Thursday, July 25, 2013

My take on Spike Lee using Kickstarter to fund his latest movie

I was on HuffPostLive yesterday discussing Spike Lee's latest Kickstarter campaign. Based on my blog post about Zach Braff I've become a pundit on the subject. But if Braff aggravated me, Spike Lee really pissed me off.







51 comments:

Pat Reeder said...

I love the concept of "director jail." Can Michael Bay be sentenced to life in solitary?

Baylink said...

There is a concept that comes up a lot in arguments about feminism, and whether the law should, for example, differentially protect women against certain things, that is called "denial of agency".

It is, essentially, the law saying "you're not enough of a grownup to make this decision yourself; we're taking it away from you".

Of course, it doesn't have to be the law doing it...

And isn't that what you're advocating here? It sounds, Ken, like you're saying that me and my 90,000 closest personal friends, who decided that it was worth $50 to us *to tell WB that their judgement about {not} making a VM movie WAS WRONG*... should not be allowed to do that.

How is it not that?

Do you really think that the percentage of people too stupid to validly judge value for themselves is really high enough to support your argument on this issue?

Foaming Solvent said...

I am curious what you think about Adam Carolla using FundAnything to fund his proposed new movie. I would not consider him in Spike Lee country, but neither is he unknown.

http://fundanything.com/adamcarolla

Pamela Jaye said...

well, I'm sad to have given money to Warner Brothers so that later on I can give them more money- but then again, I only gave them a dollar. I'm not sad to have given money to Zach Braff.

Now I have to figure out whether there is any correlation or (whatever the opposite is) between giving rich creative people money to make entertainment and people illegally downloading entertainment they should have paid for.
Hmmm...
Maybe we *shouldn't* discourage consumers for paying to have things they want.

Kev Hamm said...

Wait, you know a filmmaker in Butte? Because I'm in Helena, just a tragic drive up the freeway from there.

And I agree totally. Michael Bay should be in Directors Jail!

Steve said...

So can someone come up with a way for fans to fund movies AND be available to receive a portion of the profits?

Seems like that would be the golden ticket, so to speak.

Brian O. said...

"Made so many bad movies he's basically in Director Jail."

SPOT-ON!

Frank Paradise said...

Right on Ken! Now I see even no talent Adam Corolla has already scored over 3/4 million bucks from suckers with 22 days still to go! Who knew bad comedy writing could be so lucrative. .

Brian Pollack said...

Right on Ken!

Crutnacker said...

While I understand the idea of someone famous taking something away from someone else's dream, I don't really buy it.

In fact, I'd argue that more people might be looking at different projects on Kickstarter BECAUSE these high profile projects are out there.

If you want to spend $10 or $50 or whatever so a star you like can put on his/her show, who gives a damn? It's your money. And God knows there are plenty of us who have blown several hundred bucks for a couple of tickets and a night out to see famous performers who have far more money than Spike Lee or Zach Braff.

If Spike Lee can't get money to make a film and is successful raising it this way, who cares? It ain't like he's selling 200% of his movie. He's making it clear up front what you'll receive for your investment. If that's enough for you, then who cares?

William said...

Much ado about very little.

Anonymous said...

Ok. I tried with this blog. I cannot believe this is your stance.
You seem colossally out of touch. There is no difference here in pre-buying the ticket for the film.
I happily gave him money - I look forward to seeing the film. I do not expect it to a) make a billion dollars, or b)win him an Oscar.
This year I will give several thousand away on KS. This is in addition to actual investments, and giving money to PBS etc. No difference.

Perhaps if you bothered getting out of the in-crowd improv ghetto (don't tell me that it isn't nice and cosy for you there) you might have a few ideas worth putting on there to see if an audience will support it.

Anonymous said...

You got it right Ken! Spike Lee has backed ZERO other projects on Kickstarter.

He didn't even tell the audience anything about his movie - not even the title, he just wanted people to throw money at him.

