Another Hollywood Celeb Takes To Kickstarter To Raise $2 Million. Some Thoughts To Consider...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 24, 2013 12:06 PM
31 Comments
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While I wouldn't say that the proverbial floodgates have been opened thanks to the overwhelmingly supportive response to the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign that blew past its original $2 million goal, raising almost $6 million in the end, but we may look back on that campaign, years from now, as the one that changed everything about Hollywood feature film financing.

Or maybe not, and that's all just hyperbole.

But something's happening here that I think we all should be paying attention to. I'm not sure if we'll really know what the effects of all this will be for some time. 

This morning, Zach Braff (long-time star of  the TV show Scrubs, most recently seen on the big screen in Oz the Great and Powerful, and who made his writing/directing debut in 2004 with the indie hit Garden State) is following in the footsteps of the Veronica Mars team, launching a Kickstarter campaign for his next film, Wish I Was Here

The goal is set at $2 million, just like the Veronica Mars campaign. 

Braff tells The Hollywood Reporter that he turned to Kickstarter over studios and individual financiers because, "When you’re trying to make these smaller personal art films, the idea of giving final cut away to someone else, it doesn’t make any sense for me."

As of the time of this post, the campaign has already raised over $400,000 - keep in mind, it just launched this morning, so it's very well on its way to raising the entire $2 million, in 30 days, which is how long the campaign is set for. He's already raised more than 20% in a matter of hours.

I'm sitting here thinking of all those indie feature film campaigns by *unknowns* that we've featured, and continue to feature on this site who would LOVE to raise $400,000 over a 60-day period; Braff has raised that much in a matter of hours. And most of those campaigns are asking for, on average, $25,000 to $40,000, and have difficulty reaching what are relatively minuscule amounts, compared to what Braff is trying to raise here.

If it's not already clear, I'm one of those people who is a little concerned about where all this is going. I'm watching it all unfold closely, and I haven't made up my mind as to whether I think this is a good idea or not. Power to the people, right? The process has been democratized, and when we talk about the people having a say in what films are produced, this is exactly that idea in practice, isn't it? So, for all intents and purposes, it's a good thing!

But something about it all still bothers me a little...

The average indie filmmaker with no celebrity or industry connections, no notoriety, with nothing but a dream to see their small, indie film or web series, become a reality, beginning with a campaign to raise $30,000, is one thing. 

A multi-million campaign by those with industry/celebrity connections, notoriety, and, in some cases, lots of money of their own (enough to fund, whether individually, or collectively) that multi-million project, is something else. I'm just not sure what that is exactly.

But I suppose if fans are willing to cough up money to see these projects become realities, then who am I to discourage them? I guess I just wish there was the same kind of fervor for those  smaller projects that REALLY could use the help.

I do wonder though, with Veronica Mars, and now this Zach Braff project, raising millions of dollars from thousands and thousands of individual backers (almost 100,000 helped fund Veronica Mars), what the reaction will be from those same contributors if one of these projects, when released, becomes a box office blockbuster, grossing, let's say, over $100 million. Would all of those fans who contributed $100 be content with the *rewards* associated with that pledge level (copy of the script, T-shirt, movie poster and Blu-Ray/DVD of the film), or would some of them suddenly feel like they deserve a stake in the film's financial success, since they helped finance it?

And let's throw in other ancillary as well as other potential revenue streams for any one of these projects, or others that will surely come after these 2, which could launch extremely profitable franchises. The studios that release the films, as well those involved in the making of the films (producers, director, actors) will certainly see percentages of those huge profits, and maybe even over several years. But all of you who directly contributed to the financing of the films, will most certainly not!

Does that sit well with you? Did you even consider that if you contributed to these campaigns?

A Kickstarter-funded project has yet to reach those heights yet, as far as I know, so I'm really curious to see what the reaction will be when the first one does. It's one thing for a "little indie film that could," financed via Kickstarter, making 5-, 6- or even 7-figures in theatrical receipts plus home video release revenue. It's another for a multi-million project with Hollywood actors and filmmakers, grossing tens of millions, or hundreds of millions of dollars, and then some.

I think I also fear that studios may see this as a kind of proving ground, or we could even say "audience pre-sale" for smaller projects that are pitched to them. A studio exec could tell a Hollywood director, actor, or producer who pitches a project to them, to first use Kickstarter to raise a certain percentage of the money they are asking for, and if that money is raised, then it proves to the studio that there is an audience for that particular project package, and the project is put in play after that.

