Kickstarter Lessons Learned and Budget Breakdown

by Kirby Ferguson

Below is the final Kickstarter Update for our successful fall campaign in which we raised enough funds to produce this spring's video Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens. We're sharing it here on the site in hopes that it may be insightful for backers and crowdfunders alike.


Hi everyone!

We want to close out this amazing Kickstarter experience with a little recap of lessons learned and some behind-the-scenes numbers.

Here’s our frank assessment of our performance on Kickstarter thus far. We’ve done one good campaign (this one, The Five Year Anniversary Celebration) and one so-so campaign (This is Not a Conspiracy Theory). This campaign for the Five Year Anniversary Celebration went pretty much according to plan. We made the best quality rewards we could, and delivered them roughly on schedule. And we got to make an exciting new installment to the Everything is a Remix series that was an instant hit with fans and media alike. We hope we’ve pleased our backers and we’ve heard lots of good feedback along the way. In sharp contrast, This is Not a Conspiracy Theory is a gigantically ambitious project that outgrew the bounds of its funding and timeline. Kirby is very proud of the work he’s doing on TINACT, but has lingering guilt about how long it’s taking.

So we’ve done a good Kickstarter and a mediocre one. Here’s some of the lessons we’ve learned and mistakes we’ve made.

Lessons Learned

  • Pulling off a Kickstarter campaign on your own is tough. Kirby designed and executed the campaign for This is Not a Conspiracy Theory on his own and it proved very difficult to handle all the creative and logistical challenges. 
  • There were two of us working on and supporting this Five Year Anniversary Celebration campaign. That means we had two people designing it, running the numbers, promoting it, executing rewards fulfillment, and communicating with our backers. With a two-person team we made less mistakes and had the required manpower to get everything done. 
  • Doing a crowdfunded project means you are getting into the customer service business. You need to have the time and resources to devote to keeping your backers happy and meeting your promises. 
  • We kept the scale of this project as small as possible. The bigger and more ambitious the project, the more likely it will change shape dramatically as it develops. That means you might deliver something much different than you intended, and it means it might take way longer than anticipated. For those large-scale projects, we recommend doing as much work as possible before Kickstarting, which will vastly reduce its complexity. 
  • Kickstarter takes a percentage of the funds raised (obviously), but this is also applied to shipping money collected, not just reward pledges. We didn’t take this into account which decreased our margins a bit. 
  • We ran the Kickstarter in fall 2015 and postage increased in January 2016. So shipping collected for the campaign didn’t go as far as we calculated. And for one reward level, the price changed enough that we lost $3-5 on shipping on every international backer. 
  • Printing expensive $15+ international postage is really nerve wracking. Hoping you got the address right, hoping it makes it through customs, hoping it makes it to the backer, hoping it has the right combination of rewards. If any one of those goes wrong, it’s a very costly mistake. If a batch goes wrong, it’s a disastrous mistake. 
  • Adding the color options to the rewards greatly complicated prepping, manufacturing, packing, and shipping. We wouldn’t do it again and recommend keeping the combinations of rewards as limited as possible.

Budget Breakdown

  • Total Pledged: $24,125.00 
  • Dropped Backers: 2% (people who pledged but didn’t end up giving us money)
  • Kickstarter Fees: 8% (Kickstarter’s cut of the campaign) 
  • Shipping and Handling Costs: 17% (packing and mailing rewards to backers)
  • Manufacturing Costs: 26% (getting the t-shirts and posters made) 
  • Taxes: 12% (well, we all know what that is) 
  • Net Profit: 35% (the money that went into our bank account and funded video production)

The new Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens video took seven weeks full-time to research, write, and produce. The net profit of $8,443.75 funded six weeks of that production time. Costs for our two person operation include the hours it takes to research, write, produce, and promote the video, as well as direct expenses like media and research materials, software, hardware, administrative infrastructure, and health insurance coverage.