With such a charming approach, no wonder he's in director jail.

Marty Fufkin said...

Your last point was the best one. Even when these celebrities are no longer hot property, they have other options to raise their own money -- directing commercials or TV shows or whatever. Artistes might consider this "selling out", but so what. The public shouldn't be protecting their egos from doing jobs they don't particularly like -- which, by the way, would give them something in common with the general public.

Ken Levine said...

Baylink,

If you or anybody wish to fund a Time-Warner movie and not participate when everyone gets rich, that's fine. I'm not preventing anybody from doing anything.

to Anonymous,

If you... oh hell, why bother responding? You won't even post your name.

A_Homer said...

Nicely spoken, Ken. Also it was interesting to actually hear you speak on this topic because you sound like your writing. Succint, not overstretching a simple point to fill airtime, and you coined "Director's Jail" offering a good visualisation. (I was expecting a rule of three to get in there though.)
Actually Spike Lee was one of the first directors to make shooting commercials cool, as a serious art form (His Nike ads with Michael Jordan I guess) and marketing product from his independent films.
You are right about his need to get back through some other work first.

In terms of what you are discussing, it's helpful to compare Kiva with Kickstarter, if just to see how Kickstarter has little to do with models of financial investment and more to do with extending the social network ethos to fandom and souvenirs. It's closer to Comic-con in a way, cultivating the feel of an extended relationship with fans, and promising nothing to them except the chance to momentarily feel as if part of some (once indie, now corporate) cultural form, whether animation, tv, movie etc.

KIVA actually doesn't allow much money from a single investor, preferring to develop groups or "crowds", the goals are very realizable and a pittance, one of the Kickstarter projects finances thousands of Kiva projects, and amazingly Kiva pays it back. So, imagine, you have really low-income people around the world borrowing small amounts from groups of lenders, to, let's say, buy supplies for their rural garage/grocery somewhere in the world. AND they work to pay you back. The relationship in this case, is one of lending, and it is interesting just getting an accounting in the email that another $1.25 of 20 has been paid back is a great feeling.

But that's not the Kickstarter relation - it's based on fandom, on wanting to feel part of something, for a relatively small cost to YOU. Fandom operates like a social contract today, and you know when the contract has been broken only by a misstep (a failed investment on Kickstarter by a celeb for example) where someone has overreached the limits. Comic-con itself is a bloated corporate version of what was initially a cool fan-driven idea around comics. Once corporates realized what could be, they stepped in. Comics can be said to now drive the movie industry summer blockbusters, but I don't think Comic-con is getting any cut of that either.

Corporate programming or movies etc have always found a way to mis-use the unequal opportunities with fan sentiment and cash in. At least with Kickstarter, this inequality is upfront and people can decide. Fair? No. But there's Kiva and other places that emphasize a fair agreement, where your money is doing good and paid back.


D. McEwan said...

Kickstarter contributers are NOT investors? The ydon't participate in profits? I had no idea. I just asusmed that if you gave money to a project on Kicksrtarter, you were, automatically, an investor and participant. That's insane!

So Spike Lee and Zack Braff are essentially Bialystock & Bloom, taking money from nobodies and non-millionaires and saying : "Congratulations, you now own Zero percent of Prisoners of Love"

That's friggin's insane.

"Anonymous said...
Ok. I tried with this blog. I cannot believe this is your stance.
You seem colossally out of touch. There is no difference here in pre-buying the ticket for the film."


No wonder you don't know how to write your own name, Anonymous, you're an idiot. When you pre-buy a ticket to a movie, YOU GET A TICKET TO THE MOVIE! Give Spike lee money to make a movie on Kickstarter, you get zip! You wanna see the movie, you still have to buy a ticket. Hey, Anonymous, wanna own a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge?

Chip Keyes said...

