Today, Spike Lee became the third celebrity to fund a film on Kickstarter and it’s highly likely people are already complaining. “Spike Lee is rich! He doesn’t need my money.” Actually, he does! Art isn’t free and that’s okay!
In two parts, I’m going to try and explain why it’s okay for celebrities to ask for your money and why you’ll be happier giving it to them over TMZ or MGM.
Art and Business
When you see that Dark Knight Rises cost $230 million to make, it’s easy to think that $1 or $2 million is not a lot of money. Why can’t Spike just finance it all himself? He could, but he didn’t get this far without learning a little bit about balancing art and business.
When making a movie, you’ve historically had to sacrifice creative control in order to get the damn thing made. Sometimes the balance of a big studio budget and a director with vision goes swimmingly (see: The Avengers); fans love the movie and it makes a huge pile of money. But most of the time, you end up with a cookie-cutter movie that might turn a profit or a creative mess that loses a ton.
And yet, even if it often results in a watered-down mess, successfully pitching a movie to a studio provides validation. It’s no longer just a good idea, but an idea that experienced studio executives think will be well-liked. If Spike Lee were to just throw his money at this idea, he’d have no idea if people thought it was any good until the money was spent. That’s either shitty risk management or insane hubris, but it would definitely be a bad idea.
With Kickstarter, filmmakers have a newfound option of retaining complete creative control while raising enough capital to finance a low-budget film. In an ideal world, the fans get a Spike-Lee-ier Spike Lee joint and Spike Lee gets the validation he needs.
Sooner or later, a celebrity’s $1 million+ project will fail and it will be a good thing. Either the size of support won’t match up with the required budget or someone who drank their own kool-aid will be knocked down a peg, but the system will work.
Why You Should Back
It’s really simple—back a project because you want it to exist.
It could be because you think it’s the best idea ever or because you want to support someone you like/trust/share DNA with; but it really doesn’t matter why. If you don’t want the thing to exist, don’t put any money towards it.
When you do support a project, you get to give your money directly to the artist. I really enjoyed Garden State and watched Scrubs for years, so I was happy to back Wish I Were Here. I’m a huge Spike Lee fan and want to see him make this movie. Even if these films flame out and never see the light of day, I’ll be okay with it.
Of course, I hope they get made and are fantastic, but I know that any failure would be their own. There’s no middle-manager in marketing who cut a misleading trailer or sold a heinous product placement spot. If these movies suck, I’ll feel better about “wasting” my $25 contribution than I would spending $25 on a ticket and a soda at the theater.
But here’s another good reason to back one of these big budget movies: you can get some really awesome shit! Fandom varies in size, but I elected for the behind-the-scenes-posting level of support for Wish I Was Here and it’s great. I’m essentially getting the DVD extras before the movie comes out. It’s icing on the cake, but I already feel like I made the right choice in supporting the project.
The Loop is Tightening
Kickstarter isn’t a silver bullet for the movie industry, but it provides a new way for supporters to give a greater percentage of the rewards to the people who are making things. Fans get direct access to the makers and the makers get pure validation. As the loop tightens and capitalism does its thing, we should have less drek and more gold, which is something I’m looking forward to.