Kickstarter + Hollywood = Everyone Wins: Why Zach Braff and 'Veronica Mars' Are Good for Indies
Hollywood likes Kickstarter now, and it was only a matter of time before we started seeing projects from some of our favorite filmmakers show up on the crowdfunding website. There have been many opinions thrown around about whether or not these projects should be on the site given that many of these filmmakers should be able to find money elsewhere, and poor indie filmmakers don't really have much of a choice. Many have talked about Kickstarter being a zero sum game, that Hollywood stars are taking good money away from projects that really need it. Well, turns out the numbers don't support that in any way, and both Zach Braff and Kickstarter have responded to explain the situation, and give some hard numbers.
At this point, Braff's Kickstarter for Wish I Was Here has earned about $2.5 million, well exceeding its $2 million dollar goal. Check out this interview Braff did with the filmmakers for Kickstarted, a new documentary about the boom in crowdfunding:
Zach Braff also did a great interview with KCRW, and he explains how difficult it's been trying to make a film since Garden State, and why Kickstarter was almost a last resort for making his second feature film (the interview with Braff begins at 7:26):
What Did We Learn?
The clips above are chock-full of great tidbits, but here are some of the bigger points I think have been lost in the noise:
- The budget for the film will be between 5 and 6 million dollars.
- They will be doing some foreign pre-sales.
- Braff is putting plenty of his own money into the project (He doesn't give a number, but I imagine it's at least $1 million).
- Kickstarter had their highest traffic day ever when Braff's project launched.
- He's been building and interacting with his community for years.
- Zach Braff reads and responds to comments (maybe he'll even read this post).
A huge chunk of the money raised will go to Kickstarter fees and fulfillment costs, something very few take into consideration. There is no question it's a lot of money -- I'm sure many of us could make 100 movies with that money -- but Braff wanted to make a project that was personal to him and he's been thwarted at almost every turn trying to get other films funded in the studio system.
Another point that has been brought up is how much Zach Braff is personally worth. Regardless of how much money he has made during his career, he's not doing this to make money, and it's clear that he doesn't have enough on hand to make this film without any outside help (in fact, in all likelihood, it will lose money -- and really, from a risk management point of view, putting every last dollar you have into a film isn't always the best idea). Judging by his frustration in the KCRW interview, I imagine he would have funded his own film long ago if he thought he could do it justice with his own money.
It also should be noted that even though crowdinvesting is technically legal (Braff mentions that it is not), it is not yet allowed. Until the SEC finishes writing their new rules, we'll have to settle for the way things currently are in the United States, even though smaller projects have been able to allow equity funding in other countries for some time now.
Hollywood Helps Kickstarter (and Us)
This brings us to the next point, that Kickstarter and people like Braff are taking money away from indies. It sounds good, in theory, but the reality couldn't actually be further from the truth. Kickstarter recently wrote a blog post detailing exactly what projects like Veronica Mars and Wish I Was Here are doing for the crowdfunding site. Here is a great quote from that post:
The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far. Nearly 40% of that has gone to other film projects.
We’ve seen this happen before. Last year we wrote a post called Blockbuster Effects that detailed the same phenomenon in the Games and Comics categories. Two big projects brought tons of new people to Kickstarter who went on to back more than 1,000 other projects in the following weeks, pledging more than $1 million. Projects bring new backers to other projects. That supports our mission too.
Consider the above for a moment. Those that donated to Braff's campaign have gone on to pledge money to an additional 2,200 projects totaling more than $400,000 (with close to $160,000 going just to other movies). This is not a zero sum game. I think it's important to reiterate that, because if we want to create some sort of sustainable future for filmmakers, we have to understand that the more people who know about and trust Kickstarter, the better.
They mention in the post that over 1 million people have donated to at least one campaign. That's certainly impressive, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who could be donating on Kickstarter. That means there are still millions of potential backers out there who may be interested in projects, but maybe don't know about the site or haven't had a reason to go. These big names are helping bring in a new audience, and the numbers show it.