I'm saving my dough until there's a Kickstarter campaign for a new hotel from Donald Trump.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

@Baylink: do you understand the concept of discussuion? Yes, you have the right to your opinion. But others also have the right to counter our opinion with arguments without suggestion you are an idiot. Inferring from his counter position that he is calling you an idiot is no argument. And frankly, a bit insulting.

Carol said...

I'm curious how people who contribute to Zack Braff or Spike Lee would feel if the movie, once it was made, didn't live up to their expectations. Would they feel cheated? I suppose that argument could be made for anyone on Kickstarter, but I think a disappointing project from a famous person would be a bit more annoying.

I imagine people give to these things because they think it's worth it to spend $50 to get whatever gift is being offered at that level.

Or maybe people invest because they have that dream we all have (let's face it) that the person we admire will be so touched we gave $25 to their project that they call us up and we become total best friends forever and get to go all the cool parties and stuff.

Michael said...

I thought you were boycotting Huffington Post because the founders made millions but don't pay their writers or pay them peanuts?

Michael said...

Carol - there were already a flare-up among Veronica Mars Kickstarter backers when some of them were unhappy about a casting decision that was announced. I'm sure there will be more griping when movie actually is released.

Hamid said...

Seriously, what's next, Brett Ratner using Kickstarter to do Rush Hour 4?

Hamid said...

I can think of a few examples where it would be ok for an established director to use Kickstarter and one of them would be David Lynch. His type of filmmaking is getting squeezed out more and more. Gone are the days when a producer of Dino De Laurentiis' stature would produce a Blue Velvet, and it saddens me that Lynch hasn't made a new film since Inland Empire.

If he was to use Kickstarter to fund a new film, I'd donate because he's a true artist and someone whose films are polarising and will always appeal to a small market of audiences.

Spike Lee, on the other hand, has a massive body of work, money, awards, contacts and his own production company. As much as I like him as a director, I think for him to use Kickstarter is just obscene.

peabody nobis said...

I agree, Ken. It's amazing to me that people will give their hard-earned money to a conglomerate like Time-Warner, begging them to make a movie. Let'em spend their own damn money.
@Carol-They will no doubt be disappointed in whatever Spike produces. At this point in his career, I would be willing to pay him to NOT make a movie!
@Hamid-There was a time when I felt that way about Lynch, but it was long ago. His quirkiness has just turned into weirdness for weirdness's sake.

Anonymous said...

Ken, and Doug, I agree. Julie, Burlington, Iowa

Hamid said...

@peabody nobis I hear you. Inland Empire is the only Lynch movie I've disliked. I love everything else he's done but Inland tested my patience beyond endurance and I'd agree is weirdness for the sake of it. Even so, I'd still love to see another film from him. My dream would be for him to do another Twin Peaks film that finally wraps up the whole story. That I'd happily donate to.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I can certainly understand Ken's viewpoint, and the general discomfort with a world renowned, multi millionaire director begging for money from the public on Kickstarter. If someone could demonstrate that other projects by lesser known but just as creative people were being squeezed out by projects like Lee's or Braff's, then I would definitely not be in favor of the Big Names using Kickstarter. That being said, if someone like Joss Whedon came on Kickstarter with a viable proposal to revive the Firefly series, then I would gladly contribute money, even knowing that at the moment he is probably one of the most powerful and sought after directors in the world. If you don't like Firefly, then insert any project and director that appeals to you. I would contribute that money not as an investment, and not because I thought that it would grant me some license to dictate how the story should go; I would give the money simply because I would want to see that project get made, and I would trust the creator to follow his own instincts about how it should be made. In fact, I wouldn't want any sort of input; if a director actually listened to the input of 100,000 Kickstarter contributors, I sincerely doubt if I'd want to see the end product. My return on the investment of the 50 or 100 bucks I'd contribute would be the enjoyment I'd get from seeing it. That's a fair return on an investment, in my estimation.

Until someone shows that unknown creators are being denied opportunities for their projects by the presence of established creators, I don't have an issue with Braff, or Lee, or whomever using this as a springboard. No one is forcing me to give them money....

