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My Movie Week... with Mike Shaw

Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster, stars of Spike Lee-directed film Inside Man.
Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster, stars of Spike Lee-directed film Inside Man.

When Hollywood starts talking about Kickstarter, then you know it’s jumped the shark.

Not content with having their own money, well-known filmmakers are now turning to crowdfunding website Kickstarter to get yours too, permeating the service like Japanese knotweed.

The site is a genuine life-changing tool for people who have great ideas, but no money or contacts to make them a reality. Using Kickstarter, they can post their dream projects (artistic or otherwise) and if people like them, they can pledge money. The higher the amount pledged, the bigger the benefit they receive.

For example, someone who wants to create a comic book may have a range of rewards available to backers, from a free copy of the finished product to someone who pledges $5, to a character named after them for someone who pledges $1,000.

But now, what was a cool and fun way for young or inexperienced entrepreneurs, inventors and creatives to get... well... a kickstart, is quickly becoming another place that the already-rich can take more money from you.

Earlier this year, cancelled cult TV show Veronica Mars was given a second chance thanks to Kickstarter, and then Zach Braff (bloke off Scrubs, who also wrote/directed/starred in Garden State) used it to finance his new film. Neither project was safe from criticism, with a great many people outraged that this grassroots service was being infiltrated by those already successful.

However, while both projects had well-known names attached to them, they aren’t the kinds of people who can click their fingers and get funding. They’re not... Spike Lee, for example.

You see, Spike can get a movie made in Hollywood. Hell, he’s made about one a year for the last 25 years, ranging from cool, lo-fi stuff like Summer of Sam to thrillers like Inside Man, which starred Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster.

In fact, later this year his remake of the Korean gangster film Oldboy is hitting cinemas. That’s a heavily-hyped movie with an estimated budget of $30m. Yeah, Spike doesn’t need much help.

However, that hasn’t stopped him from turning to Kickstarter to fund his latest project, an as-yet-untitled project about “the addiction of blood”. Unsurprisingly, Spike’s fundraiser has led to a significant backlash, with questions about whether someone of his stature should really be asking fans for money. Indeed, in his Kickstarter pitch video, he barely touched upon why he needs the cash.

He said (and the weird capitalisation is all from him): “With the current climate in The Hollywood Studio System it’s not an encouraging look for Independent Filmmakers... Super Heroes, Comic Books, 3D Special EFX, Blowing up the Planet Nine Times and Fly through the Air while Transforming is not my Thang.

To me it’s not just that these films are being made but it seems like these are the only films getting made. To The Studios it seems like every Film must be a Home run on a Global scale, a Tent Pole Enterprise, able to spin off Sequel after Sequel after Sequel after Sequel after Sequel after Sequel.”

Obviously, Hollywood’s a tough place to work and who knows, maybe someone like Spike does get turned down from time to time, but if that’s the case, and this new film is a passion project, the guy does have the means to fund it himself.

He’s done it before. Last year’s Red Hook Summer was self-funded, but unfortunately for Spike, it didn’t get great reviews and didn’t make a whole lot of money. A cynical person might think that this Kickstarter project is simply another movie that the studios have passed on, but with the risk being absorbed by fans, rather than the director himself. That risk, by the way, is $1.25m.

If someone is going to take a chance and invest in a filmmaker on Kickstarter, are they going to go with an unknown who needs their first break, or a well-known name like Spike Lee?

He has since defended his decision to crowdfund, claiming that he’s popularising the technique. “I’m bringing people to Kickstarter who never even heard of Kickstarter,” he said. “I’m talking [about] a lot of people of colour who’ve never heard of Kickstarter.”

Which is both dubious and hugely patronising. Nonetheless, his rebuttal might be too little too late. As of now, Lee’s film has garnered close to $400,000, with 22 days left to raise the $1.25 million he’s seeking. And that includes $10k plus a written endorsement from fellow director Steven Soderbergh.

Perhaps he needs to offer more enticing rewards than “Autographed Nikes. Worn by me”. Those old trainers with scribbles on will set you back $500.

Telling backers a bit more about the film might be a good idea too. All he’s said so far is: “It’s a THRILLER. In order for a film of this type to work the less details the better for this Film to work with the Audience, they can’t know a whole lot before they sit down in a Theatre to see it.”

Whether he hits his target or not, Spike Lee won’t be the last big name to go down this road. Other established filmmakers (and probably some studios) will attempt it, and further damage the chances of new talent realising their dreams using this relatively new method of financing.

He can complain as hard as he likes, but right now it’s hard to have sympathy for Spike Lee, a man with an estimated personal fortune of $40m.

And now he wants us to treat him like a starving artist? Please.

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