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Big Hollywood has no business being on Kickstarter, says Hollywood insider

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Scrubs star Zach Braff has raised around $2.5 million on Kickstarter to finance his new movie — and caused a major ruckus while doing so: Cheers and Frasier writer and veteran director and producer Ken Levine argued on his blog Tuesday that Braff’s project shouldn’t be supported by Kickstarter users.

“It defeats the whole purpose of Kickstarter,” he said, arguing that Kickstarter should instead be for indie filmmakers who don’t have access to the studio system.

He went on to say:

“The next Kevin Smith is out there… somewhere. He (or she) just needs a break, which is what Kickstarter is supposed to provide. Zach Braff can find his money elsewhere.”

Levine’s post struck a chord and went viral, leading him to follow up with another piece Wednesday. In it, Levine shares his thoughts about another major Hollywood Kickstarter success story: the Veronica Mars movie starring Kristen Bell. Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas took to Kickstarter in March to fund a movie reunion of the show’s cast, and hit his goal of $2 million in 10 hours.

The Veronica Mars Kickstarter was unique because it came with the blessing of Warner Bros., which is going to produce the movie. Thomas had tried for years to get Warner to front the money, but only got the project greenlit after Kickstarter users opened their wallets. “Kickstarter was a luxury for Braff, a necessity for Thomas,” acknowledged Levine Wednesday. But he added that the real winner may have been Warner:

“They get a possible hit movie, they didn’t have to lay out a cent for production, and they don’t have to share the profits with the investors. They give them T-shirts and souvenirs and they’re off the hook. How sweet a deal is that? On a project they didn’t even believe in. What a win/win. ”

Of course, there’s a flip side to this, as our own Liz Miller argued earlier this year: At this point in time, Kickstarter is still growing — and big projects with big names attached can help to bring new audiences to the crowdfunding site.

But the controversy also points towards a bigger issue for Kickstarter and the types of projects it accepts. If patrons feel as if they’re being asked to pay for projects that have no trouble getting funding elsewhere, then they might start to question the entire idea behind crowdfunding.

13 Responses to “Big Hollywood has no business being on Kickstarter, says Hollywood insider”

  1. I am being honest in saying that I am going to ride Zach Braff’s coat tails from every media mention that he gets. Our film is on KICKSTARTER called CURTO. We launched it one day before Zach Braff launched his. That day, I watched his numbers go up like a Jerry Lewis telethon. Now it seems like Kickstarter films may become celebrity driven like every other product is becoming which is bullshit. Kickstarter should be for people with no funds to get their product off the ground and maybe change their lives.

  2. Stephanie Piche

    Personally, I believe this helps everyone. The honest truth about getting your project made in Hollywood is that a very SMALL % gets made. In fact, studios are making LESS smaller projects and focusing on BLOCKBUSTERS and going overseas – like China – to get the big dollars. Check the facts. This helps everyone. Plus the analytics for anyone who has run a crowdfunding campaign will show that people do browse on the site.

    We just launched our own campaign a day ago and have an Academy Award-winning screenwriter – she won the Oscar for “Witness” – which was turned down several times – even when it had Harrison Ford attached. No matter how many projects you get made (she’s had 19 movies made from her screenplays) nothing is guaranteed and like “Witness” you can get turned down for years. Why not make it today? Why wait? Times have changed and big blockbusters are what studios want.

    – Producer

  3. wordwan

    (Focusing on ONE issue for now. Discoverability. For everyone…)

    NO. You’re not getting it. ANY website should be accessible to ANYONE. That’s the POINT here of the internet. Everyone can access everyone. Everyone can LEARN from everyone, if they just start coming down from their insular clouds–no matter WHO they are. You get down on the shop floor and talk to everyone, find out what’s happening, share ideas and resources.

    Imagine this big shot movie star BRINGING eyeballs to the punk kid’s Kickstart site. You thought about that? It GOES both ways.

    These websites are about ‘discoverability’ NOT technical prowess. The young pups who arrive on Kickstart are five seconds away from being PART of ‘real’ business and as a result, they should have to ‘compete’ like a real business. You start pussyfooting with anyone, and we all become a charity nation that puts out crap by committee.

    There’s already too much of that going on, in the real world. Yeesh.

