I funded a movie! Ok, I may not have funded an entire movie, but I did throw in $20 to the Kickstarter for the Veronica Mars film. I don’t think I’d call myself a hard-core fan, but I liked the series enough to want to watch a film, and enough to pay out of my own pocket to help it get made. By now, the Kickstarter plan is looking at generating roughly twice what the director was hoping for, and that means that Warner Bros, who basically own VM, will support the movie and distribute it. I think this is a good thing, and I like having the film to look forward to.
Since one of the basic laws of the internet is that there must be immediate backlash to anything positive, there’s been a lot of grumbling about how fans shouldn’t be paying a rich studio to make a film that will then make even more money; and how dare Rob Thomas (the director) ask?; and OMG, is he actually going to have the sheer effrontery to pay himself? It’s a shock and an outrage and blah di blah blah blah.
This made me think about Amanda Palmer’s TED talk on The Art of Asking. Palmer is the current doyenne of social media and is enormously effective at crowdsourcing her music career. Rather than being cynically exploitative, it seems that the tools have come along to enable her to extend both her giving and taking, in equilibrium. I don’t like her stuff (I’ve tried, it’s not for me) but I find her approach, and her ability to be extremely articulate about what she’s doing, very interesting. My own summary of her talk would be that, when an artist has made a genuine connection with a fan, or a group of fans, then it’s ok to ask them for help. The help might be anything from a hat to wear at a gig, to a bed for the night, to a donation to a Kickstarter campaign to fund a tour. What I think she was saying is that the relationship is a two-way thing, and that as long as the person handing over the hat or the money feels like they’re getting a deal, then it works. You don’t ask, you don’t get, but then sometimes you’re not the only one who loses out.
After all, what is any gig, publication, public appearance, theatre show, art show but a request for support? However mediated, if art is about building a connection then it comes down to the artist asking the fan, reader, theatre lover to pay them in some way so that they can keep creating. In return for which, the supporter gets to enjoy more of whatever it is they’re supporting. I can tell you, if George RR Martin started a Kickstarter to get funding to make him damn well finish Game of Thrones before he pops his clogs (aka ‘does a Robert Jordan’) a whole lot of people would pay up.
Palmer’s approach, and the VM Kickstarter, represent a new take on a very old way to get art funded, which is why I’m confused at the backlash. Since at least Roman times, artists have had patrons, because being creative is one of the least guaranteed ways of making a living ever. Virgil was basically commanded by Augustus to write The Aeneid, Michelangelo scraped and struggled to get money for marble, and the National Gallery is awash with paintings that were commissioned by the wealthy and elite. These days, fancy firms have artists-in-residence to try to give their corporate blankness some soul. As well as being creative, artists have been service providers for about 2000 years. So, isn’t it cool that it’s not just the
Tory party ridiculously wealthy who can have a hand in getting the artworks that they want into production?