Thu 8.1.2013

DIVERSITY SPEAKS: Should Spike Be On Kickstarter?

Should people who have millions of dollars be allowed to crowd source like the rest of us? The debate has recently rekindled, as Spike Lee has become the latest celebrity to cross the proverbial line. Not a stranger to public angst and downright vilification, Lee seems to be taking it all in stride, though he did take to YouTube to respond to critics. In the video, he disputes the logic that if somebody gives him $5, that’s five bucks that would have otherwise gone to a little guy. “I’m bringing people to Kickstarter who’ve never even heard of Kickstarter, a lot of people of color,” Spike says of what he calls “the brouhaha.”

The debate apparently hasn’t affected his fundraising efforts as he has raised over a half of a million dollars for The Newest, Hottest Spike Lee Joint with 19 days left in his campaign. Even Steven Soderbergh kicked in ten grand, which he justified in a post called Why I back Spike Lee. In it, he praises Lee (along with Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch) who, in the 80s,  “…attracted my attention and expanded my idea of what was possible…These were distinctive new voices, and the freedom (and success) they represented was liberating and energizing; these were shoulders I would try to stand on, that I would be proud to stand on.” Soderbergh sums it up like this: “1. Spike’s success helped make my success possible. 2. Spike has earned my attention because of his body of work and its distinct point of view. 3. You should support your friends.”

Spike Lee responds to Kickstarter critics on YouTube

While Lee is sitting back collecting the big bucks, a very vocal group of indie filmmakers and film lovers are losing their minds. For them Kickstarter is a place where dreams come true.  It’s a megaphone for the voiceless, a sacred place where collective energy catapults an idea into something real.   And it’s not intended for publicity stunts by celebrities. No celebrities allowed. With Lee,  detractors are offended by his trading on his celebrity status, and apparently his poor presentation doesn’t help his cause either.  A Los Angeles based DP told me this:

Have you seen Zach Braff’s Kickstarter page? He is a rich guy, too. He could also sell his mansion. But there is an idea. You are getting behind a story and a group of filmmakers, his whole crew. He shows how many people it takes. You can see the amount of time and care that was put into the site. I see a slight difference in the way Spike has appealed to his audience. Have you watched his video? It is unrehearsed and feels a bit lazy. He expects to get money for who he is and tells you nothing about the project he is trying to make. That is a different approach than we have seen in previous campaigns. I wonder if he has a script.

Could this be why Spike is raising money exponentially slower than his famous counterparts? Possibly, but no matter how one feels about Spike or his presentation, I say he has a right to raise money wherever he’d like. The truth is, from President Obama to your next-door neighbor, crowd funding is here for us all and here to stay. Somehow, Kickstarter got to be perceived an exclusive tool for underdogs when obviously this was not the original intent. A Los Angeles-based lawyer had this to say:

Why do we seem to think that Kickstarter is somehow the propriety of the poor? It isn’t. The point of Kickstarter is to guarantee a demand for a product and to cut out the middle man. Why is it that we seem to think that only that which is greenlit by venture capitalists should make it to market? That’s exactly why bad movies and music are made… Spike is exactly who this is for. People who are a fan of Spike’s movies (I’m not exactly a huge fan of all of them, but he’s made some classics) should jump at the chance to help him make an unfiltered film, one that hasn’t been filtered through layers and layers of the corrupt establishment that waters down and feeds us nonsense.

On the bright side, those who do decide to donate will get some pretty awesome give-aways. If $75 gets you a signed Crooklyn one-sheet poster, if you’re a fan, donating is definitely a win-win situation.

My colleague, the great Elvis Mitchell, had this to say, which may or may not put the debate to rest. “Kickstarter is like the First Ammendment. Everyone is entitled to it.”

By Mel Jones / Festival Assistant