As many of you probably know by now the Twin Suns Foundation has just launched its latest fundraiser, and if you would like to donate to it you can do so here:
However, what some of you may not know is that I also work for Twin Suns Foundation as its Vice President and have been with the foundation since the very beginning of the Billboard project back in 2015. I am bringing this up as I often see that people in our own community asking about when the next billboard will be, or requesting that we do one again. As such, I would like to give a bit of behind the scenes information about both the Billboard project and Twin Suns to help explain why there hasn’t been another billboard. I will be sharing this with Brian Borg (President of Twin Suns) before I send this in so he can add any comments that he has, to help give everyone a complete look into our thought process on this matter.
Now first I must talk about the original Billboard project, how it came to be and what went right and wrong. Simply put October 10th to December 7th of 2015 (when we started working on the project to when the Indiegogo campaign launched) was an extremely busy time for all of those involved with the project. Just about every day there was something that needed to be done and or something that needed sorting out. First was the target and location. We all know that we wanted to make the billboard specifically for Lucasfilm employees, to let them know what we wanted. But it gets a lot more complicated than that.
When we first contacted a billboard company about locations in the area, we immediately started cross referencing with information about the whereabouts of Lucasfilm’s main office in Presidio California. We noticed that all available billboards were a bit south of the location. Which when we looked more into it we found out that a majority of people who would be commuting to that area would pass by. However, the direction of the billboard also was important as we felt it was better if the employees saw the billboard on their way to work, not on their way home, as the former would make it fresh on their minds when they were in the office.
Though often overlooked, the timing needed to be impeccable. Not only did we want it to go up after the release of TFA (as at that time the general thought process of the movement was that LF and Disney were convinced we’d go away after the new movie). Though we wanted to also make a point and have the Billboard up for both the anniversary of the EU declaration of non canon status, as well as May the 4th in order to get the most mileage and eyes on the billboard.
Then of course there was the wording of the message. I cannot even begin to describe how much every single word was argued that was included in the final product. Format was another issue. We know from day one we wanted to have on opening crawl style message but we had to not only make it Star Warsy but not get into legal trouble while doing it. Again, dozens of designs and layouts were pitched before we got the final one.
Finally, there was the cost, as we had no idea what we could expect to get. We thought around $4500 would be good but were in no way sure. Further complicating this is that while a few of us had maybe an above average reputation in the movement at the time, we were by no means credible or trustworthy to the masses. As such, we took a bunch of risks in order to make the campaign and ourselves look as trustworthy as possible that made our own goal more difficult that it could have been. This including only starting the fundraiser once literally every minor detail had been worked out. We wanted absolutely no uncertainty as to what we were going to do, and if we were even going to be able to do it if we had the money.
Now obviously we would not be here today if it didn’t work. But it wasn’t without a hitch and looking back it was far from perfect. Firstly, the location while good was not great, as we settled for one that was cheap and a bit far out. When we visited the billboard, we noticed a bunch of billboards closer, many of which we had not seen on the billboard company’s list that they sent us. We basically took the first one that replied to us and made negligible attempts to look at other options. Sure many LF employees saw the thing including, authors, editors, and a few actors, so this one may be splitting hairs but we’d be lying to you if we didn’t say that the placement could have been better.
The timing was as good as could be but the wording had obviously, failed. Again, I am sure that Lucasfilm got what we were trying to say as we do know that the Billboard did resonate with some people at Lucasfilm, and it was enough to get us a ticket to celebration. However, the media coverage did not. Although we got additional eyes on the project, it was made clear to us fairly quickly that the public had largely misinterpreted what we were asking for. This is also on us as we didn’t foresee the media getting the story on their own. Additionally the goal was to persuade Lucasfilm, not the public. But looking at it in hindsight it appears that we were also unsuccessful at convincing Lucasfilm. Sure, since the billboard they have been giving lip service to the EU in the form of adding characters from it to the canon, but again that is not what we were after.
This isn’t to say the project was a complete failure. Quite the opposite actually. However, it was far from perfect, and if we were going to do something like this again, these were failures that needed to be addressed and improved upon in future projects.
Now another unintended consequence of doing the fundraiser was Uncle Sam himself. Basically, one of us had to take the hit and claim the money as income. That person ended up being Brian, and although he didn’t see 1 cent of the money donated personally, he still had to claim it as income and pay a higher tax rate because of it. (considering nearly a quarter of that money he was being charged for was his own this is significant). We knew we wanted to do more of these types of fundraisers, but that kind of cost was not sustainable in the long run and not one we wanted to put on anyone else. This is among the reasons we became an IRS designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit. And contrary to popular belief, once we had that status our plan was to do another billboard.
