The Kickstarter Chronicles

Education in America, My Little Pony’s bronies, and paranormal investigations

Each week, dozens of journalistic endeavors turn to Kickstarter for funding. Pitching media projects to this online community brings another meaning to the concept “public interest journalism”; success depends on how intrigued people are by the pitch. From the hugely popular to the barely noticed, CJR’s Kickstarter Chronicles is a look through some of these journalistic proposals.

Project of the week

Three teachers from Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn, NY, have launched a project on Kickstarter called The Odyssey Initiative. The group will travel to some of the best schools in the country to find out what makes them successful, and their findings will be documented on an interactive website using videos, photos, and blog posts, to create a home for best practices. Todd Sutler, the executive director of the project, says that while media often covers the problems in America’s schools, this project will take the opposite approach. “We believe there is an absence of communication across the country for what good teaching looks like,” says Sutler. “We want to help raise the discourse about education in America to focus on what’s working.”

Sutler describes a few of the outside-the-box tactics some schools are using to improve education. At Generations School, also in Brooklyn, Sutler says they have broken up the traditional summers-off school calendar and switched to a model of a few months on, then a few weeks off. This helps address the problem of “brain drain,” when children forget much of what they learned over the extended summer break. Another example comes from Finland, where Sutler says students are separated based on their specific educational needs, in what he says is called “tiered or leveled instruction,” making the classroom a much more tailored experience. “We’re looking for approaches that help teachers best serve the children,” says Sutler.

All of this research and reporting will culminate in the launch of a brand new charter school in Brooklyn; the planning will be based around lessons gleaned from this year of exploratory travel. The participating teachers will visit all types of schools—charter, public, private, and parochial—in rural, suburban, and urban settings. Sutler says he believes he’ll find common threads through the various schools he visits: “If 75 percent of the DNA in their stories is the same, I think that will resonate with policy makers.” A week in, the project has already raised $25,000 towards its $75,000 goal, and there are 49 days to keep fundraising. (Deadline: July 28, 10:44 a.m.)

New Arrivals

Coming onto Kickstarter this week is Make a Move, a Web series that illuminates dance choreographers’ “creative process and how they try to book jobs.” Part documentary, part reality show, the trailer feels like it’s made for TV and has all the right ingredients to lure audiences: revealing outfits, pissed-off creative-types, dramatic background music, sick dance moves, and the momentum of the competition. But with only $35 raised towards the $55,000 goal, Make a Move is going to need to follow its title’s instructions to gain success. (Deadline: August 3, 7:58 p.m.)

Newlyweds Lisette and Ryan Cheresson filmed their Kickstarter pitch video in Sao Paulo’s airport as they waited for their flight to Asia. They are traveling to continue gathering stories for their film, Farm Trekkers, which is about “food being grown differently around the world, and the people behind the processes.” They’ve already done five months of reporting in Central America, some of which is available here, and they’re trying to raise money to help pay for new equipment and translators. For having come onto Kickstarter just days ago, Farm Trekkers is doing pretty well; they’re over half way to their $1,500 goal. (Deadline: July 3, 7:43 a.m.)


Men who love the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic—despite their fandom meeting with societal skepticism—call themselves bronies. Apparently, bronies have long felt discriminated against, and a documentary that aims to change those misperceptions is raising funds on Kickstarter. The film is called BronyCon, and it will document the annual BronyCon convention, taking place in New Jersey this month. “Some people don’t understand bronies,” says director Michael Brockhoff in the pitch video. “They make fun of them, they marginalize them, they just don’t get it.” Confused, having never heard of bronies, I turned to Urban dictionary, which explains this phenomenon for the brony-ignorant:

“While generally associated with a negative stereotype by outsiders, due to its former 80s frilly girly-girl twinkle-toed tea-parties and all-female main casting, bronies are attracted to the new show by its good animation, acting, writing, and humor.

Having once been on the outside, bronies can love and tolerate others until they themselves become bronies. However, haters gonna hate— most likely due to the fact that they have a masculinity inferiority complex, where they believe that if they watched My Little Pony, others like them will label them as an effeminate freak.”

