Among the projects that have recently launched campaigns on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter are an animated short called Samurai Chinchilla, a low-budget zombie film called I Am Alone, and a short film called Necrophilia: A Love Story, which is about exactly what it sounds like. But odds are you haven’t heard of any of those. What you probably have heard is that actor Zach Braff—inspired by the wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a Veronica Mars movie—just raised nearly $2.5 million on the site in a few days to direct a follow-up to his 2004 movie, Garden State, titled Wish I Was Here. Such is the power of celebrity.
In his Kickstarter video, Braff heralds crowdfunding as “a new paradigm for filmmakers who want to make smaller, personal films without having to sign away any of their artistic freedom.” (The actor told EW he didn’t want to give up final cut or casting approval.) But as successful as Braff, Kristen Bell, and others have been in mining Kickstarter for financial support, they’ve also inspired a backlash against the idea of celebrities looking to their fans to fund their passion projects. The true purpose of crowdfunding, some say, is to offer creative types with no Hollywood connections a chance to pursue their dreams through small donations. Should stars really get to take advantage of that model? Many on Twitter balked at that notion when it came to Braff, including comedian Tim Heidecker, who tweeted a page from a fake script in which a couple realized they’re broke because one of them donated $100 to “that f- - -ing Zach Braff piece of s- - -.” Meanwhile, Robert Downey Jr. poked fun at the fad for celeb-driven crowdfunding projects on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where he announced a fake $200 million Kickstarter campaign for Iron Man 4, joking, “Every little bit helps.”
Singer Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, who raised almost $1.2 million via Kickstarter to finance her latest solo album and tour, argues that crowdfunding is for everyone, famous or not, and recently wrote an open letter to Morrissey urging him to try it. “I don’t agree with the sentiment that these tools are only for the unknown,” she says. At the same time, Palmer was criticized for not paying guest musicians on her tour despite having raised all that cash. She soon changed her mind and decided to pay them, but the flap highlighted what many view as a lack of accountability in crowdfunding. “The creation of art is inherently messy,” Palmer explains. “But the audience seems to like being in the mess because it’s an authentic mess.”
Of course, it’s possible some of the attention celebrities bring to sites like Kickstarter will filter down to struggling artists. That’s the view Kickstarter itself holds. As the site’s co-founders wrote today in a blog post addressing the controversy, “[High-profile] projects bring new backers to other projects. That supports our mission, too.” For his part, Braff tweeted to his one million Twitter followers, “To the over 20,000 of you who’ve joined Kickstarter because of my project, make sure to browse.” The folks behind Samurai Chinchilla, I Am Alone, Necrophilia: A Love Story, and thousands of other projects still trying to meet their fund-raising goals would certainly appreciate that.
This week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly hits newsstands Friday, May 10.