So what happened? Well the plan was to go bigger and better. We had told Lucasfilm what we wanted and they had responded. Thus, we felt it would be fruitless to further press the issue with them, so we would go over them to their superiors Disney. We focused on Burbank California, Disney’s corporate office location and called our contact at the billboard company, however they had nothing anywhere near our targeted area. As Burbank was only a couple hours’ drive away for me, I went down there to scout for locations, and found that the only advertising spaces anywhere near their headquarters were about half a dozen bus stops sprinkled around the cross streets. They were cheap sure, but far from what we were looking for. With literally no locations in the area we simply abandoned the idea and moved on. Eventually we focused on going to celebration as our next fundraiser, as it was cheaper than a billboard, would get us in direct contact with Star Wars fans, and build our own name, while at the same time making important contacts that could help us down the road.
Additionally, we started to notice something. For less than half the money, we were able to accumulate 550% more books that could be donated than we had purchased as part of the billboard project. While we had figured this out before hand, the event helped drive home that we could do so much more for the cause by simply helping people get into these great stories. We all know just how much of a rabbit hole the EU is. All we need to do is help people make their first step into the larger world, and they would do the rest. Essentially, we could grow the support for the EU, by simply making more fans of the EU.
At first, we thought libraries were the way to do this, and our first ever donation of books was to a library that would put the books into circulation. After Celebration we learned that not all, in fact nearly no other libraries operated this way. Instead they would just sell them, making the library we originally found the exception to the rule. We moved on to hospitals, as not only would they allow us to give one book to one patient, but we would be giving people great stories to help them get through a hard time. Thus, in the next year over 400 books were given to the patients of 3 hospitals across the country.
So, billboards were out and hospitals were in right? Well not necessarily. In fact, for a while this fundraiser we were doing was supposed to be another billboard. This time we felt that the motivation in the movement was declining, and that a billboard would bolster the morale of everyone. Again, we felt that Lucasfilm was not worth bothering again, we had said what we wanted to say, they had listened and given a response. While not the response we wanted, we did not see any that a way a different message would get a different result. Let alone the result we wanted. This time we wanted our target to be Star Wars fans, and the message was recruitment. This was actually something we had talked about many times previously and briefly looked into other ways to accomplish the same goal. Those included magazine, youtube, even T.V. adds and yes we actually looked at all these options quite seriously at one point or another. Billboard v3 was just the latest way to do that.
However, once again, the target became the issue. We wanted it to coincide with the finishing of Star Wars Land in Disney World, to really get the attention of other Star Wars fans and to tell any of them that were unhappy with the current situation that they were not alone. Again though, we got in contact with the billboard companies and found plenty of locations, but none in good areas. We looked at the location of the airport or other places where people going to Disney World would originate from and the path they would most likely take to get there and found no good locations. They were either too out of the way or facing in a suboptimal direction. We tried to think of another area that would make sense to put a billboard, but none came to us.
There was also an unintended consequence of switching to a nonprofit. Sure no one had to take the tax hit anymore but something that you may or may not know is that as a nonprofit at least 50% of what gets donated to us needs to go to charitable acts, else we lose that status. Book drives are obviously a charitable act but a billboard is not so simple. Meaning that if say a billboard would cost $4500 we essentially need to raise $4500 in donations on our book drives or other charity events in addition to the $4500 we would need to raise for a billboard. All in the same calendar year and all to meet that requirement and not lose nonprofit status. And to put it bluntly, based on the numbers we had of our previous fundraisers, we simply aren’t big enough to get anywhere close to the numbers. So again, we abandoned the idea and moved on. We decided to keep doing the book drives and grow both our reach and our organization, while at the same time helping the movement by introducing more people to the wonderful expanded universe.
So, what is the point of all of this? Well it is to say this. We are 100% in favor of doing another billboard if it makes sense. But if we are going to do it again, we are going to have to do it right, and to the very high standards that we feel are needed to be successful.
Therefore, until the we can get everything to our own standards, until we see that we can make enough in our book drive fundraisers that they would eclipse the cost of a billboard, we at the Twin Suns Foundation will not be able to do another billboard. I do however look forward to when that day does come around.
To see more from Dylan, click here!