Zach Braff, Kickstarter, and Financing Your Film For Free

By , posted 7 May 2013

Last week's news that Zach Braff had successfully raised over $2 million via Kickstarter to fund Wish I Was Here, his sophomore outing as a director after 2004's well-received Garden State, got me thinking. Has Zach managed to pull off every producer's dream - funding your film for free?

For those who've been living under a rock for the past year or two, raising money for film production through crowd-funding - where finance is raised by soliciting small donations from a large number of people - has been one of the most hotly-debated issues in indie filmmaking circles. The idea was popularised by the success of schlock sci-fi film, Iron Sky, in raising a decent chunk of its budget (but not all, as some outlets incorrectly reported) from fans who wanted to see the movie made. More recently, the producers of a film to be based on the cancelled TV series, Veronica Mars, also had success in crowd-funding their project. Basically, via services like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, filmmakers offer 'rewards' (such as free DVDs, T-shirts, set visits, and the like) to supporters who provide a set donation to the project. The key here is that it's a donation, not an investment. If it were the latter, it would potentially run afoul of securities laws in most countries (which usually prevent public solicitations for investors unless they are from an approved organisation via an approved channel.

Back to Zach Braff. So keeping in mind that the $2m+ raised is entirely donations, unlike in a traditional film finance model where there are investors who will undoubtedly expect a return at some point, the donations never have to be repaid. Nor does he have to share any revenue with those who donated. In effect, Zach has managed to finance his film for free... while retaining all the rights to boot. Sure, there are some costs in providing the various rewards offered to the donors at different levels, but the costs of providing those rewards - even the top-end ones - are only a small amount out of a $2m war-chest. To put it another way, with no investors to repay, Wish I Was Here will be in profit from the first dollar it receives back at the box-office. A feat that no film with a traditional finance model (i.e. investors) could ever achieve and any producer's dream.

So will this result in a shift where crowd-funding is the norm in film? Not likely. Crowd-funding is most effective where there is a well-defined and loyal audience. This could either be off the back of a cult TV show (e.g. Veronica Mars), a genre which is known for building strong fan-bases (i.e. sci-fi), or where the cast is engaged and high-profile enough to bring their fans to the party (e.g. Zach Braff). It will be interesting to see in the long term whether fans will continue to be happy to enhance filmmakers net-worth by funding their projects for free. But for now it seems to present a wonderful opportunity for the right filmmaker with the right project to make a very lucrative film indeed.

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