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Zach Braff’s Kickstarter project challenging the definition of indie crowd sourcing

Zach Braff Kickstarter Movie Wish I Was Here Script

Kickstarter has been a godsend for independent auteurs from all corners of the creative world by facilitating crowd sourced funding for everything from gadgets to hot sauce, and from theatre shows to graphic novels. But some Kickstarter users have drawn fire for not footing their own bills when they seem more than capable of doing so.

Zach Braff, known to TV audiences for his lead role in Scrubs and to film buffs as the man behind Garden State, has turned to Kickstarter to fund his sophomore directing effort, Wish I Was Here. The actor admits he’s had funding offers from other sources, but all of them came with casting or creative provisos.

So instead of pitching his film to a Hollywood exec, Braff asked Kickstarter for $2.1 million to make his movie with no creative strings attached.

And it worked. The writer/actor raised the money in just three days, and he can now proceed with making Wish I was Here the way he wants to make it – outside the traditional Hollywood process.

But is this what Kickstarter should be about?

The four year-old Kickstarter has facilitated nearly $600 million in donations and allowed over 40 000 independent projects to come to fruition, all through internet-based audience crowd sourcing. Kickstarter makes no promise of return on investment, but instead encourages askers to provide their angel investors with special acknowledgements or a first run on products in exchange for their support.

Kickstarter is the ultimate fanboy tool for promoting fresh, new ideas and individual projects that would otherwise be kicked to the curb by large production companies. But it’s also a company in itself, and while it sells itself as a champion of small time, big dream projects, Kickstarter has also opened the door for big time interests to put away their own wallets and instead crowd source funding for their riskier properties.

Braff certainly could have made the movie if he were willing to answer to investors, and while maintaining creative control is an appealing notion for the artiste in all of us, it’s really not as threatening as it might seem.

Any traditional investor is going to want to see some sort of return on the investment, and that means two things.

First, the investor will necessarily want the project to succeed, and if he’s smart, he’ll recognize that his role is to count the dough and let the filmmaker make the film. A good investor will stay out of his own way.

Dark Knight Heath Ledger's Joker burning money

Pictured: an artist’s interpretation of his investors.

Second, a little oversight can be a good thing. While we’re on the topic of film, Star Wars creator George Lucas is the perfect example of the benefits of oversight. Producer Gary Kurtz and executive producer Rick McCallum were able to use pressure from 21st Century Fox to keep George Lucas from getting too outlandish with the original Star Wars trilogy, and their much-needed sober second thought resulted in a much-beloved final product.

Fastforward a couple decades to Lucas’s prequel series – for which he had total creative and financial control – and you get Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, made by George, for George, and ultimately loved only by George.

George Lucas Han Shot First with Harrison Ford

He also revised the original trilogy. Dick.

This is not to say that Zach Braff is going to insert CGI banthas and Jar Jar Binks into his film; it’s simply pointing out that a check on creative control can sometimes keep an artist on point.

That said, Braff does have a flying robot sequence planned.

Zach Braff Wish I Was Here Kickstarter pitch character designs

Braff is the heroic-looking Aidan. The flying robot is the flying robot.

Zach Braff now has $2.1 million with which to do whatever he wants, and he only has to send out some production diaries and provide a few roles for extras to satisfy his big investors.

If only corporate Hollywood were so easily pleased.

Braff isn’t the first person from Hollywood to turn to Kickstarter. Many have used it to fund documentaries. But Braff didn’t get his idea from them; he was encouraged by the passionate response the cancelled Kristen Bell TV show Veronica Mars received when it asked Kickstarter to fund a movie.

“After I saw the incredible way Veronica Mars fans rallied around Kristen Bell and her show’s creator Rob Thomas, I couldn’t help but think… maybe there is a new way to finance smaller, personal films that didn’t involve signing away all your artistic control,” writes Braff on his Kickstarter project page.

Kristen Bell Veronica Mars

Look how tough they look. I’d give them money too.

The overwhelming response to Braff’s pitch shows this is a viable way for cult favourites to get their projects off the ground without sacrificing their indie charm.

Given how quickly Braff followed Veronica Mars – and how quickly Braff met his funding goal – don’t be surprised if more people like Braff start looking to Kickstarter as an easy way to skip the traditional Hollywood funding channels.

Filmmakers with their own personal brand could do very well funding their efforts through Kickstarter.

Imagine the response if someone like Quentin Tarantino, Joss Whedon or Kevin Smith started using Kickstarter?

We could quickly see a mini film revolution online, as consumers will have the ability to pay what they want for a product before it is produced. The wait time will be longer, and there will be no guarantee that the project will turn out as expected or at all, but for anything with a small and passionate fan base, Kickstarter may offer a second shot at life.

Zach Braff and Veronica Mars‘ Rob Thomas have proven that cult favourite actors and shows can make a comeback without jumping through the usual filmmaking hoops.

However, until we see how well these projects turn out, there’s no guarantee they’ll have the same quality that a Hollywood-funded project would.

The democracy of the Internet is making these back door Hollywood films possible.

But will it be able to make them successful?

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