Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

The Plimpton! Kickstarter Crowd-funding Case Study. Part 1: The Backstory

Crowd-funding is earning a lot of attention as a financial strategy for documentarians and independent filmmakers.

  • Kickstarter is the leading brand amongst the emerging field of crowd-funders.
  • Its monthly ‘pledges’ rocketed from zero in April ’09 to more than $9 million in April 11!

But does crowd-funding work? And how?

  • We chose to shed some light on this fast-changing niche by writing up a Case Study on a stylish feature doc about the legendary American adventurer and writer George Plimpton.

Our Plimpton! Kickstarter Case Study is in 3 parts:

1. Backstory
2. The Campaign
3. Ten Takeaways / Results



A Pop-Up Event!


ESPN Magazine and Pop-Up Magazine recently hosted one of the funniest performances that I have enjoyed in years.

Pop-Up’s brilliant live event format is to provide a stage, a packed house, and 5+/- minutes each for writers, artists and performers to tell their stories.

For the ESPN / Pop-Up event, the theme was … you guessed it: Sports.

And which of this parade of wonderful ‘acts’ brought on the biggest wave of laughter from the young SRO crowd at NYU’s Skirball Center?

  • It was this clip from the unfinished feature doc: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

Laughter Works

It is a recurring frustration that so many of the feature doc screenings and pitches that I attend are well-meaning, but boring!

I often wonder:

  • Laughter is the one response you can’t fake
  • Why don’t festival programmers and funders back more films that are funny and revealing?

Well, the Plimpton work-in-progress delivered on my ‘funny and revealing’ buttons!

Another of my ‘sweet spots’ is for stories that link sport, history and social class. It’s even better when there’s a writer’s struggle thrown in. Plus a terrible crime! Plimpton! covered all those bases, too.

A Case Study

So, I followed up with the producers Luke Poling & Tom Bean … and learned that they were planning a crowd-funding campaign.

  • Crowd-funding is a topic that comes up more and more often on panels at leading conferences that address independent film-making
  • Tom and Luke kindly agreed to share their Kickstarter experience

That’s the backstory to our late Summer Case Study on George Plimpton! and the Do’s and Don’ts of a Kickstarter Campaign

  • The Case Study is based on extended conversations and email exchanges with Tom and Luke
  • Kickstarter’s Justin Kazmark shared added insights and data

The Plimpton! Team

  • Luke and Tom are the producer/director team. They are based in Boston and New York
  • The producers are Terry McDonell, editor of The Sports Illustrated Media Group, and Fernando Villena, the editor of numerous films including Rize, Every Little Step and Crank 2
  • Executive Producers: Kris Meyer, a member of the Farrelly Brothers’ producing team; Antonio Weiss, the publisher of The Paris Review; Dennis Joyce, an angel investor and founder of Joyce Entertainment; and Phyllis Alexander, Vice President of Alex Keating Productions

According to Tom and Luke “We enjoy the generous support of the Plimpton family, The Paris Review, and many of George’s friends and colleagues.”


Kickstarter and Crowd-funding:  A Growing Contributor

Kickstarter is an important new player in funding independent docs

  • By April 2011, Kickstarter had raised $50 million in pledges for all its projects
  • Ten weeks later: more than $75 million
  • This classic ‘hockey stick curve’ tells a story of phenomenal growth

Successful Project per Month, Through July 17, 2011


Kickstarter & Film

The model has worked best for music and filmed projects, although Kickstarter’s Justin Kazmark says that the mix of the most successful categories is evolving as users of the platform gain more experience.

Successful Projects by Category, Through July 17, 2011


Essential Reading

Our 3-part Plimpton! Kickstarter Case Study

  • Next: 2. The Campaign


Singapore Producer Training Workshop
Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Trends & Opportunities in Unscripted Television
Presented by Media Development Authority, Singapore
Workshop leader: Peter Hamilton

Key Questions

  • What’s driving the U.S. and international market for Factual Entertainment?
  • And how can Singapore producers get some of this work?


  • What is the scale of the international, especially U.S., factual television industry?
  • Who are the leading commissioning networks? And the minor players?
  • How big is their audience?
  • How much do they spend each year on new commissions?
  • What are the categories of spending?

What Do Broadcasters Want?

  • What is the demand for individual docs and limited series
  • What are the filters?
  • Docs: HBO, PBS, OWN, ESPN, PBS and others
  • Lifestyle channels: Food, Cooking, Travel, Style
  • Case Study: ‘The Rise and Rise of the #1 Hit Pawn Stars’

Art of Pitching

  • How to develop a strong pitch
  • Do’s and Don’ts
  • Case studies


  • Who gets the work?
  • Is the U.S. market open to international partners?
  • What are the deal terms?
  • And how can Singapore producers establish themselves as U.S. suppliers?



  1. Peter:

    It is gratifying to see that someone is finally doing a documentary on George Plimpton. I had several opportunities to work with George on a variety of projects and considered him a dear friend. Spending time with him was rewarding in so many ways. I miss him greatly and alway enjoy sharing stories about our adventures together. What a marvelous storyteller he was.

    Kindest regards


  2. Thanks Peter for sharing this great series. Funding is one of the greatest challenges for documentary filmmakers and websites such as KickStarter and IndyGogo are giving filmmakers a fantastic new way to raise money for their projects. So often funding feels like one of these unreachable things dependent on some bureaucracy to decide if your project is worthy of their money. Crowdfunding puts the control back in the hands of the filmmaker.

    By the way, that is excellent advice for filmmakers to add humor to their stories if at all possible. I think a lot of people equate watching documentaries with eating their spinach and it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll keep an eye out for Plimpton!.. sounds like a great doc.

    Thanks again for sharing!

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