Entertainment Celebrities

Good or bad: Crowdsourcing celebs

JIM SLOTEK and LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

Zach Braff (<A HREF="http://www.wenn.com" TARGET="newwindow">WENN.COM</a>)

Zach Braff (WENN.COM)

JIM SLOTEK SAYS:

So why should we, the public, be asked to contribute cash to crowd-source funding sites like Kickstarter, just so people like Zach Braff can get their movies made?

I mean, isn't that what Hollywood players have chequebooks for?

One good reason is that, in the entertainment industry, the system is broken. And this is the time of year when it's never more painfully obvious.

You like superheroes? Great! Nine-figure budgeted action films with car chases and crap blowing up? Fantastic! Sequels? You bet!

At any given megaplex, anywhere in North America, the same six movies are on offer. Which is the main reason theatres have devolved into places that babysit teenagers. Which is the main reason most adults don't go anymore. Which is the main reason they make few movies for adults. And why the ones they do make have trouble finding screens to play on.

Thus, if the assumption going in is that you, as an adult, will not pay to see such movies, they don't get made. And if they don't get made, there's no way for you to prove with your wallet that the assumption is wrong, that you want something else. ANYTHING else, in fact. There is something of a make-good aspect to the Internet's role in the crowdsourcing craze. Pirating didn't hurt the blockbuster industry. The lure of big-screen 3-D and IMAX and retina-burning pyro continues to offset the revenue drain from downloading.

But other kinds of movies haven't been so lucky. And a generation that didn't believe they should pay for anything is now producing artists who can't get paid for anything.

So let's pass the hat, shall we?

Across the industry, a handful of artists are taking their careers back from the broken machine. Louis C.K. just completed one of the most lucrative tours in comedy history by dealing with his fanbase and selling tickets directly online. If Louis wanted to direct a movie, there would be plenty of fans who'd help him out, in exchange for a T-shirt and crossed fingers.

Kevin Smith is not to everyone's taste, so he made his last film, Red State, strictly for his fans, who paid to hear him introduce it in person (and yak at considerable length) in theatres and halls across North America. At this point in his career, left to the tender mercies of studio heads and actuaries, there would be no Kevin Smith movies. If you don't like his movies, you may joke about that being a good thing, but it's unfair to a fairly large constituency with cash in hand.

It's called supply-and-demand and choice. But choice is a joke if what you want is prevented from existing at the green-light stage by high financial stakes, skittish accountants and a slavish devotion to the lowest-common-denominator. We can take back our entertainment from the big media companies that tell us what to like. Even incrementally, it would be start. A kickstart, if you will.

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LIZ BRAUN SAYS:

You've already got my $12.50 for the movie ticket, another $12 for popcorn -- do I really have to finance the movie, too?

Here in Canada, we have our own special approach to arts funding through a little something called 'taxes', but let's not get into that. Kickstarter began in the U.S. for obvious reasons. A lot of cool creative projects have found their financial footing thereby, but there's something entirely off-putting about the marriage of movies and this method. We are in agreement with Mr. Slotek about the fact that the movie biz is broken, but the problem has existed for a long time and Kickstarter is not the way to fix a fundamental flaw in the industry.

It's a band-aid. Passing the hat to help the movie business has the same 'WTF?' element to it as watching the government bail out the U.S. auto biz or Wall Street. What's needed is a complete overhaul, not a movie-by-movie begging scheme to get small projects made.

Obviously, Kickstarter might get a decent movie financed, but once it's made and the contributors get their T-shirts, where will the movie play? The same set of rules (greed and stupidity) that dominate the Hollywood system don't stop with the movies themselves, so every step -- from marketing and advertising to finding screens on which to show this wonderful DIY project -- is contaminated. If you're lucky, your film will find a spot at a film festival. And from there, if you're lucky again, you'll wind up in the very system that wouldn't have you in the first place. It's a kind of madness.

It would be fascinating to find out -- for real -- why a studio can find $200 million in a jiffy to finance the newest zombie movie, but won't pony up $2 million, or even $20 million, for another sort of film. Hollywood has indeed ignored a large segment of the movie-going populace; that segment is now at home watching HBO, and it's going to take more than a new Zach Braff movie to win them back.

Despite the fact that every film festival includes at least one great movie made for $1.75 on somebody's father's credit card, there is an age-old rule in the movie business that you never spend your own money. We have heard, once or twice, how one famous filmmaker or another, "Put his own money into the film," and those words are whispered with the same astonished admiration normally used for such phrases as "gave his body to science," or "carried that wounded marine to safety." What's all that about? Invariably, the filmmaker being talked about has more money than Croesus, and the idea that money must always flow in but never out appears to be a given. The movie business is just like the banks, really -- always happy to take a chance, as long as it's a sure thing with zero risk.

Which brings us to this sad truth: Kickstarter is just another thing liable to be ruined by the system. And by celebrity. It's great that Braff or Kevin Smith can get funding for their projects, but what happens to the unknowns and the first-timers? If nobody recognizes your name on Kickstarter, will you get any money? To use Mr. Slotek's phrase, "The same big media companies that tell us what to like," are going to continue to tell us what to like, and to believe otherwise is an illusion.

 

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