Crazy Kickstarter

There’s been a whole lot of talk lately about Zach Braff’s audacity to put his film up for funding on Kickstarter. A lot of angry talk, specifically. The developments are still coming in, but here’s what I know:

The producers behind cult hit Veronica Mars posted a movie project on Kickstarter and raised millions from avid fans. Braff saw the potential and posted his own project, seeking $2M from the “crowd.” He raised that and then some in about three days. Then he got more funding, $7M more, based on the popularity of the project. So now Braff, a fairly successful actor/writer/director, has what he needs to make the film he wants to make. Then the internet exploded.

Here’s why I don’t mind Zach Braff’s kickstarter: it’s called the free market. If you don’t want to support my project, or that musician’s project, or Zach Braff’s project, don’t. If you don’t like what’s on TV, change the channel.

There is no reason to bemoan the people who did choose to support the film. Maybe they’re his fans. Maybe they’re wanna-be movie producers. Maybe they really wanted a signed copy of Garden State. Who knows. Those of us in some aspect of the industry forget that there are a bajillion people out there who still think of movies with magic in their eyes, who, as Braff’s project made clear, would jump at the chance to be a part of the “movie business,” however tangentially. It’s their money to do with as they please, so calm down.

But what about all those projects by unknowns that coulda been funded with that money? A report came out following Braff’s success that Kickstarter saw a $400,000 bump in funding for other projects. So in fact, Braff’s notoriety helped other projects instead of distracting from them. I can’t think of a time since it’s inception that Kickstarter has gotten so much free publicity. If you have a project going, now’s the time to piggy-back. (Sample tweet: “Hey, it’s not just TV stars on Kickstarter. We are too, and we could use your support [insert link]”). People who had no idea what Kickstarter was are now registered and discovering projects every day. How is that a bad thing?

Braff isn’t the only established name to use Kickstarter. Actress Melissa Joan Hart launched one to finance her turn as star in a romcom that no one in Hollywood seemed interested in funding (warning sign #1; Braff at least acknowledges that he could find funding, but he’d be sacrificing his vision to do so). Turns out the crowd didn’t show up for her, and she canceled the project with over two weeks left. Just gave up. Seems to me the crowd is rather discerning, can tell when they believe in a project and when they don’t. While I’m sure we all want to believe that our project isn’t getting funded because the people just don’t get it, it might be time to entertain the idea that it’s because the people just don’t like it. Project’s fail all the time on Kickstarter; Braff’s succeeded maybe in part because people are sheep and jumped on a funding bandwagon (I’m picturing a guy on a first date, saying to the girl while they find their seats in the theater, “You know, I funded this movie…”), but it might’ve succeeded as well because, well, it’s a movie we actually want to see.

I say all this not only as a watcher of the independent film world, but with some direct familiarity of Kickstarter, having managed two successfully funded projects (support for Indy Film Fest) and having funded at least three successful independent film projects (here, here and here). It’s not about what the site is and isn’t meant for, about who should and who shouldn’t get the funding. It’s about creating content (or a product) that people want, reaching an audience and connecting with them in a way that makes them want to open their wallets. The fact that Braff did that on a major scale is, if anything, a beacon of the future. Can you imagine a film industry where a film only got made if the audience decided it should get the funding to go into production?

The fact that Braff now has all the additional funding he needs doesn’t bother me, either. If I were a financing company, his Kickstarter success would be exactly the collateral I’d want to see to ensure the film’s going to show me a return on my investment once it’s out in the world. And if I were a backer of his project (which I’m not), I wouldn’t feel duped or cheated or want my money back – Braff made a case for his needs, and the backer, who chose of their own free will to fork over his or her money, gets not only their rewards (premiere tickets, etc.) but the bragging rights for being a part of it. For Joe Schmoe in Kearney, Nebraska, that’s a pretty sweet deal. And now that Joe Schmoe knows about Kickstarter, maybe he’ll back your film, too.

ETA: Braff responded to the hub-bub with this video, which is apparently a part of @KickstartedFilm, a documentary about films financed via Kickstarter. Watch his answer starting at 4:05. And 9:20. Engagement, audience-building, community, a conversation. PREACH.)

2 responses to “Crazy Kickstarter”

  1. I agree with all your points. And I would add that the “extra” $7M he got is actually just gap financing for the foreign film distribution rights that he was planning on anyway. He sent a very thorough backer update about it…he’s handling it all pretty well.
    All that aside: what did you think of Garden State?

    • I loved the film – tho it released at exactly the right time in my life for me to appreciate it. I can see how some people figure it hasn’t stood up well over time, but I’ll always have a soft spot for it.

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