Photo Credit: Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for Extra
Zach Braff's 2004 film Garden State has a devoted cult following -- so devoted, in fact, that they just paid for a follow-up from the actor. The former Scrubs star, who wrote and directed the Natalie Portman rom-com, has used the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to finance his next film, Wish I Was Here. In three days, he raised over $2 million -- and some serious controversy. Should wealthy celebrities be asking fans to finance their projects?
Braff's pitch is certainly convincing. (Watch his promo video, below.) Inspired by the successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a Veronica Mars movie, the actor realized that if fans funded his new movie -- rather than a Hollywood producer -- he'd be able to retain complete creative control.
Kickstarter functions on a rewards system, so in exchange for their pledges, Braff offered fans insider privileges on the film. For example, a $10 donation (the most popular so far) earns you access to Braff's production diaries, exclusive videos, and a copy of the screenplay. You can pledge $100 to get into an advance screening (though most have already sold out); $500 for a personal video greeting from Zach Braff ("I'll do pretty much whatever you want for twenty seconds"); and $2,500 to be an extra in the film. For an $8,000 donation, you can even play the role of an actual producer, watching the final cut with Braff and giving him your feedback.
It's supposed to be a win-win: The filmmakers get their money, the fans get something in return. But not everyone sees it that way. Braff has come under fire for taking advantage of fans who have far less money than he does. What's $2 million to Zach Braff, after all? "People seem to think I have Oprah Winfrey money. I’ve done well in my career, but I am not sitting on $22 million," Braff told the LA Times in his defense. Still, does he need your money more than your broke singer friend trying to cut her first album?
On top of that, this is a movie that hasn't even been made yet, so fans literally don't know what they're investing in. And what if it falls through, and the movie never actually makes it to the big screen? This happens, and Kickstarter is still pretty murky about accountability and refunds. Braff is literally saying, "I'm a celebrity you like, and therefore you can trust me." That could indeed work out well for all parties. Or it could backfire, big-time.
Finally, there's the fact that Kickstarter investors -- unlike Hollywood investors -- don't see any returns on the movie itself. If it's a big hit, the guy who paid $2,500 to be an extra will still be an extra, but he won't get a share of the profits. That's not actually Braff's fault, because right now, it's illegal. But it's definitely worth considering before you invest hard-earned money.
As controversial as celebrity crowd-funding is, there's no doubt that it works -- sometimes, at least. The campaign to fund a Matt Damon documentary series about climate change, launched in February, failed to meet its goal by the April deadline. And things are looking iffy for Melissa Joan Hart's Kickstarter project, a film called Darci's Walk of Shame, which needs to raise over $1 million by May 26. On the plus side, this awesome-sounding animated film, written by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and produced by Community creator Dan Harmon, has raised twice its funding goal.
Will fans get disillusioned with celebrity fundraising? We won't really know until the goods are delivered; if the Veronica Mars movie is amazing, and Zach Braff proves he's a worthy filmmaker, then people may be more eager than ever to fund their dream projects. And that's the nice thing about it: Given the right circumstances, you can play a role in making your dream project happen. Even if all you get in return is a T-shirt, that sounds like a pretty good deal.