Why Hate Zach Braff's Kickstarter Campaign but Not Veronica Mars's?

Mars has always seemed like an underdog, while Braff has always seemed like a smug success. But isn't a rich person asking for money a rich person asking for money?
veronica mars zach braff 650.png
WB / Zach Braff

Just a few weeks after the conclusion of the Kickstarter campaign to fund the Veronica Mars movie, we are getting a poignant demonstration of what its success has wrought. On Wednesday, Zach Braff launched a campaign to fund his new film, Wish I Was Here, a 30-something's coming-of-age story that will be "in the tone" of his 2004 hit Garden State. Like the folks behind Veronica Mars, he's seeking to raise $2 million in 30 days. He's offering similar incentives that include items like a PDF of the script for low-end contributors and, at the high end, opportunities to attend screenings or appear as an extra.

Much of the Internet response to the campaign has been swift and vitriolic—except on Kickstarter itself where the project raised more than $1.5 million in its first two days. But in the wider media sphere, Braff's plea for funding is being treated with almost universal derision. "Thanks to Kickstarter, Zach Braff Finally Has Millions of Dollars," a Grantland headline snarkily proclaimed. Comedian Tim Heidecker tweeted a proposed scene for Braff's script, in which a couple bemoans spending their last $100 on the "Zach Braff piece of shit." My own Facebook and Twitter feeds have blown up with calls for people to put their precious dollars toward truly independent endeavors on the crowdfunding site—as in, ones not helmed by already-famous millionaires.

It's a sharp contrast to the response that Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell's Mars campaign received on its way to raising a record-shattering $5.7 million. While there have certainly been some doubters (including The Atlantic Wire's Richard Lawson who argued that contributing to the campaign was just donating money to a studio), fan excitement and interest in a new film financing model was enough to drown out much of the negativity. So why is a strategy that was hailed as innovative and paradigm shifting just a month ago now being attacked as celebrity panhandling?

Much of it has to do with the tone and perception of the two campaigns. People who love Veronica Mars (full disclosure: I am one of them, and made a modest contribution to the film) always viewed the show as an underdog, much like its titular teen detective. In the years since its cancellation in 2007, Thomas and Bell have spoken often about their desire to make a Veronica Mars movie and their unsuccessful attempts to convince Warner Bros.—which owns the rights—to back it. The Kickstarter campaign was pitched as their last chance to bring the studio on board through an overwhelming show of fan support and dollars.

Aside from people's personal feelings about Braff, the distinctions between the two campaigns are semantic. We're all entitled to support the projects we want regardless of the wealth or stature of the people behind them.

Despite the fact that the people who stand to benefit financially from the Veronica Mars film are not exactly cash-poor, there was an element of populism in the idea of wresting control away from a recalcitrant studio and putting it back in the hands of the show's creator. Braff, on the other hand, acknowledges in his video appeal that he could get the film made through more traditional means. But what fun would that be? Kickstarter donations will allow him to make his movie exactly the way that he wants, without philistine "money guys" demanding input on editing or casting choices—or a return on their investment. (We'll have to take Braff's word for it, but is Jim Parsons really that hard of a sell?) It's unsurprising that a number of people regard the nature of his plea as entitled, condescending, and not worth this month's beer money.

Compounding the problem, Braff also seems to be unfortunate recipient of the same brand of roving, ineffable celebrity backlash that plagued Anne Hathaway during her Oscar run. (While I never really got the Hathaway hate, I'll admit that I've long harbored an antipathy toward Braff's mopey sensibilities.) But aside from people's personal feelings about Braff, the distinctions between the two campaigns are semantic. If Kickstarter is truly the egalitarian platform it proposes to be, then we're all entitled to support the projects we want regardless of the wealth or stature of the people behind them.

We'll see whether these types of celebrity-driven indie projects have long-term viability (another high-profile Kickstarter-funded film, Paul Schrader's New York Times Magazine-profiled The Canyons, will open in theaters later this year), or if the crowdfunding market will soon become oversaturated with hat-in-hand millionaires. But if your spirit soared at the idea of seeing Veronica Mars back in action, then you happily contributed to the campaign in spite of any niggling objections. Likewise, if you long to float once again in the warm waters of Braff's Gen X angst, than you will support this endeavor and be thrilled to receive his favorite weekly song picks for your trouble.

After all, as film auteur Woody Allen once famously said of his own dubious life choices, "the heart wants what it wants."

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Meghan Lewit is a writer and editor based in New York. She has contributed arts and entertainment coverage to the L.A. Weekly, The Awl, and PopMatters.

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