By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire January 22, 2014 at 6:24PM
It was big news for Zach Braff when his second film, the largely Kickstarter-funded "Wish I Was Here" sold to Focus Features for a reported $2.75 million at Sundance 2014.
Since Braff turned to Kickstarter last spring to raise funds for the project, it has spurred controversy about whether celebrities are ruining crowdfunding for the true independents who can't simply turn to their famous friends (or their bank accounts) for backing (Kickstarter responded with its own post on the topic).
Though critics scoffed, Braff had no trouble raising the funds for "Wish I Was Here," easily topping his goal of $2 million and eventually raising more than $3 million.
Now that it's clear that Braff is going to make money off the film, backers are wondering if they get any special benefits. A new post on the film's Kickstarter page clarifies the legal position regarding crowdfunding, "Current SEC laws prevent Kickstarter from offering equity or financial returns. As Kickstarter explains in Kickstarter Basics: Project creators keep 100% ownership of their work. Kickstarter cannot be used to offer financial returns or equity, or solicit loans. Some projects that are funded on Kickstarter may go on to make money, but backers are supporting projects to help them come to life, not financially profit."
Bummer, right? But those are the rules of the Kickstarter game.
To clarify the position, producer Stacey Sher, told BuzzFeed that the film's Kickstarter backers will not benefit financially from the film sale. "That’s not the way Kickstarter works. That's not what we promised anybody."
Meanwhile, Variety reports that a block of seats at the film's Sundance premiere were reserved for high-rolling Kickstarter backers, there were many more who funded the project who couldn't get tickets. To make matters worse, Braff didn't think to thank his Kickstarter supporters when he introduced the film.
There are a lot of disgruntled Kickstarter backers out there who are still waiting for their rewards. “What about all the backers?” investor Matt Haughey, founder of Metafilter.com, griped to NBC News. "In those last updates from him, he was all 'I’m in Sundance!' and then ‘Focus picked us up!’ There was nothing about the backers. It was all about Zach Braff. Well, that’s awesome for you!"
The issues raised by celebrity crowdfunding will continue to arise -- especially when Spike Lee's controversial Kickstarter-funded "Da Blood of Jesus" is released.
At least Sher acknowledged that fulfilling rewards is the project’s first financial obligation. So keep checking the mail box for that "Wish I Was Here" T-shirt.