Six days ago, Bret Easton Ellis’s Kickstarter campaign for his film project The Canyons met its goal of $100,000 and was funded. It has now exceeded that goal by an additional $59,015, thanks to the support of 1,050 backers who purchased various rewards with their pledges. Some of these rewards are ordinary — autographed scripts, first editions, movie posters, DVDs of the eventual film — and some are more creative. Five backers each spent $1,500 for the privilege of having Ellis and “former Lionsgate producer” Braxton Pope livetweet their “honest thoughts” about the backers’ film or tv premieres “to their 390,000 followers/fans, hopefully helping [the backers] trend worldwide.” (Uh-huh.) Two backers bought the “train with Bret” package: for $3,000, they’ll get three hour-long workouts and “access to supplements.”
I’m having a hard time pinning down exactly what I find so offensive about this whole endeavor. Part of it might be the project page itself, which seems like an afterthought — un-copy-edited, un-thought-through, hurried. ”The Canyons documents five twenty-something’s [sic] quest for power, love, sex and success in 2012 Hollywood,” one sentence reads. Elsewhere: “The Canyons team has realized that Kickstarter is indeed a part of this new independent change, and is seeking to connect with our fan base even further with this campaign. Raising money will assist us in the production of our film in addition to increasing awareness of it. There is a distinct value in having an intimate relationship to those who care most about our work, and we are thankful to Kickstarter for helping foster these relationships.”
Simultaneously raising money and awareness is, of course, Kickstarter’s raison d’etre. While famous people do use it, it’s most exciting when it’s used by unknown or little-known creators whose work might otherwise slip through the cracks of the free market economy. For those people, it’s a lifeline. For the household-name author of bestselling novels and the director of Taxi Driver, it’s a marketing campaign, and not a very slick one. There’s something gross about these people openly admitting that, while they could just fund the film with their own money, they’ll happily take yours and consider that to constitute an “intimate relationship.” Oh, and they won’t even spellcheck the form they’re filling out in order to ask you to pay them.
Paying attention to a publicity stunt is inevitable. Paying into a publicity stunt is … new.
On the other hand, what chutzpah! It’s classic BEE, and I admire his consistency. I also admire his books — I’ve read and I like them all, for different reasons, even Glamorama, maybe especially Glamorama, anyway, I am a BEE fan from way back. I find his utter refusal to censor himself or to make concessions to the mealymouthed logrolly hierarchy of literary fame incredibly appealing. I love how he truly does not give a fuck about offending anyone. His twitter is awe-inspiring — and though the flavor of awe it inspires is often a bad one, awe is in such short supply these days that I’ll take it where I can find it.
And if people want to pay thousands of dollars for walk-on roles in vanity projects, let them! Who are they hurting? It’s not like the money people spend supporting The Canyons is money they’d otherwise spend supporting, say, my friend Kat Hunt’s movie What’s Revenge. Or maybe they are — the dollars we all have to support the arts are finite (or nonexistent.) But I would go crazy (crazier) if I let myself go around believing that Kickstarter — or success, in general — is a zero-sum game.
Speaking of jealousy, Kat’s movie is about justice, and one of the rewards is that you get your chart done, a bargain at $100. Or, for $5,000, Kat and her crew will “plot and execute your own vengeance.” (NYC only.) Most of the crew is female. And I get the sense that your dollar would mean something to Kat and her collaborators that it might not mean to the kind of people who use crowdsourced funding as a way to make headlines, all the while pretending they’re using it as a way to make friends.