Noah J Nelson on Wednesday, Jul. 31st
Okay, so that headline is total link-bait, but it's cheeky link-bait. Also, unlike those ads we see everywhere I'm actually going to divulge that "one weird trick". All for no money down.
But first, let's take a look at how the most-watched film crowdfunding project of the moment is doing.
Spike Lee's project launched on the 22nd of July with a goal of $1.25 million. On this, the tenth day of the campaign, he's managed to clear $479,000 and climbing.
This is not Veronica Mars and Zach Braff money. If anything this looks like a "normal" Kickstarter campaign: a real slug-it-out to the end affair that requires stump speeches and rallying of supporters.
At the onset Lee was criticized heavily for jumping onto the platform without having backed any projects before. The idea that one should have to be a part of a crowdfunding community before using a platform is itself inherently illogical. After all, if this was true back in 2008 when Kickstarter was just breaking out of its shell, then the service and the many that have arrived in its wake never would have taken off.
That people would actually have the gall to accuse Spike Lee of not being a team player in the world of indie filmmaking is even more ridiculous. Lee took to a defensive position on this point in the 10th Update to his campaign:
For the past 15 years I've been a Professor of Film at The NYU Graduate Film School and the Artistic Director for the last 5. What people do not know is that I've had a SPIKE LEE PRODUCTION FUND to assist NYU GRAD FILM STUDENTS with grants to do their FILMS. Since the 1989/90 NYU School Year I have given out Production Grants to 44 NYU GRAD FILM students [sic] totally over $300,000.
I did not give back on KICKSTARTER in the past because I was backing my NYU students. Now that I'm on KICKSTARTER that will change. This narrative that I'm greedy, do not support, care or nurture young Filmmakers is so far from the truth it's not even funny. I would not be teaching FILM for as long as I have if I didn't care about young Filmmakers.
That defensive post has inevitably rubbed some people the wrong way, but it's the Internet, which means it's haters all the way down. Claims made by Lee that he's bringing in new supporters to Kickstarter are being challenged as well. The fault there lies in Lee not deploying the word "likely" in that claim. We won't know until after the fact, but if the pattern of Veronica Mars and Zach Braff's campaign holds, that assertion will likely pan out.
That's also super-nitpicky detail garbage, and not even remotely interesting once you've watched the ebb and flow of campaigns over time. Spike Lee being put on the defensive by people who think that crowdfunding is either exclusively a tool for scammers and the destitute actually robs us of a unique opportunity.
That one weird trick… that I'll get to in a moment once I pick the point out that has been bugging me.
Now conventional crowdfunding wisdom, if we can say such a thing exists, states that a project should keep updating their backers. What's rarely, if ever, been addressed is the question: is there such a thing as too many updates?
I'd like to nominate The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint as the first to win that prize.
Over the weekend I did something I never felt I had to do before. I reached into the settings on the Kickstarter iPhone app–which is where I get both project updates and alerts that my friends have backed new projects–to turn off the updates from Lee. (If you want to know how to do this: open the app, tap profile, then settings, then "Manage project notifications".) Until that point I wasn't even sure if it was possible to switch off updates from an individual project, but after receiving two updates in an hour I was over it.
You might think this is just my problem, but it's actually trouble for Lee,or any project creator whose backers start ignoring them.
What, after all, are the point of updates to a project? The front page of a project can be switched up to reflect the latest information, so updates become exclusively a means to communicate with those who are already engaged. If they start tuning out, you're losing possible ground troops.
So here's my advice to project creators: use updates strategically. Keep them coming, but know that the more you pump into that channel the less attention will be paid to it.
Lee has been lining up famous friends to give endorsements, and that's all well and good, but I'm not the one who needs to hear that Josh Brolin and Raphael Saadiq are throwing their support behind Lee. What you need is for folks like me who have already put some skin in the game to tell others that Josh Brolin and Raphael Saadiq are on the bandwagon.
(By the way, I might not have mentioned it but…)
This is a lot easier to do when the pace of information feels like it is controlled. Too many updates puts me right into that feeling I get when I friend an over-sharer on Facebook. You know that feeling, the one that makes you question why you bother with social media at all? Yeah. Good times.
Now for that "weird trick".
It actually has to do with those videos of famous people.
What if, instead of celebrities just endorsing his project, Lee encouraged that cohort to get on Kickstarter and start funding projects? (Or IndieGoGo, Seed & Spark, etc.) After all, there is an aspect to crowdfunding that's a little "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours". Lee has the clout to bring a lot of famous backs into the ecosystem, and that could start a sensation. Braff did something similar during his campaign when he started backing other projects, but how much more impact would it have if Brolin, Saadiq, Matthew McConaughey, and Steven Soderbergh started dropping cash on small projects and telling those creators "Spike sent me".
Or #SpikeSentMe if you want a hashtag.
It doesn't even have to be a lot of money to make a difference, the exposure for smaller creative projects would be incredibly valuable.
To be clear: I'm not saying Lee "must" do this. It is just a humble suggestion of a tactic that could be used which not only would silence those who see him as an interloper, but would fulfill the promise that celebrity campaigns have to bring attention to crowdfunding in a super-charged way.
If it happened to create a little media stir around Lee's campaign and brought some more backers in, all the better for everyone. For in the end–and this is the big point–crowdfunding is not a zero sum game. The bigger the pie gets, the more people get to eat.
Great. Now I want pie.
Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)