By Beckett Mufson
Zach Braff, famous for his role as J.D. in the sitcom "Scrubs," has raid just under $2.5 million dollars in donations for his new movie, "Wish I Was Here," with crowdfunding site Kickstarter—but not everyone on the Internet is as enthusiastic as his 35,000 donors.
Ten days after it hit the web, TV writer/blogger Ken Levine ("Mash," "Frasier," "The Simpsons") published a condemnation of Braff's Kickstarter, along with the "Veronica Mars" campaign launched in March, that went viral, gaining 600,000 views. Levine said, "Zach Braff is a good actor and a fine filmmaker. But I wouldn't give him a dime."
He goes on to say that Kickstarter is a site that should be supporting filmmakers with no other prospects the same way Sundance Film Festival did in the 1990s. "[Sundance] showcased modest little movies by unknown filmmakers. Kevin Smith made Clerks (1994)— a grimy black and white film starring all unknowns. The result was discovered talent."
As it so happens, Kevin Smith is now pulling together his own indie project, "Clerks 3," and has announced that he will not crowdfund it. According to Comicbook.com he said, "We nearly Kickstarted the budget back in November. But now I'm feeling like that's not fair. I've got access to money now, so I should use that money and not suck any loot out of the crowdfunding marketplace."
Levine asserts that Kickstarter projects with big names behind them will monopolize the crowdfunding market, but Braff disagrees. He told the LA Times that, "most of the backers of my film aren't people on Kickstarter who had $10 and then gave it to me instead of someone else. They came to Kickstarter because of me." Braff also has defended himself by denying a rumor that he is worth $22 million dollars and could fund the film himself. "I'm doing this so that one negative audience comment in a test screening won't force me to change the end of my movie," he said.
Levine's post on Tuesday birthed a 227-comment discussion. Blogspot user Revan Adler echoed Braff's point that the project is more likely to increase Kickstarter's visibility than to take up its resources. This benefits both Braff and independent filmmakers looking for funding. Matt Celia commented that Kickstarter "isn't a zero sum game. Just because I donate to Zach Braff doesn't mean I wouldn't donate to your project or another project."
This morning Levine addressed these concerns, admitting that he had no evidence that Kickstarter investors are a finite resource and that Braff may indeed bring more visibility to the site. However, he still has doubts about whether this Kickstarter will earn Braff the independence he craves, since "Wish I Was Here" will still be subject to Hollywood distributors. He wrote, "It's not impossible that a buyer might say, 'We'll distribute it but we want you to cut this scene.' [Braff] still might end up editing his film to someone else's specifications."
Levine closed his most recent post by saying, "I love Kickstarter because it offers an alternative to the studio system. I just want to make sure those young filmmakers have a shot. That's all."