When I received an email from Rolling Stone saying Neil Young was running a Kickstarter, I thought, “I wonder how many other celebrities have used Kickstarter..?’ I found plenty of them. But much to my surprise, there are many more negative stories about this trend than positive ones. Let’s take a brief look at this trend, and then I’ll tell you why the haters are all wrong.
First, there was Veronica Mars. What a great idea to crowdfund a movie so many people wanted to see, but no studio wanted to back. Fans of the cult favorite ponied up more than $5.7 million to successfully kickstart this project, created by executive producer Rob Thomas. Close to 100,000 backers claimed perks ranging from a PDF of the shooting movie script ($10) to a speaking role in the movie ($10,000). Thomas knew his fans and created a huge number of backing levels with plenty of swag to keep the fans happy. Obviously, the project was a huge success, the movie got made, and everybody’s happy.What’s interesting is that the movie itself only made a little more than $3 million worldwide. Could it be because they gave away 62,407 copies of the movie (digital download or physical copies) to the backers of the Kickstarter project? There’s only so much Veronica Mars love to go around, apparently.
Inspired by the success of Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell with Veronica Mars, Zach Braff decided to give Kickstarter a try with his movie Wish I Was Here. Another resounding success, this project had a goal of $2 million and raised $3.1 million with the help of 46,520 backers. Braff’s project looks like it took some cues directly from Veronica Mars, as it topped out backer donation levels at $10,000 for a speaking part in the movie. But, I give Zach a lot of credit for offering much more up-close-and-personal experiences for big backers: being an extra, site visit to the movie shoot, premiere and after-party tickets, and meet-and-greet tickets for premieres in LA and New York, as well as several other big American and European cities. This is the kind of stuff movie fans’ dreams are made of. But as far as box office success goes, this movie was a letdown, bringing in only two-thirds the revenue brought in by the Kickstarter. That’s got to be disappointing.
Let’s All Get On The Bandwagon!
After these two successful celebrity Kickstarter projects, lots of big names started jumping into the crowd-funding game: Spike Lee (successful), James Franco (unsuccessful), Shaq (successful, of course), and Melissa Joan Hart (utter disaster). Just for reference, no project unfortunately named Darci’s Walk of Shame should ever be funded.
The Haters Have it All Wrong
Haters of the celebrity Kickstarter projects seem to come in two forms: 1) those who think the celebrities are so rich they should just use their own cash to fund projects; and 2) those who think that celebrities are ruining Kickstarter for the little guy. Here’s why both of those ideas are wrong, and why you shouldn’t deny the rich and famous their Kickstarter due.
1) Rich Celebrities May Not Be as Rich as You Think. I understand that Zach Braff made $350,000 an episode for his role on Scrubs (for the 2007-2008 season). Of course, that is a BOATLOAD of money, and I’m not saying Braff isn’t rich in every sense of the word. However, whether or not he has $6 million in cash to cough up for an independent project is not clear (nor is it any of our business). Backers of unsuccessful Kickstarter projects don’t pay anything, Kickstarter takes a 5% cut off the top of successful projects, and Amazon takes 3-5% for processing fees. If you don’t like celebrities with lots of money using Kickstarter, don’t back their projects. Failure doesn’t tend to breed more of the same.
2) Successful Kickstarter Projects Are Great for the Little Guy. Quite contrary to the hater argument above, what actually happens when there’s a huge celebrity project is that thousands of new people discover Kickstarter, actually increasing the pool of potential backers. Kickstarter calls this ‘the blockbuster effect.’
3) It’s Really Hard for Artists to Get Projects Financed. The financial landscape of the entertainment industry has changed drastically in the past decade. While vanity projects may have been routinely green-lighted in the past, the tight-fisted financiers are looking at ROI a lot closer these days. Unless you are Tom Hanks, Jonny Depp or perhaps Cameron Diaz, funding is not automatic. Funding is hard to come by even for the biggest stars, unless of course they’re making a sequel to a box office blockbuster.
4) It’s Even More Embarrassing for Celebrities to Fail Big on Kickstarter. See for reference: Girls star Zosia Mamet’s epic fail.
5) Some Celebrities Have Really Useful Ideas. The inspiration for this post was a new Neil Young Kickstarter project, but the rock king has already had a successful Kickstarter, called Pono Music. Pono is described as “an end-to-end ecosystem for music lovers to get access to and enjoy their favorite music exactly as the artist created it, at the recording resolution they chose in the studio.” Sounds cool, right? Cool enough to be the 3rd most funded project in Kickstarter history! So that’s great. What’s even better is that Neil Young is back with another awesome idea on Kickstarter. He’s teamed up with the Rainforest Connection to deploy smartphone technology throughout Amazonian, African and Indonesian jungles to alert authorities when it picks up the sound of chainsaws (illegal logging), or an animal in distress (poaching). The project will close on July 29, fully funded (see link at the end of this post).
I fully support having celebrities help otherwise-underfunded projects get noticed, based on their name recognition, especially when the celebrity has worked for decades in support of similar projects that are not benefitting them personally, but doing good for the world. Celebrities like Neil are just using the newest tools available to them, and why not?
Do you think celebrities should use Kickstarter to fund projects? Have you ever backed one of them? Share in the comments below.