Monday, November 23, 2015

Best Of: 2013 -- The Kickstarter controversy

As we march towards this blog's tenth anniversary, reprising a post a year, there can be only one for 2013.  When I wrote this on May 7, 2013 taking Zach Braff to task for using Kickstarter to fund his new movie I received LITERALLY one million hits that day.  Talk about going viral.  Yikes.   Hopefully today I'll get eleven.  

NOTE: Later today I will post my account of watching UNDATEABLE LIVE, ironically from Bill Lawrence who also did SCRUBS, which starred you-know-who.   It's amazing how this all ties together.  Please check back. 
Zach Braff is trying to raise money on Kickstarter to fund a movie he wants to make. Zach Braff is a good actor and a fine filmmaker. GARDEN STATE was a terrific movie. But I wouldn’t give him a dime.


Because it defeats the whole purpose of Kickstarter.

The idea – and it’s a great one – is that Kickstarter allows filmmakers who otherwise would have NO access to Hollywood and NO access to serious investors to scrounge up enough money to make their movies. Zach Braff has contacts. Zach Braff has a name. Zach Braff has a track record. Zach Braff has residuals.  He can get in a room with money people. He is represented by a major talent agency. But the poor schmoe in Mobile, Alabama or Walla Walla, Washington has none of those advantages.

So someone who otherwise might have funded the Mobile kid instead will toss his coins to Zach Braff because he figures it’s a better bet and he gets to rub shoulders with show business.

Yes, it might take Zach Braff a year of knocking on doors to get his money, so now he figures, hey, just show up, sit back, and let the cash come to me. This is not an option Walla Walla kid has. I’m throwing my support to those who really NEED it.

Recently, Kickstarter was used to fund a new VERONICA MARS movie. This is obscene to me. It’s a known television series distributed by a major studio. Are you a big fan of VERONICA MARS? Want to support it? Great. Buy ten tickets and see the movie ten times.

This is what Hollywood does, dear reader. It sees an opportunity for exploitation and takes it. The Sundance Film Festival is another prime example. At one time it showcased modest little movies by unknown filmmakers. Kevin Smith made CLERKS – a grimy black and white film starring all unknowns. The result was discovered talent. Now look at the festival. Every entry features major Hollywood stars. During the festival they all descend upon Park City, along with Harvey Weinstein, reps from every major studio, and a thousand CAA and William Morris agents. Any hint of the original purpose of the film festival has long since vanished.

If Will Ferrell or Brad Pitt – just to name two random examples – are in an independent film, do they really need a film festival to get Harvey Weinstein to screen their film? The chubby nerd from New Jersey who maxed out his credit cards to make a film about a local convenience store couldn’t. He needed a film festival. He needed an audience to appreciate his effort before he could be recognized. And now today’s equivalent of a young Kevin Smith can’t even get his movie into a festival much less Harvey Weinstein’s screening room.

Sundance is a lost cause. But Kickstarter isn’t. Not if we put a stop to this now. If you only have so much money to give to charity, give it to cancer research and not to help redecorate Beyonce’s plane. Support young hungry filmmakers. The next Kevin Smith is out there… somewhere. He (or she) just needs a break, which is what Kickstarter is supposed to provide. Zach Braff can find his money elsewhere. He did once before. He’ll make his movie. And if it’s half as good as GARDEN STATE I will praise it to the heavens in this blog and urge you to go spend your money to check it out.

When I used to broadcast for the Orioles one of my partners was the legendary Chuck Thompson. Most of our games were at night. Chuck was an avid golfer. He played the public courses and only on weekdays. He used to say the weekends were for the “working man.” Chuck could play any day he wanted, they could only play on Saturday and Sunday so he didn’t want to take one of their starting times. It’s a great way to live by.

Kickstarter is for the “working man,” Zach. And VERONICA. And (soon) Harvey.


Diane D. said...

