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Zach Braff, Veronica Mars spur Kickstarter controversy

After Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and Scrubs star Zach Braff took to Kickstarter, people started asking the question, "Is this what Kickstarter is for?"

After Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and Scrubs star Zach Braff took to Kickstarter, people started asking the question, "Is this what Kickstarter is for?"

(Credit: Zach Braff)

Kickstarter, there is no doubt, has absolutely revolutionised independent creation. Gone is the need to seek third-party backing; instead, the conversation between creator and consumer allows a market to build without the intervention of some guy in a suit telling everyone what they want.

It has also allowed a lot of projects that might never have otherwise seen the light of day to find their way into the hands of consumers who actually want them, giving a platform to unknown creators who nevertheless have brilliant ideas. It also allows said creators to maintain hold over their own intellectual property (IP), and creators know what a big deal this is.

But two recent campaigns have brought the crowd-funding website into the controversial spotlight.

The first was Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars movie project. When the television show was canned after three seasons in spite of growing ratings, it left a lot of loose threads (and fans) hanging. After trying to get a film made to tie up the plot and failing, Thomas took to Kickstarter, where he brought in US$5,702,153 — way over his US$2 million goal.

The second, still ongoing, controversial Kickstarter campaign is Zach Braff's Wish I was Here movie, the follow-up to the self-written and self-directed Garden State. Braff wanted to retain full creative control over the project, so he decided to seek Kickstarter — rather than studio — backing, and has met his US$2 million goal (that's cheap for a film) with two weeks still left of funding.

But these success stories have come at a cost. Emmy-winning writer, director and producer Ken Levine earlier this week hit out at the two campaigns on his blog , saying that high-profile projects defeat the entire purpose of Kickstarter by taking attention away from the unknown creators.

"The idea — and it's a great one — is that Kickstarter allows film-makers who otherwise would have no access to Hollywood and no access to serious investors to scrounge up enough money to make their movies," Levine wrote. "Zach Braff has contacts. Zach Braff has a name. Zach Braff has a track record. Zach Braff has residuals. He can get in a room with money people. He is represented by a major talent agency. But the poor schmoe in Mobile, Alabama, or Walla Walla, Washington, has none of those advantages."

He added, "Recently, Kickstarter was used to fund a new Veronica Mars movie. This is obscene to me. It's a known television series distributed by a major studio. Are you a big fan of Veronica Mars? Want to support it? Great. Buy 10 tickets and see the movie 10 times."

The idea presupposes that attention is finite — and, in one sense, it is, because there are only so many people on Earth with so many hours in the day each — but not really in the sense that Levine means it. Kickstarter founders Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler spoke up on the Kickstarter blog in defence, saying, to the contrary, that the two campaigns have brought new audiences to the platform who have then gone on to spend more money.

"The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter," they wrote. "Sixty three per cent of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than US$400,000 pledged to 2200 projects so far. Nearly 40 per cent of that has gone to other film projects."

Someone "winning" on Kickstarter doesn't automatically mean that someone else is losing, they said. Instead, backers become excited about the creative projects being proposed, and the funding model and freedom to choose to back projects offered by Kickstarter. If there was only finite attention to go around, we certainly would not be seeing such massive growth in the crowd-funding industry.

And certainly, if big-name projects were banned from Kickstarter, there are a lot of projects that would never see the light of day. The Veronica Mars movie is one. Torment: Tides of Numenera and Project Eternity are two more. The fact of the matter seems to be that as long as your idea is a good one, Kickstarter is a platform that can work for everyone.