However, the only *reward" the average contributor gets is a t-shirt, poster, and the joy of eventually seeing the film on screen. But maybe that's enough to most who donate.

After the Veronica Mars campaign ended, I read/heard a few folks analyzing the campaign - why it worked, if there's some science to it, something that others can learn from and mimic, etc. I really don't think much analysis is necessary here. We're talking about a TV show that was on for a few seasons, built (and still has) a fairly large cult following, from all that I've read about it, who really want to see the series revived in some way, and are seemingly ecstatic to have this opportunity to directly impact whether or not the film gets made.

When a large group of people collectively get behind a project, this is what happens. Success!

In March, following the Veronica Mars campaign, Mara Brock Akil tested the waters via Twitter, asking her followers to let her know if they would support a Kickstarter campaign to finance a Girlfriends movie. No word on what the outcome of that was. I don't believe she's talked about it since then.

Also, there was Aaron McGruder's own attempt (before the Veronica Mars campaign), for his Uncle Ruckus movie - a campaign that ran for 30 days, seeking what now seems like a paltry $200,000 (compared to what others are asking for now) but was unsuccessful in raising that money. The total contributed by the end of the campaign was $129,000 - just over 50%. 

But the Veronica Mars project raised more than half of its goal (which is 10 times what McGruder was asking for) in less than a day; and Zach Braff has raised over $400,000 in a matter of a few hours. McGruder couldn't raise $200,000 in 30 days.

Also worth considering is that success begets more success. Because of the names involved in the Mars project and also Braff's, the mainstream media (major sites like Deadline, Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly, and many others read by millions of people both in and outside the industry) covered both campaigns, which only helped drive even more traffic to the projects' Kickstarter pages, with many of those clicks likely turning into contributions as well. 

I can't say that McGruder's campaign got the same kind and volume of attention - especially not immediately after the campaign was launched, as was the case for the other 2. The black media did cover McGruder's campaign, but still only a select few. And of those few, I don't think any of the major black media sites did. Much of the coverage came from blogs like S&A.

All this made we wonder about any black films that we could see funded at this level - in the multi-million dollar range - via Kickstarter; or used as a demonstration to show studios that there are audiences for certain projects. I'm thinking of a few that we've written about on this site, that seemed (and still seem) to appeal to a large number of you folks, based on number of comments, and what is said within those comments, shares on Facebook and Twitter, etc. 

Most recently, there was Ernest Dickerson's revelation that he has a solid completed script adaptation of Octavia Butler's Clay's Ark, but hasn't been able to find the money to get it produced.

I recall some of you even suggested in the comments section of that post, that Dickerson launch a Kickstarter campaign for the project, and you'd gladly contribute to it! Your enthusiasm was great to see, although, as someone pointed out, a film like this will likely require more than a couple of million dollars - or maybe not! After all, I didn't ask Ernest what his budget for the film was. 

However, future dystopian wastelands created on film, as well as alien life forms, and the like, don't usually come cheap. 

But, as I also stated, a Kickstarter campaign for a project like that, or any of the many others we've said that we'd like to see produced, could serve as a launching pad - essentially, as proof to studios that there's a passionate, large enough audience for these films, and demonstrating this fact by raising $2 million (for example) could encourage a studio exec to sit up and pay attention to the potential, and, in the end, greenlight the project.

Ultimately, to wrap this all up, studio filmmaking aside, WE can decide what gets made, and what we see. If Hollywood's black cinema output isn't appealing to you, contribute to those Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns we post on this site that DO appeal to you - especially those from indie filmmakers without the industry connections, celebrity pals, money of their own, etc. Help those folks out! And don't just contribute - be a rabid fan! Share the campaign, tell everyone of your Facebook friends about it, as well as your Twitter followers. And don't just tell them once; tell them twice, thrice, or more, spread out over the length of the campaign you're supporting of course.

And as I wondered earlier, with Veronica Mars, and now this Zach Braff project, raising millions of dollars from thousands and thousands of individual backers, what might the reaction be from those same contributors if one of these projects, when released, becomes a huge box office success, grossing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, plus any ancillary revenue? Would all of those fans who contributed $100 be content with the *rewards* associated with that pledge level, or would some of them suddenly feel entitled to a stake in the film's financial success, since they helped finance it?

