Kickstarter Etiquette: Five Rules Every Fund-raising Filmmaker Needs to Learn

Zach Braff Cover of June 2013 Variety Magazine Photo Source: Variety

Zach Braff cover of June 2013 Variety Magazine
Photo Source: Variety Magazine

“Will Crowdfunding Transform Showbiz?” asks a new Variety feature, touting Zach Braff — who recently raised over $3 million for his new directorial effortWish I Was Here — as its savvy cover subject. It’s one of those Big Questions that already seems to have been answered: Successful Kickstarter projects like Braff’s new movie and the big-screen Veronica Mars transfer have turned Hollywood’s head in a major way, and more mid-budget movies are bound to follow suit, coming to fans with an open hand. You’ve probably already noticed an uptick in friends hitting you up for their own Kickstarters, hoping you’ll donate to make their hoped-for web series/short film/debut feature a reality; is there some sort of trickle-down financing scheme catching hold, and if so, isn’t it past time that we made up some rules for this sort of lawless endeavor? Here are five rules that fund-raising filmmakers — from the lowest-budgeted auteurs to the biggest-name talents — should adopt right away.

Be transparent about where the money goes.
Whether filmmakers are asking you for $2,000 or $2 million, they need to be up front about what they’re planning to do with the money they earn. Are backers helping to pay for sets and special effects … or are you simply padding your friend’s wallet with extra cash? If you’re donating to a big star’s indie film, is there an actual budget breakdown … or is the goal just a pie-in-the-sky figure that they’ve haphazardly guesstimated? Too often, the filmmakers are vague about what they’ll actually be needing the money for, and when they can’t be truthful with you, it’s easy to assume that they don’t have their shit together — or worse, that they’re keeping something essential and damning out of their pitch.

That’s a lesson Braff learned the hard way in the last ten days of his Kickstarter campaign, when the Hollywood Reporter breathlessly divulged that he had just landed a sizable amount of his budget from Worldview Entertainment, a leading film financier. There’s no harm in that play since Worldview is a major investment company that lends crucial money toward auteur-driven indies, but the optics looked bad: Braff had made a plaintive plea to Kickstarter that claimed good financiers were hard to come by, but at the same time he was wooing Worldview to finance a high-profile follow-up to Garden State with a big-name cast including Braff, Kate Hudson, Anna Kendrick, and Jim Parsons. If he’d simply said up front that he planned to secure some extra financing — and that the passion from his fans could help boost that figure — he could have ameliorated the inevitable bad buzz.

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