Final Thanks

In these final moments of this project, we’d like to express our immense gratitude for your support. All backers large and small made this possible and we really enjoyed getting to make another Everything is a Remix video. We hope you enjoyed it too, and that it gave you a new tool of thought for how to approach your work and creative life. As a reminder to keep aiming for both the novel and the familiar, go grab the new Everything is a Remix desktop wallpaper.

We also want to thank the backers who pledged at the sponsorship level. These funds were essential to reaching our stretch goal and underwrote much of production. Thank you so much to Ramon Vullings of Cross-Industry Innovation, Mike Pendleton of pro-voke, and Ray Kimber.

If you’d like to keep up with the latest videos and other projects from us, sign up for our (infrequent) newsletter.

And there you have it. This Kickstarter is done! Thanks so much everyone!!!

 Best! Kirby & Nora

Kirby & Nora

"Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens" Transcript

by Kirby Ferguson

This is the transcript for the video Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens, which can be viewed above. The purpose of this post is to make the video more easily indexed by our algorithmic overlords. So if you haven't seen the video, click play. If you have, there's nothing to see here so please move along. But buy something before that.


Star Wars fans had a rough ride for many years. First George Lucas recut the original films to incorporate garish, artificial-looking CGI. Then he produced a trio of popular but largely disliked prequels that featured more garish, artificial-looking CGI along with flat characters, convoluted plots, and Jar Jar.  Light sabres were wilting among the faithful.  

The JJ Abrams directed The Force Awakens was the Star Wars movie fans were looking for, and it was greeted with overwhelming praise. But even among those who loved it, there was a recurring criticism.

This core complaint was echoed more strongly elsewhere. It was called “the biggest fan film ever made.” Some claimed our culture suffers from a “nostalgia problem”. Others said it was an indicator of the “stagnation and repetition” of our collective imagination. And the film was also called a remix, which seemed to not be a compliment. It was even dubbed “the apotheosis of remix culture, its logical endpoint.”

The remix method of copying, transforming and combining is definitely used in The Force Awakens, as well as the other works of JJ Abrams. Is remixing a weak point in The Force Awakens?  Is the remix method growing stale? Have we reached the limits of remixing? 

JJ Abrams is well acquainted with the concept of remixing, but he’s a different kind of remixer than George Lucas. Lucas tended to copy scenes and shots, while Abrams tends to copy major story elements. This is something he’s done from the very beginning of his career, and his earliest screenplays loyally follow established story templates.

Taking Care of Business is about a rich man and a poor man swapping identities, a formula that was established in Mark Twain’s Prince and the Pauper then used in many films, including the hit Trading Places.

Regarding Henry came in the midst of a trend of films about people with intellectual disabilities teaching us life lessons and being adorable.

In Gone Fishin’ the disaster prone lead characters narrowly escape a string of misfortunes and triumph in the end, a comedy tradition that dates back to at least Buster Keaton. 

Abrams’ voice becomes more distinct as he starts to transform and combine his sources more.

The influence of Steven Speilberg emerges in Joy Ride, a killer truck movie that resembles Speilberg’s Duel crossed with a road trip film. 

The TV series Felicity was his take on the popular self-aware teen drama genre of the nineties and incorporates some unusual elements, like a Twilight Zone-style episode and this shocking twist. Which perhaps he picked up from the previous year’s Meet Joe Black. 

His next show, Alias, was a Felicity-like college drama crossed with a spy thriller. 

Abrams first big success was Lost,  which took the stranded on an island genre of Survivor and Castaway and added the nonlinear timeline popularized by Quentin Tarantino and the surreal plot twists of The Twilight Zone. 

Since graduating to the big screen, Abrams specialty has been rebooting familiar material. 

Mission Impossible III was an Alias-like version of the Tom Cruise vehicle and renewed an aging franchise.

Super 8 was directed in the stye of Spielberg and resembled a monster movie version of ET.

And his Star Trek films successfully relaunched the franchise while pleasing most — if not all — of the existing fans. 

So with this knack for updating and refreshing familiar material, Abrams brought his remix-like approach to Star Wars Episode VII.