Would you be more willing to contribute to a campaign if your contribution was more of an investment in the project - meaning, you'll get to participate at some level, in the film's profits?
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31 Comments

  • Rodney | April 26, 2013 5:29 PMReply

    Celebrities raising funds on Kickstarter is not necessarily a zero sum game. It doesn’t take away from other projects. Their celebrity should make more people aware of crowdfunding and bring new contributors to the site. Kickstarter itself is still growing. They’re nowhere near the top site in terms of traffic.

  • Frank | April 26, 2013 5:00 PMReply

    These campaigns are examples of group economics slapping us (and Hollywood) in the face. I don't particularly want to see a Veronica Mars movie, but somebody does and they're voting with their dollars, can't knock it. Every black indie film campaign that we see and don't support we're making it harder to give us an alternate portrayal of black life, and we're relegated to the false image of us that we're fed through slavery movies, The Atlanta Housewives, Love and Hip Hop, and Worldstar. (Damn it's even hard to find examples of any black males under 50 , let alone positive ones in Film and TV, notice how they did that?)
    Anyway Tambay, I'm hoping to be the next Zach Braff and raise a whole $25000 dollars for my film "Iniquities" on Indiegogo. Let's see what we can do, and I appreciate anyone who checks me out.

  • Stephanie | April 24, 2013 11:03 PMReply

    I can't knock these stars for doing what they're doing, because it obviously works, but I just can't help but feel weird about it. I wonder what celeb will be next in asking their fans to pay twice for the same movie. I definitely agree that it would just be nice to see people who actually need the money be able to raise these type of funds.
    Please check out my web series campaign on Indiegogo "Sessions Season 2"

  • Daryl | April 24, 2013 8:48 PMReply

    Good article Tambay. You hit it on the head, I feel like a celeb who has millions in the bank and connections to people with money is a little bit selfish using kickstarter. The people you highlighted are worth 10's of millions of dollars and got connections with people with money but want the poor or middle class man and woman to backed their project because they don't want to spend their own money or get their rich friends to spend their money, that's some bs, I would rather back a project by a real independent filmmaker that really need the money because they don't have the money or connections to get the money. While we are talking about kickstarter , I think it's a waste a time for real independent filmmakers, I feel you make a film on the money you have. If you only got $100 to your name to make a film, do a film that you will be able to make with a $100. Filmmaking is a process, you use the resources you got and when you able to get more resources than you can do more with your next film and so on.

  • Amare Ngobo | April 24, 2013 10:41 PM

    Exactly. S&A featured a kickstarter recently where the dame asked for money to buy a RED cam. Because a DSLR just won't do for her webseries. Unbelievable.

  • urbanauteur | April 24, 2013 7:04 PMReply

    KICKSTARTER seems to have been "BASTARDIZED" like the term INDEPENDENT.

  • Nadia | April 24, 2013 6:09 PMReply

    Welp, he's already reached $1 million. So he's raised half the money he needs in less than 24 hours and it's a 30 day campaign. So he should get his $2 million. Boy I bet you after this one which makes it 2 in a row, more Hollywood people are going to be launching projects on Kickstarter.

  • bohemian princess | April 24, 2013 4:04 PMReply

    I supported the Veronica Mars project because it was the only way Warner Brothers would even consider allowing the film to be made. I knew then that it would open up the floodgates for a bunch of copycat Hollywood insiders to cash in on the idea. Now smaller filmmakers will be pushed further to the sidelines while the established industry folk suck off the teat of the common folk, and for those of you that think I'm exaggerating Zach Braff has admitted that he was in fact inspired by the Veronica Mars project and the fans. While I don't regret supporting VMars that is the last time I will do such a thing. Zach Braff's project will undoubtedly be successful but not because of anything I did.

    All that being said Melissa Joan Hart launched a Kick Starter project about 2 weeks ago asking for the same $2 million dollar amount(she too was inspired by VMars as indicated in her pitch video) but has yet to raise more than 1% of what she's asking for.

  • FactChecker | April 24, 2013 3:09 PMReply

    For all of you Chicken Littles, the sky is not falling! This is not a game change for the movie business and this is not a new model for how movies will be getting made. V. Mars was a complete anomaly. The consumer has the power. No one is holding a gun to anyone's head to fund anything! Some of these stars (Whoopi, Matthew Lillard) may have a small niche group that wants to help with a very particular "niche" (read: indie) type project, but most don't have a fan base that's going to give thousands!!!

    I guarantee Braff doesn't.

    This is like any product or service offered in a capitalistic society. It's ability to survive and thrive is dependent on supply and demand. It's Econ 101, which every American entrepreneur should be required to take.

