Former Dresden Dolls bandleader Amanda Palmer exceeded expectations, including her own, when she launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year to release her latest album. However, she was caught off guard by an outcry on the Internet when she did not pay guest musicians she invited onto the stage during the tour to support the Kickstarter-supported album.
For Palmer, Kickstarter is a way to release music outside of the major-label system. In an age of ubiquitous free music, she was fair with her pricing. Taking a page from the Radiohead playbook, donors could download the entire album for $1. Palmer arranged for a slew of other prizes to go to bigger donors. It was a well-designed campaign.
The backlash came, though, when fans, knowing that she ended up raising over $1 million for the campaign and did not pay all of her guest musicians. This wasn't part of her deal with them, but the transparency of her finances made it apparent to all that she could probably afford to throw them a few bones.
The transparency of Kickstarter has led more than a few people to question why bigger names, names with enough money to self-finance their own projects, have the nerve to ask from money from "the masses" on Kickstarter at all. In Slate, Matthew Yglesias asks why cyberpunk writer Neal Stephenson needs money from his fans to develop a video game in an article called "Kickstarter: Where Celebrities Can Go To Get Money They Don't Need."
When we posted two weeks ago about the new animated feature, "The Goons," whose proof-of-concept went over very well at Comic-Con, we got a number of comments on the article and on our Facebook page. You see, David Fincher is EP'ing (it's not clear how much money he's fronting, but his name is plastered all over the Kickstarter page), and people are a bit confused that the guy behind "Se7en," "The Social Network" and "Fight Club" is asking for their money.
On the article, Indiewire reader Sim commented,
Fincher has had quite a few successful movies, so I'm sure he's pretty well off at this point and he personally knows plenty of rich actors and/or producers. You're telling me he can't use a little bit of his own money and ask some of his millionaire friends to loan him a couple thousand dollars each? Crowd funding should be used by people who wouldn't have the means to get the money in other ways, not A-List director/producers with plenty of contacts. This whole thing just seems backwards to me.
So I'm supposed to believe that David Fincher the man behind Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Zodiac, and Benjamin Button can't find an investor interested in this. Or either fund the story reel himself or if he can't afford it find a way to cut costs so he can afford it. Mel Gibson funded all of Passion of the Christ himself and Christopher Nolan paid for Following when he was still shooting corporate training films before he got his foothold in the industry. Someone with Fincher's track record and contacts can't get $400,000?
Noel Donnellon said,
If it takes off on a large scale it will crush those who are not as well known and trying to get their smaller indies made. Just like a few years back when Directors, including Fincher, took on medium budget TV commercials, crushing those who used to work in the middle ground. We'll have high-end Crowfunding and low-end and yet again loose the middle.
The sentiment Donnellon expressed is something we've heard a lot. However, it's unclear — and unlikely — that people who are donating to celebrities' campaigns would have given those dollars to someone else.
Celebrities on crowdfunding sites bring more attention to these sites, which have not yet made it to the mainstream consciousness. Arguably, this could bring the sites more funding overall — but for some fans, they also may cheapen the experience.
1. If you're a celebrity on Kickstarter, you've got to be willing to turn the campaign into a marketplace. This isn't charity. We know that part of the reason people with connections go to Kickstarter is that the deals they could get with production companies and distributors are less than ideal. But still, just because those deals would screw over the filmmaker doesn't mean that the Kickstarter deal should screw over fans. The Kaufman project realized during their campaign that people desperately wanted a copy of the film, so they gave it to everyone who donated $20; Whoopi gave her donors the film once they gave her $30.
2. Make sure your rewards are as cool as you and your project are. Dear Mr. Fincher, in the age of the retweet, autographs are worth nothing. Don't think we'll be too excited about a signed poster. After a few days, Fincher's "The Goon" project realized that giving away digital copies of the comic the project is based on (for $10 donations) was necessary.
3. Part of the reason you go on Kickstarter for a self-distributed project is to garner publicity for your project. It's not clear Whoopi would get much of an opportunity to talk about her Moms Mabley project on "The View," but when we posted about the project on our site, it got some traction. Take into account that the publicity is party of the deal, and give back (See Rule 2).
4. Finally, be grateful! Amanda Palmer went through great pains to thank her fans for raising 10 times the amount she was looking for, but still people found something to hold against her. As careful as she was, something still went wrong. Films with celebrities as producers need to be just as careful with every step they take.