Kick Start Any Idea

4 July 2012 | 7:01 am | Sarah Braybrooke

Sarah Braybrooke chats to Erica Harrison about Kickstarter, the process of writing A Cautionary Tail, and Roald Dahl.

The twisted rhyming-verse tales of Roald Dahl had always fascinated Erica Harrison. They were on her mind when she began writing A Cautionary Tail, the story of a little girl born with a tail who must chose between conformity and self-expression. Harrison initially imagined that she was writing a children's book, but then a director friend got involved in the project. The result is a darkly humorous parable in the form of an animated short film, featuring the voices of Cate Blanchett, David Wenham and Barry Otto. The loss and rediscovery of childhood magic is a prominent theme in the film, and it's one that Harrison has a very personal connection to. “I used to be quite a good runner, as a kid. By my early 20s I was an elite athlete, and I was getting funding to train for the Olympics. That was a big part of my life and a big source of joy,” she says. But after a bad car accident four years ago, Harrison lost that sense of magic. “I didn't walk for six months, after having been a runner every day of my life. I didn't know who I was anymore.” Harrison wrote the story whilst recuperating, and like the heroine who rediscovers her tail, gradually found a sense of joy returning. “That's a bit of what the writing process was for me.”

Happily, Harrison has now recovered, and thrown herself into taking the story from page to screen. The first step was financing it. “Funding from Screen NSW set the wheels in motion, but the project just got a bit bigger than we had anticipated it would,” she continues. To close the gap the team behind the film arranged a pop-up art show and set up a crowd-funding campaign using the website, which allows anyone to donate to creative projects online. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing deal: campaigns that reach their target receive all their funding, but those that fall short get zilch. Unsure what to expect, they picked a cautious sum which was less than was needed. Donations came from the usual suspects such as friends and family, but quickly the film was featured on the Kickstarter blog and over 600 people donated to the campaign, many of them strangers from overseas. “It was a very unexpected success. We got 20 grand in a week and were blown away by how generous and supportive people were,” she says.

It seems like Kickstarter has been a dream come true for Harrison, who can't see any downsides to the funding model. “It takes a lot of energy, but the return on that is amazing. You have to keep people updated, you have a lot of queries online, but I don't see that as a drawback, I see that as a way to get to know our audience.” Of course, the big name actors account for some of the momentum behind the film, but that's no prerequisite for running a successful crowd-funding campaign. According to Harrison the key is the extent to which contributors can personally relate to a project. “Everyone can relate to the story because everyone has a sort of tail in their life, something that makes them feel like they don't fit in.” What about Harrison? “Yes, I do have a tail.” She laughs and clarifies, “a metaphorical tail.”

FACT: The Kickstarter campaign for A Cautionary Tale had 635 backers and pledged $40,000. It raised $50,796 and was successfully completed on 13 June.

A Cautionary Tale will be released early-2013.