I’ve been seeing a lot of backlash the last few weeks due to two projects on Kickstarter, one for a Veronica Mars movie and the other for a Zach Braff movie. The arguments against the validity of these two projects are largely comprised of: why are you giving money to people who have tons of money already when you could be giving that money to help research a cure to cancer … or something. Usually there is another project or two that follow the cancer suggestion (is there a Kickstarter fund cancer research?). What this amounts to is a straw argument–because you funded this thing that I deem unworthy this other thing that I think is important won’t get funded. The reason this is a straw argument is that it presupposes that the person who is giving the money is logging onto Kickstarter, thinking, well fuckballs, I have $50 to donate to something today … I wonder what that thing should be. Oh hey, this thing looks interesting, but wait, there’s a shiny Veronica Mars project. I think I’ll support that thing instead. Instead. It’s never and in these arguments.
I contributed money to the Veronica Mars project. Why did I do this? Did I make a Sophie’s choice and kill some other project arbitrarily? No. I went to Kickstarter because of the Veronica Mars project. Because I was sad when the show was cancelled and when everyone involved tried to find a way to bring it back, but were unable to. Sometimes a beloved program finds a studio-like organization to resurrect it (like Netflix and Arrested Development). And sometimes those number crunchers don’t value the thing the way that the people who love the program do. Does this make the project not valid. Veronica Mars raised over $5 million dollars on Kickstarter from 91,000 people. The backlash suggests that all of these people are rubes to hand their money over for nothing in return (oh no, the movie might make money and we’ll never see a penny of it). Except that this movie wouldn’t exist without our donations. And in the case of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter, the donation amounts to a preorder of the product. For my money, I will get a DVD copy of the movie, a digital copy of the movie, a copy of the script, and a t-shirt. And the thing that I want will exist. I enjoyed Zach Braff’s first movie, Garden State, but I didn’t give money to that project because the Kickstarter Rewards (the things that you get for giving the project your money) didn’t seem worthwhile for the money I’d be giving. A bunch of other people felt otherwise and, as a result, that project will also be funded. And I’m glad. There’s a perception that because someone has money that they should never ask for money to fund something like this–that because Zach Braff was on a popular TV show and in some movies that he much just be rolling in the Benjamins and that he should no longer be thought of as an independent filmmaker. Except that’s what he is, and most independent filmmakers have to make so many compromises to get even the most minuscule funding that the finished project, if it ever sees the light of day, may not resemble the original intention of the project. Braff stated that he was in meetings to get funding and that the funding that he might have gotten was contingent on two things: loss of final cut and loss of his ability to cast the picture (this is how you get a Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher–the people who put the money up want to cast someone “proven” regardless of whether or not they fit the part as written). And anyone who loves film and has studied it has learned about the challenges that filmmakers like Orson Welles, Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam have battled in order to present their dreams on celluloid, and how many times the studio has snatched those dreams from them, recutting them into a mess that permanently damages the product. The luckiest of filmmakers who have gone through that have had the films develop a strong enough cult following that years (sometimes decades) later, their original vision can be restored or reasonable approximated.
And what of those other “worthy” projects that these “big” projects are “stealing” money from? Well, now that I’ve contributed to a project, I get emails suggesting other projects. My donation to this one project is bringing attention on a regular basis to other projects currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.
Another thing: some guff was given to the $10,000 option on both of these projects, which, in addition to everything else offered, the single person donating would be featured in the movie saying a line. How dare they! Taking work from actors! Harumph.
I work in non-profit theatre. We exist based on a balance of donations and ticket sales (neither will allow the theatre to continue on their own). Folks who donate to non-profits get perks: invitations to special parties, tours, chances to interact with the actors, sometimes walk-on roles in productions … They still have to buy their tickets to see the plays, but they go to those plays knowing that without that other donation (or donations) those plays wouldn’t exist. Or education programs (we have those too). Public radio is partially funded by donations. Public television. The reward, in addition to that CD or tote bag is that the thing exists. It’s there to watch, to listen to, to enjoy, to be challenged by. Sometimes you see a program or listen to a song that you dislike. Sometimes the play isn’t performed exactly the way you imaged it might be. But it exists. And if you don’t listen to public radio or go to the theatre, you don’t have to donate your money, that’s your choice. If you hate Zach Braff or ignored Veronica Mars while it was on UPN, then feel free to ignore their Kickstarters too. But don’t suggest to other people that they are stupid for wanting the thing they love to exist. Yes, Time Warner owns Veronica Mars, they owned it as soon as they gave the greenlight to Rob Thomas to film a pilot, and they were well within their rights to do nothing with it ever again. They could have said no when Rob Thomas asked for this opportunity to bring it back to life and some may only see this as a callous play, getting those stupid fans to pay for it so they don’t have to. Except they were never going to pay to make the thing. They didn’t see the bottom line. And 91,000 people alone aren’t going to make a hit movie. But because of us, the thing will exist in some form. We proved that the thing deserved to be released, so Times Warner will pay to have it distributed (all small films need a distributer for them to end up in a theatre near you, so even if Times Warner didn’t do that, Thomas would have had to find someone to do it). But, the thing is, we don’t have to give the project any more money. Once the movie is made, we will receive our reward: the movie. Literally. They will send us copies. Sure, we’ll probably go see it in the theaters, but there is no guarantee that this movie will make any money. The funding may be it. I won’t need to buy the DVD at Target when it’s released, because I already bought it. For this movie to succeed bigger, others still need to want to give their $10 at the AMC. Braff doesn’t have a distributer yet. We don’t even know how much the finished project will cost (he also said on his Kickstarter page that it’ll cost more than $2 million and that whatever that amount is, he will contribute it). Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas have alluded to the same thing.
There will always be people who shit on things that others think have value. Folks who will want to strip the National Endowment for the Arts or who are so pissed that a state voted for a tax that will only fund Arts and Wildlife Conservation projects and will try to destroy the people who benefit from those things out of spite. And there will be people who will get excited at all sorts of projects, big and small, and put in some money to bring those things to life.
I can go off on other tangents, but I’m going to leave it here for now.
More later …