I actually remember this controversy, and I remember thinking you were absolutely right. I also remember later being swayed by some of the terrific commenters (this is why I miss Hamid). I can't remember what they said, but I think it had to do with Braff's motivation for using Kickstarter (not just to get money), and several people said he was a really nice guy. There is a certain amount of electronic interaction with the person doing the project and contributors would have the opportunity to interact with a professional actor/writer/producer. He's also not a MEGASTAR so he couldn't fund it himself, and thought it would be cool to have lots of "everyman" investors, instead of begging billionaires to invest.

Your argument is hard to dispute, however. No one wants to see Joe Blow get less money because some went to a wealthy star. But is that how it works? Is there a finite amount of money and Braff is actually using some of that, or can Joe Blow still try to make his movie and generate more contributions? Would anyone who knows the answer to that please respond. Ken doesn't have time to answer the zillions of questions he gets. (And, yes, I tried to find that info via google, unsuccessfully).

Joseph Scarbrough said...

All these years later, celebrities like Zack Braff and Spike Lee have killed Kickstarter for others. Earlier this year, John R. Dilworth (the creator of COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG) went to Kickstarter to fund a sequel to his 1993 short THE DIRDY BIRDY, and it really wasn't an unreasonable goal, I think it was only roughly $80,000. He didn't even come close to the goal, and while he may not be the big-time celeb that Zack Braff or Spike Lee are, he has a steady cult following. So, I guess we're not going to get the sequel to THE DIRDY BIRDY.

The only successful non-celebrity Kickstarter campaign that I'm aware of was a year or two ago where a guy was raising money to publish his new book for lonely guys on how to rape women, and he exceeded his goal by 800% - no foolin'.

blinky said...

The meta analogy is Billionaires getting tax breaks from the GOP. Seriously dudes, you don't need any more money.

DwWashburn said...

Would the same logic apply to Joel Hodgson currently raising funds to bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000 which apparently is only going to be streamed?

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matt said...

Mighty Dyckerson,

The only person Ken censors is you. Somehow I don't think you would drive that many more hits.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Johnny Walker said...

Ha! I remember this. I was firmly in the other camp on this one, but although Ken got a few things wrong, he did spot an issue that I didn't see coming: Companies with available finance using Kickstarter as a way to make things for free, off the back of fans. Hmm.

That said, I do think that 99.99% of Kickstarters are genuinely people who have tried other avenues first, and I still think that Zack Braff genuinely tried to get his movie made by every other means before trying KS... Judging by the Rotten Tomatoes score of WISH I WAS HERE, I think The financiers he approached probably felt the same as the critics who eventually reviewed the final film -- they didn't think it was very good ;)

James said...

Separate East-Coast/Best-Coast broadcasts? Does that mean they'll have two different DVD sets?

Jeff C in DC said...

Ok, so THIS was the reason I first found your blog, Ken! (I couldn't remember when you asked for the "who are you" posts.) Thanks for the incendiary topic, from me and the other one-million-minus-one hits that day.

Though I agreed with you at the time, I don't think people take their money away from movie stars to give to unknowns. Different reasons, different markets, different obligations to investors. But yeah, Sundance is a shame.

James Van Hise said...

Didn't Colin Hanks (son of Tom Hanks) also do this to get his documentary on Tower Records made? For some reason he didn't come into the same public criticism even though, if anything, he has more Hollywood contacts than Zach Braff has.

halojones-fan said...

Having someone's number in your Contacts list doesn't always mean they'll call back.

You're right that Kickstarter was never intended to be an opt-in survey with an optional tip jar, but most of the Internet was never supposed to be what it is now. eBay wasn't supposed to be a turnkey online storefront for small business owners; YouTube wasn't supposed to be a hosting service for streaming music; Instagram wasn't supposed to be a softcover porn site; Kickstarter wasn't supposed to be a way for RPG producers to sell preorders. ("Wait, you already talked about Kickstarter!" "Yeah, well, three years ago the cause du jour was people printing only enough copies to cover the Kickstarter preorders.)