Alan Jones on why Kickstarter campaigns for ‘Wish I Was Here’ and ‘Veronica Mars’ have set a terrible precedent
This definitely qualifies as yucking other people’s yums but it explores some stuff that’s been bumming me out about kickstarter. Crowd-sourcing is about people with small scale financial means but without large-scale power being able to help art happen. That’s awesome. But when you throw celebrities and actual studios into the mix, there’s another power element there that - I think - makes it possible for well-meaning people to be taken advantage of, to be less discerning and more trusting on a frontier that doesn’t actually have a ton of legit oversight. (On the other hand, who am I to decide somebody else is being taken advantage of?)
Anyway. Point is, Kickstarter is getting messy. And it’s kind of interesting to see what happens next.
I’m a big supporter of Kickstarter, so I’ve been following these weird projects as well. The people behind Kickstarter make the decent point that these big name Kickstarter projects bring in “tens of thousands” of new users, many of whom then go on to back other, smaller projects. Their logic is that getting more users on Kickstarter means more projects get backed overall, which makes sense. The corollary of course is that more (and bigger) backed projects means a lot more money for Kickstarter. But if just a handful of projects can pull in a lot of money for smaller projects, we’re dealing with a system similar to most Hollywood studios: the big, profitable films/projects finance the dozens of other smaller films/projects that aren’t as commercially viable. Kinda gross, I know, but in the end, projects of all sizes are getting backed. Kickstarter’s metrics on the number and size of projects in all categories that get funding goes up pretty sharply each year.
But here’s a couple of things that I think are relevant to these recent projects. The first is that nobody is forcing people to give $1,000 to Zach Braff, or Rob Thomas, or whoever. The people backing these projects for big amounts are superfans, and they’re probably not idiots. They know Zack Braff is a millionaire. They want to back these projects, and apparently they’ve got a fair amount of cash to spare. The idea that if they didn’t give their money to a big name project, then they would instead back smaller projects is false reasoning. They probably wouldn’t back anything. So introducing people with a bunch of disposable income to the idea of supporting an artist via projects like these is probably a net good for all artists, not just those trying to finance films they probably could’ve financed via traditional means. Does the existence of these projects mean the smaller scale backers, the $20-50 backers, choose to back these big projects over more independent ones? I’m not sure, and I think that would be hard to prove. But my guess is the small scale backers are the ones who donate to more than one Kickstarter once they get on the site.
The second is that while Zach easily financed his film via Kickstarter inside of a few days, there’s another sitcom star trying to fund a movie via Kickstarter who is (based on the current level of funding) almost certainly going to fail. Melissa Joan Hart’s film project, Darci’s Walk of Shame, has reached only $50k of her stated 2 million dollar goal and has only two weeks left. Can we assume Melissa has a fair amount of money, and that perhaps she could obtain $2 million in some other fashion? Sure. But no one’s mentioning her Kickstarter, assumedly because no one’s backing it. Why? Because it’s an unknown. If she was trying to raise money for a Clarissa Explains It All movie, she’d be part of this conversation. The money would’ve rained down from 20- and 30-somethings, no doubt. But just like Hollywood, I think people are skeptical of backing something that big that they don’t have a reference point for. A Garden State sequel, however, understandably excites a lot of the fans of that movie. A regular ol’ Zach Braff movie might not have done as well.
But I also think we underestimate the ease with which certain people can get money from studios. In regards to Veronica Mars, would a smart studio fund a movie based on a tv show that’s been off the air for almost 10 years that never cracked 4 million viewers nationwide? Seems unlikely. So they tapped into the one resource they knew they had - a bunch of crazy fans who want the movie. The question is: will this movie be worth it to a fan who paid $5,000 to see it happen? That remains to be seen, but I don’t think you can fault them for trying. I assume they went to studios, and the studios said no. They earned the goodwill via the show to get them nearly $6 million on Kickstarter; now let’s see what they do with it.
I think this is what makes the Zach Braff project feel particularly galling: it seems like he definitely could’ve gotten the funding without Kickstarter. According to Wikipedia, he made Garden State for $2.5 million, and it made $35 million. Major success by any standard. Lord only knows what it took on dvd, or for the soundtrack. So why Kickstarter? Who knows? Maybe he wanted to be involved with his fans rather than climb in bed with a studio, who might have very different opinions about what sort of film he should make. Maybe, like any artist, he was scared to put up that much money without knowing if his fans would come with him (I imagine he’s got some idea now). Maybe he was tempted by what occasionally looks like an unlimited money faucet (but not for everyone).
Kickstarter is not even four years old, but if they keep pace with their growth from last year, they could hit $1 billion dollars in backer money this year. Probably a stretch, but not impossible. If .3% of that goes to Zach Braff’s movie, and .6% goes to a Veronica Mars movie, and then the lion’s share goes to projects that actually need the help, that’s not so bad. It might feel a little gross, but remember everyone who backed these projects did it because they wanted to. They weighed the cost versus the reward and chose. Don’t like a project? Don’t back it. But don’t be surprised when people have the chance to support something they love (regardless of how you feel about it), and they take it.
Speaking of which, I don’t know Mitch Magee personally. But I do know his videos, and they are among my favorite on the internet. So I backed his short film project, Thank You, Cabbage, because I know I’m backing a filmmaker I enjoy, and that it helps a film that might not get made otherwise become a real thing. That’s job one of Kickstarter, and as we follow the curious evolution of this site, let’s hope it stays that way.