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'Future Creators Will Benefit': Kickstarter Weighs in on Spike Lee's Campaign

Spike Lee KickstarterThe last month has seen quite a bit of dissension amongst filmmakers regarding Spike Lee’s decision to crowdfund his latest film on Kickstarter, but the quarrel started much earlier with the campaigns for Veronica Mars and Zack Braff’s passion project. Some say these filmmakers are pulling away pledges that would be going into other projects, and others say they’re introducing the crowdsourcing platform to new backers. Kickstarter decided to give their two cents on the matter regarding whether or not celebrities, like Spike Lee, should fundraise on a platform used by creatives who don’t have the resources or connections more readily available to established, successful, and well-known filmmakers.

If Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars campaign lit the fire on the celebrity Kickstarter discord, Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here campaign added more wood, and Spike Lee’s poured the gasoline. Just a few days ago, Lee’s campaign met and surpassed its $1.25 million goal, which only added another dimension to the debate. Should celebrities use crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter and Indigogo?

The arguments I’ve heard against it state that celebrities are rich and can fund their movies themselves — they shouldn’t be asking money from their fans. Celebrities get to keep all of the money earned from their projects, and the backers who fronted them the money get a T-shirt and a tweet (not really — some perks include dinners, tickets to premieres, even a seat next to Spike Lee at a Knicks game.) But the most pervasive qualm with the whole thing is this: Celebrities are taking potential backers (and backer money) away from other campaigns.

On the side that supports celebrity Kickstarters is Kickstarter itself, writing a blog post addressing the naysayers of Spike Lee’s campaign, as well as others like it, providing a little bit more information and perspective for people to think about. Kickstarter says:

Kickstarter is not a zero-sum game where projects compete for pledges. All projects benefit from the network effect of a growing Kickstarter ecosystem – Spike Lee brought three decades of fans to Kickstarter when he launched his project. He introduced many of them to this new way of funding creative works, and to the thousands of other projects that are funding on Kickstarter. Of Spike’s backers, 47% had never backed a Kickstarter project before.

Essentially, the more people know about crowdfunding, the more crowdfunding there will be. More money will be pledged by backers for projects. However, many of us wonder, if all of those new backers are shelling out money for celebrity campaigns (who doesn’t want to be connected to a major project in any way possible?) where does that leave those of us who are less famous — or completely invisible to the creative world? Does the money pool eventually run dry?

Kickstarter addresses the idea of competition among campaigns in a blog post about the “blockbuster effect.” The question posed originates from the rise in number of Kickstarter campaigns, but it deals with the same general concept:

Projects aren’t fighting over a finite pool of Kickstarter dollars or backers. One project’s backer isn’t another project’s loss. The backers that one project brings often end up backing other projects as well. Each project is not only promoting itself, but the Kickstarter ecosystem as a whole.

According to Kickstarter, a campaign’s success isn’t negated by other campaigns, but by a poor ecosystem. In fact, they say other campaigns, especially celebrity campaigns help grow the Kickstarter ecosystem by bringing in more and more backers to whichever category the project belongs to, be it Film & Video, Games, Design, etc.

Double Fine Adventure is the largest project in Kickstarter history. With $3,336,371 pledge by 87,142 backers, the campaign consisted of  61,692 new backers (71%.)

Kickstarter new backersThe graph shows how Double Fine Adventure brought in a boatload of new pledges, stating that before the launch of the campaign, the Video Game category saw an average of 629 pledges per week, and after the launch averaged 9,755 — and those pledges exclude the ones from Double Fine.

So, be you opposed or for celebrity Kickstarter campaigns, it is important to be informed about the data that exists right now. In the future, I’m sure we’d all like to see the numbers related specifically to Film & Video, seeing as not all audiences, backers, and fans are the same across all platforms.

What do you think about Kickstarter’s views on celebrities using their platform? Let us know in the comments below.



