This Potato Salad Campaign is the Napoleon Dynamite of Kickstarter
One of the most common anxieties about the internet is the dumbing down of society and trading high art in favor of the lowbrow. Almost a month ago, a young Ohio man’s Kickstarter campaign to make potato salad with a $10 goal has made over $60,000 and sparked a wave of outrage. The filmmaking community is irked and bemoaned Zack Brown’s monumental success, claiming it came at the expense of robbing worthier films of funding. Ben Kuchera wrote a fantastic piece for Polygon defending and identifying the success of the campaign.
Following his lead, I would like to point out how Brown’s ingenious campaign is apropos to filmmakers utilizing crowdsourcing platforms. It’s time to get past the outrage mode and put on our creative hats.
First of all, it has a great hook: “Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet.” It’s short and sweet, not to mention funny and quirky. It sets the tone for the project, which is a good-natured joke. Think about making or watching a film. Something needs to captivate our attention in the opening moment.
It entertains. This is where most Kickstarters go wrong. Many of the film campaigns are surprisingly banal and overly earnest. These days I’ve come to a point that I won’t watch a video that’s over three minutes long (and subsequently avoid the campaign).
Think about it this way, when you’re outside on a city street, you’ve likely been put off by a beggar that pathetically stands around begging for money with sad eyes. Beggars that perform an instrument or one who would tell a joke for a buck or a drink are more likely to get rewarded.
People who use crowdfunding are beggars, even if it’s on a virtual platform. Yet many of the filmmakers take the tone that they’re bestowing a wonderful gift to the world, when in reality it’s the general public who is doing them the favor with very little in return (and it’s part of Brown’s genius that the main perk is to have a chuckle).
Brown’s campaign is incredibly inviting. Many of his “stretch goals” (all of which are fun and amusing) exceeding his original $10 goal such as “$75- Pizza Party” emphasize community. His $3000 stretch goal of “My kitchen is too small! I will rent out a party hall and invite the whole internet to the potato salad party (only $10 and above will be allowed in the kitchen)!” is genius because it acknowledges a swath of people in a funny, but not in a caustic way. Filmmakers should embrace the concept of community as it takes many people to make a movie and a mass audience is necessary for the industry.
In many of the campaigns, the applicants express how they’ve worked very hard and they need the money to pursue their dreams. Notice how there’s no communal pronouns in that sentence. Why should a crowd fund when it’s really about only one or a few people? In traditional movie funding, the investors expect a clear and tangible return, they’re not just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. While the folks on the crowd funding are not expecting a gazillion dollars, they’d like something more than fulfilling the dream of some random would-be filmmaker, whom they don’t know from John or Jane Doe.
Worse, and this is something filmmakers should understand, is that this violates the fundamental “show don’t tell rule.”
Before signing a petition to shut down Zach Brown, think about how to revitalize the campaign for your “worthier” project. Whether you like it or not, this Potato Salad campaign is the Napoleon Dynamite of Kickstarter.