Zach Braff’s Kickstarter Campaign: Wish He Wasn’t Here?

Wish I Was Here Doodle

On March 13th 2013 Rob Thomas and Kristin Bell launched a Kickstarter campaign to continue the story of their cancelled TV show Veronica Mars on film. The campaign was the most ambitious Kickstarter campaign for a movie to date, needing $2 million to be successful.

It managed this in about 24 hours, going on to make $5.2 million. The campaign has proved controversial to some. It was backed by Warner Studios and this was seen ‘against the spirit’ of Kickstarter, a website previously known for giving a chance to projects that would otherwise never get launched.

Then a few days ago (24th April) Zach Braff launched a similar campaign for his first film since 2004’s Garden State, entitled Wish I Was Here. Unlike the Veronica Mars campaign, Braff had already got the green light for his project from a studio. However, he felt the creative restrictions on things like casting and final cut meant launching it on Kickstarter would allow him to create a better end product.

More so that Rob Thomas, there has been quite a bit of backlash against Braff. He is accused of ‘taking advantage’ of fans who will not make any profit if the film proves to be a real money spinner. An article on Yahoo Finance sums up some of the anger:

“In all seriousness, doesn’t Zach Braff have enough Garden State residual checks to pay for its sequel?”

“There is something particularly awful about professionals who have already risen to the near top of their field asking for handouts as if they can’t get work any other way”

Comments like this beg the basic question:

Is Kickstarter going to be a good thing for the industry or not?

My response to this question is an unequivocal ‘yes’. Even for bigger projects like the ones mentioned. In backing up this opinion I’d like to answer some of the criticisms like the one above.

1. Braff could have put up the money himself

He could have, but if he did he would probably have been the first director to solely pay for a $2 million budget film all by himself. Comments like this are made by people who do not live in the real world and have literally no understanding of how movies get financed.

2. Braff is taking money away for smaller, more deserving projects on Kickstarter

Since launching a few years ago, Kickstarter has snowballed year on year in a very natural way to be able to support projects like this. However, there is literally no evidence to suggest there are fewer ‘smaller’ projects getting funded since $100,000+ films have started being successful. In fact, the opposite is true. You can check out the stats yourself, of the almost 10,000 films funded on Kickstarter, over 7,000 asked had a goal of less than $10,000. Also, of those 10,000 films, a mere 98 asked for $100,000+.

I am also willing to bet the number of films launched in that “less than $10,000″ category in 2013 will be greater than every other year on Kickstarter so far. Why? ‘Bigger” projects like Veronica Mars and Wish I was Here provide great publicity for the site and will encourage plenty of users who had never backed a project to see what else is out there.

3. Braff is taking advantage of his fans

This is an incredibly condescending viewpoint that gives no credit to the intelligence of the average backer. Braff makes it very clear he could have the made the movie without the campaign, just not quite the one he wanted to make. Fans have the choice about which type of movie they want, and whether it is a worthy cause. Like it or not, plenty of people obviously loved Garden State and are prepared to put up money for a similar film. Also, on the issue of profits, maybe fans prefer a model where the directors and stars make more profits than studios do? Even if they are the ones who have to pay a little bit of money to make it happen.

4. But… I really don’t like Zach Braff.

Maybe you don’t. And maybe that’s where this anger is coming from. However, maybe Kickstarter also gives us chance to assess the way movies have been funded for the past few decades and ask “Is there a better way?”

5. Is there a better way?

Currently, the way movies get funded is almost entirely based on how much money they will make at the box office. That is, it is a ‘consumer driven’ model. So movies that are successful like Spiderman or Transformers encourage plenty of similar big budget movies to be made. This means our cinemas are filled with sequels and franchises almost guaranteed to make money, but at the expense of originality and creativity.

Being angry about Braff asking for money on Kickstarter is essentially saying you are happy with the current model and think it is the lesser of the two evils. I do not think this is the case. I think films which are made purely with profits in mind has a tendency to make them ‘safe’ and ‘sanitised’. If Kickstarter allows any film to be made which can be genuinely creative or different this is surely a good thing. Both models look set to co-exist for the foreseeable future, and maybe in a few years time we can have a genuine debate about which model is producing the best films. Until then, I think it’s important not to criticise people for choosing a model simply because it’s new. In doing so there’s a danger you cut off your nose to spite your face.

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