I woke up recently to the news that Kevin Smith won’t be using kickstarter for Clerks 3. Great! Why? I’m rapidly becoming a Crowdfunding cynic.
Everything I originally loved about crowdfunding has ebbed away, which brings back memories of ebay (remember that place?). Once upon a time ebay was lovely community with purer intentions. Sadly when it became more mainstream – ebay/paypal started to take huge fees; sellers had little come-back (buyers could easily claim the item had never arrived and the liability is with the seller to reimburse – even if the item did turn up); likewise – buyers regularly get duped into buying broken, fake or knock-off products – the whole experience now feels like one big scam! Is crowdfunding heading down a similar path?
As I have primarily used crowdfunding to make or help others make films, I am basing my experiences around this although it could equally apply to other projects/products. Much like ebay, crowdfunding sites such as IndieGoGo, Kickstarter or Sponsorume were once a lovely place to be. Projects that would never see the light of day had the opportunity to flourish. Now it is so mainstream and everyone wants a piece!
The problems are obvious:
1. Everyone is doing it. There is an awful lot of noise now. It’s a given you’ll HAVE to do this as a film-maker (we didn’t for this project being as it’s a charity piece, but sadly I’ll be back before long). It is incredibly tough to get noticed when everyone is shouting about their project and the unique perks which once enticed are losing their lustre.
2. Too many people are getting scammed by undelivered perks, projects which fall flat/never see the light of day or worst of all were nothing more than a con in the first place – eg. http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/kickstarter-scam-nearly-duped-thousands-out-of-120000/22016
3. Fees. These companies continue to cream off bigger fees (ala ebay/pay-pal) whilst leaving many dangling in a murky quagmire legally speaking. You can bet the onus will never be on them!
4. By far my biggest gripe is that playing fields are now completely uneven. Once upon a time a project just needed to be unique to stand-out from the crowd. Now this world is flooded and projects can be manipulated/dictated by the sites themselves (ie. the highest bidder). To me crowdfunding is about realising dreams. It was never about giving further finances to the more established who already have surplus resources such as film studios (eg. Veronica Mars) or celebrities (eg. Zach Braff). These people already have an unfair advantage and have access to far more resources – they just don’t want to reach into their own pockets! Of course, along comes the odd exception such as James Franco, although again – the cynic in me still thinks this is just as much about profile raising for Franco as it is for the charity fund-raising aspect itself (although I’d dearly love to be proven totally wrong about this!).
Kevin Smith “kickstarted” this mainstream film-maker trend with his Red State movie but has gone on to realise we should “leave it to people who need it“. To which I wholeheartedly agree, although sadly the damage is already done! Crowdfunding for most is now a desperate needy affair which boils down to little more than online begging or shouting over and over to the point of complete nauseum (most often both at the same time). And the grim reality is I will no-doubt find myself back here again soon enough.