Over here at Trash Talk! we’re going to take a look at pop-culture through an artistic lens, more specifically exploring the dichotomy between high-art and low-art in movies, TV, comics, and video games. What’s fine cinema, and what’s trash? Sometimes the line may be thinner than you think.
Has Kickstarter sold out? The answer is a resounding maybe, but if it has we only have ourselves to blame. Last week, the Kickstarter campaign for the Veronica Mars movie launched, and it has gone gangbusters, raising its 2 million dollar price tag in just hours. But really, should that surprise anyone? I’ve never watched the show, but it had a (admittedly small) devoted fan base, and Kristen Bell is a movie star. Who wouldn’t want to throw some money to see one of their favorite TV shows come back to life, or to have something signed by a movie star. The thing is Warner Bros. still owns the rights to Veronica Mars. So you’re essentially bank rolling a big production studio’s movie for them, and you’ll still have to buy a ticket (unless you donate $35 to get the digital version).
Now don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt this movie would not be happening without this Kickstarter, but it could set a dangerous precedent. What happens when studios decide it’s a good business model to let fans pay for their movies, and then pay for their tickets. I mean there’s no risk for them, and then they get to reap the rewards. Then there is the more immediate concern that these big productions will start to crowd out the little guy that Kickstarter used to represent. Along with the Veronica Mars Kickstarter, David Fincher himself promoted The Goon project (and that wasn’t even for the whole movie), and talk of a slew of other potential Kickstarters light up the interwebs. When does Kickstarter become like Sundance or the San Diego Comic-Con, the latest venue for the big studios to pimp their products, while the voices of the up-starts get muffled or even silenced all together? Again, I have to clarify, Veronica Mars, and The Goon (a small, but pretty great, indie comic) are on the fringes of pop culture, but with the likes of Kristen Bell, Warner Bros, and David Fincher in your corner, you’re not exactly the young gun with a big idea anymore. Both are also based on pre-existing properties.
A few years back I submitted a short film I made (with State Lines co-founder Jarrett Haas no less) to over a dozen film festivals. It didn’t get accepted to a single one. I’ve discussed this with several of my industry friends since, and the consensus has generally been that because I didn’t have a name (a known actor or actress) attached to my project, I shouldn’t have bothered. Festivals tend to be inclined to pick up projects with at least some star power behind them. In a lot of ways this is a good metaphor for the entertainment industry as a whole. You can’t get your work out there, and make a name for yourself, unless you or someone on your project has already gotten their work out there, and made a name for themselves. It’s a snake that eats its own tail, and Kickstarter is already heading this way. A quick glance at the funded campaigns, and it won’t take you long to find a project attached to a movie star or an already established property. I recently read an article where one the contributors said she had a friend that had a successful Kickstarter, and he wasn’t famous. She was talking about the co-producer of Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse and his documentary on Tim Burton’s failed Superman film. Maybe not “famous” exactly, but there are enough buzz words there that that sentence itself could fund a Kickstarter, even if you let alone the cult-making machines that are Adult Swim and metal music.
Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. In fact, in many ways it can be seen as a positive thing. There is an audience for a Veronica Mars movie, and now they are getting one. Here in the US we live in a capitalistic Democracy, people vote with dollar bills. Money talks, and sites like Kickstarter are giving audiences a bigger voice to tell creators what they want in no uncertain terms. Warner Bros. may say there is no market for a Veronica Mars movie, the fans just proved them wrong. All over the internet the middle-man that is the studio is being cut out of the equation. I highly recommend checking out Brian K. Vaughan’s and Marcos Martin’s new project The Private Eye at panelsyndicate.com. These are two creators that have no problem getting their work out there (Vaughan is killing it at Image Comics on Saga, and Martin has been working on the critically and commercially successful Daredevil for Marvel Comics), but this is an opportunity for them to do it exactly the way they want, no interference. Besides, you get to pay what you want for each issue (hard to argue with that), and the story is amazing and especially poignant in our current age of the Cloud and social media. Meanwhile Louis CK sells tickets to his stand-up tour directly from his site to protect his audience from scalpers. These are all beautiful things.
If I’m being honest, when the inevitable Terriers Kickstarter hits the site, I’ll be one of the first to contribute. There’s a problem though, at least as far as I’m concerned, if that’s the only project I contribute to. Why were shows like Terriers and Veronica Mars cancelled in the first place anyway, and great shows like Community constantly on the bubble? It’s because studios are becoming more and more risk averse. Off the top of your head, how many studio movies can you think of that are coming out this summer that aren’t based on an established franchise? At a loss? It’s understandable. Studios are the ones with all the marketing dollars, and they only want to put out what they know will make them money. Again it comes down to our dollar bill ballot. Are you going to see Iron Man 3 this summer, even if you didn’t particularly like Iron Man 2? How many indie films do you plan on seeing as well? There’s obviously nothing wrong with wanting to see Iron Man 3, and lord knows I couldn’t be more stoked for Man of Steel, but I’d recommend taking some of your cash and checking out some original works, and projects by new and up-and-coming filmmakers. Go see some small arthouse films. If your friends tell you about a great, but little-watched show, check it out for crying out loud! And if you rush to donate to something like the Veronica Mars Kickstarter take a second and shop around at the other, more modestly cast, projects. You may find a hidden gem in there that’s worth supporting. Then tell your friends about it. In that way the Veronica Mars’ of the world can help support the Kickstarter community instead of overshadowing it.
People are always complaining about the lack of originality coming out of Hollywood. Well, we now live in a time where it’s easier than ever to support the projects we the audience want to see. We can support originality. It’ll always be tough for the independent creators and upstarts to get their voice out there, and as fellow State-Liner Ken Whiting reminded me, it should be, really. If it were easy anybody could do it. Everybody has a Facebook and/or Twitter to rattle off every little thought that tumbles across their brain. That doesn’t make them worth listening to. Honestly, whether it was because I didn’t have a name on the project or not, my short film wasn’t my best work (sorry Haas). It sure was at the time, but since then I’ve moved out to Hollywood, I’ve gone broke at least twice just trying to pay rent, and I’ve done everything from schlepping books at Barnes and Noble, to setting up Judd Apatow’s office for This is Forty, to casting editing for reality TV, to sharing drinks with Diddy and his Revolt TV crew. I’ve kept writing the entire time, and am constantly struggling to get projects off the ground. I’ve lived more, I’ve worked harder, and I’ve gotten smarter. Each project I’ve done is better than the last, and I’m more confident about my craft. The struggle has made me better.
Go see those big budget flicks we all love, and support Kristen Bell’s Kickstarter if you’re a fan, but there are a lot more little guys out there that have worked their asses off (in a lot of cases far more than you or I could imagine) and they’re ready for their moment in the sun. So go find their movies, check out their TV shows, support their Kickstarters, and just generally support creativity and originality whenever you can, whether you know the names attached or not.
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