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After All that Hubbub, What's the Final Verdict on Zach Braff Kickstarter Controversy?

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire May 8, 2013 at 4:18PM

We may have thought the world was done complaining about or defending Zach Braff's Kickstarter campaign, but earlier this week Emmy-winning television writer/director/producer Ken Levine ("M*A*S*H," "The Simpsons," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Dharma & Greg") reignited the debate over whether having multimillionaires on Kickstarter is a good or bad thing.
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Zach Braff's "Wish I Was Here."
Zach Braff's "Wish I Was Here."

We may have thought the world was done complaining about or defending Zach Braff's Kickstarter campaign, but earlier this week Emmy-winning television writer/director/producer Ken Levine ("M*A*S*H," "The Simpsons," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Dharma & Greg") reignited the debate over whether having multimillionaires on Kickstarter is a good or bad thing.  

Now that Braff's campaign has been around for a few weeks and he's successfully funded, it's a good time to look at what the world's commentators have to say about his entry into crowdfunding. Indiewire's own analysis of Braff's campaign refuses to take sides on this debate, but it does note that Braff was unusual in the film category because he wasn't distributing the film on the platform.  

READ MORE: Five Reasons WB's 'Veronica Mars' Experiment Won't Be the Last Time a Studio Goes on Kickstarter

First, let the man defend himself:

From LA Times interview:

There’s been some deliciously yummy vitriol. I guess I was a little naive about this coming in. I didn't think that people would care that much about a little movie, which I was wrong about. But I can’t say I totally get it. It's not like I've taken over Kickstarter. It's not like when you go to the home page there's a big picture of me smiling at you; you have to click through past a lot of other worthy projects to find it. It’s not like I lobbied Congress to pass a tax to finance my movie. It’s just sitting there in a corner of the site. If you want to wave at it and back it as you’re passing by, great. If not, you can just move along and that’s fine too.

From Buzzfeed interview:

There are several films since "Garden State" that I've tried to put together, and they've fallen apart for one reason or another. I was once on a location scout in Atlanta and lost my A-list actress whilst taking pictures of locations where I was going to shoot her. I've had executives that hired me at big studios, then get fired and the project's fallen apart. It's classic Hollywood, it's-really-hard-to-get-a-movie-made stuff. This is the first project since Garden State that I've been as excited and passionate about. It was the one I wasn't going to compromise on.

I love to work more than anything, but I guess if "Scrubs" gave me anything, it gave me the luxury of not having to do shit. I don't want to go do crap. I want to do stuff that I would see. I'm not the hottest actor in town. I'm not the top of everyone's list. I've always forged my own path. I'll continue to do that. So I create my own content.

There's always going to be detractors. The people who would say, "Fuck him, he should pay for it himself," I don't expect those people to be the supporters of this project. I get it. But if you scroll down [on the Kickstarter page], you'll see the person who's like, "Garden State meant a lot to me, I'm dying to see what this guy's up to next, I'm in." Those are the people I'm making the movie for. It's not a scam. If I wanted to make dough, I'd go back and be on another TV show.

Here's a look at where other analyses landed, with our own commentary in italics:

In favor of the Prosecution (either consumers or Kickstarter's less-established creators):

Ken Levine, on his blog:

Zach Braff is trying to raise money on Kickstarter to fund a movie he wants to make. Zach Braff is a good actor and a fine filmmaker. GARDEN STATE was a terrific movie. But I wouldn’t give him a dime..This is what Hollywood does, dear reader. It sees an opportunity for exploitation and takes it. The Sundance Film Festival is another prime example. At one time it showcased modest little movies by unknown filmmakers. Kevin Smith made CLERKS – a grimy black and white film starring all unknowns. The result was discovered talent. Now look at the festival...Sundance is a lost cause. But Kickstarter isn’t. Not if we put a stop to this now. If you only have so much money to give to charity, give it to cancer research and not to help redecorate Beyonce’s plane. Support young hungry filmmakers. The next Kevin Smith is out there… somewhere.

The comparison to Sundance proves the weakness of Levine's argument.  For every star vehicle, there is an "Upstream Color," a "Fruitvale [Station]," a "Beasts of the Southern Wild."  But yes, these things do get at least partially co-opted, and that could be a bad thing.

