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Crowdfunding: Why easy money doesn't always add up to a hit

posted Jul 20, 2014, 9:56 PM by Siamak Ebarhimi

Crowdfunding has been heralded as a game changer for the movie industry – a saviour for filmmakers who don't want to compromise their art. Instead of going to Hollywood studios for backing, and giving up creative control of their project, more directors are getting funding directly from their fans by using websites such as Kickstarter.  crowdfunding marketing

But as some prominent crowd-funded flicks finally hit the big screen, it's time for a reality check to see what happens when the usual production process is subverted.

Filmmaker Zach Braff raised over $3 million to make his long awaited sophomore movie Wish I Was Here.

On a recent promotional tour, he told CBC News "this movie would not exist in any way I would be proud of if it was not made this way. The financiers who wanted to make it were trying to dictate a different cast, they were trying to dictate script changes, they wanted to not shoot in LA where the film takes place. Most importantly, they would not give me, the filmmaker, final cut of the film."crowdfunding advertising

So, Braff made his movie his way.

But as Wish I Was Here is released this weekend, the critical response has been underwhelming.  

Asking for their money back

A reviewer in the Miami Herald wrote: "If I were one of the generous and optimistic contributors to Zach Braff's Kickstarter campaign to fund Wish I Was Here, I'd ask for my money back. All of it."

At the same time, Spike Lee's Kickstarter-funded film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus raised over $1 million and is now doing the festival circuit before getting released into cinemas. Early reviews, such as the influential industry publication Variety, have called it "oddly bloodless." indiegogo marketing

Then there's Veronica Mars.  The feature film project, based on the cult TV show, broke records on Kickstarter last year, raising $5.7 million. But when it was released in March, the response wasn't so enthusiastic. The film only earned slightly more than half its budget at the box office.

Canadian producer Martin Katz warns that crowd funding films has its downside.

"If everyone who wants to see your movie is part of the pool of people who gave you money online and you were able to raise $1 million or $2 million, that's a fantastic story. But if those are the only people who are interested in your movie, that's a big disaster."  kickstarter marketing

Bypassing the usual gatekeepers

Katz, who has produced several of David Cronenberg's films including the latest Maps to the Stars, says "for passionate filmmakers the idea of being able to make your movie and deliver it directly to your fans without the interference of producers or distributors or sales agents is a great romantic notion. It gives you absolute creative authority and freedom. The challenge is that all of those intermediaries in our business, it's their job to figure out what a largish audience is looking for."

In other words, the movie business has evolved for a reason as a collaborative art form.  If writers and directors bypass the usual gatekeepers, they may find creative satisfaction, but at the cost of winning a larger audience for their movie, something that they may have also dreamed of.

Then again, if they got their movie made at all, thanks to their fans, in this day and age that's an accomplishment worth celebrating.kickstarter project

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By David Khorram