Defending Celebrity Crowdfunding

Yesterday, Zach Braff of Scrubs fame, as well as recently appearing in Oz The Great and Powerful (which I also happened to watch yesterday), launched a crowdfunding campaign for a film he co-wrote with his brother, Wish I Was Here.

My immediate reaction was “Cool!” but I didn’t have the time to check it out then, so I just posted a link to it on Facebook and promised myself to have a look when I had the time. After putting in my pledge, I started seeing some of the people who were getting upset with him over it. The general consensus I’ve seen over it from those dissenters is that “Hollywood names can afford to go another route with investors, leave crowdfunding to the indies.”

Zach Braff isn’t the first “name” to choose crowdfunding. The first one I saw was Eliza Dushku, then there was Amanda Palmer, and last month the Veronica Mars film. There have probably been others. I didn’t support half of those projects. I only supported Amanda Palmer because the digital download was $5 and I had friends who were fans. I’d never heard her music before. I am a fan of Eliza Dushku’s, however, but I chose not to support her project because I didn’t think it was something I’d be that interested in. Veronica Mars didn’t accept supporters living in Malaysia, but that didn’t bother me as I’d never seen the TV series anyway.

The thing is, crowdfunding is still a choice. You don’t like a celebrity launching one? Don’t support it. But I don’t understand why you have to complain about it. If you’re someone running your own crowdfunding campaigns whining about it, here’s a message for you: celebrities doing it is not taking money away from your own campaign. Chances are, most of the people supporting them are probably only there to support them because they’re a fan of their work. Even if that campaign was never launched, they wouldn’t be supporting you.

However, there is a positive side, I think. These well known artists are making other people aware of how crowdfunding works. People who never would have heard of it before. Maybe they’ll like the model and look for other projects they like. Projects, perhaps, like yours.

I didn’t find crowdfunding because of a celebrity. I found it because it was being used by a friend (/of a friend) of mine nearly two years ago to finance Improvaganza, an improv festival in Honolulu. I couldn’t attend the festival but I wanted to support it and got myself a t-shirt out of it. Then when I returned to Honolulu last year, I felt like a minor celebrity because I met other improvisers who were involved with the festival who knew I was coming to Honolulu to pick up the t-shirt (that wasn’t the only reason I was there, but I’d opted for that rather than have it posted to me to save them money since I knew I was heading there). It’s that personal side of things that I tend to really appreciate most about the crowdfunding model. Being able to feel involved and having the creators know who you are.

Not all projects will have that element. It’ll be harder for everyone who backs Zach Braff to feel like that, but he is offering rewards where fans can get that. And what’s wrong with that? Why can’t fans have that opportunity? Why can’t famous creative people also have the opportunity to not have to answer to their investors about how the final version of their project looks? Now, personally, this is something I feel strongly about. I prefer people to have the freedom to decide how their project looks. Whether that’s a director having the final say in casting and cut of their film, or a writer being able to choose their book cover and what parts of their work not to cut out.

Now, in defence of the idea that people might find your project after funding a celebrity – it was only because I was on Kickstarter today looking at Zach Braff’s campaign that I decided to browse other projects and came across this documentary about controversial topics in comedy, and what can or can’t be said on stage.

There’s nothing else I really have to add. I just wanted to have a say on why I don’t think celebrities launching crowdfunding campaigns is a bad thing. I’ve supported both well known and indie people through crowdfunding, but I’ve supported a lot more indies.

For a bit of background to who I am as a crowdfunding backer, check out my profiles on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Pozible. I’ve now supported 35 projects in all.

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