On Zach Braff and creative control.Posted: June 7, 2013
I finally got around to watching Zach Braff’s Kickstarter video. I thought it was great. It was funny, well-scripted, and made a good argument for why he was turning to Kickstarter as a means to fund his work. I remain perplexed by the backlash directed at him. Or, I should confess, I get it, but it makes me sad.
Whenever someone complains about crowdsourcers, especially for artistic projects, I get a mental image of Edwardian children queueing up for porridge in an orphanage and snarling at each other to get back in line. I don’t understand what’s bad about pitching to the public to contribute, if they want to, and they get cool stuff in return, versus pitching to a single wealthy financier behind closed doors. In fact it seems like a marvelous improvement on affairs. To me the criticism seems to come from a place of bitterness with one’s own life choices, i.e., “Why do they get to do that” really means “I’m angry I don’t have the life I want.” (Besides, it’s not as if celebrity alone is any guarantee of a successful campaign. Melissa Joan Hart recently crashed and burned, and so did Zosia Mamet. They were terrible campaigns, and the crowdsourcing market let them know that.)
I got to Zach Braff’s page too late to contribute, but I wish I could have. And it’s not even because of the project. It’s because he’s using a big megaphone to say that it’s important for artists to retain creative control over their work. People don’t believe him when he says all financiers want final cut, or casting control, or any other concessions to cynicism. But, though I’m nowhere near Zach Braff’s level of celebrity, in the process of getting a book contract, I did get a glimpse of how money works in the big-league arts. It’s depressing. Here are a few (paraphrased) things I heard from respected industry professionals in the 15-month process of finding an agent:
“Your main character is too emotionally cold. I need her to be warmer.”
“This scene of sexual abuse is really uncomfortable. I need you to change it.”
“I don’t like the magical realism. Magical realism and hard science can’t coexist in a book.”
“Mainstream readers don’t accept foreign words in their books. You can only get away with that in genre.”
And, about thirty times, no joke: “This is incredible, but I have no idea how to market it.”
The happy end to this story is that I found an agent, Sam Stoloff, and an editor, Zack Wagman, who were incredibly supportive of my vision from the get-go. I have creative control and I’m going to release the book I want to release. That’s a rarity. But I wish it for all artists, regardless of their celebrity. So I’m glad Zach Braff is asserting it for himself. He’s not selfish. He’s making sure he can do his job.
So: thanks, Zach. I look forward to seeing your film.