Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Kickstarter.com: Giving a Swift Kick to “Men of the Cloth”

What is it with crowdfunding? Everywhere I turn these days, someone’s relying on social media and the kindness of strangers to try to raise money for a worthwhile project. Veteran literary blogger Ron Hogan (Beatrice.com) is drumming up funds to further his goal of introducing readers to great new writers; aspiring filmmaker Owen Dara has tried crowdfunding (along with a lot of blarney) to finance his comedy, Credit Crunch, now filming in Ireland. Even the Lakota Sioux, intent on buying back a piece of sacred land they call Pe’sla, have launched a crowdfunding campaign, which has gained support from such Hollywood types as P. Diddy and Bette Midler.

Fern Reiss, self-publishing guru and CEO of PublishingGame.com, calls crowdfunding “a more egalitarian form of Renaissance patronage.” She’s using this concept –- which incorporates the idea that donors receive tangible gifts in return for their generosity –- as a way to promote her latest book, The Breast Cancer Checklist. And she graciously supplies her personal tips for getting started.

To find out more about how crowdfunding works, I chatted with Vicki Vasilopoulos. As a journalist, Vicki spent years covering the men’s fashion industry. While attending runway shows in Europe, she chanced to meet an Italian master tailor, part of a dying breed of craftsmen trained since childhood to fit and flatter the male form. “Italian men,” says Vicki, “dress better than American women.” Explaining the appeal of a “bespoke” (custom-made) suit, she refers to the sprezzatura, or self-assured but nonchalant personal style, we associate with someone like Marcello Mastroianni.

Vicki, captivated by the humble yet highly-skilled craftsmen who turn out threads worthy of Italian film stars, has now devoted ten years to a documentary film, Men of the Cloth. It follows three Italian master tailors who ply their trade in the U.S. Her enthusiasm for her subjects is contagious. She calls them “the last tribe of the Kalahari, except they just happen to be old-world artisans.”

As Men of the Cloth moves toward completion, Vicki makes full use of a Facebook page that has 1,359 fans, some of them in places as distant as Brazil and Kuala Lumpur. From these fans she’s received modest financial contributions, for which she is tremendously grateful. Now she’s also launched a one-month campaign to drum up finishing funds. Kickstarter.com is a prominent crowdfunding website that establishes ground-rules, collects donations through Amazon.com, and takes a small cut for its trouble. Kickstarter rules require that no money actually change hands unless the entire fundraising goal is met. That’s why this year December 21 is a bigger date for Vicki than Christmas. If her project doesn’t meet its $20,000 goal by then, all she’ll get is a lump of coal in her stocking.

Another Kickstarter rule is that thank-you gifts must be unique items, not purchasable in any store, that specifically represent the project to which they’re connected. Of course such gifts often include DVDs of a finished film and invitations to special screenings. But Men of the Cloth boosters who are passionate about craftsmanship and are able to donate the big bucks have some real treats to choose from, including custom-made cashmere scarves, dress shirts, suits, and even an elegant hand-made leather briefcase.

One of the biggest surprises for Vicki is that interest in her project is not confined to older folks nostalgic for the past. She’s discovered that today’s young hipsters, too, are keen on the charms of fine tailoring, to go along with their passion for hand-crafted bibelots and artisanal chocolate. And maybe old-fashioned letter-writing as well. Without the speed and the wide reach of the Internet, though, Men of the Cloth would still be running around naked.


  1. I've participated in a few Kickstarter-type campaigns - most notably a short film being made here in my hometown by a pal; a documentary on the making of the David Lynch classic Blue Velvet; and a documentary on that great character actor - Dick Miller! (Which leads me to ask if you have any Dick Miller stories - a new post?)

    The biggest of these that I've seen was a Star Trek fan film - but with participation from several series cast members in front of and behind the cameras - directed by a cast member from the sequel series Voyager - they were looking to raise $200,000 (!) which they did with such ease they spent the last week of the campaign trying for a stretch goal of $250,000! I don't know if they made that one - but if you want to take a look at this production - it's called Star Trek Renegades, directed by Tim Russ.

    I don't have a lot of extra cash to contribute to any of these shows (and none for Star Trek fan films looking for a quarter of a million dollars) - but if the project is interesting I try to kick in a few bucks. Men of the Cloth sounds interesting - I will try to drop by and check it out!

  2. Do let me know what you think, Mr. Craig. Needless to say, Men of the Cloth is a true labor of love, and has made me look with new appreciation at the very Italian tailor down the street.

  3. By the way, I worked closely with Dick Miller in my New World days, long before he acquired his status as a cult legend. Great guy -- I'll try to think of some new stories about him.