Kick-start my art 

Montana creators discover a new way to raise funds

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"Kickstarter tells you to construct campaigns around fields of definites," Cook says. "That's family and friends. And we kind of reached a little outside of what we thought we could get in the community—what we knew we could get from that direct group of support. We set our goal beyond."

Smetanka also hoped to tap World War I buffs. But the average World War I buff might not be an avid Facebooker. "I think of my dad who's 76, and this is the kind of project he'd be pretty excited aboutif only he knew how to turn on a computer," Smetanka says. So he wrote letters to World War I organizations, people who make replica firearms and uniforms, historical societies and university departments, hoping to coax them to his Kickstarter page. The director of one World War I organization gave him a pointer. "He said, 'Look, if you want to reach potential backers with money, you've got to get airplanes in there, because people who are interested in World War I, if they are at all, it's because of airplanes.'"

click to enlarge Andy Smetanka - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

Smetanka had tried to avoid airplanes in his film; they seemed like they might be too much work on top of his already painstaking silhouette process. But, he says, "I spent a weekend cutting out biplanes and making a little slideshow."

He doesn't know if that moved any supporters—ultimately, he didn't get much response from World War I buffs, he says, although what he got seemed enthusiastic—but it pushed him. Now he had biplanes involved, and his WWI landscape was going to be that much more layered. "It made me get a lot of work on the movie done—and not to mention all these things Patrick and I did: the bunker diaries and the updates. Thinking farther down the road with an eye toward DVD extras, we have this bizarre little satchel of artifacts that is sort of funny and stands by itself."

War by other means

The Kickstarter campaign for Smetanka's WWI film started feeling, aptly enough, like a political campaign or a battle. He and Cook would meet to strategize at the back of Le Petit Outre, the bakery where they both pull shifts, or at Smetanka's house in the North Hills. "It was like a war room," says Cook. "We'd just sit there and wrack our brains about what we're going to do the next week out."

How could they reach more people?

Kickstarter has a couple of ways of driving traffic to its site. One is to list staff picks of projects.

Each episode of "The Bunker Diaries" continued to narrate the trials and tribulations of Smetanka's Kickstarter campaign. "We were really putting pressure on them for a Memorial Day feature," he says. "We were kind of fighting to get them to notice us and at the same time we were sort of fighting a campaign against the exhaustion of being in this campaign, like, 'Oh! Will it ever end?'" he says melodramatically. "'I don't know!'... Those ended up being really fun, but for me that kind of felt like a response to the whole ordeal of Kickstarter at that point. We weren't being petty or snipey, but I could definitely read between the lines and see that I was struggling with the whole process of having this thing take over my life."

Smetanka took a family vacation to the Oregon coast in the last week of his campaign. Even with Cook at the wheel, it seemed like a crazy time to be away. He was $17,000 short of his goal. The campaign had started with a spike in contributions and then plateaued. Though he was able to relax most days in Oregon, he says, it was hard not to check in at the local library every few days to see if he was actually going to raise the money to make his film. "It turns your email into a crack-like experience where you look at it every five minutes to see if you have new backers."

He set up a Plan B: He made a deal with his sister that, if needed, she'd loan him up to $5,000 to make the goal.

click to enlarge news_feature-8.jpg

"You get into this campaign," he says. "And of course, it makes you want it really badly. You want it so badly that at the end, you find yourself prepared to make really strange decisions, like 'I can hawk one of my kids.'" He laughs. "Well, not that extreme, but you do find yourself making really big Plan Bs that aren't really compatible with your project. It definitely messes with your head."

Meanwhile, on Facebook, there was a flutter of people sharing Smetanka's project. Cook says that people who had been talking about donating to it suddenly realized it was now or never. "I would love to write a psychology thesis on this platform," he says. "That last week alone is fascinating, it's amazing what happened. That was the most movement I'd ever seen in the last week of one of my campaigns."

With 72 hours to go, there were still several thousand dollars to be raised. Would they make it?

"There's this great thing that happens where people jump in at the 11th hour to be the hero," says Cook. "They want to feel like they single-handedly brought this over the finish line."

They came in $2,000 over their goal.

"It's a feeling I've always craved," Smetanka says, "having some kind of security or padding for a project. It's that shoulder, that break that a lot of artists dream of, where you can tune out the rest of the world and finally work on this thing that's moved upstairs in your head and won't leave. And to get it, and to finally dawn on you that you got it, is pretty astonishing."

Upping the ante

Doug Hawes-Davis's All the Labor is a music documentary about Austin band The Gourds, which also has a hearty following in Missoula. Hawes-Davis is a Missoula-based filmmaker and co-founder of High Plains Films, known for documentaries such as Libby, MT, Facing the Storm, This is Nowhere and Brave New West, as well as founding the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. And he's a Gourds fan; he saw their second Missoula show, in 2001, when they played the now-defunct Blue Heron, and was hooked. When he heard a rough mix of their album Old Mad Joy a couple of years ago, he got to talking with the band about a documentary.

click to enlarge Doug Hawes-Davis - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

He started filming All the Labor late last summer. He and a crew toured with the band, collecting commentary by band members, concert footage, archival images and candid, entertaining behind-the-scenes footage that captures the irreverent quintet wonderfully. He started a Kickstarter campaign in May, hoping to raise $45,000.

From the beginning, Hawes-Davis had banked on Kickstarter for funding. But it wasn't carefree. He'd already mounted one Kickstarter campaign, to raise money to distribute Facing the Storm, his bison documentary, and it had failed, although the film ended up on PBS and won a regional Emmy. Likely, the pitch to contribute to distribute a film wasn't as enticing as one to help fund the making of one, he says, and he didn't put much effort into Kickstarter campaign updates. But it was all new to him then.

Hawes-Davis, who is 43, started his company High Plains Films, located in downtown Missoula, in 1992. He was used to seeking foundation grants to make his films. He and his High Plains partner, Drury Gunn Carr, would begin a project and try to keep it afloat with money from contract film work for groups such as the Sierra Club, and with sheer frugality. Any money they made from their films went to the making of their next one. "It's not really a great, sustainable model, but it sort of got us by," Hawes-Davis says, at least until the market for DVDs of films began to dry up.

That's when he took a closer look at Kickstarter. He saw how it had helped Missoula director Damon Ristau raise money to make the documentary The Bus. That one was ideal for Kickstarter. There are organized fans of VW buses, whose dedication Ristau examines in his film. There aren't many foundations that would give a grant to make a film like that, but there were plenty of individuals who might.

Hawes-Davis wanted to connect with Gourds fans, among others. The band was at a perfect crossroads. They'd just signed with the renowned blues and alt-country Vanguard label but hadn't blown up to the point where it might have been harder for Hawes-Davis to film them. And the band, which is Southern-flavored, more moonshine than fine wine, is endearingly quirky. "They're not the sort of instant, you know, Jack Johnson melody," says Hawes-Davis. "They take a little bit of time to grow on you, and I know from being a fanatic music fan, that's the music that sticks with me much longer than the pop melody."

Having already shot footage for the film, Hawes-Davis sunk his time into editing portions of it for Kickstarter updates. "It was far, far more work just to set up Kickstarter than I thought it was going to be," he says. "To decide on the amount. To decide what the awards were going to be. ... It was as much as writing a grant proposal, for sure."

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