Celebrity Crowdfunding Campaigns: In the Midst of Backlash, Some Find Success
Crowdfunding, a type of social media in and of itself, is at its best when it utilizes other platforms to get the word out. Celebrities have obvious advantages when it comes to this. But even so, many have failed (in epic fashion) and have instead incurred social media backlash.
For example, Zosia Mamet only got 80 backers to raise $2,703 against her $32,000 goal for a music video. Melissa Joan Hart failed to get her film, Darci’s Walk of Shame, funded – totaling just 315 backers. In May, Zach Braff began a Kickstarter campaign that launched an interesting conversation about who’s supposed to benefit from sites like Kickstarter, and who, quite frankly, doesn’t need the extra cash to get a project moving.
Braff, who reportedly earned $350,000 an episode in the final seasons his hit TV-show Scrubs, succeeded in raising $3.1 million for his Garden State follow-up, Wish I Was Here. But in so doing, he started a kind of anti-celebrity crowdfunding backlash. Popular blogger Ken Levine made a solid anti-celebrity crowdfunding argument at the time. “The next Kevin Smith is out there… somewhere. He (or she) just needs a break, which is what Kickstarter is supposed to provide,” he wrote. “Zach Braff can find his money elsewhere.”
Actor James Franco was critical of Braff’s funding efforts as well, even though he’s currently running a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. But his is different, as all proceeds from the films (to be directed by independent filmmakers Nina Ljeti, Vladimir Bourdeau, Bruce Thierry Cheung, and Gabrielle Demeestereto) will go to the non-profit The Art of Elysium, a charitable organization providing art workshops to critically ill children.
In eliminating the profit motive, Franco proved that he learned from the backlash directed towards Zach Braff. Franco, it must be noted, did not reach his $500,000 goal — he raised $327,929 — but he gets the money anyway, because he exercised the flexible funding option on Indiegogo. Further, Franco just has to reach into his deep pockets to get the rest of the funding. The project will be realized — that much was never in question. The real success of Franco’s campaign is ideological, considering the potential impact on that non-profit organization and the children involved there. He waged his campaign, essentially, as an anti-celebrity, and it worked well enough.
Director Spike Lee is another example of a celebrity with a successful crowdfunding campaign. He addresses anti-celebrity-funding concerns point blank on his Kickstarter page, answering questions and more or less saying: fund it or don’t, here’s my stance.
On his page, when asked if his ongoing crowdfunding efforts hurt bourgeoning filmmakers, he wrote: “The fact of the matter is I’m bringing exposure to KICKSTARTER, backers to KICKSTARTER who have never even heard of KICKSTARTER before. The same was true of the VERONICA MARS and ZACH BRAFF’S projects. There was also a study done that had data to prove we did not hurt the young filmmakers on KICKSTARTER either.”
Lee also managed to get a filmmaker of indie credibility, Steven Soderbergh, to donate $10,000 to the campaign — which worked to highlight one of the campaign’s top prizes: the reward of attending a Knicks game with perhaps the most famous Knicks fan in all the world.
“He is a totally unique figure in American cinema, and he’s always gone his own way and spoken his mind (even when the commercial stakes were high), qualities which are in short supply in the film business,” wrote Soderbergh. “I know Spike’s films better than I know Spike (maybe the Knicks game with help with that), but we’re friendly enough for me to say I respect him as person as well as a filmmaker.”
The Veronica Mars film Kickstarter is yet another example of a well-played campaign. Show creator Rob Thomas raised $5.7 million against his $2 million goal to bring the popular and much missed television show onto the big screen. Thomas, not a household name by any means, leveraged the cult popularity of the show — not focusing on any particular celebrity — to get an astonishing 91,585 backers.
And that is the key metric to assess when considering that most of those backers are going to do everything in their collective social media power to promote the film as brand ambassadors with a personal stake in the film’s success. “I’m not convinced that this will revolutionize how most movies get made, but I think there’s an opportunity now for projects that are similar to ours – that have some bit of public support behind it before they launch on Kickstarter…,” Thomas told Wired. “For something like Veronica Mars, where there’s a bit of a cult following and people are really emotionally invested in it, I do think this is a new avenue. There is no other way that this movie was going to get made.”
That’s all well and good for a celebrity like Spike Lee, but what about the aspiring filmmaker? As the old saying goes, a rising tide raises all boats. Celebrities like Spike Lee and James Franco enlarge the pool of potential crowdfunding donors/investors in film. When they succeed on the platform it does not mean that aspiring filmmakers fail. “Kickstarter is not a zero-sum game where projects compete for pledges,” the Kickstarter team write on their blog. “All projects benefit from the network effect of a growing Kickstarter ecosystem.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
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