They say money doesn’t make the world go round. It’s true. The sun’s gravitational pull makes the world go round. But what makes people survive in this world, what makes people’s dreams come true and what makes it possible for us to do the majority of the things we want or need – is money. The value of this money can be small fries; it entirely depends on what you want to do with it. Give a kid a quid and he can think of a million things to do with it. Give an adult a grand and likewise they can delegate that money for essentials. Give a filmmaker $2m and they can deliver you the vision that’s in their head. However, with money can come some stipulations. If the money is given as a gift then you have free reign; if the money is given as a return investment then the use of that money is scrutinised and dictated by the investor with the sole intention of returning a profit that greatly exceeds the initial investment. Understandable. Yet when we’re talking about film, music, the arts, or anything that the investee is expert in, the dictatorship of the investor can often lead to a clash of ideals and ultimately an unsatisfactory final project. For a filmmaker, this leaves a slim picking of other investment avenues. So, let’s talk about Kickstarter.
Kickstarter is an online platform whose fundamental purpose is to provide creative collectives or individuals – artists, writers, filmmakers – the ability to raise funds to realise their ideas and to retain full creative control of their project. Donations can vary at the donator’s discretion, and the artist provides incentives for bidders in an attempt to obtain higher bids. By bidding, not only are you helping to fund a project but you are also able to have a closer experience with the project by being rewarded with incentives that can provide insight into the artists process and merchandise relating to that project. Kickstarter only came to my attention during the now successful attempt by Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas (not that one) to bring their fans what the studios didn’t want to: a Veronica Mars movie. The show’s creator and star used the power of the internet to reach their fans across the globe and get them to invest in the film via Kickstarter. Their goal was $2,000,000. In their 30 day bidding window, they raised $5,702,153. Those figures alone show the phenomenal power of a number of factors, first of which is the fans themselves. The petitions to the studio didn’t work, so they took to their pockets rather than the pickets and they produced more than enough to ensure that the project got the green light. Initially I thought it was desperate when I saw that the makers of the show had taken to the fans for the money. I mean, if the studio doesn’t want to make the film then that may be a sign to leave the idea where it originally finished. Plus, the fans are investing twice-over to see this film: once to finance it and then again to go and see it. If it’s not what they want, if it’s not what they’re expecting – they’re going to feel out of pocket. But – isn’t that true of everything? Whether you invest once or twice, your investment is a belief or an interest in that particular thing you’re purchasing. If you don’t like it, you move on and you don’t buy it again. The unique thing with Kickstarter is the belief that people have in these projects (as well as the goodies that come with the investment) in order to invest for them to be made only to invest again once the project is released. The Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter project not only kick-started their film but it also set a trend that has been capitalised on by other filmmakers.
Zach Braff, I’m looking at you here.
I love Zach Braff. Like, I would consider swinging my pendulum to the other side for him – that’s how much I love him. Scrubs literally saved me a few years ago and I have been devoted to that series and to his career ever since. His debut film, Garden State, was a superb indie comedy drama that dealt with love, loss and a lack of direction in life. It is an honest and compelling film that really showed Braff as a talent: it’s enviable to see a writer/directors first film be so bloody good. I followed the same path that all of his other fans followed, and we have waited and waited and waited for another film – but nothing came. Not until Braff launched his own Kickstarter project to fund his second feature film ‘Wish I Was Here’. To get the full lowdown on the project you need to watch his hilarious Kickstarter video on his page, but in this 4:15 video he sold to me the fundamental idea of Kickstarter: retaining creative control. Again, my first thought before viewing this video was that surely Zach Braff has any number of financers and distributors he could turn to in order to fund his next project, so why does he need a bunch of people to invest their own money with no return? As he answers in the video, it’s all about creative control. There are a number of people he could approach to finance the film but they will insist on final cut: deciding the direction of his films’ story, casting, location etc. For someone that is so passionate about the idea they have created from nothing, it’s not an easy thing to agree to. As the writer/director, the idea, the vision is in your head; no-one else can see that. Given the money but not the final say on that vision is stunting and can lead to an unsuccessful project. Despite Braff’s previous success and his overall pull, this wouldn’t weigh in on the financiers final decision. So, to make the film he knows he wants to make, he’s turned to Kickstarter. Within four days of launching, he has already surpassed his $2,000,000 goal. The rewards on offer for investment are plentiful and orgasmic for any film-enthused fan and you can tell from the video that Braff’s passion and determination will see that he produces the best film possible.
Now, he’s received a bit of flack for launching his project on Kickstarter. Despite his message, the majority of the flack seems to be aimed at the fact that he is both financially and socially wealthy enough to be able to afford this project. True, but as he’s stated, it’s the creative freedom that is the most important thing to have when making this film, and the investment from Kickstarter makes that possible. However, what we need to consider with the Kickstarter platform, whether it’s Jerry Bruckheimer seeking investment or a small production company from Warwick looking to make a short film to support their first feature film: investment is entirely at your discretion. Don’t want to invest in this project? Then don’t, move on to the next one that takes your fancy. It’s about choice – how you make that choice and what you base it on is up to you, but it’s optional investment so don’t opt if you don’t want to. I’ve no doubt that other well-known names or projects will follow the Veronica Mars/Zach Braff model but it’s down to the person with the money whether they want to invest in these projects.
The most beneficial thing to come from these two high profile projects is that it has brought vast attention to Kickstarter, which means that other smaller projects that are seeking investment are more likely to achieve their goal now that more people know about the site and will be looking to invest. It’s a revolutionary platform for film financing as well as supporting other art. It’s getting harder and harder to be noticed these days, so any way to generate the required finance, interact with your investors, reward them for their venture and ultimately retain creative control of your project is welcome in this competitive world. Art and creativity should be encouraged. Just look at some of the smaller projects on Kickstarter and see just how far $1 can go for an indie filmmaker with a camera and an idea.