The Internet lit up when the likes of Spike Lee and Zach Braff took to Kickstarter this year and promptly raised millions of dollars for film projects. Pundits were all over the topic, alternately haranguing celebs to get off Kickstarter or applauding their use of crowdfunding platforms. What has perhaps been lost in the scrum is the other side of that coin, something that is happening quietly, and that the Endcrawl team has started to notice: celebrities giving back.
You won’t be shocked to learn that a ton of movie credits pass through our servers. You’d even be forgiven for thinking that it’s tedious affair. (Ok sometimes maybe, especially if you’re not using our software.) But as those of us who always stay through the credits in movie theaters know, there are also plenty of fascinating tidbits to be mined from those lines of scrolling text (that and the occasional gag).
One interesting phenomenon is that indie end credits aren’t getting any shorter. New technology is empowering smaller crews, so you’d expect that to exert downward on pressure credits. But while the next Sundance sleeper may lack armies of roto artists, it will probably have a hell of a lot more people to graciously thank. I counted exactly eight thanks-yous at the end of The Great Gatsby, whereas one of our nine 2012 Sundance customers went to Kickstarter for finishing funds and clocked in with six hundred special thanks. To whom much is given, many thanks are expected.
And we actually expect that to keep ticking upward as more films on Kickstarter, Seed&Spark, and Indiegogo get funded, finished, and roll credits.
And here’s where we see a new trend emerging: names like of Zach Galifianakis popping up innocuously in donor lists between Uncle George and Aunt Gladys. The League‘s Jon Lajoie had some fun at the Veronica Mars Movie’s expense, but then his co-stars Nick Kroll and Jay Duplass donated to Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, an indie doc and another beta customer just about to start its festival run. We think this is fantastic. And no, we don’t have reams of hard stats—just anecdotal observations for now. But it’s a trend I think has a chance to continue, grow, and mature.
Ted Hope, who blogs extensively on film financing, has been calling for the creation of a sustainable film investor class (as opposed to the “stupid money” that proliferates today) underpinned by a staged financing model. But as film is both art and commerce, there is room for more than one (non-stupid) financing model. And patronage will always be one of them. So if billionaires are agreeing to give away half of their fortunes to philanthropy, what would happen if major actors, producers, and directors decided donate 1% of their next paycheck to under-funded and deserving indie projects raising their budgets online? What films would get made, what new talent would emerge?
Just thinking out loud there.
For the record: this is not a call for All Those Damned Moneybags to pony up. I don’t know someone’s net worth, and contrary to a lot of what’s been written lately, one million dollars is probably still quite a bit of money to Spike Lee. No one should invest in a movie unless they can afford to lose all of it, and if the summer of 2013 taught us anything, it’s that every film, even a studio blockbuster, has the risk profile of junk bonds. I’m not going to tell anyone that they owe my project money, or that they don’t have any business on Kickstarter. Spike, Zach, Ms. Mars—do it.
No, if anything, my appeal is more modest if also wildly optimistic. First, I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that the people who act in, direct, and produce motion pictures for a living just might be really well qualified to identify and promote worthwhile projects.
With me so far?
Then I’ll go another step and concede that if a Zach Galifianakis or a David Cross are so inclined, then sure: it may in fact be easier for them to part with a few grand than it is for the rest of us struggling artists and salarymen.
Then, I’ll go a little further still, and humbly submit that the weight of a luminary’s fame might be every bit as valuable to a project as filthy lucre. Checks are good. But if Michael Ian Black can command $5,882 for a single tweet, and if that’s a fair valuation, how much are those 140 characters worth to a film raising cash on the web? David Hasselhoff has 500,000 followers—what happens if he champions a crowdfunded film and tweets about it once a week, once a day? How many impressions, how many conversions, how many donations will that net? I don’t even think you have to add in the fun gimmicks like Golf with Tom Sizemore. (David Lynch has used his Twitter account to champion artists, but he’s doing it wrong, and Mr. Lynch: if you want to call me I’ll happily give you a few pointers.)
So it’s already happening, right now, this “first dip of the celebrity culture toe into the crowd funding waters”. Put it on your year-end list of “biggest trends for 2014″. You heard it here first.
For us, it really is fun to watch happening in our end credits. (It must be pretty validating for our cash-strapped producer friends, too). I think more of this is in store. It needs to become more organized and perhaps even formalized than it is now. Circling back to Ted Hope’s call for a permanent and sustainable investor class in film, what I’m talking about here is perhaps the emergence of a permanent and sustainable patron class. Not comprised of outside investors (they are fine, too), but a stable patron class formed from within our own ranks.
You heard it here first.
Regardless, when it comes to movie celebrities and crowdfunding, the street is a two-way street. As it should be.