March 21, 2014

LUST FOR LOVE: Kickstartering Joss Whedon's B-Team

"You need attitude.  Edge.  And a hell of a lot more confidence."
I like Kickstarter.  In the past three years I've backed a total of 19 different projects including about a dozen films, two albums, a web series, a music video and two different movie theater fundraisers/restorations.  It's a great opportunity for independent filmmakers to not only raise the funds for a passion project, but also to directly build and engage a fanbase by fostering a sense of personal involvement.  People take pride in the projects they back, just ask any Veronica Mars fan.

Mars is the cautious success story; Rob Thomas was able to mobilize the show's fan base to shatter almost every fundraising record in the history of Kickstarter on his way to raising a staggering $5 million dollars to fund the big screen adaptation of his cult TV show, but since most of those backers received a digital copy of the film on opening day for their troubles, it remains to be seen exactly how all that fundraising success will translate into tangible box office dollars.  (The film has made a total of about $2.2 million which isn't bad considering it's only playing in 291 theaters.  The studio has not released any VOD or digital copy sales numbers.)

But Veronica Mars is also a pretty atypical model in terms of film Kickstarters, in that it was an adaptation of a TV series with a pre-established and rabid fanbase.  There are other popular creatives like Dan Harmon and Spike Lee who have found crowdfunding success because people want to support their favorite artists, even if the final product is kind of niche and doesn't make much in the way of profit.  Mars is also unique in that it's a relatively low-budget affair - it'd be much harder to use Kickstarter to bring back a beloved property on the scale of, say, Firefly because you'd never raise enough money for something that effects heavy.  You can make the argument that a popular crowdfunding campaign demonstrates viability and audience desire to a hesitant studio, but even Veronica Mars only had 91,585 backers and if a studio is gonna spend serious money, then ideally they want a bigger guaranteed audience.

Plenty of people are ready and willing to hate on Zach Braff for using Kickstarter over traditional funding simply because money from those financiers comes with strings and he wants to make the movie on his own terms.  As an artist, that's not a totally invalid wish or argument, but on the other hand just about every film ever made has been executed with those same strings attached and sometimes compromise can breed inspiration.  There's a larger argument to be had about profit sharing and whatnot, but Braff isn't making an independent dramedy just for the money and getting your funding in smaller increments from a few thousand people as opposed to a handful of guys with deep pockets doesn't feel any less valid just because it's a new idea.  Besides, if Braff is able to attract new users to the Kickstarter platform who then go on to help fund other projects, then obviously that's better for everyone in the long run.  I actually think the most interesting use of Kickstarter is with projects like Obvious Child or Kung Fury, where a film is already shot but needs additional support for post-production, basic marketing, and festival submissions in order to secure distribution.  That's the part of filmmaking that's largely overlooked by the public but is no less crucial then getting cameras and actors on set.  Either way, I like the idea of pitching in to help smaller scale projects and if I can support artists like Jenny Slate or Emily Hagins in the process, all the better.

The very first project I ever backed was Lust For Love, a romantic comedy mostly consisting of supporting cast members from Joss Whedon's short-lived series Dollhouse including Fran Kranz, Dichen Lachman, Enver Gjokaj and Miracle Laurie.  Kranz was one of my favorite parts of Dollhouse (I'm a total sucker for Topher-esque characters) and Dichen Lachman is someone I had a friendly professional relationship with in L.A. so I was pleased and excited to help give them a chance to showcase their talents with a passion project of their own.  The project went through a lengthy post-production process which delayed the arrival of the final product over a year from their estimated completion date, but I didn't mind waiting if it meant I'd get a better film in the end.  And while the production value is strong and the leads do an admirable job at engaging the audience, the script is a bit of a mess.  It starts out abruptly in the middle of the story, thus relying too much on a series of prolonged and oddly structured flashbacks that eventually start to undermine the action in the present.  The chemistry between Kranz and Lachman is strong, but the chemistry between Kranz and Beau Garrett as his ex-love is practically non-existent.  There are also a few narrative dead ends that feel like writer/director Anton King is just running in circles to pad out the running time.

But I don't really want to shit all over the film.  It's a slight but entertaining diversion filled with talent that I love, and King proves himself to be a more than capable director.  With a stronger script he could actually produce something pretty special, so even if this ends up becoming an uneven early step in a more successful career, it was certainly worth the $25 dollars I pledged to Kickstarter to help make it happen.

Who cares if the final film isn't Citizen Kane?  I still like feeling involved, and in the end I feel like that's what Kickstarter is all about.

Title: Lust For Love
Director: Anton King
Starring: Fran Kranz, Dichen Lachman, Beau Garrett, Enver Gjokaj, Karim Saleh, Miracle Laurie, Caitlin Stasey, Felicia Day
Year Of Release: 2014
Viewing Method: Digital Copy - TV

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