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Michael Schreiber

Michael Schreiber is the Editor-In-Chief of Credit.com. He's produced and developed documentaries for Frontline, The New York Times, ABC News and HBO. Views here are his own. @schreibot


Zach Braff: Man of the People or Horrible Person? (Neither)

Zach BraffEmmy winning writer/director/producer Ken Levine went after Zach Braff today in a blog post about the actor's recent foray into crowdfunding. The Scrubs alum has raised millions of dollars for his planned follow-up to Garden State from regular folks, when the Hollywood money machine proved to be unavailable and/or undesirable.

Levine's argument is compelling. He essentially says that Kickstarter was created for people who don't have access to Hollywood. Braff obviously does, therefore his use of Kickstarter to fund his movie is tantamount to breaking the crowdfunding Code of Hammurabi. Following a deft takedown of Sundance for having become a tool of Hollywood rather than an alternative to it, Levine writes:

Sundance is a lost cause. But Kickstarter isn’t. Not if we put a stop to this now. If you only have so much money to give to charity, give it to cancer research and not to help redecorate Beyonce’s plane. Support young hungry filmmakers. The next Kevin Smith is out there… somewhere. He (or she) just needs a break, which is what Kickstarter is supposed to provide. Zach Braff can find his money elsewhere. He did once before. He’ll make his movie. And if it’s half as good as GARDEN STATE I will praise it to the heavens in this blog and urge you to go spend your money to check it out.

This argument assumes, however, that Hollywood doesn't make mistakes... that when they hear a pitch for a good movie, they always fund it. That's certainly not true. Plenty of good ideas never get made and plenty of bad ones do. Maybe Braff barked up every tree he could, and still couldn't get it funded. Or maybe he just wanted to make sure, as he notes on his Kickstarter page, that he would be able to maintain creative control. All of that seems fair to me. Successful actors, even rich ones, should have an alternative to the company store.

So, I don't have a problem with Zach Braff going to the public and asking for money in exchange for things like private screenings and meet and greets. (For $200 he'll scrawl your name on a wall that will appear in the film. Yay!) Now, just to be clear, I think people that willingly give their money to a millionaire in exchange for stuff that costs him nothing are nuts. I wouldn't fund a movie in exchange for that. But it's a free country. Each of us can do as we please with our money.

But consider this: Zach's raised close to $2.5 million for his movie from almost 35,000 people. If he'd raised that money from private investors, he'd have to pay that money back and give away a big chunk of the profits. Raising the money through Kickstarter - for the follow-up to the enormously popular Garden State - means he doesn't have to pay anyone back and gets to keep all the profits.

He's a fucking genius.

Like I said, as well intentioned as Braff's investors are, I can't help but think of them as suckers on some level and like Levine, I won't participate. On the other hand, I'd almost certainly be willing to invest in a movie in which I believed in exchange for some of the back end. I know in most cases it'd be a gamble, but maybe my $250 could turn into $500 or $1000. If the movie tanked though, I'd be OK with it, because I'd helped produce something that meant something to me. That's a model that makes sense.

Maybe Braff and other independent filmmakers should be selling shares in their movies, not tickets to the after party. If they did that, those 35,000 investors would almost certainly act as guerilla marketers too. They'd have a real, tangible incentive to get the word out. In the end, the public would almost certainly get to see a lot more different types of movies... and a few of them might actually be pretty good.

Image Source: david_shankbone, via flickr

The return of Kids

The good people over at Narrative.ly caught up with some of the surviving cast members of the 1995 film Kids. Written by Harmony Korine and directed by Larry Clark, Kids was a raw glimpse at life inside New York's early 90s skater and club scene. I remember the film for being both terrifying and making me feel like I was one of the most boring people in the world. The stars of the film were all real kids from that scene, and many of the storylines were also legit.

