campaign update that talks about his history with comics shops and the genesis of his store. More to come!

Here’s a few campaigns I’m excited about.

Via @ChuckWendig, here’s Deep Cuts Anthology, a collection of horror stories written by women authors.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about Tobias Buckell’s short fiction collection Mitigated Futures.

And two more with slightly more info, since they have pretty pictures and seem to merit further explanation.

If you miss your old Nintendo, this might appeal to you. From the campaign:

Super Retro Squad is a 2D platformer that features characters inspired by classic video game characters. These characters will feature unique gameplay, but their core will be based on the originals. This way, you get something old and something new, and it’s all combined together for a fresh, fun experience.

The game will feature 40+ levels that will be spanned across 8 worlds. Each world will be based on one of the characters, so there will be plenty of variety found in the environments and enemies. There will also be an equipment and upgrade system that will allow you to customize your character’s abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. We also plan on tying everything together with a cool story that will be explained through dialog and cut scenes.

This is a film restoration project that seems too campy and weird not to tell you about.

This film is a very unique superhero movie.  If you were practically invincible, had powers beyond the grasp and scope of mortal man, and had the chiseled features of royalty… what would you do?  Argoman is that kind of superhero.  Brave, courageous, out to help establish peace… but kind of a criminal as well.  Constantly in between being blamed for theft and being praised for his assistance, he saves the day and adds to his “collection.”  His alter-ego is equally fascinating.  It is not really an act as he “plays the part” of a regal, wealthy, influential man of British society.  That is simply his personality.  He is not above doing what is needed, he just enjoys the ease that stature provides.  He is not at all bashful about his identity, either Argoman or Sir Reginald.  He doesn’t seek to hide his identity too hard either, making such a mild attempt that it makes it laughable the police haven’t figure it out by now.

Kat Howard and Megan Kurashige, creators of A Thousand Natural Shocks

Your new campaign for a dance/story collaboration, A Thousand Natural Shocks, went live on Saturday. I was going to ask you about how you planned to manage the campaign to a successful conclusion, but then you guys went and hit 60% funded after just one day. Without jinxing yourself, to what do you attribute your blockbuster first day, and do you have any stretch goals in mind if you need them?

Kat: I think it’s a dangerous question, to ask what it is about any work of art that causes people to respond to it. You risk – especially as one of the people involved in making the art – narrowing your vision, and making assumptions. But whatever it is that has caused people to look at this project and want to support it, I am glad, and thrilled, and very grateful.

And really, if I had to pick one thing that helped us be that successful on our first day – aside from the excellent video Megan and Shannon made – it was that people were willing to support us by linking to the project, and talking about it on various platforms. That helps so much.

Megan: I agree… So many people helped us spread the word on the first day. It gave us a nice jolt of momentum and excitement. It was a little overwhelming (in the nicest way, of course) to see so many people telling their friends about our project and saying such kind and enthusiastic things about it. It made me get a bit misty in the eyes. We’ve been working on this project for so long with our little band of comrades, just going into the studio to work and think and make things, and we suddenly have all these people who are interested in what we’re doing and cheering us on.

Right now, I can’t imagine what we’d have for a stretch goal… Our first performance is on Monday and thinking about that has completely consumed my brain. We just settled on the final pieces of music this morning! However, Shannon and I have been daydreaming about the possibility of performing A Thousand Natural Shocks, or parts of it, in other places, so if we manage to pass our original goal, we may very well explore that.

You describe your work as an exploration of life and death and the stories in between. How do you translate that into dance? What role do the stories play in the performance?

Kat: I’m going to tackle the easy one first – pieces of the stories will be heard during the performance. In some cases, I wrote before seeing the choreography, in some cases after, and of course there was revision, but it is very much a project that is meant for the two pieces to go together and support each other.

As to how to translate things like life and death and stories into dance, well, I didn’t do the choreography, but I imagine it is much life translating those things into any art form – you speak the language of your chosen medium as well as you can, and hope your audience understands.

