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Kickstart this tell-tale heart.
Edgar Allan Poe is throwing a dinner party and inviting a slew of literary figures, but only if he can raise $55,000 on Kickstarter by March 6.
Siblings Sean and Sinead Persaud are the brains behind Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party, a new webseries they’re hoping to fund under the banner of Shipwreck Comedy. The YouTube comedy channel formed about two-and-a-half years ago, and the current project grew from a series called A Tell Tale Vlog, about Edgar Allan Poe being haunted while pining after Annabel Lee. In the series, they mention a dinner party Poe would throw to impress his dream girl.
“It started as kind of a throwaway joke, but then we realized, that’s a really good idea,” laughed Sean.
The series will span 10 or 11 episodes, following a murder mystery game that turns real as people start dying. Sinead describes the cast of characters as “People who Edgar Allan Poe might be friends with, even if they’re from a different time than him.”
They’re more than halfway through their Kickstarter, and more than halfway funded as well. They did attempt to pitch more traditional means of funding, and while they were getting good feedback, no one was ready to jump in and produce.
“Some people thought it would be too smart for their audience, some people thought it was too niche, some people thought you had to be familiar with our previous work on our channel,” said Sean, who disagrees on all points. After each setback, the group realized they still wanted to make the series.
“In a certain way, my view of Kickstarter is sort of complicated,” he said. “I feel really weird asking people for money, and I don’t know longterm how sustainable that is.”
However, Sinead looks at all the perks that come with crowdfunding.
“We’d been working on it for so long, at some point it would have been heartbreaking to work with a producer,” she said. “Like, ‘No, we want everything the way it is!’ Kickstarter just seems like the right way to go right now, so we can be in charge of everything. I like the sound of that.”
One thing they were able to control was casting, which mixed old friends and colleagues with new to create a robust set of literary figures. As part of the campaign, they’re releasing new characters and actors at $5,000 intervals.
“We also thought it would be a nice incentive, since it is a large cast and we are asking for a large sum,” explained Sarah Grace Hart, a producer and actor on the project. “It would be a nice way to keep fans engaged throughout the whole Kickstarter process. Instead of frontloading everyone and all of our cast members tweeting and Facebooking about it all at once, this way every couple of days we have a new person reaching out to their audience and bringing new blood in.”
They took cues from previous Kickstarters, especially the Tin Can Brothers’ latest musical comedy, Spies Are Forever, which shares Mary Kate Wiles as a cast member. In addition to being well-known in the webseries world as Lydia Bennet in the Emmy-winning Pride and Prejudice adaptation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Wiles has been part of successful Kickstarters like Muzzled the Musical and Spies before. Now she’s added producer to her role.
“Being a part of this in such an integral way, it just has been such a great experience for me,” she said. “I watched it grow from a tiny baby idea, and seeing everyone responding so well has only been all the more validating and encouraging and exciting.”
After funding, they plan to film for two weeks in late April or early May, with a goal of getting the series up by the end of summer. Meanwhile, they have lots to prepare for, including the final push for donations, and they’ve already gotten promotion from big digital names like Hank Green. The Poe team has some tips for other hopeful Kickstarter-funded productions.
“Do your research and really be prepared,” said Wiles. “Once you launch, it’s nonstop. We’re just constantly talking about this and thinking about this. You really have to make sure you have your ducks in a row before you’re ready to go.”
Screengrab via Kickstarter
A former YouTube reporter for the Daily Dot, Rae Votta has more than a decade of experience in the digital and entertainment industries. Her work has appeared on AOL, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, Logo, VH1, Current TV, Billboard, and NYMag. She joined Netflix in 2016.