“How would you evaluate the state of movies today?” the Playlist‘s Drew Taylor asks Peter Bogdanovich, who replies, “I think it’s unfortunate that there’s very little middle ground. It’s either very expensive or very cheap.” It’s an assessment we’re hearing over and again these days, but maybe, just maybe, we might find ourselves in the not-so-distant future looking back to 2013 as the year that crowdfunding became a viable means of repopulating that vacated middle ground.
Granted, there’s a subculture that’s evidently threatened by the encroachment of recognizable names onto a field once reserved for scrappy microbudget projects, a sense that yet another corporate co-optation of a near-utopian communitarian ideal is at hand. “Crowdfunding has generated funds and controversy for some stars, including director Spike Lee, actor Zach Braff, and Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, who have drummed up millions through Kickstarter.com,” notes Scott Bowles in USA Today. “Some critics say filmmakers are taking advantage of fan-producers, who often receive a T-shirt or DVD coupon for contributions.”
In what Charles Webb calls “an infinitely rebloggable interview with Bloomberg News,” Spike Lee struck out at such criticisms this summer, noting that such high profile crowdfunders “bring new people to Kickstarter.” And that’s key to making crowdfunding common practice. Webb at Twitch: “Looking back at the experience, Lee says, ‘I was being attacked for being on Kickstarter and I just had to break it down. The principles of Kickstarter are how we got She’s Gotta Have It made. The final cost was $175,000—I didn’t have that money. Friends, grants, donations, we saved our bottles for our nickel deposits.’ Lee says the difference now is the social media reach of Kickstarter via Twitter whereas back in the day he relied on pen, paper, and postcards to appeal for funds.”
Now Steve James, director of the award-winning Hoop Dreams (1994), is taking Life Itself, the first feature-length documentary on the life of Roger Ebert, to Indiegogo. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese and Schindler’s List screenwriter Steve Zaillian, Life Itself is based on Ebert’s memoir and “covers the prolific critic’s life journey from his days at the University of Illinois, to his move to Chicago where he became the first film critic ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, then to television where he and Gene Siskel became iconic stars, and finally to what Roger referred to as ‘his third act’; how he overcame disabilities wrought by cancer to became a major voice on the internet and through social media.”
The just-launched campaign aims to raise $150,000 and, as Bowles notes in USA Today, “a portion of any surplus money will go to Ebert’s favorite charities, including cancer research.”
In 2011, Hal Hartley launched a Kickstarter campaign to complete Meanwhile, and a few weeks ago, we flagged his current project, Ned Rifle—still 13 days to go! “As early as 1997, he was imagining the Web as a place where the anonymous individual could become a famous commodity and where all books would eventually be published,” notes Drew Grant in a profile for the Observer (via Movie City News). “‘Commerciality is inevitable,’ said the 54-year-old filmmaker, explaining why he has once again turned to Kickstarter to crowd-source funding for his generation-spanning tale. ‘Even in communist societies. Even in anarchistic societies. But it’s just a quality, and it’s a quality of civil interaction that you can work around and change to fit your needs.’ Mr. Hartley knows his audience—the cinema purists and indie cultists who associate mainstream releases with a failure of artistic purity.”
I want to draw attention to two more projects. Twenty-Four by Thirty-Six, a documentary on movie poster art, seeks to raise $25K with 28 days to go. And The Forbidden Reel explores the world of Kabul’s cinemas in a documentary photography book published by Daylight Books. That one’s already reached its goal, but still, you’ve got to see these photos.