“Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of ‘gimmick’ in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.”(1)
The phrase comes from an episode of the television show Happy Days when the Cunningham family, along with Potsie, Ralph Malph and, of course Arthur Fonzerelli (aka The Fonz), flew from Wisconsin to Southern California for a vacation. While the exact plot escapes me and I really don’t wanna go down an IMDB rabbit hole trying to find it, I can tell you it was a two part episode where The Fonz ended up having to water ski and jump over a shark (in his leather jacket of course), ergo the phrase.
For better or for worse, but mostly better, the phrase has entered the vernacular of American culture.
Just last month I posited a thesis that crowdfunding had officially jumped the shark when actor James Franco created an Indie Gogo campaign in order to raise $500,000 for three films based on his short stories. While incredibly narcissistic, Franco’s campaign can now play second fiddle to Spike Lee, everyone’s favorite conduit of vitriol. Franco and Lee join the already funded Zach Braff as the reason the cow that is crowdfunding has officially been tipped. Combined these three people have an estimated worth of 80 million dollars (40 for Lee, 20 each for Franco and Braff) and while I doubt those numbers are 100% accurate, I suspect they are in the relative ballpark.
The reason for the re-visit to this post is that I want to address something that is absolutely beyond reproach. You see, Spike Lee is getting shite for starting a Kickstater campaign to raise 1.25 million dollars to fund his next film. Whatever you think of his politics, his sports teams or him as an individual or artist, he is what a good artist should be, challenging. So why does Lee starting a Kickstarter campaign upset so many people? Is it the dollar amount? Nah, can’t be, Braff was asking for 1 million and Franco asked for 500k. What could it be? I mean, nobody blinked when Zach Braff and James Franco started theirs. In fact, they were almost applauded.So I am left wondering, how is Spike Lee any different?
Oh wait, that’s right, he’s black. THAT’S the difference! It’s absolutely tragic but I think the only reason people are up in arms is that Spike Lee is a talented, outspoken, opinionated black artist. Look, I am in NO way a Spike Lee apologist. However, I do think he is one of the most intriguing cinematic artists working today and I think the criticism he is receiving about his Kickstarter campaign is racially biased.
And because race seems to matter, I’m a white guy.
Nobody blinks an eye when the two white guys do it and then the talented loud black man does it and he’s an asshole? Bullshit, all three of them are assholes and none of them should get a pass. What they are doing is wrong and I am vehemently opposed to name brand celebrities abusing the crowdfunding platform to finance their projects when they have more than enough money themselves!
John Cassavetes financed his movies through his acting and re-mortgaging his house time and time again. In the process, Cassavetes created some of the most compelling cinema in history, and blazed the trail for American independent cinema. The very same trail all three of these knuckleheads plod down on. Zach Braff, James Franco and Spike Lee are deeply indebted to Cassavetes in ways I doubt they even know (except maybe Lee, he was a true student of film).
Francis Ford Coppola personally financed Apocalypse Now and nearly went broke, and crazy, doing it. If two of America’s premier directors weren’t afraid to put their money where their mouth his, why are these three guys trying to get get funding? Let me reiterate, they are all millionaires many times over.
Of course, this type of fundraising wasn’t around when Cassavetes was alive or Coppola was in his prime, but that’s not the point. The fact of the matter is that they put their money to work for them creatively so they could maintain the control and vision.
Crowdfunding, at its core, was created to provide people access to funds so they can pursue their dreams, whether it’s a tech start up or a short film. Additionally, it allowed people who wanted to participate in the creation of something the ability to contribute what they could. Both kickstarter and Indie GoGo highlight what makes the Internet so incredibly egalitarian.
When you get the likes of Lee, Braff and Franco coming in shilling for money, it ruins the whole idea! In what should come as no great shock, the majority of the people using the crowdfunding platform do NOT have access to a major film studio, or venture capital or come from a wealthy family. This doesn’t make them any less talented or less creative; but prior to Kickstarter and Indie GoGo it just made them more frustrated (I am deliberately ignoring Donald Trump’s foray into crowdfunding ).
