Letters 08-31-2015

Inalienable Rights This is a response to the “No More State Theatre” in your August 24th edition. I think I will not be the only response to this pathetic and narrow-minded letter that seems rather out of place in the northern Michigan that I know. To think we will not be getting your 25 cents for the movie you refused to see, but more importantly we will be without your “two cents” on your thoughts of a marriage at the State Theatre...

Enthusiastically Democratic Since I was one of the approximately 160 people present at when Senator Debbie Stabenow spoke on August 14 in Charlevoix, I was surprised to read in a letter to Northern Express that there was a “rather muted” response to Debbie’s announcement that she has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president...

Not Hurting I surely think the State Theatre will survive not having the homophobic presence of Colleen Smith and her family attend any matinees. I think “Ms.” Smith might also want to make sure that any medical personnel, bank staff, grocery store staff, waiters and/or waitress, etc. are not homosexual before accepting any service or product from them...

Stay Home I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read the letter of the extremely homophobic, “disgusted” writer. She now refuses to patronize the State Theatre because she evidently feels that its confines have been poisoned by the gay wedding ceremony held there...

Keep Away In response to Colleen Smith of Cadillac who refused to bring her family to the State Theatre because there was a gay wedding there: Keep your 25 cents and your family out of Traverse City...

Celebrating Moore And A Theatre I was 10 years old when I had the privilege to see my first film at the State Theatre. I will never forget that experience. The screen was almost the size of my bedroom I shared with my older sister. The bursting sounds made me believe I was part of the film...

Outdated Thinking This letter is in response to Colleen Smith. She made public her choice to no longer go to the State Theater due to the fact that “some homosexuals” got married there. I’m not outraged by her choice; we don’t need any more hateful, self-righteous bigots in our town. She can keep her 25 cents...

Mackinac Pipeline Must Be Shut Down Crude oil flowing through Enbridge’s 60-yearold pipeline beneath the Mackinac Straits and the largest collection of fresh water on the planet should be a serious concern for every resident of the USA and Canada. Enbridge has a very “accident” prone track record...

Your Rights To Colleen, who wrote about the State Theatre: Let me thank you for sharing your views; I think most of us are well in support of the first amendment, because as you know- it gives everyone the opportunity to express their opinions. I also wanted to thank Northern Express for not shutting down these types of letters right at the source but rather giving the community a platform for education...

No Role Model [Fascinating Person from last week’s issue] Jada quoted: “I want to be a role model for girls who are interested in being in the outdoors.” I enjoy being in the outdoors, but I don’t want to kill animals for trophy...

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KickStarting Success

Local filmmaker feels the love in crowdfunding trend

Erin Crowell - July 29th, 2013  

There’s strength in numbers. That’s the belief behind the money-raising phenomenon known as crowd-funding, an online campaign for artists, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations. Websites like IndieGoGo, KickStarter and Razoo allow people to translate their faith in a mission, project or business idea into actual dollars.

Local filmmaker Aaron Dennis, founder of Stone Hut Studios, has used KickStarter to fund two film projects: a documentary web series and a feature-length film.

Both projects -- titled “The People & the Olive”--raised between $5,000 and $6,000 in their 30 to 60-day campaigns on KickStarter.

Because Stone Hut Studios is an independent film house that focuses on “films for a better world,” income doesn’t come rolling in like you’d find at a Hollywood studio.

“It’s like the book industry,” Dennis said of doing filmmaking on one’s own. “At first, it seemed like it was dying out, but with the ability to distribute on eBooks, authors were able to turn 5% return into 70%.”

With most crowd-funding websites, such as KickStarter, creators keep complete ownership of their work.


Sometimes people need more than a little faith when it comes to supporting something they believe in. That’s why some folks who use KickStarter offer incentives. A donation will not only support the project, but provide donors with things such as first copies of albums and DVDs, a gift set, business tours and other privileges that come from being a supporter.

