Kickstarter Movies Kick Up a Storm of Controversy
There have been some high profile movie projects on Kickstarter lately that have managed to kick up some controversy in the blogosphere. It’s that delightful kind of controversy, replete with fan backlashes and everything! It’s been fun to follow, but I thought I’d toss my two cents out there.
Peek below the fold for more.
First of all, disclosure time. I’m a big Zach Braff fan. I loved Scrubs and Garden State. Hell, his monkey was the best part of Oz the Great and Powerful… Still, when humorist and pop culture blogger Ken Levine (not be confused with game designer of my heart, Ken Levine) posted this piece critical of Braff’s on-going attempt to crowdfund a sequel to his acclaimed film Garden State, I found myself nodding in agreement. I won’t rehash Ken’s arguments, but I avow my support to them. Braff’s campaign and the similarly epic campaign to support the production of a Veronica Mars film strike me as flying in the face of Kickstarter’s best intentions–to support independent content producers who are unable to fund themselves. Neither of these projects fit the bill, in my opinion, and their use of Kickstarter is unnecessary–and, in my admittedly cynical view, abusive of their fans generosity and passion.
While it is Kickstarter’s position that projects should stand on their own merits, I can’t help but feel that these kinds of projects fly against the independent spirit that Kickstarter represents. Big movie projects, like big games, have a gravity well. Promising projects could find other money if they looked. In the case of Veronica Mars, fans just gave Warner Bros. five million bucks to make a movie that Warners is going to charge them to see. This is NOT a precedent I want crowdfunding to be responsible for. Not in the least.
Now that isn’t to say that I’m against established producers leveraging the crowd. But I prefer when that content actually NEEDS us to see the light of day. A good example of such a project is Chug. Chug is the brainchild of comedian Zane Lamprey, whose past programs Three Sheets and Have Fork, Will Travel took viewers around the world to learn about food, drink and culture. As a fan of strong drink, Three Sheets is especially close to my heart (incidentally, you can watch the entire series on Hulu).
Despite being a veteran of TV, Zane’s project stands apart from these others because it can’t be made without the crowd. Booze is anathema to TV networks these days, and even outlets like Food Network and The Travel Channel won’t touch it. In return for support, Lamprey is giving backers the entire show at a very reasonable price (starting at only $25 for the whole season). So while I agree with Levine that film projects like Braff’s and Veronica’s are inappropriate to the medium, I stop short of agreeing with his idea that we should only be funding the next Kevin Smith… Not when there are drinking shows to fund…
So, in light of all the publicity this hullabaloo is kicking up, what are your thoughts? Are Braff and the Veronica Mars team indicative of Hollywood’s future? And if so, is that a future you want to live in? Let us know in the comments.
This post is a bit of a two-sided blade.
On the one hand, how many fans would be thrilled to be part of the financial backing of their favorite character, film series, or other. I would probably throw my handful of cash at a movie with Preston & Child’s Agent Pendergast (if it weren’t for those pesky movie rights keeping him locked away). But that’s fandom for you.
On the other hand, I do think that the crowd-funding aspect should be left to indie projects. Established movie companies and big game franchises should have more than enough resources and connections to fund their own projects.
If it were only a matter of big studios just putting out their feelers to see what the fans want- well then maybe we wouldn’t have to have the hundredth version of Freaky Friday wasting theater space anymore…
Definite double-edge. Fans may be saying “yes,” where logic says “you have enough money you greedy bastard.”
Rob Thomas has been trying to get a Veronica Mars movie made, pretty much since the show was cancelled. I think that if he’d been able to just have WB pony up the money for it by now, he would have done that. He addressed this, saying that he basically got the go-ahead from WB to throw it out there and see what happens. What happened was that backers gave him the money to make the movie that the backers want to see.
As to WB charging people to see the movie, well, sure, if they bought the DVD or Blu-Ray they can still choose to see it in theaters, and many probably will. But that’s THEIR choice to make. This isn’t evil just because it’s a $5 million movie doing it instead of a $100k movie.
As for the Zach Braff movie, well, it seems like people are making a lot of assumptions. He set a $2 million goal, but is the budget really $2 million, or will he be putting his own money into it as well? Detractors are assuming he won’t, but he says he is. And at the end, as he also states, he gets the full creative control. Take a zero or two off the goal amount, and make it a nobody instead of a TV star, and nobody would blink an eye at anything he’s said about his project.
It seems like people are mostly just afraid that the big-ticket projects are going to crowd out the smaller ones, and I still say that just won’t happen. Oh, Kickstarter might support the odd cult flick or two, but Michael Bay won’t be financing “Transformers 5” via crowdfunding. By Hollywood standards, $2-5 million is chump change.
The thing I’d like to see someone with more time than I have to research is how many of the backers of the two projects were first-time backers, and how many of those will come back to fund more.
Personally, I’m vastly more wary of this project:
A video game maker has a new game that he says he’s going to finish either way, but he could sure use some money to pay for it. Oh, and he set a ONE DOLLAR goal. Now, this guy’s legit, complete with a quote from Tim Schaefer, but what’s to stop scammers from putting up more $1 projects and just disappearing with the money?
I think it keeps coming back to the philosophy of Kickstarter and what it is and what it should look like. I am in agreement that Kickstarter projects should only be for indie developers and others who flat out can’t reasonably afford to do it otherwise (of course that’s not easy to judge). So, for WB, a company that’s used to throwing around lots of money on projects, to say, “Sure, you have our blessing to seek funding via Kickstarter” is not really quite hitting the point I think these guys are trying to make, which is that WB and other big companies don’t need Kickstarter, since they have other reasonable alternatives they are already using. Alas, the lure of “free” money is strong, so it attracts them.
Some of the projects on Kickstarter come flat out and say they don’t need anyone’s money, but the money would be put to good use to spruce things up. This doesn’t sit well with me either as it seems like if they already have a great product, they should be able to fund expansions from the sales of the product, to cover their needs in many cases.
For example: If you were making a jungle action computer game and wanted to add in a bunch more weapons, maybe an underground area, etc. you can build into the game the ability to expand it to include that and far more, without actually building any of those things into the initial release.
Maybe that’s nitpicking, but the bottom line should be, “Do you really need the money or not?” Sure, I’d like to publish a bunch of books for Cosmothea, not just my core release, but I should at least try to sell the initial release before asking for money for the next installment when the first isn’t even done yet.
I must admit I’ve been a little nervous about the big companies coming in and watering down what it means to be a Kickstarter project, and taking away money from other projects, but while that may happen to some degree, I also assume those big projects will draw more attention to Kickstarter and with it, more potential Backers. I think a greater threat would be that some high profile Kickstarter project will go South in a big way, and scare people away from supporting Kickstarter. I recall one project in which both guys on the team got terribly sick after getting lots of money, and it dragged on like 2 years and looks like it will never be finished – yet it was a “successful Kickstarter project.” I think these failures might do more damage than any other blunders as they subtly change Backer’s attitudes toward funding altogether. But high profile failures will hurt even more, because if a big company fails to deliver, how can an invester expect the little guy to get it right?
I’ve also heard from more than one Backer that’s said that the promised rewards never manifested on their successful Kickstarters. So, perhaps more attention should be given to failed successful Kickstarter projects and how to minimize the damage. But that’s another topic. I’m not crazy about the big wigs entering the fray, but if they finish their projects and get them on the market, even though they might have already had the money in their pockets, at least it will help support the notion that Kickstarters can be a viable investment option.
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