Article by Susan Godfrey.
Truly we’ve all seen a lot of Kickstarter campaigns. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdsourcing platforms have become a fixture in all the mission-accomplished stories of our age. When I received an email from former classmate and colleague, Animator Dan Forgione, promoting 6 Point Harness’s Dick Figures Kickstarter campaign, I clicked in, excited to help out a friend.
The first remarkable thing I noticed about the Dick Figures campaign was the amount the 6 Point Harness guys are looking to raise. While I haven’t seen every Kickstarter out there, show creators Ed Skudder and Zack Keller are hoping to crowdsource a minimum of $250,000 for the funding of a Dick Figures film.
Although $250,000 may seem a low number for budgeting a ½ hour animated short from scripts to delivery, it’s a large amount of cash to just shake out of the trees in a month’s time. The success they’ve had in raising those funds so far has largely been aided by the next noteworthy thing I found about the pitch: Dick Figures is an already established and well liked product. Debuting in November 2010, Dick Figures has had a new video on YouTube every other week, totaling 4 seasons. Productive studio member Nelson Diaz, whose animation tastes and experience far outclass my own, describes the web series as “comedy gold”.
The last thing I noted was that, reportedly, the entire staff of the Dick Figures production are engaged in emailing, blogging, tweeting, and otherwise campaigning to get these funds raised. While I’ve told anyone that asks about achieving Kickstarter fundraising success that one needs to “work it like a job -hit that shit 8 hours a day at least 5 days a week…” 6 Point Harness has a staff that is literally working a Kickstarter campaign “for their jobs”.
Small budget with a big number, quality animation, and a dedicated staff -whatever the magical ingredients – the formula seems to be working. Last I checked this campaign was at $160,000 and in the campaign’s first few week rush, they were bringing in the entire $10,000 I raised in my own Kickstarter campaign every single night. Sobering.
After pinging Mr. Forgione for the better part of his morning about the ins and outs of this 6 Point endeavor, Dan passed me along to one of the shows creators Zack Keller who was super generous and patient in letting me pick at his brain as to the Dick Figures campaign and its ramifications. I am posting that interview here for your perusal.
Will a Youtube project be able to fund itself for a film via its fan base? Are YouTube and Kickstarter making for some winds of change in our up to this point very narrow and limited way studios get cartoons created? Would you throw in and campaign for this studio were you an employee? Go ahead, watch some Dick Figures in the name of “research”, follow the Kickstarter for the next few weeks, read this interview and divine for yourself.
Q: So even without a Kickstarter funded movie, Dick Figures is already a new kind of industry success -it’s shown exclusively on the Internet and distributed by Mondo Media… How did Dick Figures originally come about?
A: Dick Figures was originally created during a development phase at Six Point Harness animation, the studio we work for in Los Angeles. We knew we wanted to do a fast, funny and simple show and decided stick figures would suit us nicely. They are quick to draw, even though we do animate traditionally (there is very little tweening on the show), and this simple style allowed us to focus on the characters and story. We pitched a short pilot that Ed had made to Mondo Media and after showing positive numbers on the first episode they picked us up for a ten-episode season one.
Q: How much can you tell me about your agreement with Mondo Media as far as how the Dick Figures web series production was paid for before this Kickstarter and why the funding needs for this project are different? What are the pros/cons are to raising production funds this way as compared to how the series was funded before?
A: Six Point Harness has entirely self-funded Dick Figures which was an incredible risk on their behalf but has paid off well. For forty episodes they’ve paid the entire cast and crew to make this web series. We’re very thankful for all their support and Mondo’s as well who acts as our distributor on YouTube. After making 2-4 minute episodes for almost two years, we really wanted to flex our creative muscle and tell a much larger story with the characters and world of Dick Figures. Unfortunately, we don’t have the financing to do the entire thing ourselves so that’s why we reached out to Kickstarter to have the fans help us make the movie. The show has been a success because of the fans, and we hope they can all pull together to help us raise the financing too. We want to make the movie just as much as they want to see it.
Q: Is everyone at 6 Point Harness campaigning for your Kickstarter? What would you say is your studio’s reach? I saw on Wikia a list of 19 people who make Dick Figures -is everybody promoting?
A: Everyone here has been a tremendous help with the campaign; our artists, about ten of them, have been integral to the Kickstarter’s success because of their blogs, tumblrs, facebooks, and twitter accounts, which immediately makes our reach several times larger than if it was just Ed and I. We owe them a lot of thanks.
Q: How much do you think your You Tube following tips the scales in your fundraising effort? I’m thinking a lot…
A: More than 50% of our funding comes straight from YouTube and is the most important part of our success. The show and our fans are on YouTube so every time we release a new episode, reward, or making of video we’re able to point them straight at the Kickstarter. It’s our understanding that, due to all the videos we’ve released on YouTube, millions of people have heard about our Kickstarter campaign.
