Zach Braff’s Unjustified Beating On Kickstarter

Film Fans on a red carpet
Movie Fans Or Investors?

If you’ve been following the irresistible growth of crowdfunding over the last few years, you won’t have missed the furore surrounding the use of Kickstarter by some high-profile individuals. Most notably, US actor Zach Braff went to the site to seek funding for a follow-up to his successful Garden State (2004) entitled ‘Wish I Was Here’, successfully hitting his target of $2 million in just a few days.

Yet no sooner had Braff announced his project than he was subjected to a barrage of criticism online. The outrage seems to be very familiar if you take a look back back at Bjork’s failed Kickstarter earlier this year. Who would have thought it: it seems that some people get upset when a (presumably) rich and (undoubtedly) successful individual goes to the public to ask for cash. A collective shout of “why doesn’t [he/she] just pay the $[insert as appropriate] him/herself?” can be heard from disparate edges of the web as people turn up their noses in disgust (see here) .

This particular story’s grown so big that Kickstarter themselves have posted a blog which seeks to set the record straight about how the platform should be used (Who Is Kickstarter For). In addition, Zach Braff has released an engaging 17-minute video defending his reasons for going down this route.

The most worrying thing here to me isn’t the potential damage to Kickstarter brand. Far from it. It’s the total lack of understanding shown by some people who just don’t seem to understand how crowdfunding can work for these types of creative projects – and precisely why this model is so disruptively different.

Just to be clear, people aren’t allowed to invest on Kickstarter in order to make money. If you back a project, you’re doing it because you want to support a project. In most cases, in return you will get rewards of some description (either physical or experiential). But, for the most part, with creative projects, a large number of supporters are ‘simply’ fans who identify with the creator in some way and just want to get involved.

Fundamentally, these creative projects are not about the money alone. Now, cash is clearly often an important factor, more so in some cases than others. But in reality, publicly seeking validation before a project starts to incur significant cost means that you are cementing a relationship with your existing fans and supporters. Also known as the people that will ultimately help you sell it (by all-important word of mouth). By doing it early, well before any launch, it ensures that your platform is primed and ready to go so that you can hit the ground running on the release date.

So the guy’s already successful? Big deal. Let’s remember, Braff is no social media newbie. He’s got over a million followers on Twitter and is an active Redditor. Plus the funds that were targeted are only part of the overall funding package for the movie. I repeat – this was never about the money. He understands the web sufficiently to understand how valuable the engagement is in order to increase the film’s ultimate chances of success. With the added bonus of providing him with the opportunity to retain artistic control.

Perhaps it’s good that the debate’s being had. But I have to admit that I’m surprised that some people still don’t seem to get it. There are a few subtleties here when it comes to crowdfunding, and on Kickstarter in particular: from “the gates are down/we are the media” approach of Amanda Palmer (famous for setting a $1.2 million record last year for the most funds ever raised for a music project on the site to the fact that the site hosts more failed projects than successful ones.

But I think a few people need to take a deep breath here. The statistics show that the funders of Braff’s project were not, for the most part, regular investors in Kickstarter projects. Some have gone on to fund other projects also. The website itself had the highest level of traffic ever as a direct result. And what if the support hadn’t been there to fund his new project – how could you even say that being unable to raise the cash from your target market is actually failure? Surely true failure is ignoring the opportunity to engage in advance, incurring the production costs anyway, releasing the film and only at that point, finally realising you don’t have any customers?

What are your thoughts?

(Photo via wvs under 2.0 CC licence)