Christodoulos said...

I fully agree with you Ken. Zach and Spike and Amanda Palmer have other options, their use of Kickstarter is misuse if not abuse.

tb said...

Why isn't Woody Allen in director jail?

John said...

When Spike Lee gives up his $800 a game Knicks courtside season tickets, along with flying across the country to sit courtside at every Knicks game against an opponent that justifies national TV coverage, I'd feel a little bit better about chipping in a shilling or two on Kickstarter (or at the very least, if Spike would swap the courtside seasons for seats behind the basket up in the 300 section I'd at least see he's making some financial sacrifices to his lifestyle).

Becca in Seattle said...

Ken, I think there's something you just don't get about filmmakers using Kickstarter. If you we're to use Kickstarter to launch a new show I'd back you in heartbeat because I believe in you, I know it would be funny and I would be honored to be a part of it. (especially if you partnered with Netflix to stick it to the networks!)

I wouldn't back Spike Lee because I'm not a huge fan of his movies and if I do want to see one I'll support the filmmaker by renting it on DVD.

Before I read your Zach Braff rant I was a few sentences into someone else rant on the subject when I went straight to Kickstarter, signed up and backed the project. I’m a fan and I'm honored to be a part of his new movie. The regular updates from him and his team are hilarious, I'm getting a firsthand view into "what it takes to make a movie" from casting to location scouting to soundtrack selection and later to editing and release. This, to me, is worth way more than I contributed to the project and I'll happily pay to see the movie when it opens.

Sure, he's got connections that many would-be filmmakers do not, but if he had used them instead of me (and his other 30,000 or so backers) I never would have gotten this experience. It's valuable to me, it's not to you and I totally get that. You're an insider yourself, you know what it's like to make a movie or a TV show, I don't so perhaps I'm better able to appreciate this opportunity.

Thanks to Kickstarter I’ve also helped launch a real Tardis into space, so there’s that.

Jon B. said...

I understand your point, Ken, about Spike Lee. I just don't know where you or I or anyone else could possibly draw a line between what film project is appropriate for Kickstarter funding and what is not. If your intent is to discourage folks into not being suckered by Spike Lee-types, I think you may achieve the opposite. If you want to shame Zach Braff-types from using Kickstarter, well, that ship has sailed. All that being said, I applaud your rant.

jbryant said...

It's really, really, really, really, really hard to get a movie made, whether at the studio or indie level. I don't know what Spike Lee's project is, but I don't think we can assume that a studio or indie financier is just champing at the bit to make it. So he's trading on his name and rep to raise the funds to make the movie the way he wants to make it. We're all free to help out or not.

tb: Just a guess, but the reason Woody Allen is not in Director Jail may be that he had one of the biggest hits of his career just 2 years ago and won an Oscar for it.

VincentS said...

Thanks for standing up for the little guy, Ken.

D. McEwan said...

"tb said...
Why isn't Woody Allen in director jail?"


Excellent question. I'm among those who felt his Oscar for Midnight in Paris was ill-won, as I think it's a luosy movie. Not as lousy as, say, Scoop, which Ihad the misfortune to see this week, but lousy. And really, he should be put to hard labor in Dirctor Jail just for casting that slimeball Andrew Dice Clay in his new film. (I worked with Andy for two years. He is pond scum with legs.)

While we're at it, why isn't Roman Polanski in REAL jail?

Aaron Sheckley said...

I imagine that Polanski isn't in a real jail where he belongs because he won't come back to the US on his own, and the Swiss won't allow his extradition.

sanford said...

First of all Spike Lee may be as ashat but he as made some good movies.

Someone asked if they contributed to a kick starter movie and it was bad wouldn't that person be upset. How do you think people who bankroll a real big movie feel.

I am not sure why anyone is railing against Lee, Braff etc for trying to raise money through kick starter. The people who contribute know what they are doing. Now one is forcing them to give money.

