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?