Crowd-funding, and Kickstarter in particular, is becoming a household term to the unknown creatives of the world: writers, photographers, inventors, performance artists and more. It is a marketing and financial vehicle to produce a project that may not otherwise have an opportunity to see the light of day.
So why does Spike Lee, an Academy Award nominated director, who has shot 35 films since 1983 need to crowdfund his ‘Newest, Hottest Joint? Well- he doesn't, necesarily. But he did.
The 30 day campaign surpassed it's goal and raised a total of 1.4 million US dollars. Making it the third-highest sucessful Film/TV campaign according to Kickstarter, but still a very modest budget for a feature film directed by Spike Lee.
According to Nash Informational Systems, LLC, Lee's most expensive production was “Inside Man” in 2006 through Imagine Entertainment/ Universal Studios, with a budget of $50 Million US Dollars. Conversely, Lee has directed several films with a budget of 6 million USD or less, including “Do the Right Thing” (6.0M, 1989), “25th Hour” (4.5M, 2002) and most recently “Red Hook Summer” (2012) which was shot guerilla style for less than 1 million USD. The Screen Actors Guild classifies films for theatrical release “Low Budget” if they have a total production cost below 2.5 million USD.
According to the Kickstarter campaign page, Lee himself, has put personal money into his films many times in the past; there are claims he contributed to “Malcom X” (1992) in order to save the production when it ran out of money, and he self-financed “Red Hook Summer” (2012). When responding to questions as to his descision to use Kickstarter to raise money for his newest film project, he had the foresight to know that the format would stir a debate. “I’m an Indie Filmmaker and I will always be an Indie Filmmaker.” says Lee. “The truth is I’ve been doing KICKSTARTER before there was KICKSTARTER, there was no Internet. Social Media was writing letters, making phone calls, beating the bushes. I’m now using TECHNOLOGY with what I’ve been doing.” He is absolutely right.
Side note: The top two most successful Film/TV campaigns were launched by Zach Braff, of “Garden State” and Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars.
Does Spike Lee's fame, Hollywood resume and personal connections to wealthy donors give him an unfair advantage? You bet it does; but that does not make it wrong.
Does Lee's presence on Kickstarter, water down the amount of potential dollars that would normally go towards innovative and creative projects that may otherwise never see the light of day? Yes, absolutely! …despite the fact that Lee claims this is a falicy. There is much truth, however; to the claim that Lee is bringing more traffic and attention to crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter. But is that good or bad? Is Kickstarter turning into a premium brand of crowdfunding that continuously raises the bar, making it difficult for young filmmakers to compete for pledge dollars? Afterall, why would a donor give his 1000 USD away for a producer credit on a film that may never get a theatrical release, when his money could get him a celebrity endorsed piece of memorabilia instead? Well, perhaps there is more to it. According to the article
over one quarter of Lee's 6,400 donations were 10,000 USD or more. A tell-tale sign that money was coming in from wealthy donors, not the ‘average' Kickstarter donor that typically lays out 60 USD. And the donor number in general also raises some questions. 6400 in comparison to Braff's 46,000 and Veronica Mars' 91,000. Was Lee in such despair over his failing campain that he called on his wealthy friends to bail him out? It certaily appears so.
Despite the unfair advantage, it is still fantastic and motivating that a director as popular and successful as Spike Lee would use the same methods of crowd-funding that any indie filmmaker would use, once, as a social experiment. But that is where it has to stop. Spike Lee using Kickstarter multiple times, in my opinion, would be abusive and would steal resources away from other filmmakers. It is motivational because Lee is the same artist that he was, when he made “She's Gotta Have It” in 1985 for $175,000. Spike Lee is indeed an indie filmmaker and always will be. This project is just an extention of that and Kickstarter is a way for him to connect to his roots. What are your thoughts? Does Spike Lee Belong on Kickstarter?
Check out Spike Lee's Kickstarter Project HERE
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)