English: Zach Braff at the Vanity Fair party c...

English: Zach Braff at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are walking down the streets of New York and you see a famous celebrity.  Your heartbeat speeds up as it’s someone you like and admire.  You don’t want to bother him, but his last movie is one of your favorites, despite yourself you go up to him, extended your hand and say, “I really love your work.” a broad smile flashes across his face and he returns with, “Could you spare a few bucks for me then?  I need it to help me finance my next picture.  He reaches into his bag and hands you a brochure complete with all the details. “For $25 I’ll give you a pre-screening invite.  If you give me $100 I’ll throw in a DVD. For a $1000 we’ll include your name in the credits and you can go to one of many after-parties, for $10,000, and I know that’s a lot, you’ll get a small part in the movie! Whadda think?”   As strange as that scenario seems, it’s a new reality.

Crowd funding is a relatively new innovation brought to us by the internet.  Anyone can create a fund-raising campaign by themselves for just about any cause: a sick friend, help with a new small business, playground equipment for a school and just about every type of artistic endeavor.  Theater companies and bands especially rely on these sites to help raise cash.  In return for their monetary gift a donor might get tickets to a show, a t-shirt, backstage access or some other type of premium.

Recently celebrities have joined the crowd-funding bandwagon to help fund their own pet projects.  Zach Braff took to the internet and asked fans to help him raise the money himself, so he could retain creative control.  He ended up surpassing his original goal, eventually raising over $3 million on the website Kickstarter.  After his fundraising ended, he accepted a few additional millions from traditional investors.  So whether they gave him $1 million or $4 million they are sill going to want to have some influence.  The last film he wrote, directed and starred in, Garden State had a budget of $2.5 million but went on to gross $35,825,316 in box office sales.  With a film that successful under his belt, did he really need to resort to begging the public for money?  He is also not a poor man with a net worth estimated at $22 million.

And now Adam Carolla, with an estimated net worth of $15 million, is hoping he will be just as successful raising $1 million for his latest project on  fundanything.com.   His last film, The Hammer, although critically well received grossed only of $442,638 in box office with a $850,000 budget according to imdb.com.  It would definitely be harder to get financing for a film if your last one lost money, regardless of film reviews.

Another thing that makes me a little annoyed by this is that Carolla and Braff are not only multi-millionaires with contacts and relationships in Hollywood we could only dream of having, they are also members of the one demographic with the easiest time getting their stories on-screen – white males.   Women and minorities have a much harder time getting hired as writers, actors, and directors, much less getting movies produced.  It’s not exactly as if Braff and Carolla are trying to tell the life story of an obscure black poet, migrant farm workers, or the women’s suffrage movement.

Of course people can spend their hard-earned dollars however they want, and there is nothing wrong with what Caroll and Braff are doing here.  They have every right to use whatever means necessary to get their projects up and running.  I just don’t understand why anyone would give them money.  A popular incentive is to get a chance to meet the celebrity at an after-party or other promotion.  It might sound exciting, but as a person who has met a lot of celebrities over the years – I’d save my money.

Plenty of directors have completely self-financed their own projects.  Sure it’s risky and maybe they might have to cut back on a few luxuries, but even if their films bomb, they don’t end up bankrupt.  A lot of people make career risks from time to time, but most of us would never dream of asking our friends and neighbors for help.  We usually only ask for help after a disaster or devastating illness.

Instead of donations, would it be unheard of to sell shares in a movie’s profits?  Small investors wouldn’t expect any artistic control, they could still be a part of a project they really love and they might get something in return besides free tickets to a movie they would have paid to see anyway.  Wouldn’t it even make good marketing sense to have thousands of ambassadors around the country begging their friends to see the latest film they have a direct stake in?  It might be an accounting nightmare, but it could be a publicity bonanza. 7/10/13 A couple of different readers have point out that apparently profit sharing in this way is currently not legal.  I have known a few small companies that have done exactly what I am describing, but it’s not available for something like this.  

Maybe this is the new normal, and soon dozens of small independent films will use this method of fundraising.  After all our media is already saturated with celebrity obsession.  Once a person is famous they shouldn’t have to risk, or take chances when they could just ask their fans to help them out.  In return the fans get a tiny speck of the drug that is elusive and inviting – fame.

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One comment on “Celebrity Crowd Funding: Brother, Can you Spare a Dime for a Millionaire?

  1. Anders

    It seems that tribal psychology is what we have. People that have fame, have tribal power and for some reason we all fall for the allure of basking in the glow of that power, to a greater or smaller degree. That’s the only reason I could think of why people would give, as in giving with no expectation of a corresponding return, to people who are already well off, and sufficiently well connected, that they could find other avenues of financing. However when a whole bunch of people decide to part with 20 bucks or less the recipient doesn’t need to deal with aggressive venture capitalist that are hungry for profit. There is a risk there too of course if the project doesn’t pan out there will be a bunch of fans that are not so much fans anymore.

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