Crowdfunding Jumps the Shark

“Disney didn’t pay us enough. Would you like to finance our vanity projects?”
“Disney didn’t pay us enough. Would you like to finance our vanity projects?”

James Franco makes seven million dollars per movie. Yet he expects you to finance his artistic whims.

Following the example of Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, Bret Easton Ellis and Zach Braff, James Franco has joined the crowdfunding trend by requesting 500,000 dollars to shoot ten stories from HIS OWN BOOK Palo Alto. The level of self-involvement is off the charts, as some of the rewards include a painting by James Franco, dinner with James Franco and a James Franco’s yearbook, signed by James Franco.

The trend is troublesome. Sure, without crowdsourcing, the Veronica Mars movie would be dead in the water, but Franco has advantages most filmmakers lack (Ellis and Braff get a passing grade only because their clout has diminished significantly over the years). IndieGoGo and Kickstarter are fantastic tools for wannabe artists competing for your attention in a leveled field.

Franco is basically using his sway with audiences to finance a vanity project, while protecting his personal fortune. It must be mentioned, Publishers Weekly said of Palo Alto: “The author fails to find anything remotely insightful to say in these 11 amazingly underwhelming stories.”

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

10 thoughts on “Crowdfunding Jumps the Shark”

  1. To play devil’s advocate, isn’t this a good way to get away from the studio system?

  2. Here is the thing, Moon Daddy. Franco has access to investors, not necessarily studios. First time filmmakers don’t have that kind of access. Crowdsourcing is at times their best shot to get their movies made.

  3. Isn’t the whole point that people get to decide what they want to put their money behind (big, small, bad or brilliant)? It’s unlikely that people who are only funding Franco because he’s Franco would be funding first time filmmakers.

    For the record, I am not a Franco fan.

  4. But he’s actually financing several films by new, independent filmmakers (based on his stories).
    And donating the profits to non-profit organizations. I support it (not with actual $, but my meaningless internet comment support).

    And, I’m sure he has a lot of $, but not as much as you’d think once you factor in taxes, percentages to agents, necessary high cost of living expenses, etc. Probably not the best financial move to pay out of pocket for multiple projects (but acting smart in this way we won’t get to make fun of him like other stars and athletes who go broke…)

  5. Amy: Franco has an unfair advantage when choosing a project to support. Take the most common reward in IndieGoGo: Being included in the credits. Who do you believe the public will pick? The talented unknown or the notorious Franco, who is a hundred times more likely to get distribution?

    Bronymous: All good points. However, these movies won’t be all that expensive to make. Franco easily could get a backer among his acquaintances. It’s tremendously pretentious to ask regular people to finance vanity projects. As for letting up an comers direct the segments, it’s still Franco pick of the litter. Regarding the donation of the profits, I doubt any of these films will make any money. In fact, most films don’t break even until reaching secondary platforms (DVD, digital). Indies have a long way to go to recuperate costs… unless crowdfunded. The whole campaign is very disingenuous.

  6. I would like to see a breakdown of the people who are funding these projects. Is it thousands of regular people donating $2-$10, or mostly thousand dollar donations from a few wealthy sponsors? Who knows? it alters the “begging from the regular Joe to finance vanity projects with my friends” angle.

    Which isn’t a good angle, but people can do what they want with their money, right? If the other non-celebrity endorsed projects can attract an audience they will receive funding, it’s not like Franco is taking away from an extremely limited fund. Isn’t it about democratically giving the people what they want, and if they want Franco, so be it?

  7. You’re assuming that most people choose to donate based on what they’ll get in return rather than on a combination of altruism and wanting to see good work funded. I disagree with that assumption. There may be people who go to Kickstarter only because they’ve heard that they can get their name in a James Franco film credit, but those people would have unlikely donated to a startup filmaker.

    From the NY TImes:

    “But Kickstarter backers aren’t investors, and they aren’t looking for the project that will give them the greatest return on their money. Kickstarter does not function as a store (as its Web site goes to great pains to remind you), any more than PBS is “selling” you a tote bag in exchange for your donation. Kickstarter as a phenomenon is made much more comprehensible once you realize that it’s not following the logic of the free market; it’s following the logic of the gift.”


  8. I think people donate to such a cause because a) they want to see a project funded so they can see the results b) to help out people in need of this support c) so they can post/tweet how awesome they are for donating to cause x, and you should praise them and feel guilty for not donating to cause x.

  9. I’m going to use the democracy angle: Franco is a candidate with plenty of media presence, competing against perhaps more valuable opponents without any clout or public reach. Is it fair? Is it even democratic?

    I’m more skeptic than Amy regarding donors. Would people have donated to the Bret Easton Ellis/Paul Schroeder project as enthusiastically as they did without the “rewards”? Would Kickstarter or IndieGoGo even work without them? I’m afraid the reach of altruism is limited in this realm, particularly when dealing with artistic endeavors.

    I realize both sides have strong arguments. I would like to see how all these famous people using crowdsourcing have affected lesser projects. I’ll look into it.

    Thank you!

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