Megan: The dancers perform all of the text. Sometimes, the text accompanies the dance and sometimes it stands alone. In one section, the dancers break up a duet by racing back and forth between the microphones and the dance, tossing off this great, snappy, screwball dialogue that Kat originally wrote as an exchange between Lucifer and Titania. The text and the dance definitely support each other. They talk about the same things in different ways… It’s a bit like traveling along a certain road, but doing so by foot and then car and then bicycle and then pony cart and then maybe something really strange, like ostrich.

I think dance, or at least theatrical dance, is in the strange position of being both a visceral, natural language that everyone understands and an art form that some people feel is alien or stuffy or something they don’t quite “get.” There’s an expectation, sometimes, that going to see a dance performance means going to a grand theater and sitting still for a long time while you watch something pretty happen on a stage very far away from you. But, I think that dance can really rip your head open and peel your heart bare. Everyone understands movement as a form of expression, so dance can exploit that understanding and condense enormous ideas and feelings into pungent, vivid movement symbols. Of course, doing that successfully is very hard…

You are part of the same Clarion class, so I’d assume you have a lot of love for fantasy and science fiction. How does this factor in A Thousand Natural Shocks?

Kat: Originally, A Thousand Natural Shocks was going to be a straight-up fantastical piece. It was going to be an exploration of myths of the underworld, and for a long time the working title was Descent. Pieces of that remain, but it is a very different thing now. (Although the undercurrent of the fantastic is still very much present.)

Megan: Shannon and I both love fantasy and science fiction. Before Kat instigated the project that eventually became A Thousand Natural Shocks, we were toying with the idea of making a dance about superheroes. I think dance is a particularly good medium for exploring elements of the fantastic. It can make your brain work in a similar way. There are exaggerations and gaps, things standing in for other things. Since we started out by looking at myths of the underworld, our brains were already in that place and I think that fed into the way the piece developed.

What was it like working on a collaboration from different coasts? What can you tell a geeky audience about your creative process?

Kat: You mention above that we were in the same Clarion class. For me, that made the collaboration a lot easier. I knew Megan, and not just as a person, but as an artist. I knew that the same sort of things mattered to each of us, and that we shared a common sort of sensibility. Which meant that,going into the project, I had absolute trust in her, both as a person and as an artist. That shared background made things a lot easier for me.

Beyond that, in terms of the actual how – email. Skype. YouTube. Technology made things so much easier than it would have been. I mean, obviously the easiest would have been having me in the same place as dancers, but since that couldn’t happen, having technology helped.

Megan: I was in the comfortable position of working with people who I know well and admire. I trust, completely, in the artistic instincts and points of view of everyone involved in this project. It makes it easy to collaborate when you have that trust. You can discuss and argue and change things without worrying that you’re going to break the skeleton of what you’re working on. It gives you a great deal of freedom.

We filmed all of the choreography as we created it. Then we would upload it to YouTube and send it to Kat. Kat Skyped in for a few rehearsals so she could see the piece as a more continuous whole. We also did some video chat meetings so we could talk about ideas and throw suggestions back and forth without creating too many monster email threads (I just looked up the rehearsal video thread that we started in December… it has 26 separate messages in it.)

You plan to produce a DVD, two different books, t-shirts, postcards, and other rewards. What, if any production and publishing services do you plan to use for these rewards?

Megan: Rapt Productions, a great Bay Area company that specializes in filming dance, is going to film our July 30 performance. Shannon happens to be very good at screenprinting, so she will be designing the screens for our t-shirts and screening them by hand. As for the books and postcards, we haven’t quite decided which services we’ll be using for those. We’re really looking forward to putting them together though.

What are your plans for the future? What do you think lies ahead for A Thousand Natural Shocks? Any new collaborations on the horizon?

Kat: It’s hard to say what lies ahead for A Thousand Natural Shocks beyond these performances. I hope it speaks to people. I hope they love it. Would I collaborate on a project with Megan or with Sharp & Fine or with any of our phenomenal dancers again? Absolutely. I have loved this experience, even on the days it was difficult, and I am so proud of what we’ve done. And I like collaborative art, so I’d be thrilled to have a chance to make more of it.

