A few weeks ago, Zach Braff launched a Kickstarter to fund a sequel to Garden State. Four days in, it surpassed its goal of raising $2 million dollars.
This has been the source of much public wailing and gnashing of teeth. Notably: Ken Levine doesn't think Braff needs the money, and Alan Jones echoes much the same sentiment in the Toronto Standard. Other comments I see on social media amount to: "I won't back it because he's a d-bag." or "Great, now famous celebrities are going to crush indie film."
Speaking as a creator, a long-time KS backer, and someone with an active project: I don't get it.
I don't say that because I'm a fan, or even have a personal interest in his movie. I think those factors are irrelevant, I only mention it to point out I have ZERO stake in the outcome of his project.
I do, however, have a stake in the idea that this project (and, by extension the ~$6mm Veronica Mars KS) have corrupted Kickstarter or that the site has somehow "sold out."
Let's start with the "he's already rich" argument.
First, there never was (and I hope there never IS) a means-testing aspect to applying for a Kickstarter. If there WAS, I'd expect people who DIDN'T have a demonstrated amount of extra capital wouldn't get approved. Nearly EVERY project you see on KS requires an investment of time and money BEFOREHAND to properly position it. If you think Mr. Braff hasn't sunk a significant amount of time and personal capital into writing his script, commissioning concept art, etc., then I doubt you appreciate the effort needed to prep a strong, convincing proposal.
Second, I think it's utterly false to think that backers are signing up because they want to help line Mr. Braff's pockets. Kickstarter is not a charity, people back projects that they feel demonstrate value in line with their interests. That is the JOY of Kickstarter - you find an idea YOU think is cool and you help make it a reality.
Finally, people point out that he's made enough money over the life of his career that he should be able to just cough up $2 million like it's chump change. 1) You don't know that and 2) that's not the point of Kickstarter. The site is designed to provide a means to PITCH an idea to your audience and see if they respond WITH THEIR DOLLARS. This allows creators to take MUCH greater risks because they know in advance if there is a market for their product.
This speaks to the heart of the issue: creative control.
Mr. Braff has stated he wants to make the movie HIS way. With control over casting, script, production, etc. YES, he has access to investors who could help him launch this movie. However, those investors will surely demand some sort of input or approval on the final product. At which point, it's no longer HIS movie.
Given all the complaints about the narrow variety, safe choices, and overall low intellectual quality of movies released by the studio system, I fail to understand the lack of appreciation for Mr. Braff's approach. It's an opportunity for him to work unfettered toward his vision and Kickstarter offers an ideal venue to mitigate the risk -- and therefore mitigate the compromises needed -- to bring it to market. Isn't that something ALL creators deserve? Because the alternative is to get movies crafted to "four quadrant" focus groups and computers.
Check out that last link. As a creative, it freezes my blood.
People say this will flush new ideas out of the studio system. "We don't see the potential here, go Kickstart it," development executives might say. GOOD. Then YOU own it and you can sell it on YOUR TERMS if it's a success.
To address the "fame" issue: Yes, Mr. Braff has a certain following that has clearly helped him raise over $2.5 million dollars. That's actually one of the key elements to deploying a successful Kickstarter: REPUTATION. (The other parts being: a compelling product, perceived value per pledge dollar, and demonstrating the professional competence to deliver.) People complain that because he's famous, he can reach far more people than your average creator.
That's true. He can also get a table at restaurants where the average guy wouldn't get in the door. Where's the outrage over that?
What people don't seem to respect is the fact that Mr. Braff is staking his reputation on this project. He has promised something and it will be on him to deliver. At the end of the day, either he builds his brand with this movie or he damages it. In Hollywood, there is no more dangerous game than to go messing with your brand.
Further, he has now solicited direct investment from his fans. They have given him trust (in the form of their dollars) that he will succeed. If he fails, those dollars will not be forthcoming in future attempts. He is decidedly taking a risk.
Finally, the broad pronouncements that "I most certainly WILL NOT be supporting this Kickstarter!" are futile. By refusing to pledge, you take exactly ZERO dollars away from the project. Instead, the real danger is promoting the idea that OTHER people are stupid for pledging.
Look, I am highly unlikely to back a project for a new and innovative type of bra. But that doesn't mean I think other people are STUPID for supporting the project just because the bra designer is too famous or supposedly should have the seed money to bring it to market themselves.
In my opinion, the power of Kickstarter is to give creators 100% control, to take greater risks than they could with outside funding, and to definitively test whether there's a market (however small OR large) for their idea. Bad or poorly executed ideas flounder, well-run projects that speak to their specific audience (however broad or niche) get rewarded. Indie films are not hurt by this -- if anything greater awareness of Kickstarter itself encourages more people to explore the film category.
The broad, meaningful impact here is that this project has raised the profile for "celebrity vanity" projects -- which only creates more competition and therefore more VALUE for backers in the marketplace.
Is it a good project? The beauty of Kickstarter is YOU GET TO DECIDE FOR YOURSELF.
Is it a bad development in the evolution of Kickstarter? Decidedly NOT.
-Tom, who has to go shoot something he made.