(Second of two parts)
Forts and the Inbetween was an ambitious, if daffy, Kickstarter campaign whose flameout became an Internet meme. Their seven minute video presentation was outlandish enough, and the team behind it was goofy-looking enough, that it was impossible to tell whether it was a real fundraising campaign or a very sophisticated parody of one. The notorious “Alternate Ending” parody reduced their loopy, long-winded, and overproduced pitch to a one-minute piece of slapstick.
Had it been comedy, the original Forts and The Inbetween video was almost perfect. As marketing (something to be taken seriously), it was hopelessly flawed. It was a casualty of its own length, over-production, and grandiosity. There’s a lot that can be learned from the mistakes of Forts and the Inbetween. Here are a few tips for producing your next (or first) video:
- Keep it simple – and short – Don’t use every filmmaking technique or video effect your tools offer.
- Refine your pitch – The group‘s stated goal was “to change the way you: listen, interact, engage, give, explore, teach, create, share, grow, ask, act and empower.” That’s twelve verbs. Count ‘em. Twelve! Get an editor to help you refine your multi-point program into a more concise script.
- Demonstrate that your program works on a small scale – It’s all right to have a grand vision that challenges society at many levels simultaneously. But you need to demonstrate that your approach gets results before you can scale it up; People enrolled, organizations signed up and vouching for your program, lives touched, attitudes changed. As dry, dull, or daunting as it sounds, pick some metrics that you can use to quantify potential outcomes.
- Include more voices – Even if your concept has a long or lofty explanation (and you know it), get other people who can speak in plain English to balance you out.
- Speak plainly – Artists, architects, designers, and the young (who are desperate to be taken seriously) hide in dense language. Those who succeed in spite of this are often lampooned by people who don’t ordinarily think or speak that way, and who must work to decipher it.
- Balance contributions – This video had talented people contributing throughout, from concept to post-production. Take a strong creative direction to make sure that the end product supports the mission, and isn’t just somebody’s creative outlet or portfolio piece.
- Get a videographer who can adopt the appropriate style for the subject – The Forts and the Inbetween video looked like it was filmed by someone who aspired to direct TV commercials or comedy shorts, so it more closely resembled those genres visually. Everything the people on camera did played into that trap. You don’t want to fight to be heard inside of your own vehicle because your substance and content are overpowered.
- Ditch the “kitchen sink” approach – Recognize when your footage can be broken into several pieces. You may think that when you have three great videos, people might as well watch them all at once. Some segments may be stylized, while others are more straightforward. Instead of forcing them together into one dense chunk, develop them as segments and post them separately on Kickstarter and elsewhere.
I think Forts and the Inbetween’s project might have gotten off the ground, and might have been more favorably received by its target audience. Ultimately, this fundraising video failed because someone else with similar tools and better instincts for marketing, self-promotion, awareness-raising, and comedy, beat Forts and the Inbetween to the punch line.
In an ironic postscript, only six months after Forts and the Inbetween met their end, many more people like them – young and unemployed, architects and artists, true believers and hipsters – would build forts for social change in Zucotti Park as part of Occupy Wall Street, and spawn a worldwide movement. Whether or not the Forts and the Inbetween crew joined in with restored faith in the concept they had originated, the last laugh should be theirs.