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Kickstarter’s Hollywood crush is great for independent film

The first two members of the "Wish I Was Here" club; Adam and Zach Braff
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Working in the film industry in Los Angeles, I often get asked the same question: “Why do movies suck so much?” Well, the answer’s two-fold. First, this is a risk-averse town that rewards not making a mistake above all else. And second, making a movie is absurdly hard. I mention this as both Hollywood and the Tech community have gotten themselves all lathered up over big name stars going outside the studio system and using Kickstarter to fund their projects.

The first to really cause a ruckus on both ends of California’s coastline was Rob Thomas’ (no, not that Rob Thomas)Veronica Mars. The TV show starring Kristen Bell as a teen private eye ran for only three years, but developed a strong cult following. Before going through Kickstarter, Thomas’ attempts to produce a film version of the series were rebuffed by everyone in town. Studios were unwilling to trust that a devoted fanbase of the series would buy tickets to see it recreated on the big screen.

The people funding this film apparently just like Zach Braff (I’m sure they have their reasons)…

Well, they’ve done more than that. At close, the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign raised approximately 5.7 million dollars, nearly tripling their goal of 2 million buckaroos. Critics in Hollywood, maybe a little perturbed at being circumvented, claim that “investors” are being taken advantage of, but you tell me. Who’s got it worse, the fan who spent $50 to see his favorite TV show turned into a movie and in turn gets a download of the movie, a T-shirt, a copy of the script, a DVD, and a making-of documentary, or the moviegoer that spent $13.50 to see The Incredible Burt Wonderstone? I thought so.

Rob Thomas is by no means the first Hollywood filmmaker to use Kickstarter to crowd fund. Inocente, the Academy Award-winning documentary short film that you missed on your Oscar bracket, raised $52,000 on Kickstarter. Other filmmakers like David Fincher and Charlie Kaufman have used the platform for side projects, but it took Veronica Mars for everyone to really pay attention.

One person who definitely took notice is Zach Braff, known for his role on TV’s Scrubs and his Sundance film, Garden State, who upon seeing Veronica Mars’ success, recently started a Kickstarter campaign of his own in the hopes to fund his film, Garden State 2: Electric Boogaloo (working title, Wish I Was Here).

soldinger the kid stays in the picture zach braff directingApparently, Braff has been trying to get the project off the ground for a while without success. It took him under a week to reach his goal of 2 million dollars – a respectable budget for a character-driven, fully independent feature film – and, with another 25 days to go, he could easily double that.

What makes his story even more interesting than that of Veronica Mars is that this isn’t a built-in fanbase contributing their money to see the characters they know and love brought to life once more – according Braff’s notes on the Kickstarter page, Wish I Was Here is his follow up to Garden State, not a sequel that stars the same characters. The people funding this film apparently just like Zach Braff (I’m sure they have their reasons); maybe they’re fans of Scrubs or saw Garden State and liked it. Or maybe they’re just inspired by his idea.

And boy, are people pissed about it. The reaction online to both Braff’s and Thomas’ efforts has been extremely negative. They’re angry that a ‘big Hollywood celebrity’ would use a platform designed to give a voice to the voiceless, or as The Atlantic’s Richard Lawson said, “… rather than hustle around town drumming up the money from proper backers and investors and then hoping money from their fans will roll in, [they] just make some cutesy video instead and figure their work done.”

I’m not sure who he thinks the “proper backers” are, but I assure you most people who have an extra 2 million bucks lying around to invest in a movie aren’t overly concerned with being ‘proper.’ Is Chinese money ‘proper’ enough for him, money from Dubai, or dare I say it, the Weinsteins? See, he and the other critics clearly don’t need understand a few things.

First, they think because Zach is famous and wealthy, that means he has any real power and could get his project made through the normal avenues if he really wanted to. Well, that’s not how things work; that is unless his passion project is a found footage-style torture porn horror flick that’s been focus grouped to appeal to the lowest age demographic with the highest possible disposable income.

soldinger the kid stays in the picture character designSecond, they don’t realize that the other projects – the ones they believe are being diminished because Zach Braff is taking up all the Kickstarter oxygen – suck. I’m sorry to be the one who has to tell them that, but the 10 grand they need to complete their short film version of Macbeth starring robots in Cyber Scotland isn’t going to get them that agent at CAA. And their Facebook friends wish they’d stop trying to hit them up it and go back to taking pictures of their food.

And third, the attention that Thomas’ and Zach Braff’s project have given Kickstarter is the best thing that could happen to it. Thousands of people who have never heard of Kickstarter or never cared about it are now checking out the site, which means a larger pool of potential investors for anyone using it. Everyone that believes in crowd-funding should be praying that Veronica Mars and Wish I Was Here turn out to be monster hits. If they are, the artist wins. Other people may want to be part of the next success story – because of Kickstarter, you and 10 thousand of your friends could prove me wrong about robot Macbeth being a terrible idea.

You think the people at Kickstarter aren’t doing backflips? This is not some benevolent Kibbutz of ideas – they take their 5 percent like any Hollywood agency. And, like most online business models that have proven to be wildly successful in the past 5 or 6 years, Kickstarter isn’t just an agency (of a sort); it’s a platform. It exists to facilitate transactions and help creators find funding, and it’s pretty much agnostic to the perceived validity of the ideas or the people generating them.

So don’t focus on the name Zach Braff. Focus on the number. 31,4156 and counting. That’s how many people (at the time I’m writing this), have given money to a filmmaker they trust. That’s how many people want to be a part of the new independent cinema by financially supporting an idea they believe in. As someone who knows firsthand what this process looks like without Kickstarter, I say more power to all of them.

Peter Soldinger
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Peter Soldinger is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter for film and television with a passion for sports and a contentious…
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