The kids say the film was accurate, except for the most fantastical stuff. There’s no denying they weren’t sober during filming. Even the scene with Javier Nunez, at fourteen, by far the youngest of the skate crew, and three other little kids mashed on a couch smoking a joint and pontificating about god and life—that too was real. The virgin hunter, the AIDS plotline, and the rape scene at the end were fictional.

Kids was responsible for launching the careers of both Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson.

Korine, nineteen at the time, and Clark, then over fifty, wrangled the troops from the skate clique, supplementing them with more non-actors from Washington Square Park and the club scene, and across downtown—including Chloë Sevigny, from tony Darien, Connecticut, who had been hanging out with the crew in Washington Square Park for years. They plucked a then fifteen-year-old Rosario Dawson from her stoop in the East Village. Vibe magazine was shooting a commercial on her block, and her father told her to go downstairs to get discovered. Korine heard her laughing loudly at a strange man who looked like Jesus, walked over and told her, “You’re exactly what I wrote.”

 Others didn't fare so well. RIP Casper and Harold.

Read the whole story here.

Vive Le Castle: 'A Middle-Class Interloper Spends An Evening Hobnobbing With Billionaires'

Castle Dinner Fundraiser

In the spring of 2011, my wife and I were invited to attend a fundraiser for a well-known European castle. We hadn’t donated any money to the group ourselves—we didn’t even know that castles had fundraisers. But a well to do colleague had given some money—a lot of money, really—and he was unable to attend this very intimate dinner for the big donors. So he asked us to go in his place. The benefit was attended by about only about 25 people, among them various aristocrats, patrons of the arts, billionaires and us: a middle class couple from suburban New Jersey. It was, for lack of a better term, bananas.

Noah Rosenberg, founder and editor-in-chief or Narratively, and I speak about the evening in this recording.

Narratively is a digital publication devoted to original, true and in-depth stories. Each week they focus on a theme, and publish stories relating to that theme. This week's theme is The Upper Crust. Explore more stories on Narrative.ly, like this great one

Edited by Matthew Petrillo

Illustration by Larry Buchanon

This originally appeared on Narrative.ly.

Before Foxconn, There Was Nathan Thurm, Esq.

60 Minutes - Amazing videos are here

Just imagine if Mike Daisey had connected with Harry Shearer instead of Ira Glass. He might have gotten his story on Saturday Night Live and reached an even bigger audience, without having to lie to anyone. 

(P.S. So long, Mike Wallace. Thanks for the memories.)

A Day of Reckoning for This American Life & Mike Daisey

Fans of the popular public radio program This American Life - and I count myself among them - learned last night that the single most downloaded episode of the show ever - an exposé of sorts of Apple's production operations in China - was to a great extent a work of fiction. The episode in question, "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," was an adaptation of a spoken word performance piece by Mike Daisey called "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," which Daisey is currently performing at the Public Theater. 

In the performance piece, Daisey recounts a trip to China where he met with various workers at Foxconn, a factory that makes products for Apple. The working conditions at Foxconn and other Apple production facilities in China have been the focus of a number of critical reports over the past few months, including this series in The New York Times. But Daisey's performance piece came first, and many credit him with drawing attention to the story. If that's true, then This American Life's massive amplification of his performance aided in that process.

It turns out, ultimately by his own admission, that many of the interactions Daisey describes didn't actually happen, rather they were often amalgamations of stories and encounters he heard about in his travels across China. A Shanghai-based reporter for the public radio show Marketplace named Rob Schmitz heard the broadcast and Daisey's story didn't sit well with him so he did some digging. He confirmed the lies and it wasn't difficult. All he did was Google the first name of Daisey's translator, along with the word translator and the name of the city she worked in, and she was the first result. He spoke to her and she told him that much of what Daisey described didn't happen. This American Life had asked Daisey for the translator's number when they were fact checking the story, but Daisey said he didn't have it. They believed him and for some reason elected not to try and track her down themselves. 

Read the rest