It's time to blow off some steam about the current direction of crowdfunding. After Spike Lee added his name to the list of famous and successful filmmakers who are using Kickstarter to fund their films and pet projects, my brain is dangerously close to an explosion. I'm fairly certain the thought would make a guy like Walt Disney roll over a few times, but I'll get to that.
The idea didn't bother me so much at first, but with every name that joined the list, my opinions crystalized. Zach Braff raised 3.1 million, producer Rob Thomas raised almost 6 for Veronica Mars, and now Spike Lee is ready to take his turn. Those are only the biggest successes. A host of other celebrities have been happy to stick their hands out but came up empty. I'm not mad at these guys personally; I understand their line of thinking. What actually bothers me is the direction this all seems to be headed.
Some people believe the day is coming soon that a major studio film will at least be partially crowdfunded. That is the day I go over the edge and my cranium officially implodes.
Some people argue that these current campaigns driven by famous faces take money away from the smaller profile projects by no-names. Toss that argument out, it's ridiculous. These celebs and properties have lots of fans, those fans want to contribute to their favorite shows, characters, or actors and I don't have a problem with that. It doesn't take money away from the little guys. The real question is, should wealthy celebrities be asking for hard-earned cash from their middle-class fans in the first place. They aren't just paying to see it anymore; now they're paying to make it too.
These people are all rich. I know Braff says that most people overestimate how much money he actually has, but his estimated worth is 22 million dollars; not exactly scraping by. Spike Lee lives like a king in New York. Don't get me wrong... I'm not a communist! More power to these guys for every dollar they earn. My point is, any celebrity should certainly have enough money to bankroll their own passion project or creative indulgence. Let me tell you why.
You Can Cut Back
My friends and I produced a feature length film and we had NO money. I sold everything I could to buy a $3,000 video camera. No cheers or pats on the back necessary. We aren't special or unique in that respect. Not by a long shot. Micro-budget films get made everyday by very creative and driven artists. What I'm saying is, if you truly can't afford your project, it might be time to pare it down or find a new one. There are plenty of ways to scale back a budget and tell an amazing story.
Crowdfunding is a no-lose proposition for a producer like Rob Thomas. Kickstarter backers don't get a share of the profits like normal producers would. They get a DVD or a t-shirt or some other what-have-you. So, the celebrities get to keep all the profits with no cut taken by a studio, just a payday or critical acclaim if the picture is a success and no skin off the filmmaker's back if it fails.
Look at Walt
The celebrities have the cash, they just don't want to risk parting with it. This is where Walt comes in to play. I always knew Walt Disney was a special guy. Obviously, right? But it wasn't until a couple years ago that I discovered what made him the man that he was. Walt Disney was special because he was willing to take risks. Big ones. With supreme faith in what he wanted to accomplish.
Over and over again in Disney's career, he risked everything to chase his dreams; from his earliest days as a cartoonist to the birth of his empire. If Snow White or Disneyland had failed, he would have lost everything and the studio would have gone under. More than once he leveraged everything the studio had made thus far into his next project, all while his wife and advisors tried to talk him out of it. Big risks, big rewards.
It's impossible to say if a man like Walt Disney would have taken advantage of Kickstarter had it been available to him. A large part of me thinks he wouldn't. I'm not saying that these celebrities have never taken a risk in their career or that Braff won't spend a considerable amount of his own money in conjunction with what fans gave him. But I do know, were I in their position, I wouldn't be comfortable asking fans to pay for a project I love and supposedly believe in.
Should celebrities be allowed to use Kickstarter? Yes. And if fans want to contribute to their films, they should.
At the same time, do I personally believe it is in poor taste for a wealthy celebrity to ask fans to fund their projects? Absolutely.
I believe with all my heart that it boils down to this: If a film isn't worth a personal risk, then it probably isn't worth making.