Who Belongs on Kickstarter?

Jun 27, 2013|Entertainment finance

Who belongs on Kickstarter? Is crowdfunding just for small producers, or is there room for stars like Zach Braff and their multimillion dollar campaigns? To figure that out, we have to ask why people like Braff might choose to crowdfund, and who wins and loses when they do.

Well, when reporters asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he responded “because that’s where the money is.” Probably, the reasoning here is similar.

I’ve written previously about Kickstarter surpassing $100 million pledged to film, and it’s only growing. The amount of funding being crowdsourced has been rising exponentially since 2009, and will likely double to $6 billion this year.  Kickstarter alone is on pace to triple.

Detractors point out that stars already have money available.

Take the Veronica Mars campaign. Rob Thomas and the rest of the folks behind the project seem perfect for Kickstarter; after all, they’re just a small group of people with a vision. But does Warner Bros., Inc. belong there? Well, it owns the rights, and will be handling distribution of the movie. According to Thomas, Warner Bros. wanted to use the Kickstarter campaign to gauge interest before committing. As producer Bryan Fuller puts it, “this is a great opportunity, because they don’t have to lose money.”

Zach Braff, meanwhile, could afford to pay for his movie, Wish I Was Here, several times over out of his own pocket. That would be risky, sure, but there’s already a mechanism in place to mitigate risk: equity financing. Investors (often major studios), though, might take some creative control, exactly what Braff hoped to avoid. Crowdfunding means having his cake and eating it too -- full creative control, zero risk.

They might not need the money, but it bears mentioning that Kickstarter is about democracy, and these projects exemplify that. The ‘crowd’ clearly wants to give it to them.

Further, saying the two are somehow hogging money that should be going to smaller players is a bit like saying that an immigrant took your job; first, it’s unlikely the job would have gone to you if he hadn’t taken it, and second, immigration can strengthen the economy and create other jobs. It’s not like anybody thought about contributing to another film but decided not to when they saw the page for Veronica Mars, and Kickstarter claimed a $400,000 bump (most of which went to other films) just from having it and Braff on the site. Many small players came out ahead.

More than money, though, Crowdfunding is about getting people’s attention, so you can ask them for money.

This may seem like a purely semantic distinction, but it pays to think this way. Take filmmaker Dan Mirvish. When financing his film Between Us, he embedded his business plan on his Kickstarter page, taking the opportunity to communicate with potential investors. He ended up getting more from investors who saw the page than from backers. That money got him a top cast, which got him the money to finish the film. His award-winning film is fairly solid evidence that his ‘momentum’ theory works in practice.

Does Braff need help with publicity? Quite the opposite, his campaign actually helped Kickstarter (and by extension, other, smaller, projects) with theirs. In this case, Braff doesn’t ‘belong’ on Kickstarter, but only because he might be better served crowdfunding from his own site for free. The only one losing is Braff.

There is a case to be made that big names don’t ‘belong’ on Kickstarter. But what’s the harm? If Kickstarter tried to keep them out, it would only be holding back its own growth, and that would mean everybody loses.