Thursday, April 25, 2013

To Kickstart, Or Not...

Yesterday Zach Braff launched a Kickstarter campaign for a movie he's been developing with his brother titled "Wish I Was Here." Following the launch came a flash fire of backlash aimed at Braff for using the trending online crowd sourcing tool Kickstarter. Reading some of this backlash left me shell-shocked and fired up with enough opinions on the subject to throw my two cents into the ring. What's all the hub-bub, check it out below...

The much of the initial response online was focused on how come this millionaire is asking fans to help fiance a film he could pay for himself? The answer is because he can. First and foremost we live in America, a capitalistic society driven on making the most money possible. Who in their right mind wouldn't want to make profit without any financial risk? Sure, morally maybe Zach Braff is looking out for himself, yet I don't hear these same critics of Braff complaining about all the corporations that reap profits off consumers and their employees. Plus those corporations are not rewarding the consumer with benefits for putting in their own money like Kickstarter campaigns tend to do.

When I did a little more digging, I found out that Zach Braff isn't just asking for money via Kickstarter, he's also putting in his own money. Braff tells BuzzFeed how much is still to be determined off the results of pledging. "I don't know. It will depend on how much we raise, and who I do end up casting. Let's say we raise our goal, which is $2 million. If we only raise that, that's not enough to make the movie. There will be some element of selling some foreign [distribution rights] to meet the difference, and where that falls is where I will be splitting the difference. I'm going to make this movie in August come hell or high water. Wherever we fall short, I or some element of foreign sales will split the difference." So all that bitching about Braff being an asshole because he created an opt-in campaign to source money for his film was just a tad unnecessary.

Braff's point of using Kickstarter was to make the film he wanted to make. His vision unaltered. Too often studios will pressure or influence directors to change their vision. Much of that is what is wrong with Hollywood. The system is broken. We are in a franchise heavy era where studios are consuming properties at an alarming rate. It is all about name recognition, leaving imagination out in the cold. Studios take these properties and bring in a director to do what they want. It used to be the other way around. Gone are the days where writers, directors, and actors come to a studio with a passion project. Take a look at the release schedule for the last five years, every month there is at least one remake and one franchise film releasing, every single month. Studios scoff at original films now, asking where the name recognition is. Let us not forget that Braff tried to go the normal route with "Wish I Was Here," but investors wanted final cut, casting and locations rights, leaving Zach to lose a lot of his creative control. Imagine having something you deeply cared for altered by someone else, most likely you wouldn't be too happy about it. Hell ask Edward Norton about it, he'll remind you why he's no longer working with Marvel or playing the Hulk. Remember that "The Wolfman" remake Universal made, that film might as well been called Frankenstein because it had so much of the original vision chopped and changed through studio pressure. How did you like that final product? Or let us not forget "Spider-Man 3," a film that according to Sam Raimi was never suppose to feature Venom (or Sandman for that matter), but Sony would not have it any other way. How'd that turn out?

Back to Braff's vision and the idea of using fan funding to fiance. As Braff told BuzzFeed, he's putting in his own money too. "I'm going to make this movie in August come hell or high water." How I looked at this is, Braff knows a number that he needs to make the movie he wants. He knows how much he is willing to put in out of his own pocket (even if he's not telling press that). The film has fantasy elements in it that will require cgi and that costs money. The film is also set in Los Angeles, a town that costs more to film in than say New Orleans or Albuquerque, however if Braff went the traditional route he'd be filming the streets of Canada and trying to frame them as if they are Los Angeles. The money being raised through crowd sourcing is helping make the budget that much bigger, thus allowing him and his crew to have more freedom. Yet people are attacking Braff for wanting to make the best possible film, which is plain idiotic. The goal of Braff's Kickstarter campaign is $2 million dollars, a number that Braff says  is "not enough to make the movie." So he turned to his fanbase and gave them an opt-in campaign. Not only is it opt-in but it comes with some pretty cool benefits for people pledging money like a copy of the script, spotify playlists, posters, DVDs, screenings, set visits, and customizable voicemails.

I'd like to stress for a second what opt-in means, if you think this film sounds stupid or don't find the idea interesting, you do not have to pledge. It is that simple. No one is coming to your door and begging you to pledge. You won't receive any phone calls from telemarketers selling you this campaign and asking for a pledge. There won't be any pop-up ads on your computer. If you are not interested, you are not interested. For instance, before the kneejerk reaction to Braff's Kickstarter campaign there was another Kickstarter campaign making headlines; Veronica Mars. A TV show that was cancelled but since the cancelation fans have been asking for a movie. Warner Brothers wasn't interested in financing but stated that if the creators came up with the initial costs they'd ante up for the distribution. I'd never seen the television show and really had no interest in a movie version of a show I'd not seen, so I went on about my life. Fans however pumped in their money raising eyebrows all around Hollywood and good for them! If someone came up with a Buckaroo Banzai sequel Kickstarter campaign I'd be all over it. I've donated myself to a couple campaigns I felt deserved my hard earned cash. Kickstarter seems like an easy way to test the market. To see what kind of demand there is for a product. In the case of Braff and "Wish I Was Here," I'd say he's got the go ahead.

So the argument that Zach Braff is using Kickstarter and only Kickstarter to fiance his movie is false. He's putting his own money in and despite having fan interest, there are still risks. One of which is distribution. A worry that "Veronica Mars" will not face because Warner Brothers is covering worldwide distribution. Braff and his production team however will be working to get "Wish I Was Here" finished in time to screen at Sundance in 2014. If the film plays well, it could quickly get purchased and setup with distribution, but that is not a given. Also, Braff hasn't had a successful theatrical release since "Garden State" in 2004. That is nearly a decade. Sorry but he's not a sure thing anymore, even with his 22,000+ backers. Thus putting a giant hole through this belief that Braff is taking no risk. So if he is putting in his own money, and he does have risks, that leaves only one complaint from all this internet backlash, you don't like Zach Braff. Quite honestly it seems Braff knows that. In a recent interview with Empire Braff reminds us that he knows this film isn't for general audiences and a wide release. "It’s for the audience that likes what I do."

What is wrong with fans who genuinely like Zach Braff wanting to give their money to help (key word help) get his next movie made? There isn't anything wrong with it, people just like to find reasons to complain. There are plenty of individuals I don't like, but I don't spend my time and influence unfairly painting them into a corner like members of the online press community did yesterday. Sure I have been known to rally against a few, but I do that mainly through my wallet. I don't pay to see their stuff, just like you don't have to pay for "Wish I Was Here."

Lastly, what does all of this means to the industry? One valid complaint I read about this whole process is it could lead to studios financing even less original content. A studio response to original ideas could become, "go Kickstart it." Seeing that shift away from traditional financing is scary but it could also lead to a whole slew of original ideas getting made. Passionate filmmakers going outside the norm in order to see their vision made, not a variation of it. That outlook is much better than ideas we've already seen being rehashed and recycled by a director or writer the studio went out and hired. I for one want passionate filmmakers making films, not studios looking to make the most profit through name recognition. How about you? This is far from over and one great thing about Kickstarter is it is self-regulating. The only way something is getting made through a Kickstarter, is if there is a demand.

Source: Kickstarter