The crowdfunding site could shake up the studio system

Is Kickstarter A Filmmaking Revolution, Or Sideshow?

on July 25, 2012 by Ross A. Lincoln
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kick_starter.jpgWhen the crowd-funding website Kickstarter launched in 2008 at the height of the (still ongoing) recession, it was a great idea, but no instant cultural sensation. Despite early acclaim from Time Magazine and the New York Times, it remained largely under the radar until late 2011, when a few high profile video game projects received a massive outpouring of support from eager donors. Today, it seems that every week some new high profile Kickstarter project makes national news.

It makes sense then that in an era of studio skittishness and broadly appealing blockbusters, independent filmmakers would choose Kickstarter over begging for change from the usual system. Getting a project funded via crowdsourcing combats artistic compromise, and so it goes that an increasing number of filmmakers of all levels of success are turning to the service to get their dream projects made.

For instance, Being John Malkovich writer Charlie Kaufman and ex-Community creator and showrunner Dan Harmen made waves earlier this month with their own Kickstarter venture, a stop motion animated film called Anomalisa, based on a play Kaufman wrote and produced under a pseudonym in 2005. The proposed film is about "a man crippled by the mundanity of his life," which sounds like a surefire hit. Kidding, but it does sound like something Charlie Kaufman would write and have problems getting funded after his directoral debut, Synecdoche, New York, flopped. 

To give an idea of Kaufman's place in the industry post-Synecdoche, his most recent paycheck came from script doctor work on Kung Fu Panda 2. Still, he's invented an entire genre of cinema and become a household name in the process, at least among people whose households are neurotic and obsessive. If he wants to crawl into his own belly button, he's earned the right to do so. And unlike studios, fans of his work will feel perfectly satisfied knowing they helped bring his latest project into existence, profits be damned. 

Feel a bit put off by established filmmakers begging for change directly from fans, fans who will still have to purchase a ticket to the finished film once it actually comes out? The majority of Kickstarter film ventures aren't the brain (or vanity) children of the elite—they're the output of people who haven't been able to break into film via traditional avenues. 

One such project, 2-Headed Cop, is a 3D animated noir parody about a police officer with two heads who ends up framed for a crime he (they?) didn't commit. It's an incredibly silly idea, but the kind that would have burned up animation festivals 20 years ago. The director is seeking $150,000, which he promises will go directly into the animation itself. It sounds like a lot, until you consider that even a low budget feature film typically costs millions. 

There's also Ornana, a very small studio that had some festival success with their debut animated short, and is now working to finish two additional films. The first, Confusion Through Sand, attempts to depict the confusion of desert warfare, and the second, Euphonia, is a live action short that uses groundbreaking audio techniques to explore "the effects of what we hear on what we feel." Both projects display astonishing subtlety and artistry and suggest that great ideas are often prevented entirely from ever finding a wider audience.

Can Kickstarter change that? With the exception of high profile projects by the likes of Kaufman, no Kickstarter venture is going to replace a system that spends—and generates—billions of dollars every year. But much like YouTube and Funny or Die gave new comedians their debut, many of whom now have TV shows, direct films and work behind the scenes, Kickstarter could be a boon for more high-minded creators, ensuring that the next generation of filmmakers isn't composed solely of people whose last names have been famous since before they were even born. 

Vanity projects will still grab headlines, and flops will still, you know, flop. But an injection of democracy into art is never a bad thing. 

Tags: Dan Harmon, Community, Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche New York, Charlie Kaufman, Kickstarter
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