    And YOU, Mr. Levine, expected that the Big Studios would stay in their own backyards because they (supposedly) already HAVE the edge. They already have the clique groups. They don’t need any help. They already HAVE the key to the mythical executive washroom.

    It was foolish of you to focus on that because the INTERNET is about discoverability. NOT technical prowess.

    You start creating ‘creative ghettos’ we’re back to where we started and we should all just go back to the Big Studio runs your life, promotes you, controls you, yada yada yada’ star system.

    Everyone should be allowed to rub shoulders with whomever they like. And PERHAPS PERHAPS PERHAPS, people, high or low on the creativity chain will start to realize we are all the same.

    ALL the same. And it was NOTHING but being at the front door FIRST on a particular day.

    Thanks for posting.


  4. Billy Bartels

    Levine is ridiculous. If Braff wants to tell the studio system to blow, then great. It’ll give him more freedom to make the film he wants to make. He might have been pulling in people that wouldn’t have funded anything on Kickstarter anyhow. If throwing off the corporate yoke is wrong, I don’t want to be right.


    Okay, so the first rule of film producing is ‘never use your own money’, but if a filmmaker truly believes in their own project they should be prepared to put their money where their mouth is.
    I too am an independent filmmaker desperately trying to raise funds for my 4th feature film ‘Bonobo’ (after a backer pulled out and we go into production on June 5th) so we set up a Kickstarter campaign for which I’ve already shaved my hair off as publicity
    and agreed to get a Kickstarter tattoo if we hit our goal of $17,000 (this is to re-top up our small budget)….yet it is so slow!
    Unlike Mr Braff I’m not ‘known’ and I certainly don’t have the kind of money he A)earns or B)has access to, yet I’m currently BANK ROLLING THE PRODUCTION MYSELF at huge financial risk (if and until we find another investor) so I feel that if a well known (and financially well-off) individual is as passionate about their film as I am mine they should be prepared to personally ‘put their money where their mouth is!’
    Because just like the Hollywood blockbusters this pushes aside the smaller indies, leaving them lagging behind in their shadow, barely noticed.

    • wordwan

      Actually, this guy Mark, here, reminds me of something.

      We once went to the bank for a loan. Know what we learned about bank loans?

      The real deal is this: Banks like loaning money to you if you can prove you don’t really need it.

      Stupid world, huh?

      And good on you, Mark, for coming where the light is and putting up your little sign.

      THAT’S what I’m getting at here. The big wigs and the little kids should all be in the sandbox together. Maybe they’ll make friends and make a movie together. And we can stop watching rerun-sequel-‘it made money the last hundred times, let’s make the same damn movie again’-safe crap a lot of the big studios are making now.

      Interesting, huh?

      wordwan who has been reading a lot of ebook publishing issues of late and knows the big publishers should start mixing it up with the indies.

  6. I agree with Zach and understand his argument. I believe his artistry would be completely lost with the normal big money folks because they don’t live in the real world. I support Zach and his brother’s dream to make a great and meaningful movie.

  7. We wuldn’t want the process to start backfiring, or to discurage the doners of kickstarter to feel like they have been taken for granted.

  8. I think the bigger value is the buzz and the built-in audience excitement that comes with people being literally, as well as emotionally, invested in seeing the project from its inception to its end.

    Maybe Kickstarter should just be for indies (how we’re going to define “indie” in a way that satisfies everyone and makes sense in all circumstances is another, not very easy to answer, question) because some people already have enough money to do it on their own.

    But not even the most money or the biggest studio can buy the type of fan/viewer investment that participating in a Kickstarter campaign can. Presumably those who give are happy to do so for the benefits they’re being offered and the excitement of seen a project they REALLY want to see come to fruition; they go in knowing they aren’t getting the profits, and giving at a level to get the swag they want.

    Much more importantly, donors are not only going to be sure to see the film themselves; since they feel they have a stake in it — they’re going to tell everyone they know, in all their work and social circles, as well as total strangers met on the bus, in an elevator, or on the street about it.

    Getting a studio to fund a $2.5 million movie? $2.5 million.
    Getting hyped up fans watching every bit of a film’s progress, and becoming the films promoters and proponents and advocates to everyone they know? Priceless.