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Zach Braff, Amanda Palmer, and the New 90-9-1 Rule (dlewis.net)
54 points by DanLivesHere 1605 days ago | hide | past | web | 49 comments | favorite



I seem to recall that the Amanda Palmer backlash less to do with her being popular and more to do with her raising a huge sum of money for an album and tour, then expecting background musicians to work for free because she was popular - and that was just the latest in a line of ethically dubious things she's done.


The story I read said that she invited local musicians who happened to be fans on stage with her.


Correct, which is insanely cool. It's like a design contest - if an organization crowdsources all of their design work it is tacky and offensive, but having a rare or occasional contest is a great way to get talented fans involved.


Except it wasn't an amateur contest, or even a contest; they just chose the best professional musicians they could to back them up.


No, she hired and paid a band of professional musicians, who toured with her. She also invited fans in each city to play with them on stage.


A friend of ours is a very talented fiddle player and she got invited to jam with Amanda on stage. She was thrilled, naturally.

This whole incident serves to remind me that many people apparently have no idea that folk music exists. Yes, people routinely spend tens of thousands of hours mastering multiple musical instruments in order to be able to play for themselves, for their family and friends, and for random passers-by for free. Yes, folk musicians sometimes get paid to play, but can also be expected to be found jamming away in hallways, tents, parking lots and living rooms with fellow musicians and fans - there is no real line between a musician and a fan. And the privilege of jamming along with one of your musical idols is not something one expects to be paid for; indeed, a relatively modern innovation in folk and bluegrass is the formal "music camp", where the students pay for this privilege.


This happens a lot in the game industry kickstarters. The most money usually goes to a large studio or a famous game designer appealing to his fans.

Examples: Ragnar Torquist's The Longest Journey sequel, Richard Garriott's kickstarter, Double Fine Adeventure by Tim Schafer, Project Eternity, Planescape: Torment spiritual sequel... there's a lot of them.

Ultimately, both sides have a point. It is a tad disingenous for the elite in a specific genre to ask for money upfront from crowdsourcing, because they could have gotten that money elsewhere. On the other hand, we shouldn't deny them the chance of starting the kickstarter -- and once they start it, their large fanbase can usually be counted on to pitch in enough.

As for you and me, dear reader, we should do as always -- vote with our wallets and support interesting and sometimes risky projects which wouldn't get the money any other way.


People are worried about bigger projects muscling out smaller ones in the same category, but for now, this isn't what's happening. High-profile campaigns are instead still creating the market for smaller ones.

Kickstarter has some basic analytics so creators can see where backers are coming from, and for small campaigns, most backers are like you, people who go to Kickstarter looking for new and interesting projects. But the blockbusters brought most people to Kickstarter in the first place, not the long tail.


I would just say that none of the studios you mentioned are large, or elite. If Bobby Kotick or Peter Moore were jumping on Kickstarter, then I'd understand the complaints. But these are mostly people who have been beholden to the big public corporations, and are getting a chance to succeed independently. I see it as a triumph of the little (not littlest) guy.


Here's my own statistically questionable 90-9-1 theory of creativity to explain why the backlash exists.

- 90% of wannabe creatives lack the talent, vision or focus to actually see their idea though - 9% of wannabe creatives have the talent, vision and focus but lack money or the ability to connect with traditional financial backers. They're the people Kickstarter was created for. - 1% of people have talent, money and connections in abundance but see Kickstarter as a free way to get better publicity and collect more of the profit.

You can't really blame a multimillionaire for keeping their cash and equity in a movie project and offering their fans unspecified extras roles not guaranteed to make the final cut in return for a few thousand dollars, but it doesn't mean we have to admire them for doing so.


That's one aspect of Kickstarter that never made sense to me -- why is there no way to take an "equity" stake? For the sums of money involved relative to the total kickstarter (oftentimes you see targets at roughly 1% of the target amount to be raised), I would think that some of the tiers should get some sort of stake.


The legal mechanisms behind such an operation (essentially you're selling shares of the company/organization, after all) are prohibitively complex.