Lisa Marks on The Guardian

But in a climate where young artists are struggling to make their voices heard, where funds for unknowns are rare, and where every penny in the tiniest budget is hard won, it seems somewhat askew that an actor/director who has the means to either fund his movie himself, or sign a typical financing deal, is asking you for cash...Surely if you're the guy who has already found considerable success in a competitive industry, you should also be the guy putting something back in.

In her roundup of the responses to Braff's campaign, Marks ends by saying that it was Braff's time to give back, not take more.

Alan Jones on The Toronto Standard:

Those who have donated to Veronica Mars have given over $5 million to Time Warner (Warner Bros' parent company), a multinational corporation, for an unknown commodity. Those who have donated money to Zach Braff have given millions to a millionaire for another unknown commodity. Collectively, fans have said that it's OK for rich people to eliminate the factor of risk when they make films. The past five years, with its bitter recessions and global financial crises, has effectively removed the make-up from late capitalism's ugly, bitter face, but these two Kickstarters are a sign that capitalism is eating itself, bit by bit, starting with the entertainment industry.

The incentives offered to “backers” of these two films are laughable. A range of collectible production items, promotional material, and access to advance screenings. For $600, approximately $587 more than the price of a movie ticket, you can get a personalized video greeting directly from Kirsten Bell (Veronica Mars herself!). For $10 000, one lucky “backer” gets to have a line in Braff's movie. Usually, that sort of thing is called acting, and on a “larger-scale” project, the actor receives money instead of giving it out. So not only is that “backer” giving $10,000 to a rich person, (s)he's also taking money away from some needy Los Angelino Starbucks barista that could use the gig.

For Jones, the real problem is how Braff and others are exploiting their supporters -- forcing them to pay inflated prices for no return and asking them to pay to do things that are usually jobs.

In favor of the Defendant (Mr. Braff):

Karla Starr on Psychology Today:

Starbucks helps independent coffee owners? Zach Braff helps independent [cinema]? Absolutely. What’s going on here is the distribution of innovation: Braff isn’t take away any of the funding from other independent filmmakers, he’s simply making the pie bigger...True, Kickstarter has its own community—it has innovators and early adopters who have known about Kickstarter for a long time, support each other, and have backed multiple projects. But that assumes that Kickstarter’s community and resources are finite and limited. I can guarantee you that the amount of money being diverted because of Braff’s project is minuscule in comparison to the number of people being introduced to Kickstarter right now. If your goal is to raise money on Kickstarter, the logical wish would be to make the Kickstarter community as big as possible.

Starr also explains that Braff is the victim of "upward social comparison" (street name: drinking Haterade) from other, less-established filmmakers.

Meghan Lewit on The Atlantic:

...Braff also seems to be unfortunate recipient of the same brand of roving, ineffable celebrity backlash that plagued Anne Hathaway during her Oscar run. (While I never really got the Hathaway hate, I'll admit that I've long harbored an antipathy toward Braff's mopey sensibilities.) But aside from people's personal feelings about Braff, the distinctions between the two campaigns are semantic. If Kickstarter is truly the egalitarian platform it proposes to be, then we're all entitled to support the projects we want regardless of the wealth or stature of the people behind them. 

Lewit compares the response to Braff's Kickstarter to the response to the "Veronica Mars" campaign.  She concedes that "Veronica Mars" is a tried-and-true property and therefore is more appropriate for the platform, but defends him by saying he can do what he wants:  you do you, Braff.

John Holbo on Crooked Timber:

People who succeed on Kickstarter aren’t people with no contacts, no networks, no access, no nothing. They are people who have substantial amounts of social capital, looking to trade it for actual capital capital...If you are a genius ‘nobody’, it seems unlikely that even Kickstarter can help you. Information wants to be free, and good art wants to get funded. But information still has to be propagated through social networks in these cases. Lonely poets are going to be left out in the cold...I guess I think even a co-opted Kickstarter model, like we will inevitably have, will still be a lot better than the world before Kickstarter, even though it will be sad when the punk rock stops and some people get left without chairs.

According to Holbo, Kickstarter is already impossible for people without social capital.  Braff is just an anomaly because he's got enough actual capital make a few of these films.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Crowdfunding, Kickstarter , Zach Braff, Filmmaker Toolkit





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