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  • Spike lee is like visible drunk in that video. i mean is it just me?

  • Two observations:
    1. I don’t care much for how many new backers Spike brought in. What I care about is how many of those new “Spike backers” go on to back other projects. It would be interesting to know if the video game example carries over to the film world, but I suspect it won’t.

    2. Being excessively optimistic, the best we can say is that Kickstarter is not a zero sum game…YET. It doesn’t take a genius to see that once the Kickstarter user population tops off (point of zero growth), Kickstarter will be very much a zero sum game. And in that scenario, the celebrity projects will command the majority of the pledges.

    • Questionable Morals Media on 08.20.13 @ 3:13AM

      An observation on your comment. What percentage of new backers brought in by celebrity projects would fund other projects IF they weren’t part of the ecosystem? Even if not one of the new backers brought in by celebrity projects funds anything other than the celebrity project they came in for, it still does not pose a loss to the rest of the projects. However, as the number of new backers entering the system increases, so with them do the odds of potential backing. Further, contemplating the factor of the “zero growth” point is almost ludicrous because that number is mathematically too large to be relevant (as a “projected point of reference”). The data that matters, frankly the ONLY data that matters is cumulative funding expressed in relation to celebrity projects or their absence. If cumulative funding shows even a marginal gain in the presence of celebrity projects (when project funding is directly removed from the statistical model) it is a clear potential gain for every member in the ecosystem.

      • “What percentage of new backers brought in by celebrity projects would fund other projects IF they weren’t part of the ecosystem?”

        Zero. Unless they somehow found out about Kickstarter like the rest of us did, imagine that. But now that they are aware of celebrity projects, they will most likely stick to the celebrity projects.

        “the ONLY data that matters is cumulative funding expressed in relation to celebrity projects or their absence.”

        Completely disagree. That is the only data that matters to Kickstater’s accountants, which is why they openly endorse the celebrity projects. To be clear, I don’t really care much about this issue since it was inevitable. Hell I would pledge money to Joss Whedon to bring back Firefly. What I don’t like is to pretend that celebrity projects will not impact the undiscovered TALENTED filmmakers. (I don’t have sympathy for filmmakers that put out crap and then complain that they weren’t picked up). This is only the beginning, or “transient” phase people. When we reach the “equilibrium” phase in due time, online crowdfunding will be a a reflection of the current closed Hollywood system. So I advise everyone here to get in while the going is still good.

        Anyway not much point in arguing this further, the ball has started rolling and only time will tell who was right.

        • Jorge, I think a lot of your statements here are unfounded assertions. You are of course free to give your opinion, but your initial post is framed as if you’re making objective observations. You say for instance that new backers will “likely stick to celebrity projects”, but you have no evidential basis for doing so. You’re correct, of course, that kickstarter have a vested interest in attracting celebrity projects, but that also doesn’t mean they’re incorrect.

          • Agreed. All I’ve written is speculation based on my previous observations of systems. I wrote what I firmly believe “would have happened” and what I firmly believe “will happen”, but they’re just that, beliefs . The world will never know the “what would have happened” without celebrity Kickstaters. But in due time, the world will know what “will happen” with celebrity Kickstaters.

            This being the comment sections of a blog I did not think it was necessary to qualify each sentence with “IMO”.

            Introducing celebrities to Kickstater is like introducing a new super predator to an existing habitat. When the system finally reaches equilibrium, a new hierarchy will be in place with the super predator sitting comfortably on the top, and lesser species worse off than they were before.

            Introducing Celebs to Kickstater is the beginning of the end. Not for crowdfunding, but for crowdfunding unknown filmmakers.