“People who donated got a first edition DVD; others who donated more received fair trade olive oil, which was featured in the film,” Dennis said of his films’ donation “rewards.”

Those who do set up a KickStarter fundraiser, however, should be aware of such costs.

“We had 150 people to send rewards to,” Dennis explained. “If you don’t do it right, that’ll end up costing a lot in postage. So you really have to figure those rewards into the amount you’re asking.”


Both films for “The People & the Olive” came from Dennis’s trip to Palestine, where he followed a group of ultra runners across the county in their effort to raise money for Fair Trade olive farmers.

“For the documentaries, we essentially created the story. The run provided Aaron with the characters and the story,” said Chris Treter, co-founder of On the Ground, the non-profit organization which hosted the run. “The documentary provided an avenue for us to tell our story.”

KickStarter not only allowed Dennis to share the story of On the Ground’s effort through film, but it also helped local singersongwriters such as Joshua Davis and Seth and May spread the mission through song. Each of the artists who accompanied the non-profit on the trips used KickStarter to fund their own albums, which were inspired by trips to Palestine and Ethiopia.

“The important thing about doing global work is that you have to provide a voice or lens that people can easily understand the issues,” Treter said. “Palestine is a very complicated issue and I could write a blog about it all day, but people gloss over. They would much rather hear people like Joshua Davis talk about his experiences being a Jewish American in that country.”

For the organization’s Solstice Run this past spring, runners used the website, Razoo to raise funds.

“It was wildly successful,” Treter said. “We raised over $18,000 in less than two months.”


While Dennis found success with two projects, KickStarter efforts fell a bit short for his latest endeavor.

“Connected by Coffee,” which follows the world of fair trade coffee farming through Central America, had a $30,000 fundraiser goal. But because project creators must meet their full fundraising goals within 30 to 90 days, that meant no money was raised through the campaign.

“It’s all or nothing,” said Dennis, “which makes sense because A) It doesn’t help anyone to have a partially funded project and B) having that deadline and those stakes drives people to donate.”

Of course, people only commit to a dollar amount until the campaign reaches its fundraising goal. That’s when the money physically comes out of your pocket.

“Even though the ‘Connected by Coffee’ KickStarter campaign didn’t reach its goal, it’s actually really positive because we just made so many contacts and were able to raise money through outside sponsors,” Dennis said. “We’re still accepting donations through our website and plan to finish filming by early 2014, which works great because it will be new for the entire year of 2014.”

Dennis has also used KickStarter as a means for his own income, by making videos for individuals and organizations on the KickStarter website.

“I helped a small business in San Fransisco called Pop Nation, which makes healthy gourmet ice pops” he said. “They ended up successfully raising $50,000 for more employees and an upgraded kitchen.

“When I make videos for people on KickStarter, they obviously don’t already have much money to begin with, so I give them a discounted rate with an added bonus if their campaign is successful, which gives me incentive to do a great job,” he said.


Since its release in the fall of 2012, “The People & the Olive” has played in film festivals and venues in New York City, Boston, San Fransisco, Toronto, London and more.

And while Dennis said he plans to re-focus on short film versions come the wrap-up of “Connected by Coffee,” the Traverse City filmmaker says it’s hard to turn down a project that resonates with him.

“Right now I’m doing exciting work through the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy,” he explained. “I’m doing a lot of motion time lapses on areas they’re protecting. There’s also some international projects in the works. Like I say, there’s usually a lot of irons on the fire. I say yes to everything, which sometimes comes to back to bite me, but it helps having a supportive wife and family.”

For more info on work by Aaron Dennis and Stone Hut Studios, as well as to see a trailer of “The People & the Olive,” visit stonehutstudios.com. For more information on KickStarter, visit kickstarter.com.


KickStarter has also been used with success by Northern Michigan’s music community. The Accidentals used crowdfunding to raise $11,500 in pledges for their new album, “Bittersweet.” Meanwhile, Blake Elliott wrapped up a campaign last week to raise $9,500 for her first album.

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