Crowdfunding has helped countless creative projects get off the ground, but if we continue to allow it to be hijacked by the rich and famous there will be no chance left for the little guy.
How does a globally syndicated TV star with a multi-million dollar fortune (have a gander at his flat) fund his next movie project? If you're Zach Braff you ask the public to stump up. Less than three days after uploading a Kickstarter request for $2m towards Wish I Was Here, co-written with his brother Adam, he's nearly greenlit already, with around 25,000 backers so far pledging amounts between $10 and $5,000.
He certainly sells it well to his fans; his comedic Kickstarter video clip includes appearances from his Scrubs co-star Donald Faison, The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons and Nerdist presenter Chris Hardwick.
And the actor isn't the first big name to fund a movie this way; last year Charlie Kaufman used Kickstarter to fund his stop-mo project Anomalisa (raking in double the required amount), and more recently David Fincher, who raised $400,000 (plus a further $41,000) to make The Goon, based on Eric Powell's comic-book creation. Significantly, the producers of the Veronica Mars movie asked for $2m and raised a whopping $5m (as the all-time highest-funded project in the film category, backers will now receive a bonus Veronica Mars sticker).
Kickstarter is proving incredibly effective in its guise as the internet's cocky little panhandler. Around 44% of projects on the site have reached their funding goals since it was launched in April 2009. More than $500m has been pledged, funding more than 35,000 creative projects.
But a dollar for Braff is a dollar away from an unknown, and so reaction to this particular fundraiser has been mixed. What irks is that the man on the street will not be an investor in the project, merely a donor. So if the movie becomes a sleeper hit like The Blair Witch Project, which was made for $60,000 but grossed $250m worldwide, no donor will see any kind of return. The producers get to build another kidney-shaped swimming pool, but you'll be left with your pdf of the screenplay ($10), frameable art prints ($60) or a fleeting moment as an extra ($2,500). There's a lot of talk about the spirit of crowdfunding, and how it's one of the few ways that a truly independent artist can fund their project. But if the likes of Zach Braff can hijack the process, then surely the system is compromised? And what's to stop the producers of the next Iron Man movie asking for a couple of million?
Braff says in his video clip that he was about to sign a "typical financing deal" before realising that Kickstarter could help him hold on to all creative control. Lucky for him he had a "typical financing deal" on the table to begin with. That's not the case for most indie film-makers who are using the site to fund their passion project.
You could argue that anything that keeps a creative dream alive is a good thing. Braff's enthusiastic online backers will be integral to the marketing of the movie, which may help it to win big at the box office, or on the festival circuit. And if you don't like him, and thought Garden State was good only for its soundtrack, no one is forcing you to donate a single penny.
But in a climate where young artists are struggling to make their voices heard, where funds for unknowns are rare, and where every penny in the tiniest budget is hard won, it seems somewhat askew that an actor/director who has the means to either fund his movie himself, or sign a typical financing deal, is asking you for cash.
Surely if you're the guy who has already found considerable success in a competitive industry, you should also be the guy putting something back in.