I am assuming that Lee, Braff etc are kicking in something. It would only be fair.

The interesting thing will be if Veronica Mars makes any money.

Here is a show that has been off for the air for 7 years. It might have done better if it had been on one of the big networks. I have to wonder if enough people will go see it in order to make what it is costing.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Walla Walla gets some love. Thanks.

garyinfh said...

Obviously anyone who wants to contribute free money (getting nothing, or next to nothing, in return) to an established Hollywood figure like Spike Lee or Zach Braff is free to do so, whether under the purview of Kickstarter or some other funding mechanism. Ken’s suggestion that someone like Spike Lee, with his track record and numerous Hollywood connections, ought not to crowd out the struggling filmmaker from Butte, Kalamazoo or Walla Walla – the person with no track record, no connections and no ability to obtain significant funding (other than maxed-out credit cards) – seems analogous to telling an also-ran from the World Series of Poker that he should stay out of the friendly neighborhood card game, with its relatively penny-ante stakes. Ken appears to be saying to Spike: “You should find a game with other pros, and leave the amateurs to their own devices.”

The real problem is that for Lee, the market has already spoken. It’s saying, “No one is giving you $40-50 million, much less final cut, so that you can make a three-hour epic biopic of the life and times of James Brown. No one will even give you $30 million to make Inside Man 2, not even if Denzel comes back and works for $2 million up front, with the rest on the back end, like Flight. After the last Spike Lee Joint, Red Hook Summer, took in less than $340,000.00 at the box office (similar to 2004’s She Hate Me, which made $366,000.00), you’re lucky if HBO will hire you to direct an episode of Treme.” (O.K., actually HBO has Lee making a film version of Mike Tyson’s one-man show “Undisputed Truth,” which Lee directed on Broadway last year.) It’s notable that, only seven years after Inside Man made $88.5 million in domestic gross, and another $96 million in overseas box office, Spike Lee is, as Ken puts it pointedly, “in director’s jail.”

So unless Lee can find an insanely rich patron to fund his work without insisting on final cut (good luck on that one), he’s left with two possible business models, neither of which appears feasible, given his history:

(1) The Mel Gibson model, exemplified with The Passion of the Christ: bypass the entire Hollywood studio system, put up your own money, with all the attendant risk, but keep full creative control, and reap the profits. (Gibson put an estimated $40-50 million of his own money -- $30 million for production, and another $15 million for marketing – into a movie that ultimately grossed $370 million in the U.S. alone.) My guess: Spike Lee doesn’t have $40-50 million in the bank, and thus couldn’t fund his envisioned James Brown biopic all by himself, even if he were willing to take that kind of risk.

(2) The Woody Allen model: keep costs extremely low (granted, many A-list actors will work for scale, or close to it, just to be in a Woody Allen film, but that’s not the only way Allen economizes), and make sure each movie comes in on time, and within the agreed-upon budget. Allen has had full creative control (final cut) for decades, but that’s because even when his films don’t make much money, they don’t lose much either. How many movies could Woody make for the projected budget of a typical large-scale Spike Lee Joint? Three? Four? Five?

Thus we have the unappetizing spectacle of a formerly-bankable director, who, as recently as 2006, finished a big-budget Hollywood movie starring Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster, a film that grossed nearly $185 million worldwide – begging for donations on Kickstarter to make a film about “blood addiction” that isn’t a vampire movie. This is not so much unsporting (although it’s that, as well) as it is unseemly.

Adam Cushman said...

It's great that Kickstarter is open to anyone. Also great if filmmakers can get funding outside the studio system, maintain creative control, and collaborate with fans. But what happens when this becomes a new version of the studio system? When innovation and creativity become less important than how famous you are? The little guy's voice will be submerged once again.

Adam Cushman said...
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Adam Cushman said...
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Anonymous said...

How is Spike Lee in Director Jail? He's directing Oldboy for Universal!
I know attacking Spike is fun for some people but this is silly.

mr dobie

Steve said...