Mel Brooks's, "The Producers", immediately comes to mind as we talk about crowd-sourcing financial backing for entertainment pieces. Kickstarter is great, but, like many new businesses, it creates (temporary) efficiency by bypassing regulatory restrictions that were put in place to protect us from criminals looking to game the system.


And apparently, people are willing to pay even without the creators having to give up equity. So even if that option legally existed today, why would they?


It's certainly true that some people are willing to pay. I consider myself a person who's primed for contributing to a kickstarter, and yet I've never pulled the trigger on one because it doesn't meet my minimum criteria for investing, which is a monetary return. I imagine I'm not the only person who feels this way, and to open up that option to people only brings more money to projects


Do you consider any time you spend money as an "investment"?


By calling it an investment, you misunderstand the purpose of Kickstarter.


Because it's never been legal to do so.

And even now it's still not actually fully legal. Congress passed the JOBS act to allow for equity based crowd funding but the SEC has blown past deadlines to actually implement it and make it a reality. Who knows when it'll actually be fully legal, hopefully some time this decade.


"The point is that you don’t need a whole lot of people to participate in order to create something pretty impressive. That’s how Wikipedia became the behemoth it is today."

I'm not sure that's true. http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/whowriteswikipedia


Interesting. Wikipedia shows about 50k active editors (5+ edits) for any given month in 2006 -- I didn't keep the URL, but that's pretty much right. I didn't realize how much output the "9%" yielded.


Interesting, thanks for that.


I get the feeling that these backlashes are mostly about no longer having "control" over the creative minority via money and media-exploitation.

Especially in the case of Amanda Palmer none of these people bitching about her had ever heard of her before and don't care about her work.

People just don't seem to like the idea that those "artsy types" can now get money to do their thing without having to whore themselves out to the entertainment industry and the media, and to the larger public by way of the latter.


No, the palmer backlash stems more from the naive hubris she exhibits in everything, from her ted talk to her refusing to pay professional musicians on her tour and the dodgy accounting for the money she made on kickstarter.


What is of interest to me in this crowdfunding of celebrity projects is that it gives the impression that crowdfunding could be a way to "solve" the general issue of content only coming from a select few media outlets without it actually doing so. Without the popularity - gained by being part of those initial big-media enterprises - of some of the stars that are able to draw in that funding, there's no similarly easy way for a good grassroots project to get the level of funding they would need for a competitive project.

I equate popular people/companies using Kickstarter to promote and fund their next project to retailers selling products directly on eBay. Yeah, it's viable, has long since drowned out the small guy with something useful to sell, which seemed like the whole point of eBay to me.


One of the major problems with specifically web-based television and movies is that they just aren't delivering the revenue that conventional media can, by a huge margin. One of the reasons why such projects are possible at all today is that the creators call in a lot of favors from their friends (actors, editors, techs, etc.) and get them to work at minimal rates. But that's not a very sustainable model.

Perhaps with crowd funding projects that then release in more conventional ways (e.g. DVD, netflix, etc.) it'll be possible to solve both ends of this problem. It'll be interesting to see how everything works out.

Anyway, I've been surprised at the absence of anyone trying to either coopt the popularity of web video and such-like or to try to make money on it as a business partner. For example, why isn't there a production studio which concentrates on crowd funded movies? It took Zach Braff seeing the popularity of the Veronica Mars kickstarter to have the idea to do the same thing, imagine if there was a group out there catering to artists with projects they want to fund. Apply a little bit of polish, experience with how to formulate a good kickstarter campaign, select reward levels appropriately, help with fulfillment, help with legal issues, help with distribution, take a cut of the profits.


why isn't there a production studio which concentrates on crowd funded movies?

What you're describing is a movie producer, and as these appear in the Kickstarter space - as they are apparently doing now - I'd expect them to be essentially the same people that have been producing movies for the previous century.