Megan: I do hope that people enjoy A Thousand Natural Shocks. Part of our mission statement for this piece and for Sharp & Fine in general is that we want our audiences to be “gloriously, luxuriously not bored.” This doesn’t sound like much, but it is, as Shannon says, one of the most ambitious goals and highest achievements that a work of performing art can aim for. I would love for A Thousand Natural Shocks to live on beyond these performances. Shannon keeps talking about making a dance film version of it. We have other projects in mind for the near future, but I’m very proud of this project and the way that we’ve worked together. I hope we get to work with Kat again and I hope we get to do other collaborations with other artists because this one has been such insane, marvelous fun.

Kat Howard is a fiction writer, blogger, and editor. Her short fiction has been performed on NPR as part of Selected Shorts, and has been selected for a year’s best anthology. It has appeared in Lightspeed, Subterranean, and the anthology Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. Her nonfiction has appeared on Tor.com, and is frequently on Fantasy-Matters.com, where she is also the content editor. She blogs and is on Twitter.

Megan Kurashige studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance under the direction of Summer Lee Rhatigan. She currently dances with Liss Fain Dance in San Francisco. She has previously worked with choreographers Alex Ketley (The Foundry) and Christian Burns (burnsWORK), and performed with Ballet Pacifica and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. She is also a writer. Her fiction and poetry has appeared (or will appear) in Sybil’s Garage, Strange Horizons, and Electric Velocipede. She is a 2008 graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD. You can read more about Megan here.



Finding your spirit geek

Last week on Twitter it was suggested that the reason I had such a fascination with bees was that they were my totem animal. While I maintain that my fascination has more to do with their role in the ecosystem and its impending collapse, the suggestion helped me to finally find a good name for an idea I’ve had for quite some time: the spirit geek.

The spirit geek sits at the top of your influence pyramid. They are the discovery that leads to all of the other discoveries. They inspire you to learn more about a subject, be it a fictional world, a technique for creating software, or anything you might geek out about. They might be a fictional character, a writer or journalist, a historical figure, or your mom or dad.

Whoever they are, the spirit geek is the one person, and I think there can be only one at a time, who most inspires you to seek whatever it is that you seek.

My spirit geek is Michael Chabon, though Joe Hill is ever closer to supplanting him. His essays, more than his fiction, are what puts him at the top for me. I love his novels, but it was his book MAPS AND LEGENDS that clarified for me how empty the distinction was between genre and so-called literary fiction. It’s also full of references to writers and artists who influenced him. I’ve gone on to read some of those writers, who led me to other writers, who led me here.

So, who is your spirit geek? Tell me in the comments or on Twitter. Who knows, some of us might even find a new spirit geek to follow.

P. Craig Russell’s Guide to Graphic Storytelling, Series 2

A new campaign, P. Craig Russell’s Guide to Graphic Storytelling Series 2, is exactly the sort of project that makes Kickstarter a wonderful way to launch or expand a project. This project is a series of films that teach the use of visual techniques in the creation of comics. Russell has decades of experience in the field, having worked on many, many books and garnering such respect as to be made the subject of an Eisner-nominated career retrospective. The film series, the second such series to be made, plans to use Russell’s artwork to teach viewers the art of telling a story with pictures.

I imagine that the creative class will be most interested in these films, most certainly artists, but also filmmakers and writers. And this is why Kickstarter is so useful. The campaign can be used both to gather the funds needed to make the films, and as a tool to reach the intended audience to make them aware of the project. This benefits audience and creator alike. As an outside observer, I’ve noticed that artists are a deeply supportive community, and are encouraging and helpful, and always eager to learn from one another and tout each other’s accomplishments. A campaign like this, examining storytelling and art, will surely find great interest among such a community.

Beyond that, the campaign itself has terrific rewards. With the exception of the $5 level, each level of support is entitled to a copy of the films, with higher reward levels receiving a study guide as well, and several opportunities to obtain artwork. If you are interested in using pictures to tell a story, or in how to tell stories at all, I’d recommend this project to you.