Rebuttal to Ken Levine’s Rant Against Zach Braff

8 May

Zach Braff’s recent Kickstarter success has sparked a hot debate in the indie film world regarding celebrities who have turned to crowdfunding.

Like many others, Ken Levine wrote a blog post criticizing Braff and Kickstarter, while throwing The Veronica Mars Movie campaign and Sundance into the mix as well. His article is chock-full of the now trite and fallacious arguments against celebrity use of crowdfunding sites.

Because Mr. Levine’s article has gone viral, I felt compelled to respond. Below are some of his arguments, followed by my rebuttal:

“Zach Braff is a good actor and a fine filmmaker. GARDEN STATE was a terrific movie. But I wouldn’t give him a dime. Why? Because it defeats the whole purpose of Kickstarter. ” Only Kickstarter can determine what their purpose is, not a blogger nor anyone else. Kickstarter green-lit the campaign, thus, it must align with their mission, whether one likes it or not. It’s fascinating how folks think they can determine what a company’s mission should and should not be! “Why is McDonald’s serving lattes? It’s a burger joint!” You have a right to an opinion regarding decisions a company makes, but one has no right determining the company’s purpose.

“Zach Braff has a name.” This one really peeves me. Because someone is reputable, they lose the right to call upon their fans to help them develop a film? And at what point does one become a “name”? Who determines this? To implement Mr. Levine’s discrimination, Kickstarter would need to establish a cockamamie celebrity “ranking” system to determine you is too popular to use their platform.

Regarding Braff, “He can get in a room with money people.” Did Mr. Levine not watch Braff’s video? Braff mentions the “money people” numerous times – that’s the whole point of the campaign, i.e., the money people wanted to control the creative content of Braff’s film. Braff does not want to compromise, so he took his project to his fans.

“So someone who otherwise might have funded the Mobile kid instead will toss his coins to Zach Braff because he figures it’s a better bet and he gets to rub shoulders with show business.” This type of reasoning is based on a consumerist limited good mentality. Generosity is not limited and giving to campaigns is not limited. One can give to a celebrity AND a no-name campaign. Crowdfunding is not a zero-sum game. Even if someone only has $5 to give, they can break it down and give to multiple campaigns, assuming said campaigns have an under $5 level. Kickstarter does not limit contributors; people are not forced to give to one and only one campaign.

The Veronica Mars Movie is another celebrity-driven crowdfunding success story, which Mr. Levine attacks as well, “Are you a big fan of VERONICA MARS? Want to support it? Great. Buy ten tickets and see the movie ten times.” Once again, did Mr. Levine not pay attention to the MARS campaign? The whole premise of their campaign is that they COULD NOT get green-lit by Warner Bros.. So they turned to their hungry fans to launch the project. Without a successful crowdfunding campaign, there would be no movie to buy tickets to. Buying tickets is after the fact…

Then Mr. Levine brings the ever so love-to-hate Sundance into the mix. He complains: “Now look at the festival. Every entry features major Hollywood stars.” A downright lie and exaggeration – absolutely not true. Sundance is full of no-name films. Besides, Sundance is what it is today because it strategically programs celebrity-driven films. Without them, the very nobodies that Mr. Levine is looking out for would not reap the benefits of top agents, distributors, press, etc. who attend the festival because of celebrities.

Mr. Levine ends his article with this: “Kickstarter is for the ‘working man,’ Zach. And VERONICA. And (soon) Harvey [Weinstein].” This statement is so disrespectful, I can’t believe he wrote it. No doubt these “rich” folks he disrespects work just as hard, if not harder, than Mr. Levine. Who is he to judge them as “working” or not?

I genuinely admire Mr. Levine in that he clearly is looking out for nobody filmmakers, which I of all people truly appreciate! But ranting against celebrities and festivals like Sundance with fallacious arguments is not constructive and ultimately contributes to the disgruntled state that afflicts many indie filmmakers. Many of my indie colleagues chronically complain and point fingers at celebrities for the lack of their own success and articles like Mr. Levine’s simply fuels their self-pity and insecurity.

Though he’s looking out for us nobodies with his viral blog article, Mr. Levine would do us more good by deleting it.

UPDATE: On May 9th, Kickstarter posted staggering numbers demonstrating the positive effects celebrity campaigns have had on nobody projects…


3 Responses to “Rebuttal to Ken Levine’s Rant Against Zach Braff”

  1. May 8, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    I don’t blame Kickstarter. Kickstarter can’t say, ‘Only certain people can use us.” I can, however, at the very least, be extremely disdainful and condescending about Braff. Many indie filmmakers, myself included, with or without Kickstarter use our own money to fund our projects. Braff has plenty of money to fund his pet project. It goes against the point of Kickstarter for him to co-opt it in this manner. If he believes enough in his project that he is asking others to fund it, he should fund it himself, given he has the funds, and leave Kickstarter to those who genuinely need it. There is no refuting this silliness has hurt and will continue to damage Kickstarter’s brand.

    Understand, I get irritated in the name manner when wealthy artists and corporations use government funds for their projects. These types of funds are supposed to be for people who cannot fund on their own. Yet invariably these funds end up in the hands of those who do not need them.

    • Christopher May 8, 2013 at 9:22 am #

      Your position is assuming there is a limited pot to go around. Braff is not tapping into grants nor government funds which are by nature limited and discriminating. He simply reached out to his fans. I didn’t give to him, nor did you, but his fans did. Consumers are free to make a choice and some chose to give to him and many did not.

      We cannot judge him because of his wealth. He has a right to reach out to his fans, whether he is rich or not.

      And remember, his fans are getting something out of it – they’re not simply making the rich man richer – they are getting “fed” by him. It’s a win-win situation.

    • Christopher May 8, 2013 at 9:29 am #

      According to Braff on “I have something every detractor doesn’t have: the analytics. Most of the backers of my film aren’t people on Kickstarter who had $10 and were deciding where to give it, and then gave it to me instead of someone else. They came to Kickstarter because of me, because of this project. They wouldn’t have been there otherwise. In fact, a lot of people who didn’t know about Kickstarter came and wound up giving money to a lot of other projects too. So for people to say, ‘That’s … up; you’re stealing money from documentaries’ is just not a sensible argument.”

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