The "conventional media", which is to say "the media", have the cameras and the lights. They have the theater-chain contracts and the distribution contracts. They have the agents' phone numbers and the union contracts and the favorite-son politicians and the sound stages within driving distance of your favorite actor's home. They know how to advertise and they have the lawyers and accountants.

And today's movie producers have connections to all of these things. Acquiring these connections is the hard part. Learning to put up a Kickstarter campaign is easy by comparison.

Kickstarter can change the shape of the "development" phase of movies, by giving producers (and writers or actors who want to self-produce) an alternative source of seed money and a way to cheaply drum up and demonstrate fan enthusiasm in advance of the product. But it will swiftly be incorporated into the existing media infrastructure, just as, say, the San Diego Comicon was.


It seems like much of the "backlash" comes down to speculation based on bad information and a generally negative attitude about "the rich".

If you use google it'll tell you that Zach Braff is worth over $20 million. Where does that come from? No clue, it might just be speculation, but it's out there. A lie with its pants on, to paraphrase Mark Twain. In his reddit AMA he specifically refuted the notion that he was worth anywhere near that amount. According to wikipedia, most of the time Scrubs was merely a top 100 show, it seems safe to say that Braff never had the opportunity to negotiate upwards on his contract and overall lifetime royalties from the show are not as impressive as some folks imagine.

More importantly, I think the assumption is that the kickstarter is the only funding for the project, though Braff has also stated publicly that he is kicking in a lot of his own personal funds.

There have been many times where I've seen widespread accusations of a "massive cash grab", either related to kickstarter campaigns or elsewhere, and most of the time it's so hilariously wrong it's just sad.

I'm not sure whether this stems from a poor understanding of business fundamentals, meaningless hatred of people who are successful, or something else.


More importantly, I think the assumption is that the kickstarter is the only funding for the project, though Braff has also stated publicly that he is kicking in a lot of his own personal funds.

Bear in mind that there's also a signaling mechanism at work here. Lots of people on Internet forums will say, "I want to see Garden State II or Season 3 of popular TV show X" or whatever. But talk is cheap.

Kickstarter, however, lets people put their money where their mouths are: instead of saying, "I want to see or read X," you can say, "I want to see or read X so bad that I'm willing to pay $10 to make it happen." That $10 is much louder than 10,000 posts on the Internet.


I dunno. You're right on the poor understanding of the fact, but think those are convenient (albeit incorrect) reasons for haters to use.

But Braff has access to the money. That's pretty clear. The methods of access are misunderstood, that's all.


Agreed. He made the point many times in the video that yes, he could get a movie funded, but he thinks that a Kickstarter funding mechanism is a superior alternative. He presents some arguments to that effect. I have no idea what the state of film funding is, but I figure Braff is a lot more in touch with it than I am.


I think some people are frustrated that he's using the superior alternative in funding, but is planning to distribute via traditional methods... so donors pay for the movie twice, once to get it made and then once again via the theater or bluray or dvd or whatever.

In a weird way, Braff get have his cake and eat it, too. Full creative control and ownership via people giving him money with no strings attached and then the product he ultimately makes will be injected back into the Hollywood system.

More power to him for figuring that out but I'll have no part of it.


My problem with that is that nobody has yet MADE a solid alternative to traditional movie distribution. His options are basically traditional or give it away for free/donations. Television has gained the fun alternative of getting published by Hulu or Netflix, but there simply isn't money in that for a movie people will only really view one time. Since he obviously doesn't want to go broke here, and is funneling a lot of his own money in, why should he give it away? The people donating KNOW they aren't getting advance tickets, so this is a case of it really not affecting the pissed off people.


iTunes sells videos, and if you're determined you can strip the DRM. It couldn't be that hard for them to offer a DRM-free option.


Right, and in the meantime he is "selling off" a large part of the risk, while keeping a large part of the reward.

Now, on one hand, people investing in Kickstarter should be or need to learn to be aware that they are "investing", and with that, comes risk.

But on the other, here is someone who could make this happen, arrange financing, etc, but sees this as a way to be more "independent" (which, coincidentally, also means, "doesn't have most of the royalties and profits sent to the studio but instead to him"), who is asking us to put up the bulk of the risk (shared amongst many), and see very little seeds of the project (and certainly none of the reward).


