This morning, I was offered the chance to help one of my favourite Hollywood film directors bring my favourite comic book to the big screen in an incredible-looking animated style and voiced by two of my favourite character actors of all time (one of which, Clancy Brown, played my favourite movie villain in cinema history). The director - David Fincher (Seven, Zodiac, Fight Club) - straight up asked me to help him out with this.
I want to see this film happen more than I can even put into words. I would LOVE to be a part of it and to help make it happen.
So why am I so offended by the request?
Almost exactly a year ago, my first feature film premiered at the BFI in London. It was the best night of my life. A bizarre, star-studded, sold-out event followed by a party that dragged on to the wee hours and kicked off a UK cinema tour of this little film that I'd made in my hometown and edited behind the counter in the shop I worked in. I hadn't made the film with any grand ambition but because I just wanted to make that film. I hit a point with it, about 3 years into production when I realised it would likely never be seen. Although I'd funded the film out of my own pocket (mainly petrol money and buying DV tapes), I could never have afforded the costs of having a professional sound mix and picture grade - the bare essentials for having the film show publicly - and I certainly couldn't afford all of the music licensing costs that go with having made a music documentary. My secret plan was to just leak the film on youtube. I just wanted people to see it.
I was aware of crowdfunding - an emerging way of soliciting funds online from donors by pledging a series of rewards - but it had yet to hit the UK. Kickstarter, the site which, uh, kickstarted crowdfunding on a meaningful basis was a US-only affair. Then, one day, someone sent me a link to indiegogo.com, a crowdfunding site which was available to UK projects
Figuring I had nothing to lose, I submitted my proposal to them, got accepted and built this page: http://www.indiegogo.com/Anyone-Can-Play-Guitar My goal was to raise enough money to fund the sound mix and picture grade. At that point, it would at least have a shot at being picked up for distribution, which would fund the music licensing and, whether or not that happened, I could send out free copies of the finished thing to funders without breaking any copyright laws. I had to do some serious number crunching to work out how much I'd need not just to finish the film but to provide every donor with a copy of it on DVD. Incredibly, we hit our funding goal. I decided to extend the goal to include the costs of music licensing and, amazingly, that worked too.
But more than the elation of getting the film finished, Indiegogo gave me a direct point of contact with the film's audience. I spent a lot of time sending and receiving emails from the funders, who were amazing people, taking a punt on an unfinished film and providing me with not just the financial support but the unbridled enthusiasm to get it finished and get it out there. Indiegogo also pushed the project hard, we got a lot of press attention and even Fender Guitars got involved, donating a truckload of custom Telecasters emblazoned with the film's artwork.
Without crowdfunding, my dream would never have been realised. Since then, I've been hooked on Indiegogo and Kickstarter, I regularly scour it for projects I want to be a part of. My current favourites being: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1901380976/flipbookit-mechanical-flipbook-art-and-kit?ref=live (I can't WAIT to receive mine!) and a couple of indie documentaries - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/iambigbird/i-am-big-bird?ref=live and http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1939691921/plastic-galaxy-a-documentary-about-star-wars-toys
and if payday ever comes, this is the next one I'll be funding - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/scifilandmovie/science-fiction-land-a-stranger-than-fiction-doc?ref=live
So, why am I so pissy about being directed to this (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/624061548/the-goon-movie-lets-kickstart-this-sucker?ref=live) campaign this morning?
As I've said, The Goon is my favourite comic book. Eric Powell is a genius, not only does he do all of the art and write every Goon story, but he manages to make amazing stylistic departures in both artistic and storytelling style. From black-and-white line drawing stories of slapstick violence to the fully painted graphic novel Chinatown which tells of Goon's origins and brings a true lump to the throat. I also love the work of David Fincher, on this project in the role of producer. And the vocal talents of Clancy Brown and Paul Giamatti? I'M IN. WHERE DO I SIGN UP?
I'm not an indie chest-beater. Although it does feel a little like Coca Cola booking up table space at a farmers market, I do feel there is a place for mainstream Hollywood films in the world of crowdfunding. Any film would benefit from a close, early relationship with its audience and for a film geek like me, it's a privilege to be given the chance to help a project like this happen.
My issue is not with Hollywood encroaching on indie territory. Recently, Joe Dante - the incredible director of Gremlins, Innerspace and The Burbs hit Kickstarter to help fund his passion-project website Trailers From Hell. He offered huge swathe of reward packages for donors and for $50, I got myself a DVD of trailers, a certificate signed by Joe and a signed Blu-Ray of Gremlins. I would have paid more than $50 just for the signed Blu, but I got it AND the satisfaction of having helped a website I love stay online.
My issue is with the dynamics of the Goon Kickstarter project. If you read it carefully, you'll see that it's not such a great deal. They're trying to raise $400k to produce a 'feature length story reel' to help pitch the project to Hollywood studios. They describe this product as being 'a story reel is a rough edit of storyboards combined with music and sound effects'.