    If people want it (obviously, a bunch of "fringe" V. Mars fans did) they'll pay for it. If they don't (I'm talking to you Aaron MacGruder) they won't. It's REALLY simple.

    And for indie filmmakers and producers you should probably use the Spike Lee method (Credit cards) or become your own booker (Ava DuVernay) rather than hoping and praying that legions of fans will even so-call "invest" in your unknown, unproven, unfinished product.

    Because no one with any investment sense -- that is unless they have money to burn -- is going to dole out $$$ for something that's unfinished and unproven. It's a simple fact of business.

  • NO BRAINER | April 25, 2013 11:51 AM

    LOL @ NOTQUITE... I was, "He (Braff) doesn't??? HUH?" Where do Shadow & Act find these jokers...lol

  • nedra | April 24, 2013 8:29 PM

    yeah...might want to check out where Braff's campaign is now.
    he's over 1 million in the first day.

    still believe it IS a game-changer. curious to see how it all unfolds in the next few years.
    heard of seed and spark? lots of these sites are popping up all over the place and folks are jumping on em.

  • NotQuite | April 24, 2013 3:35 PM

    "I guarantee Braff doesn't"

    Well he's almost at $800,000 in u der 8 hours. Looks like he does.

  • girlwithanidea | April 24, 2013 2:15 PMReply

    I'd like to propose an omnibus film, which is a film made by several filmmakers, for or black directors, funded by us. Produced by Nekisa Cooper with directors Rodney Evans, Barry Jenkins, Matthew Cherry, Tanya Hamilton, Tina Mabry, Ava Duvernay, Dee Rees, Terence Nance, Rashaad Ernesto Green and Andrew Dosumo and we all crowd fund it. So if we raise $2 million and each director gets $100k to make their part. That would be incredible. We could call it "Shadow and Act!"

  • NO BRAINER | April 25, 2013 11:44 AM

    CRILEY asks, "Second question is, do we have enough people who even know and care who they all are to fund it?"

    NO, which asks another question: "Does it have to be these directors?" Most of them are not very good. Are they supposed to be the next big thing in black filmmaking? Yeah right.

  • Presto | April 24, 2013 3:48 PM

    PARIS JE'TAIME is a cool omnibus. Tambay you should do this. Although I'd add Rashaad Ernesto Green and Ryan Coogler too.

  • Banta | April 24, 2013 3:38 PM

    After I looked up - omnibus - I think this would be a real cool idea.

  • CRiley | April 24, 2013 2:39 PM

    This is Not a bad idea. A couple questions come to mind. Would they all do it? Barry Jenkins and Dee Rees have big deals with Focus Pictures and Ava DuVernay seems to be on a roll. Terence Nance has JayZ behind him. That kind of thing may make some of them not do it. Then again it wouldnt take that much time and they could be in control of their own part, like a short. $100k for a short is nothing to sneeze at since each of their first full film was under a million I believe. Second question is, do we have enough people who even know and care who they all are to fund it? $2 million is a lot of money. By the way, good old Zach Braff is now crossing the $700,000 mark. It's been less than 6 hours. The power of whiteness on full display.

  • Janet | April 24, 2013 2:11 PMReply

    I wish Kickstarter would either give them their own seperate VIP section-- or have the celebs give back 10% to some of us once they receive their $$$. I know that membership has it's privileges, but this is going the same way as the film festivals.
    The unknowns get kicked to the curb.

  • Nicole | April 24, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    I know of an artist who raised $30,000 on Kickstarter to shoot a music video of a then 3 year old song. She shot it and over a year later no one has seen the video.

  • Junebug Presents | April 24, 2013 1:50 PMReply

    Interesting. As an African-American filmmaker myself, I hope I could raise $5000 for the post production of my film "Grey Dawn (2013)" on kickstarter. Our Indiegogo campaign was unsuccessful but we hustled to make the film regardless, and its almost done. I will certainly need the support of people here, especially those who want to support up-and-coming black filmmakers like myself. We will soon lock picture in the editing process for the next stage, which involves color correction, sound editing, special effects, etc. Like our Facebook fan page for information on when the Kickstarter campaign will start: facebook.com/GreyDawnShort. You can also see stills on the fan page pulled from the actual film and/or follow us on Twitter atGreyDawnShort. Help me complete this film in time for the summer. Thank you.

  • Darkan | April 24, 2013 3:47 PM

    Went to your Facebook page Junebug Presents. Very interesting project. Loved the story concept and it seems like the film is gonna be entertaining. Keep up the great work!

