Kickstarter co-founder defends Spike Lee and his new model for moviemaking

Director Spike Lee poses during a portrait session for Jaeger-LeCoultre during the 69th Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2012 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Jaeger-LeCoultre)

Director Spike Lee poses during a portrait session for Jaeger-LeCoultre during the 69th Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2012 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Jaeger-LeCoultre)

Whether or not you agree with Spike Lee and other celebrities using Kickstarter, they’re doing it and they’re making bank, so perhaps it’s time for everyone else to follow suit.

In the past year, Kickstarter cannonballed into Hollywood, becoming a high profile, valuable new source of fundraising for film projects, and what some are calling the way to “save the movie business.”

Lee’s of course capitalizing on it; Lady Gaga just got naked for a new campaign; Zach Braff, the producers behind Veronica Mars, actor Shemar Moore, even prolific author and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis, they’re all cashing in too.

To techies, the crowdfunding resource is old news, but as co-founder Yancey Strickler tells theGrio, the well of good fortune has only barely been tapped.

“If you’re in certain circles, Kickstarter seems like a very old hat,” Strickler comments. “Four and a half million people have backed a Kickstarter project, which is an amazing number. To think, that many people have been down to support somebody else’s creativity is just awesome. It gives you faith in the community…To look at it another way though, that is a [small] percentage of the people on Facebook.”

From this latter perspective, Strickler seconds Lee’s notion that famous artists and their projects are bringing new faces and pockets to the platform, and likely attributing to the success of smaller artists.

He stresses it was created for every artist’s use, big or small.

“Ultimately, what you’re building is this economy of people doing things the way they want to do it,” Strickler adds. “It’s completely self-determined. Projects from these established names or established artists are helping further that…Spike Lee has three decades of fans that he’s bringing to Kickstarter, and they’re going to see a lot of stuff. Long term, that is definitely to the benefit of the film community.”

A new business model: the sort-of investment

While Kickstarter has certainly been making a splash in the movie world, the platform serves other artists too.

Established in 2009, Kickstarter offers creators an alternative source of financial support for their endeavors, allowing them a chance to receive money from contributors they know as well as strangers. It falls somewhere between arts patronage, commerce and investment, and millions of dollars have been raised in the four years that have passed.

The site follows an all-or-nothing model of fundraising, where a creator only gets to keep contributions if he meets his goal. Kickstarter retains five percent of dollars from all successfully funded projects.

So far, musicians, documentarians, and small business owners have utilized the site to finance their ideas, though games and movies see the greatest results.

According to Strickler, 10 percent of the films at Sundance over the past three years have raised money on Kickstarter. Additionally, 100 theatrical releases and six Academy-Award-nominated films have been supported by the platform.

Basically, it’s legit.

“The impact on the world of film has been huge,” Strickler comments. “It provides total freedom for artists and audiences to support the culture they want to see created. It puts so much power in everybody’s hands.”

Momentum in the African-American community

Though Kickstarter doesn’t measure demographics, Quantcast found only 6 percent of its users are African-American, compared to nine percent of overall Internet visitors.

A story for VentureBeat points out that even though African-Americans have proven to be twice as likely to begin creative endeavors as Caucasians, businesses owned by whites exist at more than twice the rate of those owned by blacks. This is likely due to a lack of funding, as historically, black people have been discriminated against in terms of resources.

Therefore, Kickstarter could serve as a viable new route of travel.

Lee professes he’s doing his part by introducing “a lot of people of color who’ve never heard of Kickstarter, who’ve never made a pledge on Kickstarter.”

In that respect, Strickler affirms that the attention of well-established names has been beneficial.

“We did an analysis of the new backers who came into support Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects, and in the three months since those projects have gone live, new backers of those projects have pledged $1 million dollars to 6,000 other projects,” he notes. “Any argument that these projects are hurting other filmmakers is completely false. There’s no evidence whatsoever to support that. In fact, the arguments saying that could be what’s hurting other filmmakers because it’s discouraging people from using this platform.”

Furthermore, celebrity efforts establish new precedence, where all artists band together in one playing field.

“It’s like someone wanting to use the same camera as Spike Lee because he’s a hero and revered independent filmmaker,” Strickler says. “It ultimately produces more art and introduces more people to other folks’ creativity, whether you’re established or a total newbie.”