My first issue is this... in what world does it cost $400,000 to make such a thing? To make a rough edit of storyboards? The only costs I can see would be that of hiring a storyboard artist (maybe Eric Powell could do it for free, considering how much money he'd make if this film ever actually came out) and then hiring an editor to roughly put it together with music and sound effects.
If producing such a thing genuinely costs $400k, then they're really not shopping around. Most indie filmmakers could deliver an entire finished feature film for that budget. I could deliver eight finished feature films for that budget. So I'm suspicious of such a figure. I'm also suspicious of the film-makers commitment to the project. Not only is $400k an enormous figure to the indie film world, but it seems a fairly inconsequential figure to mainstream Hollywood. If David Fincher, who gets paid several million for each film he directs and, as producer, stands to make a big profit from The Goon, can't scrape together $400k from his own bank account or his Hollywood contacts, how much faith can he really have in the project?
At first, it's almost embarrassing he's asking for this money. But then, it doesn't exactly feel like he's coming cap-in-hand. Compare the video on the Goon project page to that of the one on the Science Fiction Land project page I linked above. The SFL one is a slickly produced plea from a filmmaker who has spent several years already passionately making his film out of his own meagre finances who has put a lot of work into crafting a pitch video to you asking for your help to bring his film to completion as he has nowhere else to turn. Then look at Fincher's video. 5 minutes on a Flip camera in his office, him and his friends just goofing about inviting you to donate $400k, a sum he already has in his private bank account, to foot the bill on the first step on a project he might not even bother to see through to completion. It's hardly a plea for a project of passion, is it?
Then look at the rewards.
What appals me most is that he's happy to solicit $10 donations for no reward at all. Literally happy to just take money from the dedicated fans who want to support the project but can't actually afford to give an amount he deems worthy enough to even respond with any kind of reward. If you pledge $25, you're allowed to look at their exclusive website ('a rare insider's look at the filmmaking process including PHOTOS, VIDEO CLIPS and ARTWORK of the Goon film as it comes to life') that sounds a bit steep, donating money for the privilege of being granted, essentially, the right to look at pre-publicity, but it's made all the more suspect by the addition of the caveat 'we will update the production blog as diligently as possible but bear with us with any delays between posting. We want to focus our main efforts on making the storyreel and will update the blog when we can'. Classy.
If you donate $50, you get a 30 page PDF of their pitch book. The book which is being created to get them more money. It's not created exclusively for the fans or funders, for $50 they'll let you see the digital promotional materials they're using for another purpose. How generous.
To get any kind of physical reward, you have to donate at least $75 and then you get a t-shirt. If you live abroad from the US, you have to pay $20 for shipping of said T-shirt. Seems a little high.
Anyway, you can see the other reward levels for yourself. I recommend you compare them to Joe Dante's Trailers From Hell campaign. If you donated $10 to him, he mailed you a signed certificate (worldwide postage included). To get anything with Fincher's autograph on it, you have to drop at least $150.
My friend and film critic Stuart Barr made the canniest observation of this whole campaign - you have to donate $10,000 to even SEE the project you're funding. To even SEE the rough edit of storyboards with sound effects and music, you have to donate $10k. Oh, you get lunch too. But not with Fincher. And travel expenses are not included.
Do I think Fincher et al are evil and trying to pull a fast one? No, I don't. I just think they've jumped into crowdfunding without really understanding or engaging with the point of it. They needed a fast $400k, they didn't want to dip into their own pockets, they knew they could pull this off and also get a bunch of free publicity for a film they'd really like to see.
I think the point they're missing is that they're not giving the fans a meaningful way to be involved and they're not really treating them with respect. It's OK to solicit your audience directly but if you're asking for their hard-earned money and faith (remember, they've made no commitment that the film will ever even happen) then you should be prepared to meet them halfway in your rewards and provide them with value and with something a bit special. Couldn't Fincher offer some of his old movie props? Couldn't he sit down at that table a little longer and offer his autograph to the $10 donors too?
I'm mainly disgusted that a very wealthy man is prepared to ask the public to donate $10 to him for nothing in return other than the feeling they might have in some way helped a film that might never get made (at least offer to put their names in the credits, you bastard!) I'm sure it's due to lack of thought rather than mean-spiritedness but it's palpable.
Crowdfunding is an amazing revolution in filmmaking and there's plenty of scope for filmmakers to work with their audience directly in bringing out films which the mainstream has no interest for.
This campaign will be a success. In less than 24 hours, it has already raised $80k from excited fans of The Goon and Fincher. I genuinely hope those fans are pleased with the reward they get for their donations but more than that, I hope they take a good look around the Kickstarter site and get excited about some projects which genuinely need their support to come into existence.
If you've never looked into crowdfunding before, I seriously urge you to spend a little while exploring Kickstarter and Indiegogo, it's not just films on there - comics, art, music, food, start-up businesses, technology - so much incredible raw talent and passion looking for your support and offering you truly incredible rewards in return.
If you want to see the fruits of my indiegogo campaign, please check out www.acpgthemovie.com
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