Kickstarter Stopped Being Just for Small Projects Long Ago
Back in October we covered Goon, a Kickstarter campaign that David Fincher was lending his name to. That animated project wasn't even for a full-length movie -- merely a chance for the filmmakers to fund a pitch reel for investors (and they raised over $400,000). I tend to agree with some of the criticisms regarding that project, but I also mentioned that Kickstarter could give us a chance to see films we might never have seen otherwise (even though I'd prefer they fund the entire film on the website):
Hollywood is getting less and less risky with their projects, and one way they may actually be using a site like Kickstarter down the road is not necessarily to fund the projects themselves, but raise just enough money to get the project off the ground, and in the process, let the donators serve as a test audience. If the campaign is successful, it proves to financiers that there is enough demand to fund on a larger scale.
Even if you personally disagree with these projects, once campaigns for things like the Pebble watch started being funded for millions of dollars, any attempt at singling out a project for not belonging to Kickstarter "because it's not indie enough" kind of gets thrown out the window. It's far easier getting a product funded by investors than a film, so if we're going to go down that road, where does it end? Should we only allow art-based projects under $10,000 where nobody gets paid? Should we limit the site to only people who make a certain amount of money? The questions are endless, and they are all nonsense, because people vote with their wallets. If they want something, why should we stop them from having it just because we're not personally benefitting from a project?
No one who buys into anything on Kickstarter is able to reap any additional financial benefits for donating. That's just the way it is, and while that's going to change in the US, Kickstarter has already said they won't get into crowdinvesting, so the site will always be a donation-based platform. Kickstarter may have begun as a way for smaller projects to find money they couldn't get elsewhere, but it's become a much more diverse platform, and as the stats above show, the more attention brought to the site, the more money there is available for all sorts of projects -- benefitting everyone in the long run.
Why Didn't No Film School Actually Post the Campaigns for Veronica Mars or Wish I Was Here?
Simply put: they don't need our help. While we covered Goon, that was more to bring up a larger point about how Hollywood had started to use Kickstarter. Both Veronica Mars and Braff's campaign have been covered by every site imaginable, and were funded in a matter of hours. We try to stay indie-focused here as much as possible, and while that certainly carries many different definitions, I think it's important to lend our hand to much smaller projects that could actually use our help getting over the hump, while at the same time providing useful information. That's also why we don't really share campaigns for films that aren't also accompanied with a guest post or an interview -- something beyond just a pitch for money.
We certainly could reach out to both Rob Thomas and Zach Braff, but it would only be to try to give you some knowledge you haven't already gleaned from anywhere else on the internet.
Why This Matters
I certainly understand some of the jealousy and negative feelings toward "people with money" coming to Kickstarter. I've stretched every dollar with my own films, and I shot a feature for less than $3,000. When I see a project being funded for millions, it does hurt a little to think of how many films I could try to make with that money. But those aren't my campaigns, and it's not my money to spend (and it's likely not yours, either, unless you're Braff or Thomas reading this post). Those campaigns are funded because people want them to be funded. At least for the creative projects, they've built and fostered communities of people who want more of some thing, and if Kickstarter didn't exist, they may not get it. In my view, what sense does it make putting artificial barriers on a system that is intended to be open? Going down that path doesn't lead anywhere productive.
So many of us complain about Hollywood and the way movies are continually dumbed-down, but then when projects come along on Kickstarter that are actually anti-Hollywood in many ways, we question whether they are taking advantage of us and whether they belong on the site. This matters because film is mostly a commercial product, whether we like it or not, and if we want to continue making small movies that probably won't turn a profit, and can only be funded from the kindness of strangers, we need projects like Braff's that not only continue the spirit of independent filmmaking in Hollywood, but also bring along a whole new group of people who care about what we're doing.
As Hollywood searches for ways to make their films less risky and more profitable, we need independent film to stay strong and continue to make projects that move us and challenge us. The only way we're going to do that is by increasing the potential pool for donators or investors, and if people like Zach Braff can attract new people with his own personal projects, I say bring it on.
What do you guys think? Did you fund either campaign? Do you think a major studio would be able to fund something on Kickstarter for 10s of millions, or would there be backlash as Braff mentions? Let's have a healthy debate about this in the comments!