Alan Jones on why Kickstarter campaigns for ‘Wish I Was Here’ and ‘Veronica Mars’ have set a terrible precedent
This definitely qualifies as yucking other people’s yums but it explores some stuff that’s been bumming me out about kickstarter. Crowd-sourcing is about people with small scale financial means but without large-scale power being able to help art happen. That’s awesome. But when you throw celebrities and actual studios into the mix, there’s another power element there that - I think - makes it possible for well-meaning people to be taken advantage of, to be less discerning and more trusting on a frontier that doesn’t actually have a ton of legit oversight. (On the other hand, who am I to decide somebody else is being taken advantage of?)
Anyway. Point is, Kickstarter is getting messy. And it’s kind of interesting to see what happens next.
Alan Jones thinks Zach Braff is “abusing” Kickstarter because he is using it to raise money for a film when he could clearly finance it himself, probably, we think, maybe, based on what his income was six years ago when he was still regularly working on television.
What’s really going on here is that Alan Jones doesn’t like Garden State (“has aged rather poorly”, he says) and doesn’t think Braff deserves the money that his fans are voluntarily giving him. Jones doesn’t really have any other legitimate complaint.
If you need a $100,000 to make a film, it doesn’t matter to your accountant whether you borrow the $100,000 from one person or borrow $25 from 4,000 people. But if you are making the film, which situation would you rather choose?
$100,000 is a significant pile of cash, even if you’re rich. Unless this is a gift from your family, whoever gives you that money is probably going to want something in return. They are going to be anxious that the film you create actually makes enough money for them to get their investment back, plus a profit. They are going to have opinions about how the film turns out.
On the other hand, those 4,000 people only gave you $25. If the film sucks, or is never even made, well, that sucks. But it’s only $25.
Yes, I already know how Kickstarter works, you say. My point is that spreading financial risk and artistic independence are tightly related. What makes Kickstarter novel is not the spreading of risk, but the ability to spread the risk out so thinly that, in the worst case scenario, nobody gets badly hurt at all. So the following from Alan Jones doesn’t really make any sense:
Although Braff’s stated goal on the project was to avoid having financiers meddle with his vision of the film, it’s really more a way for Braff to avoid taking any personal financial risk on the project. … Even if he doesn’t have $2 million to spare right now, he could almost certainly get a loan for that amount, especially if the film is fully insured.
As I noted above, Scrubs ended years ago and Braff hasn’t done anything as high-profile since; it is highly unlikely that he has $2 million just sitting in a savings account. So how does Alan Jones thinks bank loans work? Somebody from the bank evaluates the project and if they don’t think they will earn back all of the loan principal plus interest, they won’t loan the money. How many films make a profit? If a bank actually issued this loan the loan officer would almost certainly take an interest in the content of the film. The fact is most banks wouldn’t even bother. That’s why most films aren’t financed with bank loans.
Mr. Jones goes on to complain about the rewards that people have voluntarily paid for:
For $10,000, one lucky “backer” gets to have a line in Braff’s movie. Usually, that sort of thing is called acting, and on a “larger-scale” project, the actor receives money instead of giving it out. So not only is that “backer” giving $10,000 to a rich person, (s)he’s also taking money away from some needy Los Angelino Starbucks barista that could use the gig.
This is a logical fallacy. There is no guarantee that whatever throwaway line they are offering as a reward would otherwise be in the movie at all. (Also, did you notice that the higher reward levels tend to have more of a influence over the content of the project? This is not a coincidence.)
More likely, that one line would have traditionally gone to the niece of a $100,000 “investor”. (Also, Starbucks offers its employees health insurance, so I don’t think “needy” is a fair description.)
The idea that just being in a Zach Braff movie, any Zach Braff movie, is worth $10,000, is an insult to the collaborative nature of filmmaking; it’s insulting to the people that use services like Kickstarter and IndieGogo because they actually need the money; and it’s insulting to fans who are told that they need to sacrifice, with no potential for a financial return, if they want to see their favourite TV show return to life for a couple more hours.
No, Alan Jones. What is insulting is deriding the people who are sincerely excited for a project, enough to invest their own money, simply because you don’t care for the director. (Note that is only insulting to pay for a line in “any Zach Braff movie”.)
Jones seems to think that the people who actually need the money would have gotten it if it weren’t for Zach Braff’s project sucking it all way. Did he consider that maybe a lot of his fans (who apparently have no taste) learned about Kickstarter for the first time thanks to his project? And that maybe some small percentage will browse around and find some interesting projects by people they don’t know from a successful prime time television show?
And if that doesn’t happen, doesn’t that mean those people never would have given money to those needy artists anyway? So who exactly is losing what here?
It’s unfair to ask these artists to compete with the likes of Warner Bros.
But that’s what they are doing, 100% of the time! Even if Kickstarter carefully ensured that only the poorest artists with the most integrity were allowed on Kickstarter, those artists are still competing with Warner Bros. and Paramount and Nintendo and Zynga and McDonalds for people’s money and attention.
Yes, it kind of sucks that Zach Braff is already famous and so he has an easier time getting attention for his Kickstarter than you do. But how many projects are funded by people just browsing around Kickstarter randomly? It is a tool, to help you raise money, but the responsibility for convincing people to hand over their money is yours. That always involves having some work already out there, so that people have something to back up your claim that you can do what you say you want to do with their money.
Yeah, it’s unfair that it is easier for famous people than “needy” people. But that’s not unique to Kickstarter. If anything, Kickstarter is a massive improvement here.
I don’t know what Alan Jones wants. He says filmmaking is business, and only those with capital to risk should reap the rewards. (See: his entire sixth paragraph.) But he also believes that crowd funding a project is a noble and honorable way to create art. So why exactly is it bad if Warner Bros. uses it to finance a film?
P.S. Nicole, I didn’t really address your concern, which is valid, but you might like to know that the average Kickstarter donation is $25. I imagine eventually somebody will get ripped off at the $1,000 and Kickstarter’s lawyers and/or the government will begin regulating the environment, but it may take a while.