Last year an idea for a board game called The Doom That Came To Atlantic City popped up on Kickstarter. It’s described as, “A light hearted Lovecraftian game of urban destruction, for 2 to 4 players. You’re one of the Great Old Ones – beings of ancient and eldritch power. Cosmic forces have held you at bay for untold aeons, but at last the stars are right and your maniacal cult has called you to this benighted place. Once you regain your full powers, you will unleash your Doom upon the world!” Um, okay. I gotta be honest, you lost me at ‘Lovecraftian’. Every word after that just sounded like this.
Erik Chevalier, the creator of the game, asked for a cool 35 grand to get his nerdtastic idea off the ground, and boy did geeks across the country hear his call. They gave Erik a whopping $122,874. Now admittedly, I don’t know much about board games, but that seems like a hell of a lot of dough for a piece of cardboard and some dice. I guess that means that the game will just be that much better, right? Wrong. Don’t take it from me, take it from Big Poppa himself.
“The project is over, the game is cancelled.” Sounds like someone was really crowdfunding the hip-hop lifestyle.
If I spent my hard earned money on the Game de Chevalier I’d want a little more explanation, wouldn’t you? Where did the money go? “After paying to form the company, for the miniature statues, moving back to Portland” – Um … hold up there a second, monsieur. Wasn’t that money supposed to be for the creation of a board game? Why are people paying for your moving expenses? Besides, how much could a U-Haul, a flannel collection, a home brewing kit, a composter, and a beard trimmer cost? Either way, I hope you put a bird on that shit.
It’s easy to look at this situation and blame Erik the Red (ink) for ripping off the community that supported him, but here’s another way to look at it: If you give a random stranger with zero qualifications beyond a hankering for board games and polite request for an un-itemized 35K of your money … it’s all your fault. Remember that scene near the end of Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams tells Matt Damon that it’s not his fault over and over again? Yeah, this is the opposite of that. It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault.
When a panhandler asks for a few bucks for a bite to eat, then takes your dollar and walks into the liquor store, do you ask for your money back? Of course not. It’s not just because the guy might kill you. It’s also because there’s an assumed risk. Well, it looks like begging on the street’s the same as begging online.
Which brings us to the other Kickstarter project getting a little bit of noise at the moment. Spike Lee just launched his own campaign asking for $1.25 million for his next film. I’m on the record supporting Kickstarter as a perfectly legitimate place for filmmakers to fund their work, but the well-publicized efforts of Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and indie sorta-darling Zach Braff to crowdfund their projects are different animals than Spike’s.
See, Spike can get a movie made in Hollywood – he’s made nearly one a year for the past 25 years, ranging from his scrappy breakout film Do The Right Thing to the sprawling, epic Malcom X to the bank heist thriller Inside Man. He’s even been entrusted to remake the Korean gangster classic Oldboy, which comes out this October and threatens to end my longstanding opposition to remakes because… holy crap!
Sure, Hollywood’s a tough town and even someone with Spike’s track record can get shot down, but if his new film is really a passion project, if it really means that much to him, he has the ability to finance it himself. He did that very thing last year with Red Hook Summer. Now, Red Hook Summer didn’t look great and if the Rotten Tomatoes score (5.6 out of 10) doesn’t give you pause, the fact that Box Office Mojo has it making a grand total of $338,000 probably should. It seemed to give Spike himself pause, or at least taught him that film financing is a sucker’s game. Well, doesn’t Kickstarter have enough of those already?
This isn’t an indictment of Kickstarter. Kickstarter can be a beautiful thing when there’s an idea proposed by people or groups who have a genuine need and a genuine ability. Chevalier had the need, but apparently his ability wasn’t back in Portland where he thought it was. Spike Lee certainly has ability coming out of his ears, but where’s the need? The former is a case of a rube working in bad faith; the latter could very well wind up being a case of a savvy auteur taking us all for rubes. I mean … did you see Red Hook Summer?