Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Response: Crowd-Funding for Millionaires

I read this article about how the Kickstarter projects for The Veronica Mars Movie and Zack Braff's new movie project are setting a terrible precedent for crowd-funding projects. The author of the article argues that these projects are taking away the risk/reward scenario from these creators, and that because these people in particular are already famous, and undoubtedly have money already, that they shouldn't be asking their fans for money.

In part, I agree with the author, but at the same time, his argument is making black-and-white of something that is largely grey.

Fans are more than willing to separate with their money on a Braff project because he is a brand.

True. Braff got a crazy amount of funding (he still has half a month to go), and is well over his projected goal, because people already know him. It would be damn near impossible for an unknown actor/director to get $2 million in funding from random people. Zach Braff probably has a few million dollars, and if he wanted to spend it all on the production of this film, he probably could. Does that make it unethical for him to ask for support from fans?

If, in contrast, you are one of 91,585 “backers” that donated over $5 million to the Veronica Mars feature film, then you have effectively given your money not to director Rob Thomas, but to Warner Bros, who produced the television show and holds the rights to the project.

 Again, true. It's inarguable that Warner Bros has the money to produce a Veronica Mars movie all by itself. They own the rights, isn't it obvious that they should take all the risk?

A lot of me agrees with this article. It makes sense, but at the same time there's a bias against the rich, and an assumption that they are victimizing those with less money, and are giving nothing back for the investment they are receiving from their backers. I can't really agree with that. These backers are grown people, and know exactly what they're doing. They are donating for a cause that they believe in, towards projects that may not exist otherwise.

"Warner Bros. wasn’t convinced there was enough interest to warrant a major studio-sized movie about Veronica and the project never got off the ground."

""You should use Kickstarter to raise the money to make the Veronica Mars movie." I chuckled. That seemed like a silly idea in the moment. We'd need millions. But for the next few weeks, the notion was never far from my mind. I started doing the proverbial back-of-a-cocktail-napkin math. The average pledge on Kickstarter is $71. Hell, if we could get 30,000 people to give the average donation, we could finance the movie, particularly if the cast and I were willing to work cheap. The most common donation amount on Kickstarter is $25. Surely, 80,000 of our three million viewers would find that price-point viable! "

We can say that the actors and director of Veronica Mars might have been able to pull together the same amount of money. The initial goal set wasn't likely meant to pay for the entire production, but rather to prove that there was enough interest in the franchise to warrant a movie. Granted the project nearly tripled it's goal, but were they really expecting that? Not likely. Is it wrong for them to take people's money? No, they donate as much as they see fit, and they apparently want the best for the team.

Zach Braff focuses a chunk of his pitch video on how the main reason he's interested in crowd funding is that he gets all the creative control. He's pitched the project to studios and the "money people" always have ideas on how to spend money in a different direction than he would. This isn't a secret, studio producers and execs often use their investing money to control pieces of the project, and rightfully so, it's their investment. Zach Braff may or may not have $2 million that he asked his fans for, so is it wrong to ask? No, people want Braff directing in his style, with his decisions. They don't have to donate anything, but by donating they affirm that they feel the film is worth making.

Like I said, a lot of me wants to agree. By asking for money through crowd-funding they take away a lot of the risk/reward mentality for making these projects. At the same time however, the Veronica Mars movie would not have happened without kickstarter. They had tried, and it wasn't happening. Zach Braff may have finally agreed to let his investors get final cut, but would the fans agree with the final edit? How many decisions would have been better if made by Braff, but were altered due to him not being fully in control? At the same time Braff isn't being paid millions to act and direct, plus given a budget from the studio. The budget he's receiving from backers includes his pay for acting and directing. The only way he gets a larger cut is if many thousands of people donate towards the project. If so all that means is that they believe he deserves it, they find value in his work.

The thing I most disagree with is this idea that the backers aren't getting what they pay for, or that there's a kind of scam being run on them because the people starting the projects have money already. That's not the point, really. People are donating for a cause that they believe in, and supporting people they agree with. The average donation for the Veronica Mars project was $62. Since it's nearly tripled it's goal, people could have just donated an average of  $20 or so dollars and it still would have reached it's goal.

...But that's not the case, people donated more, way more! Why? It's just as the author of the article stated before- Zach Braff is a brand. Veronica Mars is a brand. People already like them and they believe that these teams of people can produce quality entertainment that the backers are interested in. The backers believe in these creators, that they will produce a satisfactory product based on past evidence. Not only that, they believe that if they give the creators more money to work with, they will achieve an even better end result.

 "It's insulting to fans who are told that they need to sacrifice, with no potential for a financial returnif they want to see their favourite TV show return to life for a couple more hours."

Financial return? I've gotta say, I have never expected financial return from buying a DVD. The way it goes right now, if fans want to see a show come back, they have to show their support by collectively buying a huge amount of DVD's. However, an increase in sales means absolutely nothing except people want to buy what's already been produced. So how can the fans ask for more content? A petition? I'm confident that Veronica Mars fans have tried that. I'm confident that if Zach Braff asked his Twitter followers to say they wanted another movie from him they would retweet like there's no tomorrow. However, these things don't tend to mean anything, and get nothing done.

These Kickstarter projects show two things: people want these projects to get started, and they want it ASAP. We don't have to wait years with iffy statements and hints from actors and studios and in the end it never happens anyways. We paid, now make it. Can we be sure that the product will live up to expectations? Of course not. Do you pay to enter a theater, knowing for a fact that the movie is worth your money? Of course not. What's the difference between paying before and paying after? Nothing.

The people who are donating to these projects know exactly what they're paying for. They aren't being forced, and they aren't being scammed. Most people watched every episode of Veronica Mars, and every episode of Scrubs just by paying their cable bill. Nobody gave money directly to those teams, and now they have a chance to do just that. They get to contribute in a more direct way, and they decide how much they contribute.

Lastly, I don't think it's naive to believe that both teams will be putting in money or working for less than they usually would be. It's really easy to hate on people with money, but does that mean they can't ask for support? They can't let the fans contribute towards a project?

I dunno, I have some hero's in comics and animation, and if they ever created Kickstarter projects I would definitely donate. How much money they already have is irrelevant, they earned that through past work and investments of time and money. I'm paying towards the time and effort of the future, and I'm giving as much as I feel is appropriate.

I can understand the authors uneasiness towards companies sneaking in on crowd funding to get easy money before producing anything. It makes sense, and it does seem that it could be on the horizon. At the same time, can we really be telling people not to put their money towards their own interests?

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