The Force Awakens incorporates a bit of George Lucas-style remixing. There’s a shot inspired by Apocalypse Now. The x-wings skimming over the water was taken from the film Firefox. And the sword fight in gently falling snow recalls Kill Bill, which itself copied Lady Snowblood.

But most of the remixing in The Force Awakens is of story elements, and the primary source is Episode IV: A New Hope.

  • In both films, an old Jedi must be found.
  • Vital information is tucked away in a cute droid. 
  • On a desert planet, the droid is found by a young orphan.
  • Storm troopers search for the vital information and kill innocent people.
  • Our heroes narrowly escape in the millennium falcon.
  • The orphan forms a relationship with an elder figure.
  • Han Solo has a confrontation with someone he owes money.
  • There’s a space bar filled with wacky creatures, where our heroes are stared at in silence for a moment.
  • The villains have a planet-like weapon that destroys planets. They demonstrate this power by destroying a planet. This is also the second time this has happened in a JJ Abrams film.
  • The villain murders the elder figure, which the orphan witnesses. 
  • The heroes go into the planet-like weapon to incapacitate something.
  • Ships fly down a trench, shoot a particular spot, and destroy it. This is the third time this has happened. There’s even a joke: which suggests there’s a twist coming. But then there isn’t.

And there’s also elements copied from the original Star Wars that seem like they really should have been changed.

The First Order, like the Empire, is modeled on Nazis, despite there being no significant nazi threats since 1945.

And the Jedi are again a semi-mythical clan, despite sensationally saving the galaxy only a few decades earlier. Perhaps the record keeping was left to the ewoks.

The film certainly isn’t all copying. There’s plenty of transforming as well, especially in the characters. The hero is a woman, another lead is a former stormtrooper, and the villain is a raging, failure-prone fanboy. These changes provide some of the freshest narratives.

So The Force Awakens clearly is a remix — but so is everything else. For as long as humans have been creating, we have been copying, transforming and combining. The issue isn’t the remixing, it’s that the film is heavy on copying, and lighter on transforming and combining.

But this was an intentional choice. The Force Awakens was designed to be familiar because we love the familiar. That’s why more and more of Hollywood’s top hits are new versions of old stories.

But the familiar isn’t the only thing we love.  We’re also attracted to the novel, the unusual, the innovative. This is a smaller, riskier market but it’s influential and it’s where many of the most enduring films are born.

The familiar and the novel both appeal to us. Think of them as two halves of a spectrum.  Box office hits tend to land on the left, critical hits tend to land on the right. But some films land right in the middle, like the original Star Wars.

It felt very novel because it blended previously unrelated sources into a highly unusual and innovative package.  Yet it also felt very familiar because it copied something well known: the mythical structure of countless heroic tales of the past. The result was something that strongly appealed to our desires for both the familiar and the novel. 

This target between the novel and the familiar is something we can all aim for. We can make our novel ideas more accessible and understandable and perhaps more impactful by copying familiar elements. And we can make our familiar ideas more fresh, exciting and surprising by extensively remixing from diverse sources. And if you can create that perfect hybrid of the new and old, the results can be explosive. 

One last thing.

In the book, The Art of the Force Awakens you can get a glimpse of the remix method at work. All these tags are references to remixing.

This illustration includes an image of a water bear, a weird little microscopic creature.

This one is a recreation of this shot of the Nazi’s Nurembourg rally.

This early image of Snoke was based on the Lincoln Memorial.

Rey’s speeder is a combination of Luke’s speeder and a tractor.

Maz Kanata was inspired by Abrams’ high school teacher, Rose Gilbert.

And with this image the artist thought he was copying this scene from The Right Stuff, which he thought featured a girl dressed as a mermaid — but it doesn’t. So he thought was copying, but we actually transforming.

And one last piece of evidence that suggests the team behind The Force Awakens were intentionally employing the remix method is Rey’s last name: Mixer. Rey Mixer.

Or perhaps someone working on the book was just having a little fun. You be the judge.