            Indies will need to evolve a new solution to their funding problems. Everything is in constant flux and is continually evolving, you evolve or you die. Sometimes people poke fun and call early adopters “unpaid beta testers”. But IF you are savvy, being the first in the game can bring you a huge competitive advantage; and IF you are enterprising as well, your competition will never be able to make up the gap from your early adopter success.
            END IMO:

  • My opinion from the old Spike Lee post was the same as the Kickstarter’s. However, funds will always be scarce. It’s just an economic reality and, at some point, it’s quite possible that the celebrity share will become too large with most of the new filmmakers getting squeezed out of the process.
    On the other hand, I have long felt that the democratization of the movie industry will mean a downward move from the top and, less occasionally, an upward move from the bottom. In other words, most notable films will come from those already in the loop rather than those out of it.

  • Last time I checked this is still a somewhat free country. People can give their money to anything they want. If fans want to back a movie of a filmmaker they like, let them.

    I wonder if movies are really getting funded by strangers looking at random kickstarter movie projects that seem interesting? My guess is that most film projects are funded by people that somehow already know the kickstarter. You might get an occasional stranger that backs a film project but I doubt that is the rule.

    Maybe the funding ecosystem improves with more credibility to kickstarter but I doubt these new backers will back other projects outside of their sphere of knowledge.

    Since Spike Lee, Rob Thomas, and Zach Braff were smart enough to leverage this platform, more power to them. As the post mentions, they get funding for their projects with very little payout to the funders. They get to have their cake and eat it too.

  • I don’t get it. If you don’t want to give your money to a kickstarter participant then just don’t give them “your” money. To care about a situation/project that won’t affect your own project by any measurable degree is ridiculous. WHY would one believe that just because successful film makers have fans that want to support them that somehow those same fans will not give to other projects/film makers they are also fans of. This is what some people are really saying; “Hello sir. I know you are a big fan of Steven Spielburg’s work but you should not give him money to make his film although you really WANT to give him money to make his film. Why you say? because I have the right to tell you what to do with your own money”.

  • The old trickle down theory.

    Directors like Spike Lee exist on a level that most crowd funders don’t. It’s stupid to think his success using Kickstarter will benefit small time directors like me. If anything, it will make it easier for other directors like him to use Kickstarter.

  • Howard L Hughes on 08.20.13 @ 7:18AM

    It doesn’t matter. His fans aren’t your fans. Get off your butts and find your target audience. come up with realistic budgets. I find speaking to people with money and are willing to part with it easier than asking middle class and lower for funds they may have trouble letting go of. But i also find the middle class and lower to give smaller amounts more often than the well off. this is based on my own research for my short.

    • AGREED! To all the people who are bitching about perceived wealthy and successful film makers using KS, find your own fan base! We all want to be successful and it’s easier to get a film made that you REALLY want to make if you spread out the costs amongst hundreds or thousand of financiers.

  • My personal experience with Kickstarter has been that funding relies heavily on your targeted demographic and YOUR social network skills along with with friends and family.
    I ran a campaign last summer that had a very modest goal in relation to the scope of the film.
    I have major rock stars, legends, exclusively interviewed for the film, hired a publicist and got tons of local media coverage including the #1 morning radio show. We busted our butts and came up with less than half of our goal.
    The lesson I learned?
    My demographic is the 35 and over crowd.
    The people who still buy CDs and DVDs but don’t tweet and probably don’t own a smartphone.
    These funding campaigns rely heavily on awareness. And most of my demo, didn’t know about and/or “get” Kickstarter.
    As much as I hate to admit it, these celebrity Kickstarters may really help someone like me because it brings a wider range of awareness and acceptance to crowd funding.

    • Anthony Marino on 08.20.13 @ 9:49AM

      Good advice, but you really think the 35 and older crowds don’t use smartphones?? We invented the damn things. Haha. Probably more like 55 and up. But you’re on the right track, you’re more likely to get more funding after each project once you proven yourself. Sounds like you’re on your way, keep at it :)

    • The be all and end all of it is that Spike’s pitch didn’t cut it with me, personally, as a backer. I’m not that into Zach Braff but I thought at least his pitch was justified and don’t see why any project can’t be funded for such reasons. At the end of the day, we all want to make movies right? And investment will ALWAYS come with a huge outside influence on the final cut. I would rather live in a world where I know that no matter how successful I get, I can still make the movie that *I* want to make and not the movie that the money guys want to make. Isn’t the Golden Goose actually making a movie that you want to make and still get paid? Doesn’t matter how successful these dudes are, studio investment is never gonna give them the platform to be completely autonomous. I think if you take a look at the response that these kind of campaigns have received, I seriously doubt they are gonna make life more difficult for the small-time movie maker.