Earlier this year, the creators of the television show Veronica Mars created a Kickstarter and raised well over 1 million dollars to fund a feature length movie of the TV show. And while I was a bit taken aback, it made sense because despite a rabid fan base Veronica Mars had no potential of ever being brought back to television. And no studio, in this day and age, would ever back a movie of a show like that..that’s been off the air for six years. So the creators decided to do it on their own. Kudos to them, THAT makes sense.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I used Kickstarter a year ago to fund a web series I created. And through the kindness of many supportive people, I was able to reach my goal and realize my vision. Even despite what I raised, I still contributed more than half of the overall budget, so crowdfunding is a resource, not a solution.
It’s also not a bank!
Look, I understand the desire and need to have artistic control over your projects. I get it, but these three yo-yo’s have more than enough money to fund this stuff themselves! And even if they don’t want to do that, am I truly to believe that they don’t have access to people who do have the money and who would willingly fund them? Come on!
What they are doing strikes me as extremely predatory. They are tapping into their fan base and I am guessing most of their fans sit smack in the middle class, or lower. And asking them to pony up their hard earned dollars just seems wrong to me. Are these three guys that arrogant or clueless about the struggles of the very people they are asking to contribute? If they are truly that disconnected from society, I would seriously question their artistry and integrity.
Again, let me be clear, these guys are MILLIONAIRES!
“Oh, come on Keith! It’s not that much money to contribute.” You’re right, it’s not and it is yours to do with as you feel. But they have enough money to pay for it! Why should you?
“Oh come on, you’re being hyper critical of this.” I am being critical, yes. I’m also being honest and realistic, which I don’t think the three of them are being to themselves or the people funding their projects.
“Well, aren’t they raising awareness to crowdfunding?” Sort of. They are, but what they are also doing is diminishing it’s impact on the struggling artists and creators who truly need it to realize their own vision. I mean, can’t you just hear the cynicism of the next guy looking to raise money for his feature length film? “Pfft, who does this guy think he is, Spike Lee?” Also, the people they are bringing to the site are not likely to go poking around to find other projects to fund. They will be in and out. So yea, they are sort of raising the awareness but I don’t think they are benefiting the community. Ultimately, isn’t it the community that matters?
How would you feel if GE started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for research and development on a new airplane engine? Would you contribute to that? Oh, no, you wouldn’t? Why? IT’S THE SAME DAMN THING HERE!
And I’m not saying all celebrity crowdfunding campaigns are bad or unnecessary. The Veronica Mars campaign was a good thing. Personally, I’d like to see some more Whitest Kids U’ Know stuff so they should start a crowdfunding campaign. I think this is a great avenue for someone like Terry Gilliam, who has a horrendous time getting financing for his films. The fact is there are tons of artists, both known and unknown, with whom I would have less of an issue with. But these three knuckleheads? Nope, not buying it.
But even more than that, I disagree more with the blatant racial bias against Spike Lee. The two white guys, Braff and Franco, did it before him and escaped unscathed and Spike Lee is being vilified? Again, I have to call bullshit.
While I remain vehemently opposed to any of them doing this, I can say that of the three, Lee is the only one with the true depth of talent that only comes with experience. And of the three, his project seems less like a pet project.
I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. You can’t shut guys like this out because that goes against the nature of the whole idea. But maybe they could do a better job of explaining why I should give my money to a millionaire to fund their project? Maybe they take some of the funds they raise to support a smaller short film for a struggling artist? Maybe they promise to crew up with other film makers who have used Kickstarter? I honestly don’t know the answer but I think there absolutely has got to be a conversation around what to do when millionaires come asking for money.
What’s next Michael Bay on Kickstarter braying for 200 million dollars for another crappy Transformers movie?
Crowdfunding has officially jumped the shark…again.