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