Discussion: The Spike Lee Kickstarter

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I love the idea behind crowdfunding. A way to give money directly to the people I want to make something I’ve wanted for many years? Sign me up! I’ve backed a number of nostalgia-driven gaming projects, everything from the Tim Schafer Double Fine Adventure game that kickstarted Kickstarter into our hearts, to the current campaign for a new game from ex-cop and game designer Jim Walls, the creator of Sierra’s Police Quest series that I grew up playing and continue to adore well into my adulthood. While these projects are working against all kinds of unrealistic expectations, I still backed them heartily, just for the chance to see my old favorites do their damnedest to make another game along similar lines as their previous work. After all, humans are never satisfied and we always want “just one more.”

The Spike Lee Kickstarter campaign has generated a lot of anger from the Internet, as people call Spike out for being too rich to be on Kickstarter. Many believe Kickstarter is a platform solely for struggling nobodies to possibly achieve a shot at the American dream of financial independence… if their idea and pitch are good enough. “Spike’s already had his chance and years of success,” they say, “he should move aside for someone new.” But despite the waves of negativity that the Internet trades in, Spike’s Kickstarter pledges continue to grow. I have no doubt that his campaign will achieve its goal and we’ll all be getting another truly independent joint from one of the most divisive filmmakers around.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I have not backed Spike’s Kickstarter. My first reaction was similar to those of “the Internet.” I felt that Spike could fund his own movie, and in a pre-Kickstarter-crazed world he did. According to Spike, 2012’s Red Hook Summer was funded completely out of his own pocket. Another pre-Kickstarter option would have been to find investors in the film, a common practice that struggling filmmakers have used for years. Sam Raimi shopped around a short test version of Evil Dead (called Within the Woods) to local businessmen, asking for their contributions to fund his debut film. This is largely the same thing happening at Kickstarter, although the key distinction is that with Kickstarter you are merely giving your money away in hopes of the realization of the production, and perhaps some “rewards” based on your pledge level. The people giving Sam Raimi and other independent filmmakers money 30 years ago did so as investors in the production, with a tangible stake in its success or failure. They needed a reason to give away thousands of dollars, and that reason was more than dinner and a ball game with the director.

These are real concerns when big-name people enter the Kickstarter space, and they are factors that must be considered if you donate money. On the other side of the issue, people such as Spike Lee are a known quantity. Sure, we’d all like to dream about funding (or being) a nobody that achieves major success thanks to the generosity of others, but this is a dream that carries a lot of doubt and uncertainty. With someone like Spike Lee, the guarantee of a quality production is a given. You might not like the movie he makes, but it will definitely carry a level of professionalism that a couple of gung-ho 18-year-old kids will be unable to muster. There’s also the fact that a working professional will know how to spend the budget, instead of learning along the way with your money.

But at the end of the day, the thing about all film-related Kickstarters is that you’re giving others your money in hopes of helping to produce something you’d like to see. Without any real stake in the production, it’s not about who should be or shouldn’t be getting Kickstarted, it’s about art. Are you the type of person who’d love to see Spike Lee make another film completely free from the studio system? Or would you rather see some youngbloods with fire in their eyes, hungry for a chance at greatness, giving it their all and possibly failing? Any kind of art that falls outside the mainstream must be supported by like-minded individuals who are excited by things that challenge them, projects that explore any and all sides of humanity. Whether it’s Spike Lee or someone new behind the camera, in regards to pledges and Kickstarter it’s all pretty much the same. I don’t see either side standing out as the “right” one to be on Kickstarter, but I do know that art outside the mainstream will need funding to survive as long as it doesn’t pull in giant box office numbers.

So those are my thoughts, what are yours? Sound off in the comments!

5 comments to Discussion: The Spike Lee Kickstarter

  • I have no issue with anyone (even Spike Lee) getting onto Kickstarter to fund their projects – the whole point of it is that if the people with the cash want it to succeed (or not) then the money will flow. A “name” like Spike Lee will always generate momentum through public goodwill and a pre-existing brand, although as you mentioned, he’s a name that probably doesn’t need the help – and is he taking money away from folks who will bring something new to the table?

    Now, all I need is to set up a Kickstarter for that documentary about genital pustules I’ve always wanted to make, and I’ll be sweet!

    • The perception is that he is taking money away from struggling artists, but there’s no way that someone unknown could raise that as much as Spike hopes to through Kickstarter. That pitch would have to be incredible, proving that you had what it took and could truly deliver as promised. If anything it legitimizes the platform and just brings more attention to it.

      Hahahaha, I’d through a few dollars your way for a pustules doc. I think you’re onto something. 😀

  • There was a bit of a hubbub over Zach Braff using it as well, and he’s not even as high a profile as Spike Lee. And probably some about the Veronica Mars one. I’m pretty much of the same mind as Greg Dean of “Real Life Comics” (http://reallifecomics.com/comic.php?comic=title-3020) on this; while there is a certain degree of “zero sum game” at work (money I spend on one thing isn’t spent on other stuff — if I were actually chipping in to Kickstarter anyway), but it’s not as though most people are going around dropping huge Kickstarter pay-ins to one and only one project. It’s a dollars-and-cents game, and somebody who chips in $10 to Spike Lee might just as easily chip in $25 to Joe Schmoe.

    If someone doesn’t think Spike Lee should get Kickstarter money, there’s an easy solution: don’t give it. If other people choose to give Spike Lee money, that’s their decision. It’s sheer arrogance to get upset over what entertainment other people spend their lawfully earned money on.

    • I agree that those upset about high-profile Kickstarters should just not give their money and move along. This is the Internet, though, and just moving along without spewing some form of negative filth just doesn’t compute with a lot of users. People probably are spreading their money around to multiple Kickstarters that look interesting, if they can. I’d love to see some data on that.

      I like that Spike has taken to Kickstarter to produce a film that was likely rejected at the studios. As the first big name director on the platform (as far as I know), he has the potential to open the door to others. As I’m going through the rest of Sam Fuller’s films and reading his book alongside them, the amount of heartbreak and unrealized projects he went through during his last 25 years in the business is astounding. Many of them sound incredible and would’ve probably made better movies than the ones he actually got to make. If Kickstarter allows “name” artists an ability to connect directly with their fans, I’m completely behind that.

      I do still have an issue with the idea of the whole “becoming a producer” wish-fulfillment that goes along with a high-profile campaign, when you’re actually doing little more than pre-ordering the product in advance of production. There’s an idea: incentivize pre-ordering anything (which many video games already do). But just imagine receiving a T-Shirt that reads, “I Pre-ordered the Pacific Rim DVD/Blu-ray Combo Pack from Warner Bros via Amazon.com.” The sad thing is that this doesn’t seem too far off.

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