Last year, during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Tim Ferlito and Jon Case were looking for the one bar in Syracuse that wasn’t showing the SU game against Ohio State in the Elite Eight. World Lounge and Martini Bar had it on, but with the sound off, so they settled there. They sat in the back and talked about the good old days in Syracuse and how so much has changed.
“The attitude in the city, when we were kids, was incredibly optimistic,” Tim Ferlito, 40, said. “Now older people say, ‘why would you want to live here?’ We started talking about where this pessimism came along that didn’t exist when we were kids. And we started talking about Lee Alexander.”
Alexander was the charismatic and controversial mayor of Syracuse for 16 years, from 1970 to 1985. “Even now, he is considered by some to be the Salt City’s most successful mayor, having kept Syracuse economically solvent during a recession and attracting millions of dollars in state and federal aid for the revitalization of the city,” the Syracuse New Times wrote in “They For Lee” (What’s Shakin’, Aug. 22, 2012),
But Alexander was disgraced by a $1.5 million kickback scandal and spent six years in jail. “That was when the city really started to lose its spirit and its belief in itself,” Ferlito said. “That was the story we wanted to talk about, what happened to this city because of Lee’s time in office.”
King Lee is the screenplay Ferlito and Case wrote about Alexander. They began shooting the movie last August but knew they would need funding to continue and complete their vision. That’s when they turned to Kickstarter.
Kickstarter.com is a way to get creative projects financed. But it’s an all-or-nothing fundraiser. You choose a funding goal and the duration, between one and 60 days, to meet it. If you don’t reach the goal, no one’s credit card gets charged.
Ferlito and Case started a Kickstarter campaign asking for $10,000 in 30 days to get the movie funded. They produced a video showing people why and how they wanted to make the movie. The local newspapers picked up their story and that publicity encouraged people to visit their Kickstarter website.
“It’s really about the story,” Ferlito said. “They want to see if your voice is unique and if what you have to offer is something worth investing in. It’s about someone saying, ‘I’m going to give you $25 trusting that in the end what you’re going to have is something that I would be proud to be a part of.’ That’s a lot of pressure,” he said.
Donations started coming in, one from a complete stranger for $2,000. You can offer different rewards to donors on Kickstarter depending on how much they invest. “One woman had her four kids all chip in for her birthday gift. They put in the $500, which got her a line in the film where she interacts with the mayor in the street. That was a lot of fun,” Ferlito said. Ferlito and Case ended up raising almost $11,000 by the end of the 30 days, enough to get the project off the ground.
“It really did so much to bolster my opinion of what this community can do on its own when people are called into action,” Ferlito said. “It’s because people wanted to see us do a story about this man that they knew. Know who your audience is going to be and go after them as much as you can, you have to be relentless about it.”
King Lee is now in post-production and a local screening of the final product is set for February or March. The success of the Kickstarter campaign has inspired others, including the actor who portrays Lee Alexander in the movie, Nathan Faudree.
Faudree is the creator of the web series, “The Citizen,” which premiered at the Redhouse last month. It is about a masked vigilante, but the hero changes each episode in a pay-it-forward kind of way. Episodes are released each month and are about 10 minutes long. Production is almost finished on the fourth episode and once they are done with episode five, Faudree wants to start the Kickstarter campaign.
“We’re trying to build an audience first with what we have,” Faudree said. “This is what we’ve got, we’ve gotten this far, now we need money because we want to blow stuff up. Kickstarter is becoming a model for the way the entertainment industry is going, making it more niche-based. If the audience doesn’t want you to make it then you don’t have to sit through a crappy show. The audience tells you.”
Kickstarter isn’t just for movies either. On Friday, Jan. 4, Syracuse band Silent Fury hit its mark of $5,000 donated through Kickstarter, five days ahead of schedule. “I think it’s a really killer service, if you have a product that’s great,” said lead singer Mick Fury. “We’ve done enough shows, people have been out and shown us enough love that we figured that OK, we got to get this big thing accomplished.”
That big thing was a live show Jan. 12 at the Catherine Cummings Theater at Cazenovia College for a DVD shoot. Silent Fury used the money from the Kickstarter campaign to create a show with 50 moving lights, explosions and video synched to every song.
“We are very stoked to finally give our diehard fans the type of show they deserve to see,” Fury said. “We have to use this DVD and our new CD, Girl in My Head, to pitch to industry folk who understand what we’re about.” Fury offered some advice to aspiring Kickstarters. “Trust your fans, trust that they love you, offer them some really cool stuff and hope for the best,” he said.
Ty Marshal, 35, used Kickstarter to raise more than $3,000 to re-create the Cardiff Giant out of plaster back in October 2011. The Cardiff Giant was a fake 10-foot tall “petrified man” that was unearthed in LaFayette in 1869. Marshal said the giant was one of the first hoaxes that spread through the nation and is Syracuse’s version of the Loch Ness Monster.
“I was tracking the progress of the lake cleanup and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be funny if we staged a hoax?’ Whether it was a tail floating in the water or some glowing orbs that rose to the surface one night,” Marshal said. “So I started researching hoaxes and mysteries in Central New York and I stumbled across the Cardiff Giant and just became attached.”
Marshal said the project was meant for people to experience arts and culture alongside a piece of local history. “Thousands of people came out but the success was not so much in financial terms,” Marshal said. “It was the idea that this story can now be translated to the next generation so this story is not forgotten.”
But Kickstarter isn’t the only way to raise money for projects. Marshal also mentioned Indiegogo.com as another fundraising site. The difference is Indiegogo lets you keep some of your funds if you don’t hit your goal.
“The general misconception is you sign up for Kickstarter, they approve you, and all of a sudden the money starts flowing,” Marshal said. “It’s very much like running a campaign: phone calls, emails, getting out there and talking to people about the project. The good is it helps get the word out about your project. It shows that there’s community support. The bad is you spend a lot of time working on that campaign when you could be working on other things.”