The $20 million figure is not based on nothing there's a lot of public information about how much Braff made from scrubs (e.g. $350k per episode in the 2007-2008 season.)

The fact is he doesn't need this Kickstarter to make this movie, he COULD do it himself. But he doesn't want to risk ONLY his own money. So he's taking advantage of the public.


Right, the season that was 11 episodes? At best that accounts for about $2 million after taxes, assuming his agent takes nothing and without taking into account any expenses. Where's the rest?

Scrubs may be a popular show among a certain cohort, it may be highly acclaimed, and it may be quite popular in syndication, but people tend to forget that while it was running it had mediocre ratings and it was effectively cancelled twice.

You have no clue how much money he has, your accusation that he's "taking advantage of the public" is just baseless libel.


That's $2.5 million before taxes, agents, etc. for one season out of 9 and not including syndication money or the fact that his previous movie made $35 million box office plus DVD sales, etc.

Give me a break with this horseshit. The dude obviously has many, many millions of dollars.


plus, I think you don't take the "getting the idea checked if it really could fly" part of a kickstarter campaign in account.


You don't need to raise $2 million to focus test your movie idea. Come on, man.


This article was written by someone who has no understanding of basic accounting, let alone movie industry or television industry accounting.

For example: There’s a HUGE amount of upside here. That’s why Garden State grossed $35 million at the box office. Or, put another way: if 350,000 people see this movie in theaters, at $10 a ticket, that’s $3.5 million — 10% of what Garden State made. If Braff gets $2 per ticket, that’s $700,000 right to him. Wow! ↩

There is no way that Braff got $2 a ticket. At $10/ticket, that represents 20% of the top-line grosses (i.e., before expenses and the theater's take), and would represent almost 50% or more of the studio's receipts on the film at today's prices. (When Garden State came out, ticket prices were $2-$3 less, so the alleged $2/ticket amount would be even more obscene. ) Theaters typically receive 1/2 of the ticket amount in the first week or two, and an increasing amount each week thereafter to incentivize theatrical longevity.

Studios then divy up the remainder, taking their share and expenses first out of such earnings. (Actors and directors are generally paid their salaries at the onset of the project and would normally be treated as an expense for the studio to recoup).

Some actors are able to negotiate a portion of the net proceeds, and receive those in the unlikely and rare event that the movie company with which they contracted shows a profit. More preferable, but infinitely more unlikely, is for a star to negotiate a portion of the gross proceeds (i.e., before the Hollywood accounting kicks in). Zach Braff has never been a big enough star to get that sort of arrangement--that's the sort of deal that even Tom Cruise and Will Smith would be hard-pressed to achieve without serious salary concessions--most actors only ever achieve a portion of the gross if they forgo their salary and participate in principal financing.


Braff owns all rights to this movie. He is the studio.

I never said he got $2/ticket from Garden State.


Off topic, but I would love a tool that corrects awkward sentences / mistakes that authors, who don't read their articles, make.

A small fraction of them (1% of the 1%) will be fund the creation of the content,[...]

I'm not even talking about grammar or word order preferences. I just mean the errors you could catch if you read through what you wrote for 5 minutes before posting.


Not sure I understand: the issue you're having is with the grammatical makeup of the sentence, and thus a grammar error. It doesn't fall under some different purview just because it seems easier to fix.


Corrected. Thanks.


Thanks, Dan. That came off more angry than I intended upon re-reading what I said.


Hah, no worries.


Financial matters aside, the 'free' press that comes from being a celebrity running a kickstarter campaign is quite valuable. Even if it's false indie cred, people will actively talk about this project before it's created and also as it progresses to the target and begins shooting.

For campaigns like this I don't think the founder's financial status is even a question we should be asking.


Sure, but that's only because this is new.


On one forum, I've noticed that the amount of posts in a thread is usually about 10 times less than the amount of views it gets.




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