This Kickstarter’s success shows how many bronies really do feel judged. BronyCon is now the 4th-most funded film of all time on Kickstarter. The movie started with a goal of $60,000, but it’s raised over $265,000. There’s almost 700 comments and almost 2,000 individual donations; four people have given $10,000. John de Lancie (Q from Star Trek) is one of the executive producers. I wonder how many other celebrities are closeted bronies? (Deadline: June 10, 2:59 p.m.)

On a much more serious and consequential topic, the documentary Shame on America is raising funds on Kickstarter for a film about our returning veterans. “On any given night not far from your front door there are upwards of 75,000 veterans trying to survive the brutal conditions of the streets,” reads the Kickstarter pitch. “The VA has seen the backlog of disability claims increase to 864,000 with the majority suffering from PTSD. Find out how and why this is happening in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.” Aaron Lewis, the lead singer of Staind, is a co-producer; David Ellefson, the bassist and founding member of Megadeath will narrate, and the film is being created and directed by filmmaker Fran Strine. So far they’ve gone well over their goal and raised more than $50,000 after a pledged goal of $35,560. The project still has 15 days to go before its time is up. (Deadline: June 24, 7:21 a.m.)


Many people have pitched their Ernie-Pyle-style traveling diary projects, and The Real East Coast is one of them. This project involves the creator walking from Orlando, FL to Bangor, ME, and back again. “I will conduct short interviews with the people I meet, and I will attend the rare events about which most tourists never hear. I will create at the end of each day both a written and a video blog, both of which I will broadcast on my YouTube and Google+ account,” reads the Kickstarter. The goal of $4,000 is modest enough, but I just don’t see people feeling inspired enough to contribute, as the idea is vaguely described and there’s no real explanation for donors about what to expect. (Deadline: July 30, 10:30 a.m.)

“What really scares us in the middle of the night? Do you believe in the spirit world?” These are the questions being asked by SURGE Paranormal Group in the Kickstarter trailer for a documentary which will investigate three supposedly haunted locations to see if there is any truth to the claims. Some of the documentary crew believes in ghosts, some don’t, and others are unsure. This combination is meant to increase the effectiveness of this ghost-busting venture, but it hasn’t done much to get the money flowing. With a week left to go, SURGE has only raised $3 towards its $9,200 goal. (Deadline: June 15, 10:28 p.m.)

Out of Time

Former BBC news reporter Manoush Zomorodi is on Kickstarter raising money for her ebook, Camera Ready, a guide that will explain how to present ideas through video. “After years of helping aspiring journalists, nonprofit organizations, and others make non-crappy and more informative videos, I’ve decided to up the ante and create an entire book about making non-crappy and more informative videos!” writes Zomorodi in her pitch. Chapters include “The Top Ten On-Camera Mistakes,” “Superficial Stuff: Why You Should Care,” and “It’s In The Angles.” With just three days to go, Camera Ready is close to the finish line; the project has raised about $3,800 towards the $5,000 goal.

Filmmaker Debbie Lum got a lot more than she bargained for while filming her documentary, Seeking Asian Female. The idea came out of a “personal quest” to understand “why it bothered me so much that certain Western men have ‘yellow fever’” (i.e., a romantic fixation, obsession or fetish for Asian women). The film follows the “unlikely romance of Steven and Jianhua (or “Sandy”)—an American man who is obsessed with marrying any Asian woman and the Chinese woman half his age who agrees over the Internet to be his fiancee.” Lum ends up being much more involved in their lives than she intended; as she records the couple, she serves as translator between the newlyweds and acts as the couple’s counselor. Her project eventually grows into a “bigger exploration into marriage, immigration, language and communication, Sino-American relations, subjectivity versus objectivity in documentary filmmaking—and the really big one: love.” The Kickstarter project has three days left to make the $20,000 goal; so far, it’s raised about $19,000.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Alysia Santo is a former assistant editor at CJR. Tags: , , ,