Good for you, Ken. And you've convinced me to only give a measly 20 bucks to Spielberg's new Kickstarter campaign.

D. McEwan said...

“I’m bringing people to Kickstarter who never even heard of Kickstarter,” Spike Lee said in an interview with FilmCourage.com. “I’m talking [about] a lot of people of color who’ve never heard of Kickstarter, who’ve never made a pledge on Kickstarter. I really think it’s a fallacy, it’s a misconception, and it’s just plain-out wrong, with a capital W, that because someone puts $5 on my film, that was $5 that a young filmmaker was going to get.”

So you see, Ken, you missed Spike's point. He's not begging for money from much-poorer people before going in to sit in his obscenely expensive basketball seats to indulge his own ego, excuse me, creativity. He's doing Kickstarter a favor! Why, they should be paying him for the publicity, which is more than his Kickstarter doners (One can not call them investers) are getting.

What a pathetic scam.

Anonymous said...

I never understand the crowd source funding of films hatred. Nobody is being tricked. In most cases it ends up as being a pre sale.

In this day and age movies are targeted at non-American us teenager males. This leaves very little room for anything else. This allows another avenue for creation. Sure studios and others will try to exploit this but let them try. It is a self correcting system where your credibility counts.

Adam Carolla is trying to raise money to make his second movie. His first movie The Hammer was critically succesful but cost Carolla a lot of his own money to finish and get it distributed.

He was frank when he said he could/would not make another movie because of him losing a lot of money again as well as a huge chunk of time. I think crowd sourced films let film makers devote their time and energies so even if the film breaks even it is still a model that can get films made. Studios and producers are never going to fund projects just to break even.

By the way Carolla has raised 907k of the 1 million he was looking for with 18 days left on Donsld Trump's fund anything site. The vm team, Braff , Carolla and spike lee all have a proven track record. There is very little risk.

Really we should wait and see what happens when these movies are made and what happens if one of them is supersuccessful.

To me this is a new indie era after the large studios swallowed up the entirety of independent film makers. I know some people feel crowd source funding shouid result in crowd source profit sharing but that is not even legally possible right now. Again nobody is being tricked or deceived. People know what they are getting for their investment. When you might have trouble is when films don't get finished because of over spending. That could be a killer but I do not think any of the current projects will have this problem.

Anonymous said...

Lol did you see his film? It was good. It is highly regarded.

D. McEwan said...

This might mean no more films from Adam Corrolla? How can I help? Anyway we can get him off of TV & Radio also?

Johnny Walker said...

I haven't watched this because I know it will only upset me. At this point it's hard not to consider this willful ignorance.

Two quick facts:

1. Kickstarter has ALWAYS, from its very inception, been a crowd funding website with an eye on attracting the biggest projects it can. If you don't like that people you've heard of are using it, blame Kickstarter, not the people, because they're using the site exactly how it was intended to be used.

2. Running a Kickstarter is essentially asking your audience for the money "up front". That is all. I'm baffled that seemingly intelligent people are having such difficulty with this simple concept.

Any comments that don't take into account the above two facts can only logically be read as willfully ignorant -- and this includes the nonsensical idea that Kickstarter is a finite pool of capital that's divided up in order of popularity. It's NOT a bag of free money! In terms of the films on the site, it's essentially a DVD store where you pre-order the movie before it's even been made.

If nobody wants to buy a DVD of what you're selling, then you won't get funded. Period. This is the same whether you've made the film first and are trying to sell your DVD, or whether you're asking for money up front. There is no difference!

Anonymous said...

These days, many well-known directors cannot make their film. Many superstars cannot get their film distributed. Directors on the box office top 20 list. Basically, they are in the same position with any young filmmaker, they have to fund it themselves. It's that tough when you want creative control today.

In this case, Spike is cashing in on his celebrity status, selling his stuff and even irrelevant stuff.