Kevin Smith has made an appeal to fans to donate to back his next movie, the long-delayed horror movie Red State, after heeding a suggestion made to him through Twitter.
There has been some backlash against the idea, and it doesn’t seem even close to fullproof, but this could prove a really interesting acid test of a new financing model for moviemaking. Smith is a famous enough director, with his first studio film (and first non-written director project) coming out soon, that he will garner much in the way of press coverage for the move. If successful it could open some doors for those with difficult and uncommercial projects to get to market.
The problem, as I see it, is unfortunately potentially multifold. First, there is a need to consider that you are making a commercial product which will seek to generate a profit. Taking donations to do finance this could prove troublesome unless Smith pledges to put all profits into his next project or redistribute the profits to the donors, effectively transforming them into investors. That would undermine the process in the first place to a degree, although the lack of clarity over how the system would work is, in itself, slightly troubling. If this is to work then Smith will have to put together a real-life business plan to outline his plans
The second major issue is the potential backlash which could come should the fans decide they want to have a little creative control over the project. If there are particularly hefty donors, which is a problem which could easily be remedied through creating an actual business plan and providing information on how much one could donate, there is a danger that, given they are currently not going to be expecting any kind of return, that they will want to get special consideration on their creative desires. Any sense that this would be turning into a crowdsourced movie could well end up with a supersize disaster/experiment which Smith won’t want to get involved in.
However, if successful, it does put the fans into the power seat, at least in a very small way. The people who actually care enough to have a movie made, people you could argue are true fans of moviemaking, would have a hand in the industry, something which may drive young filmmakers to start to consider the method for financing their own smaller pictures. Though it would require a significant amount of money, and a strong donation infrastructure, to succeed, this could definitely start a grass roots movement in moviemaking if the right intentions are able to take precedence.
There has yet to be a great use of the internet as a distribution model reaching a wide audience for new filmmakers. What is out there appears often too niche or exclusive (the very cool but uber-artsy Garage, part of The Auteurs) to really capture the imagination. I have only cynicism that the likes of Michael Bay will ever be defeated by the small, heartfelt independent moviemaking which keeps the art form rolling, but at least a black eye could be dealt to the industry if enough smart, committed people can take the germ of the idea from Smith and run with it.