When Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars Kickstarter brought in a record $5.7 million we all knew something was changing. Whether or not it was a good change, and whether or not it was a permanent change, it became clear that 2013 was to be the year where Kickstarter stopped being only about small projects by amateurs. The big fish were entering this pond.
Big fish like Zach Braff. Braff, who is with certainty quite wealthy after his time on Scrubs, has turned to The People to finance his new film, Wish I Was Here. He wants two million dollars, and as of this writing - a few hours after he started the fundraiser - he's got almost 700,000 bucks. The two million seems likely; I'm betting this project is funded.
In his statement on Kickstarter, Braff says he could have received traditional funding, but has rejected it:
I was about to sign a typical financing deal in order to get the money to make "Wish I Was Here," my follow up to “Garden State.” It would have involved making a lot of sacrifices I think would have ultimately hurt the film. I’ve been a backer for several projects on Kickstarter and thought the concept was fascinating and revolutionary for artists and innovators of all kinds. But I didn't imagine it could work on larger-scale projects. I was wrong.
After I saw the incredible way “Veronica Mars” fans rallied around Kristen Bell and her show’s creator Rob Thomas, I couldn’t help but think (like I'm sure so many other independent filmmakers did) maybe there is a new way to finance smaller, personal films that didn’t involve signing away all your artistic control.
Financing an independent film the traditional way often means having to give away your right to “the final cut,” casting choices, location choices and cutting down your script to make it shoot-able on the cheapest budget possible.
What if there is a different way?
That's interesting because it's different from Veronica Mars. Warner Bros was deeply uninterested in paying for that movie, so Thomas took matters into his own hands. Braff, whose Garden State was a smash, admits he could have done this the old fashioned way, but he doesn't like the old fashioned way.
Should this make you mad? It's making a lot of people online mad. I see why - if Braff makes this movie using only Kickstarter cash he is taking no risk and will reap a big payday. If this film is even passable (and that's no guarantee - the story description makes me cringe like crazy*), he'll be able to sell it to a distributor for a million bucks or more. That will be all profit. Of course artists should profit from their work, but shouldn't investors? In the old days if you gave ten grand to an indie movie you were an investor. These days if you give ten grand to an indie movie Zach Braff will put you in his film. Back in the 50s and 60s when dentists and real estate agents with too much money and Hollywood dreams put their money into film projects and got walk on roles they were essentially getting fleeced; that's part of the magic of that era of exploitation filmmaking. I guess that magic has returned.
So is this crowdsploitation? Is this a bad thing? Should we be paying for wealthy, connected Hollywood types to make their movies?
The good news: Kickstarter is self-regulating. After Veronica Mars was a big hit Melissa Joan Hart decided to give it a shot. Here's her Kickstarter, which is going to fail by about $1.9 million. Maybe the people who have to be careful are not the crowds but the famous kickstarters; after all, the reason Braff is doing better than Hart is simply because he has a more involved fanbase. Now that he's soliciting money from that fanbase he's entered a new sort of relationship with them.
They own him.
* "Wish I Was Here" is the story of Aidan Bloom (played by me), a struggling actor, father and husband, who at 35 is still trying to find his identity; a purpose for his life. He and his wife are barely getting by financially and Aidan passes his time by fantasizing about being the great futuristic Space-Knight he'd always dreamed he'd be as a little kid.
When his ailing father can no longer afford to pay for private school for his two kids (ages 5 and 12) and the only available public school is on its last legs, Aidan reluctantly agrees to attempt to home-school them.
The result is some funny chaos, until Aidan decides to scrap the traditional academic curriculum and come up with his own. Through teaching them about life his way, Aidan gradually discovers some of the parts of himself he couldn't find.
It was written by my brother, Adam, and me last summer.