Q: Why $250,000?
A: $250,000 does sound like a lot of money, but that is honestly the budget. That number has confused many people because they don’t quite understand where the money is going so we made a video explaining it.
A: Basically, Kickstarter/Amazon take a percentage, and a large part goes towards making all the prizes for our backers, then there is the cost of running a studio, paying a team of 10-15 people, storyboarding, animating, editing, sound design, music, rendering… it all adds up. People think just Ed and I make the show which is not true. It takes a dedicated crew months to make the show. We’re going to spend every single penny we earn on making fans the best movie they’ve ever seen.
Q: And still why a half-hour short? Why a movie as opposed to putting together funding for another season?
A: We came up with an exciting idea for a longer format Dick Figures story and decided to just go for it. The fans have been asking for a longer format episode, and even a movie, so we took the plunge and put together a Kickstarter campaign that offered them everything they’ve ever wanted.
Q: Is telling bigger stories a goal for you guys as directors or a part of a vision you had for Dick Figures from the beginning?
A: We really enjoy making this web series; it’s the best job in the world. However, as I mentioned before, the fans have been asking for more content and we decided to take the leap to a full thirty minute special, or even a feature if we end up raising that much. Ed and I were both trained in feature production at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and we’ve worked on several other feature films throughout our career so it seemed only natural to go that direction. Plus, there’s no way we could tell this huge story in only a few minutes!
Q: Strategically speaking it still nags at me that ½ hour shows are a little awkward. They’re too short for theatrical release, too long for the pre-movie animation shorts, and too long for festivals.
When I asked Dan why a half hour his answer was, “That’s what the fans are asking for!” -but fans ask for a lot of dumb stuff…. How does it help push your product?
A: We’d prefer to do a feature film if we could, but for now it’s up to our backers to see how much money we can raise. Regardless of the length, we know the movie is going to be awesome. At thirty minutes, however, the show can now be sold and shown on Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and even TV, which is a very exciting prospect for the visibility of the series.
Q: Something that I noticed from my own Kickstarter is that running a Kickstarter gets you money but it also generates a buzz. Whether its a ½ hour show, funding for a series, funding for a 3 part trilogy -you guys could probably run a Kickstarter for making Dick Figure coasters and it would get you more hits on YouTube. Has there been a noticeable uptick in views and does that translate into more income for you?
A: There has definitely been a huge swell of support due to the Kickstarter. We’re getting new fans and our old fans are helping spread the word like never before. It’s pretty incredible. Our monthly views jumped from 12 million to 15 million in only a few weeks. Regardless of what happens with the Kickstarter, there has been quite a buzz about the project as more blogs and websites start writing articles about it.
Q: The other part of Dan’s pitch of this Kickstarter to animators I wanted to ask about was his declaration of “This Kickstarter will help keep me and the team employed!”
This is awesome and I’m 100% behind animators having jobs, particularly on cool projects, but it makes me wonder what it means for our industry, animators panhandling online for their jobs?
A: Our show was created from scratch, put online for free, and only makes money through views on YouTube so it takes a lot of legwork to keep that alive. As traditional distribution is dismantled, it is up to the artists to self-promote. We all have networks of friends, family, co-workers online and it’s our job to spread the word to them, and hope they’ll do the same, and so on in an ever-expanding pattern. Mondo Media has been a huge part of our success due to their promotion and million subscribers on their channel so they are able to straddle the line of old/new distribution, which is very exciting.
Q: Are there any other benefits you’ve gotten from running a Kickstarter along with funding a project, generating a buzz and keeping everyone paid?
A: Excitement. And ulcers. It’s really exciting tracking this project but incredibly nerve-wracking too. We’re in the trenches every day pushing the line forward.
Q: You had this response on your Reddit IAMA to the question about what you found the most rewarding about creating Dick Figures:
The most rewarding part is the poverty that keeps us entirely grounded. Animation costs a lot to make and we only get paid through views so there is quite a disparity. Even though Dick Figures is the most viewed animated web series at the moment (besides Happy Tree Friends) it is still just barely breaking even.
I found this statement to be kind of a reality check in that among animators the Internet has long been thought of as potential game changer for animation programming. You’ve advertised Dick Figures on your Kickstarter as “the highest viewed and rated animated web series on YouTube” and it’s still, “just barely breaking even”?
A: A lot of successful online animation is done by one person, or a very small team, not a studio. We’re different in that the show is created very traditionally with storyboard artists, animators, sound designers, editors, producers, etc but are able to release every two weeks online. This obviously makes the show much more expensive, but also increases the quality significantly. As our viewership grows, we’re closer and closer to making the show profitable.
Thank you Dan, thank you Zack and Good Luck 6 Point Harness!