      • ^^^ +1

        I agree did not like spike lee’s pitch and efforts either , The whole notion of “im not going to tell you the about the movie, because it will ruin the movie, is absurd and complete BS. Because if that was the case, there would be no need for movie trailers.

        Then he goes on to say WOODY ALLEN didnt tell about his movies either , well SPIKE LEE, you are not woody allen and woody allen is not on kickstarter either.

        All publicity is not all good publicity, I would just hate to see the bubble burst on kickstarte because of these spoiled fools ruining it for others.

        I just find it hard to believe for a man that has damn near sideline courtside knicks tickets, a slew of funding from prior showtime, liquor campaigns, nike commercials, celebrity friends, a professors salary, h3ll he even did a broadway stage play with mike tyson, i just do not have sympathy for this fool. He owns equipment, teaches at NYU, so he should easily be able to get a loan if he feels that strongly that his next film would be a winner.

        I will however give you the truth about why SPIKE LEE was on kickstarter, The truth is that he has borrowed already so much from celebrity friends, the truth is that his last film “red hook summer ‘ WAS a dud, no body wants to give him anymore money and his better movie better be decent, because eventually if it is not even his bridges will be burned with kickstarter if he produces another mediocre film.

    • “The lesson I learned?
      My demographic is the 35 and over crowd.
      The people who still buy CDs and DVDs but don’t tweet and probably don’t own a smartphone.”

      Dude are you serious? If you think people over THIRTY FIVE don’t tweet or own a smartphone or still buy CD’s then THAT should be your lesson bro! Hahaha!

      • Detroit Breakdown on 08.20.13 @ 2:25PM

        I won’t bother to post links to stats, you can google that yourself.
        After 35, social media use, smartphone ownership and general Internet awareness begin to drop off significantly.
        Less so on the coasts but here in the Midwest, more so.
        Admittedly, my films demographic is probably closer to the 45+ but the stats still hold true nonetheless.

  • Of course kickstarter is happy, they are making a lot of money. They don’t care if you are famous or not but more about how much you can bring in to their business.

  • Who are these idiots giving away money to commercial ventures with no stake in the return?

  • Nah, I’m digging Spike Jonze Newest Hottest Love Joint (“Her”) way more than Lee.

  • 29 x 10,000
    7x 10,000
    20x 5000

    Um…. I don’t know these aren’t pledges we would ever see. I’m pretty sure the only reason the project was fully funded was fans + friends with money.

    The usual crowd fund is fans + friends and family helping to make a dream come true.

    I don’t see any real issue – personally I have not yet funded any of the established Hollywood folks – I tend to fund projects of friends and people who I think really have motivation to make something out of passion.

    If people want to fund Hollywood projects – knock yourself out – but I sure as hell won’t.

  • IMO,people need to ride this wave a little longer. After Lee and Braff will come many other celebs but not all of them will get funded and that might turn the ebb and flow of this business back toward the smaller producers/filmmakers again. The key for KS, of course, lies in their commission of the total funds raised and that should benefit the less known independents.
    Additionally, I expect to have a “for profit” crowd sourcing business emerge, something that already has been tried by Max Byalostok and Leo Bloom.

    • It will be interesting to see producers specializing in crowd funding rise through the social media ranks.

  • i think it’s silly that a multimillionaire highly successful filmmaker has to eat up slices of the indie funding cake to prove an egotistical point.