Kickstart my Heart – a question of kickstarter ethics

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For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few years, or simply don’t use the internet much, let me give you a brief introduction about a website known as kickstarter.com.

Kickstarter was created for the intention of funding all forms of projects from websites to companies to inventions to independent bands trying to make a new album, and you guessed it: independent filmmakers funding their projects. The idea was: for however much you donate to a person’s cause they will in turn give you some sort of reward. Usually a pitch video is included in which the person who is leading the campaign explains to you what the project is, and more importantly where your money goes.

For the first few years the site was a small success: many great inventions were funded, a couple small student films (pretentious comment: such as my own) were able to get made, and overall these small causes found their goals. Then “Veronica Mars” happened and everything exploded.

In March of 2013 Rob Thomas, the creator of the cult-hit show “Veronica Mars” made a kickstarter for a feature film version of the show. Now this was something fans had been begging for, much like fans of “Firefly”, but Warner Bros., who owned Veronica Mars would not fund Thomas’ film.

So, instead of a petition, Thomas asked Warner Bros. that  if the fans would straight up fund the production costs would WB handle exhibition. WB agreed, and the kickstarter was made. The pitch video was simple: Thomas and most of the original cast pretty much said “you guys have been begging for it, well now is the time to make it happen.” and left it up to the fans to fund the project. All members of the cast were very friendly and drove home to the fans that the only way this movie had a chance was with their help.

The result was a media wet dream resulting in Veronica Mars reaching its goal of two million dollars under the course of twenty four hours. By the end of its thirty-plus day campaign, the Veronica Mars Movie raised nearly six million dollars.

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This was all over the news. Rewards ranged from digital copies of the film all the way up to having a speaking role in the movie itself. Fans of all kinds of shows wondered if this meant other projects could be saved. Many podcasts (mostly the /Film Cast) predicted that this would lead to a huge revolution of filmmakers who would turn to fans to fund their films while the studios just sat back and laughed about how they didn’t have to lift a finger and still get the profits. Many questions were raised such as: was this right to “make” fans pay for these movies? In the end everyone would wait to see what would happen next. Enter Zach Braff.

One month after the Veronica Mars experience, Zach Braff popped onto kickstarter and revealed he was seeking funding for a sequel to “Garden State.” Now what made Braff’s project more questionable to Veronica Mars was that Braff claimed he could get funding from a studio, but they wouldn’t give him full creative control. Following that, Braff pretty much pulled out a couple celebrities and said “hey, I want these guys in it and no one else.”

Braff kept hammering home how it was all about the lack of control a studio would give him, and how Garden State was funded by one lone fan of Scrubs and no other backer or studio. This caused many more people to become infuriated. Most of the critics who reacted negatively to the Veronica Mars project were all the more angered at Braff. Well let me start to throw in my two cents about all this.

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Look, I have no problem with people such as Zach Braff or Rob Thomas asking for funding, because if the fans want to give them money, then that’s the fans’ choice. What I do have a problem with is how now both Braff and writer/director Spike Lee (we’ll talk about him soon) don’t seem to know how to properly pitch their respective projects.

Braff’s pitch was him complaining about studio control, yet I really don’t feel like that is a viable reason to not make a film. Filmmaking is all about compromises, and it’s up to the filmmaker to accept them and be creatively challenged to make them work. Happened to Spielberg on the entirety of “Jaws.”

I don’t mean to compare Braff to Spielberg, but I’m just saying total control is something that is earned by successful filmmakers; it isn’t just given to everyone. I feel that if Braff wanted to make this project that badly then he should have cooperated with the studio. Most of his complaints seem to be blind speculation about what the “evil” corporations would make him do with his film.

Now like I said, that’s just my opinion. Fans wanted to help Braff, and they were successful in funding a sequel to “Garden State”, but Braff’s pitch video was abysmal; filled with cliched inspirational music, corny celebrity plugs, and not enough information about the project or what it meant to him. This seemed to be a decline of what the Veronica Mars movie was trying to do. Enter Spike Lee.

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A few days ago Spike Lee put up his very own kickstarter for his next project. After complaining that he was unable to properly fund his previous film “Red Hook Summer” Lee felt he could turn to his fans to help fund the next Spike Lee joint.

The result is a kickstarter page that was clearly made by someone who does not fully grasp kickstarter. To start off, Lee barely makes any mention about what his project was about. Other than saying it was a vampire film (promising it wasn’t “Blacula” but I was thinking more along the lines of “Vampire in Brooklyn”) Lee gave little to no details about the project nor why he felt this story was an important one to tell.

Instead, Lee relied on outrageous rewards such as Knicks court side seats and autographed NIkes. He also went as far as literally listing every film he has ever made to push potential backers to help him out. In the end many felt Lee came off as cocky and not exactly explaining how important it was for him to get funding.

It seemed that many fans weren’t biting as Lee’s project hasn’t come close to the speed of success that Veronica Mars or the Garden State sequel reached. Now while it is arguable for Lee to be asking for money, the most important thing is how Lee represented himself.

Both himself and Braff did not come across as personable nor passionate about what they were making. They did not offer any real insight on why they wanted to make these films other than the studios were being mean to them. Again, I have no problem with them asking for funding, but they could have both made such better pitch videos. Veronica Mars’ page felt both fun and was for a cause that had been longstanding. Lee and Braff didn’t have either, they had to do their pages in a more traditional manner (AKA explaining what their product was).

So what is the point in all this? The majority of these major filmmakers seem to be carefree about finding money, and seem to show little to no interest in the projects they’re looking to fund. There is no passion in the way they talk about the films nor in the way they ask for help. Whether this is a sign of things to come is up for interpretation; but, I really hope in the future filmmakers will be more humble in their actions, and show their passion for filmmaking. They all have it, they just need to express it more.

At the very least, facts have shown these high profile projects give more visibility to the site itself and thus more visibility to the smaller independent movies, but the major filmmakers should support these smaller projects on their own pages, and help out the smaller people trying to just begin their careers.

Either way kickstarter shows no sign of slowing down with these high profile films, and we all have no option but to sit back and let it happen.

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