Who Is Kickstarter for, Anyway?
So many ideas in our country begin with the best of intentions and end up completely corrupted. From Lindsay Lohan's acting career to the once-noble filibuster, well-meaning stuff sometimes just gets out of hand here. But has it caught up with Kickstarter, too? Launched in 2009, this crowd-funding platform seemed, originally, to be a brilliant concept—especially for filmmakers struggling to secure financing. Directors who had no money could use this vehicle to attract average people as backers—plus, retain 100 percent control of their project. Perhaps film fans just assumed it was for the struggling masses, huddled together. But considering the mostly no-name directors who used it to finance films, it wasn't a bad assumption. There was no mission statement by Kickstarter to back this up, yet it seemed custom-built for the underdog.
But then, like Lindsay as Liz Taylor, or Ted Cruz by hour 10, things got weird. Name directors Spike Lee and Zach Braff and famous kids such as Zosia Mamet, some possessing the GNP of a Benelux country, started using Kickstarter. Is this fair? Is it equitable? Should anybody name their kid Zosia? We spoke with several indie filmmakers to see if such assumptions were true and all queries could be answered.
Count Katherine Dieckmann among the skeptics. This video and film director and Columbia Film School professor (she directed R.E.M's "Stand") isn't exactly overjoyed about A-list moviemakers using Kickstarter to fund their films. "My students often use Kickstarter," says the director of the Uma Thurman film Motherhood. "But I don't know why Zach Braff couldn't find money after Garden State. That's ludicrous. Why are 'name' people getting money from regular folks? Is it, 'Well, other people are using it, why can't I?' John Cassavetes constantly mortgaged his house to make his movies. I think with some name people, it seems like there's a sense of entitlement there."
Dieckmann is most concerned about her film students. "I teach kids who are deeply in debt. I feel that anything I did, that might take money from them, would make me sick."
Gorman Bechard, who has made features such as Psychos In Love and the Replacements' documentary Color Me Obsessed, is an artistic Yogi Berra on the subject. About Kickstarter, he feels strongly both ways. "I think it should be for filmmakers who've no other way to get the money they need," says Bechard. "I couldn't have made my last few films without Kickstarter. Plus, it restores my faith in humanity. Remember, in the old days, you had backers called 'angels'? The people who give me, say, 30 bucks are my angels. They make my movies possible."
Still, Bechard has an interesting take on celebs trying to raise money on this ostensibly meritocratic site. "When there's a scuttlebutt about Zosia Mamet trying to raise 30 grand for a video, it's a good thing," he says. "First, she didn't raise the money she needed. Meaning celebrity didn't help. Also, sometimes, people come to Kickstarter just to see celebrity proposals. And end up spotting something from an unknown that really excites them. Then giving that person the money. Zach Braff's doing us a favor. He's bringing people here, [ones] who might not ordinarily come."
Film critic Carrie Rickey also has mixed, mostly positive emotions about the site. "I'd have problems with Oprah using Kickstarter. But not Whoopi Goldberg, who needed money for her Moms Mabley doc, which lost its support from HBO. Just as I wouldn't have problems giving money to Paul Schrader to use for The Canyons. We don't have the Borgias or the Doges to support artists anymore. But we do have Kickstarter."
Last year, the notoriously prickly Spike Lee responded to talk of it seeming a tad unfair for a "name" director using Kickstarter. "That criticism is bullshit," said Lee. "The founders of Kickstarter told me, 'Spike, Kickstarter is for everybody.'"
Those founders weren't available for comment, but Justin Kazmark, a Kickstarter spokesperson, was certainly upbeat. You could maybe even buy it.
"We're happy that filmmakers of all stripes are using Kickstarter," says Kazmark. "What's interesting is, one of the first people to talk to our creator, Perry Chen, was [actor] David Cross. When David's show, Arrested Development, was canceled, Perry said, 'Why don't you use Kickstarter to get it back on the air?' So, way before the Braff controversy, we were flexible. We've always been about anybody creative raising money."
But why does a Braff or a Lee, who have access to studios, use this site?
"Mainly, there are no strings attached to the money raised from Kickstarter," Kazmark says. "Money coming from a single backer—a banker, say—always comes with conditions. Like, 'I get to give you ideas about the film.' Or 'Put my girlfriend in.' With us, the filmmaker retains 100 percent creative control. That's the biggest thing."
Kazmark insists there's something else that directors like about his site's crowd-sourcing. "Filmmakers really like the way we connect them to a community. If Spike Lee wants to have a relationship with his audience, this is the only way to do it. We narrow the distance between artist and audience. Plus, the audience feels like they are micro patrons of the arts. So, at Kickstarter? For both directors and patrons? We feel this means that everybody wins."
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.