  • Chickasaw | April 24, 2013 1:45 PMReply

    I don't contribute, won't contribute, awaiting the results. I do forsee some crowd funded project making big money & not giving the funders a cut. They should at least get their money back or lots of swag. Like maybe an invite to a private screening event w/free food & goodie bags for folks who gave more than $25 and free movie tickets for the rest.

    But S&A, y'all really don't post Kickstarters of unknowns, just folks less known to the general public. It's like pulling teeth to get y'all to even post completed trailers, videos, or press releases from folks who don't already have some kind of heat or relationship with y'all. Ain't the end of the world, just funny to see you lament the "unknown" filmmaker.

  • Janet | April 24, 2013 2:14 PM

    Ditto.

  • nedra | April 24, 2013 1:24 PMReply

    holy crap.
    major game-change happening right now...and it makes me excited, yet very uncomfortable.

  • nedra | April 24, 2013 1:31 PM

    and now, after sitting at the computer for 5 minutes, i have watched Zach Braff add $20,000 to his campaign. seems like if it's this easy, everyone in Hollywood will be jumping onboard.
    like, today.

  • CT | April 24, 2013 1:07 PMReply

    I think your article is right on the button in that we are at a crossroads with the film crowdfunding schemes, especially now that more and more 'celebrities' with large disponsal incomes are using their fans credit cards for pet personal projects that they clearly do not feel comfident enough to finance themselves or that may never get funded otherwise.

    Saying that, I still think its fair enough that anyone should be able to go out and raise any large (say over $500k) sum of money for a film as long as there are folks who are determined to suport them, but I believe that any project seeking funding over that sum should be required to structure themselves in some way that recognises the value of the crowd.

    After all by putting the film into distribution the intention is to make sales and recoup the very same crowd funded budget (and sometimes crowd funded marketing/self-distribution costs) and then hopefully go into profit therafter. I feel that these larger projects as such should be ready to repay the crowd and share some of that profit with all or some of the crowd that funded the film.

    I know this may all require a bit more awareness by the crowd and more disclosure from the project, but thats only fair isnt it.

  • NinaG | April 24, 2013 1:01 PMReply

    I'm not interested in becoming an investor through these crowdfunding campaigns but in some ways it seems these larger productions are kind of treating their supporters as such. There doesn't seem to be any guarantee that this Zach Braff film (or the Veronica Mars joint) will be made and released (w/ wide distribution). I'll stick to giving to artists who have moved far beyond the "I have a great idea" phase and have taken their own financial risks to make their project happen.

  • amo | April 24, 2013 12:30 PMReply

    I hear you. It seems like the bar on Kickstarter has been raised substantially -- not in any official way, but affected by multiple high end projects that have been funded there. I first used the site back in 2009 to raise just $1,500 for a documentary project I was working on. Back then, that felt like a reasonable and respectable amount to go for, given several factors. If I were to do it again now, in 2013, that amount would seem like a pittance that would reflect poorly on the quality and reach of the project. You see nonfiction and other media projects going for a minimum of $10K, and often more -- which takes a lot of work to pull of if you are the average non-Hollywood connected person. I think these higher stakes also influence the traditional funders (ie Sundance, which "curates" projects on Kickstarter) --- are we at the point where if a funder doesn't think you can raise at least $10K through crowdfunding, will they be less likely to support the project as well? Are large crowdfunding campaigns the new litmus test, whether or not crowdfunding actually fits the project?

  • Leon Breckenridge | April 24, 2013 12:28 PMReply

    We have been trained in our community to be cheap with black things. If you black and we black I should get the hook-up. We don't see each other as value. Once we understand that, we could get things done. And also the people that want to support have no money but the people can support won't for many reasons. So we have to create a market and help understand that what they want is what they get.

  • michele | April 24, 2013 1:24 PM

    on point comment ITA

  • Aaron | April 24, 2013 12:24 PMReply

    I think the only thing that kept McGruder from reaching his goal was that it was for movie about UNCLE RUCKUS. Who really wants to see him on the big screen for an hour? If it was a Boondocks movie then the goal may have been reached and then some but we really were not feeling an Uncle Ruckus film when I like some people have been wondering what a live action Boondocks film would be like. Mr. Witherspoon dressed like Granddad and just do a search for children who can pull off a Huey and Riley impression. It really wouldn't be hard to find a Riley but a Huey would take a lot of searching.

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