Poor Holland. He's my office mate and every few days he has to listen to me rant about the blowups over celebrity crowdfunding.
I'm firmly in the camp that believes that celebrities not only have the right to use crowdfunding, that there's nothing inherently unethical about that use, I believe it's a net good. They, i.e. celebrities, bring further awareness to a flexible, robust, and (almost) ubiquitously accessible platform.
Now that Spike Lee's campaign (he went to Kickstarter to raise $1.25 million for his newest project) has achieved its funding goal, Kickstarter has posted The Truth About Spike Lee and Kickstarter to their blog. In that blog post they reveal that in the last 90 days, "more than $21 million has been pledged to filmmakers on Kickstarter not named Rob Thomas, Zach Braff, or Spike Lee." In Kickstarter's own words, "Even without counting these projects, it’s been the biggest three months for film ever on Kickstarter! "
This is amazing news! However, if you dig into the comments and peruse the web, the mantra is still to hone in Spike's status as a millionaire--at least established by the internets--and his high level connections. Who cares? Anyone that's been a part of the indie film community for the last 30 years should know full well funding for independent filmmaking has been difficult to find, difficult to obtain, and even more difficult to hold on to. With that in mind, shouldn't we be celebrating the success filmmakers who are gunning to be the next Spike are having? Why are we still concerned about alleged millionaire filmmakers "stealing" our thunder?
Of all the arts, filmmaking remains one of the most expensive to produce. Even with cheap cameras and editing equipment, the costs of exhibition, distribution and marketing are still prohibitive barriers. For perspective, consider that a full page add in the Washington Post arts section can run you $5,000 per day. Four walling a theater can still cost upwards of $10,000 for a week's run. It's sites such as Kickstarter that can magnify the impact alternative marketing and distribution have on a film's success, by lowering the financial burdens that hobble projects at the outset, long before filming is even completed. Crowdfunding campaigns can be, and are, catalysts at all stages of filmmaking.
At ATLFF we screened in competition Our Nixon, a film that fundraised on Kickstarter. Not once, but, twice. The first time to secure the seed funding to get the film made. The second time was to tie up some key loose ends prior to their North American premiere at SXSW. Among those were securing licensing fees, hiring an editor to create a trailer, and paying for a publicist. Collectively the filmmakers raised $32,000 from the two campaigns. It wasn't large sums of money they needed to create and maintain their momentum. Our Nixon recently screened on CNN as a CNN Film presentation and has played over a dozen festivals. To reappropriate a oft used Hollywood phrase, "the film has legs."
It's critical that we expand our view beyond Spike Lee's personal bank account. Fretting over millionaire filmmakers is by no means useful or assists us in examining how we can use crowdfunding to bolster and sustain the entire lifecycle of an independent film, going beyond just getting the film made.
Charles Judson is Artistic Director for the Atlanta Film Festival