Don’t Hate on Zach Braff – Rage Against Kickstarter’s Perry Chen

Guest blog: I can see it now … Julie Taymor, in her effort to redeem herself from the “Spider-Man” Broadway disaster, unleash a video pitch for “Logan,” a “Wolverine”-inspired musical cabaret starring Hugh Jackman

I like Zach Braff. After a very successful theater career in Chicago I moved to L.A. in 2004 to take it to the next level. I took the first job in show business I could find, which ended only being an usher at the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood. 

Zach and Mandy Moore (his girlfriend at the time) would come to check out a movie, make eye contact, cracked jokes with the staff and came across as genuinely good people. Everyone at the Arclight loved “Garden State,” and Zach had all the appeal of a hometown boy who made good.

Also read: New Zach Braff Movie Hits Kickstarter Goal, Could It Threaten ‘Veronica Mars’ Record?

Here was a guy who came from the theater (like me), happens to land a major role on a hit network show, had a beautiful and talented girlfriend and now was making his directorial debut as an independent filmmaker. He even cast George C. Wolfe (the former artistic director of the Public Theatre) in a cameo for “Garden State.”

George C. Wolfe! Clearly Zach was an artist and still part of the “creative class.”

Although I rolled my eyes when Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell instantly broke a record on Kickstarter with their “Veronica Mars” project, I didn’t blink when my man Zach launched his campaign. Yet after watching his video pitch (complete with all of the celeb cameos), something about it really bothered me. The funny thing is it had nothing to do with Zach Brach.

Also read: Are Hollywood Millionaires Ruining Kickstarter? Let's Ask the Internet

Kickstarter was co-founded by its current CEO Perry Chen, a struggling former musician and gallerist. Chen, along with Charles Adler and Yancey Strickler, started the brilliant crowdfunding site for creative artists and inventors who would raise money based on how good your “idea” or concept is. Backers support you not based on how much profit the product would generate but on what they want to see enter the creative space.

IT IS THE ANTITHESIS OF HOLLYWOOD! I was so inspired by all of the artists and innovators on Kickstarter that I launched my own campaign called “The Primordials Anime Project.”

“The Primordials Anime” project will take four of our most popular episodes from the audio drama and adapt them into Japanese anime shorts. “The Primordials” is an urban fantasy about black immortals dwelling in modern day New Orleans. Its Marvel’s Thor meets HBO’s “Treme.” Now try pitching that concept to a network executive.

What Chen and his crew created with Kickstarter was so beautiful and democratic that it damn near defied logic. People simply donate money to support your idea, and Kickstarter receives a 5 percent processing fee. That’s a small price to pay in order to bring your finished product to reality.

Also read: 'Veronica Mars' Movie Project Sets Kickstarter Records (Updated)

Chen fancies himself as a champion of the “creative class” who are the struggling artists working the restaurants and cafes, paying back their student loans while creating beautiful works of art. It took a man like Chen — who came from the creative class — to even come up with a concept like Kickstarter. And according to a recent Fast Company interview, he has no intention of taking Kickstarter public.

Also read: Zach Braff Launches Kickstarter Campaign to Fund 'Garden State' Follow Up

HE IS THE ANTITHESIS OF MARK ZUCKERBERG. As Kickstarter only took 5 percent of whatever funds artists and inventors rose, Chen perfectly blended a non-profit approach to producing artists with a more corporate bottom line structure.

BUT WAIT! That 5 percent processing fee adds up quickly when celebrities like Zach Braff and Kristen Bell come on abroad and start “gaming the system.” Film and video is the largest category of all the Kickstarter campaigns. It’s second only to gaming in terms of where the company makes most of its bread and butter.

Perry Chen is in serious danger of losing his “creative class” street credibility if he continues to allow Hollywood celebrities (who’ve had years of studio/network PR departments building up their fanbase) to come on his site and clean house. It comes across as a little disingenuous to pitch yourself as a champion for the creative class while at the same time profit off of celebrities like Braff and Bell.

Every struggling artist’s nightmare is seconds away from becoming a harsh reality as everyone from Julie Taymor to William Shatner launch campaigns. I can see Taymor now, in her effort to redeem herself from the “Spider-Man” Broadway disaster, unleash a video pitch for “Logan,” a “Wolverine”-inspired musical cabaret starring … you guessed it — Hugh Jackman.

The music is by R. Kelly, and first previews will be held in San Diego at Comic-Con before moving to New York. And I don’t even want to think about what a celebrity like William Shatner could do on Kickstarter. A man whose been on television for 50 years, written and published countless science fiction novels and currently has endless commercials running.  

Shatner and his cross generational rapid fanbase would without question break the “Kickstarter Boxoffice” in minutes, not hours. Let’s not forget that 5 percent of all of those millions would go right back to Chen and his Kickstarter coffers.

For the record, I’m a capitalist and a firm believer in its system, and Chen has every right to run his company as he sees fit. However if he’s serious about maintaining the “DNA” of the Kickstarter concept which is championing the creative class, then he must guard against these celebrities who are chopping at the bit to come on Kickstarter because it’s “easier” to collaborate or spend money from silent partners.

No doubt these celebrities will drive Kickstarter’s profits through the roof, but let's all gently remind Chen of his roots and help him set up guidelines to marshal Hollywood. Let’s do it quick because I heard James Franco wants to curate another art show, this one freer and more independent than the previous one he held at MOCA.

All he needs is our money and Kickstarter to help him pull it off.