Cinefamily's Star-Studded Online Kickstarter Telethon

By Noah J. Nelson

Recently Turnstyle looked at the Kickstarter campaign of a Los Angeles cinematheque known as The Cinefamily are running to upgrade their theatre.

Now whether you're in the LA area or not there's a reason to sit up and take notice of the campaign this weekend, because the theatre is putting on a star-studded, webcast telethon starting Saturday which you can watch from the comfort of your laptop.

But how big are the stars?

Try Robert Downey Jr. for starters.

It seems that some one left him a time capsule in their projection booth a decade ago-- from before the theatre belonged to The Cinefamily-- so the telethon is kicking off with the opening of that. A message from an era before Iron Man.

Amongst other stars who are scheduled to make an appearance during the 24-hour event-- which starts at 1PM on Saturday-- include actors Jason Schwatzman (Rushmore), John Hawkes (Deadwood) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), filmmakers Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music In The World), and Eric Wareheim (Tim and Eric) and screenwriting guru Robert McKee. That's just me cherry picking.

Now if you missed the previous article you might be wondering why a movie theatre needs to hold a fundraising telethon, and one on Kickstarter at that. To answer that very question we turned with head programmer and co-founder of The Cinefamily Hadrian Belove.

"The telethon was our idea to raise money annually," said Belove, "as non-profits are wont to do with an annual ask. Take a radio station doing it's membership drive, or like a pledge drive where we're trying to raise memberships/donations to help us with next year. This year we felt like we needed a little extra because of the projector issue, which really raised the stakes a little bit and someone suggested using a Kickstarter."

The Cinefamily is organized as a non-profit cinematheque, and small non-profit arts organizations aren't exactly known for being incredibly well capitalized. Nor is running a movie theatre cheap, especially when the movie studios are moving forward with a plan to phase out 35mm film with purely digital cinema projection (DCP).

That move towards DCP put preassure on The Cinefamily's already existing need to replace their aging projector. Because you can't show movies on the big screen without a projector.

"We just have to have a new projector. So in that sense it's essential. Our projector is eight years old, they don't even make bulbs for it anymore. The fact that we're being pressured is sort of coincidental with the fact that we have to have one in order to continue what we're doing."

What they're doing is more than just running movies. No independent cinema can really get away with just that anymore. Belove and his crew have been proactive about creating a community for the non-profit Cinefamily. The programming runs the gamut from artist on artist interviews to sleepovers and cookouts. When possible the in house interviews are streamed or archived online.

They manage to do this on the strength of their volunteers, borrowing cameras and editing gear. As it stands they can only do so much without their own equipment.

"We're sitting on what I think might be the last extensive interview of Ben Gazzara by Gary Oldman. It's a fantastic piece. It was shot by volunteers with decent cameras. An hour and a half interview and it's not online."

Getting the editing gear to have that interview polished and posted is one of the objectives of the campaign. Other non-profits might turn to wealthy members of their board to finance new undertakings, but The Cinefamily relies on a different model.

"We just don't have a traditional board/donor infrastructure," said Belove. "So I can say we've successfully replaced having a lot of high level donors with a lot of mid-level donors who are actually participants."

Another big question hanging over the event, this one from a crowdfunding point of view, deals with the timing of the telethon in relation to the Kickstarter. It's become something of a trend for the final hours of campaigns to be live-streamed in order to build the much needed last mile momentum.

Belove told me that the original plan actually did call for the telethon to coincide with the "ticking clock" of the Kickstarter finale. Then they thought better of it.

"I'm presuming-- I've never done a Kickstarter before-- that the final days of your Kickstarter you're really focusing on the Kickstarter. The telethon is kind of an all-consuming activity. This gives us a little bit of breathing room to see how we're doing after the telethon. And i do think it might work as a mid-bump, which we certainly need."

It's a strategy that is definitely worth watching, and one that is not without risk. The first telethon brought in $60k for the theatre, but by tying this year's edition to the Kickstarter they are betting everything on a successful completion of the campaign. Those watching online will have an obvious path to donate, but Kickstarter doesn't have a built in system for people hosting live events or "Kickstarter parties". Belove has hacked together a solution.

"We're going to have internet here for people to add to the Kickstarter. We also may have... I don't know how this works.. but some proxy people who you can give the cash and someone will funnel it through their account into the Kickstarter for us."

This is the part of the article where I digress to say that Kickstarter should really think about putting out a mobile app, or maybe just ditching Amazon and partnering up with Square in order to create a mobile payment solution for campaigns experimenting with in-person donations.

Back to the campaign at hand.

Belove made it clear that this isn't a make-or-break issue for the theatre.

"I'm not threatening to close the doors, it's not one of those campaigns. But it is saying that what we can do and be is directly affected by how succesful fundraises like this are."

The telethon runs from 1PM Pacific on Saturday the 15th and wraps up at 1PM on the 16th. Cinespia, known for putting on the summer screening series at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, are sponsoring the event.

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