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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
A few months back, Kristin Bell and Rob Thomas (the main actress and the creator behind the long-cancelled Veronica Mars television show) set up a Kickstarter project to fund a possible Veronica Mars movie (I say possible, because as Nick explained here, the movie could potentially fall through despite reaching and exceeding funding goals). Just recently, apparent Hollywood whipping boy Zach Braff also took to Kickstarter to help fund his directorial follow-up to 2004’s break-out hit Garden State. Unlike Bell and Thomas’ overwhelmingly positive reaction, however, Braff faced enormous criticism, not only from the general pop culture media, but from fans as well. All of this has left me wondering, how can Bell and Thomas get such great support and praise while Braff gets nothing but scorn and criticism for essentially doing the exact same thing?
Veronica Mars was a television show that debuted in 2004 and lasted for three seasons until it was canceled by the CW in spring 2007. I have since watched every episode of the show on DVD. The first two seasons take place in Veronica’s high school, where she and a quirky group of friends solve local mysteries. She also attempts to track down her long gone mother and solve the murder of her best friend. The first two seasons were highly critically acclaimed, and Bell became something of an it-girl in Hollywood (which she subsequently squandered by having awful taste in choosing film roles). The final season put Veronica in college, changing the familiar setting and letting loose a whole variety of new issues to deal with for our now college-aged heroes. From what I remember at the time, fan reaction to the changes in the show during season three were fairly negative, and the ratings dipped to their lowest ever. Watching season three on DVD, it is very easy to see why. The last season of Veronica Mars, while not a train wreck, is nowhere near as good as the first two. I think most people, generally speaking, forget this.
Zach Braff burst onto the scene in 2001 with a starring role in the hit television ensemble comedy Scrubs, which lasted some odd nine seasons on NBC and then later ABC. Braff’s character, Dr. John Dorian, was met with critical acclaim when the show first debuted. Braff was riding a wave of praise when his film Garden State was released during the summer of 2004. Garden State was met with considerable critical acclaim, and Braff seemed to be on the cusp of stardom. Like Bell, Braff’s choice in film roles over the next few years were beyond questionable. His television show continued to chug along, eventually becoming a target of online criticism and mockery. Honestly though, those last few seasons of Scrubs were pretty good. From the musical episode circa 2007 to the finale, Scrubs remained a watchable, funny, brightly lit comedy. It didn’t have the wit and charm of the first few seasons, but it was a more than respectable television half-hour. I would argue that the finale was actually seriously good TV as well, and being that the show is on Netflix, I highly encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to seek it out.
Now, it must be pointed out that Braff has essentially admitted that he could fund the film himself (and that he does have a financier, though this came along after the initial uproar), and that he would potentially have the support of a movie studio behind him. Some online writers and commenters have also come out and criticized him (not unfairly) for potentially using fan money when he could just be using his own money. But to entirely fund a movie on his own would be a completely insane fool’s errand, and possibly bankrupt him (this is what allegedly happened to Casey Affleck in the aftermath of the disastrous mockumentary I’m Still Here). And in fairness to Braff, the Kickstarter fund will not be able to completely cover the cost of Bell and Thomas’ proposed Veronica Mars movie either. Warner Bros., who own the rights to the show, will still have to kick in for marketing/advertising and print costs, which could be anywhere from four to ten million dollars. Additionally, Warner Bros. would probably have to throw in cash to cover the costs of the gifts that Kickstarter donors receive for their pledging efforts. I’m not saying that Braff is right or wrong to turn to Kickstarter, but aren’t we being a little unfair to him based solely on his arguably undeserved reputation?
That is the real question. The truth of this matter remains that Braff is perceived as some kind of douche bag a-hole who no one likes (or will admit to liking) and that Bell and Thomas are unassailable Hollywood geniuses, above and beyond all levels of criticism (so they are essentially Joss Whedon or something, I guess). That, to me, is both unfortunate and unfair. Bell and Braff have very similar career paths (with the notable exception being that Bell has never starred in a hit movie and probably never will – Braff will at least be able to lay claim to Garden State, which was a hit movie no matter what people will tell you in 2013). The internet hate machine has spoken out, however, and it seems that while Bell and Thomas (and seriously, is there anyone in Hollywood who has had more chances than Rob Thomas?) can get away with planning a movie production via Kickstarter, apparently Braff cannot.
To complicate matters, filmmaker/raconteur/comic book auteur Kevin Smith (he of Mallrats fame) has recently come out to announce he would not be turning to Kickstarter to help fund a proposed Clerks 3. He will instead fund and distribute the second sequel to Clerks (which apparently has a script now) much like his previous film, Red State. Smith’s reasoning for not turning to Kickstarter largely revolves around how he feels the crowd-sourcing website should work. Smith believes that up-and-coming independent filmmakers should use Kickstarter, but established Hollywood veterans like himself should not. Smith’s intentions and statements exude the utmost of Hollywood nobility and humility. In a time when creators could just put everything onto the table and have average Joe’s like you and I fund their projects, Smith has flatly rejected this notion. The internet has praised him for this, while at the same time continuing to chide Zach Braff for his actions a few weeks back. I’ve even heard people theorize that Smith came out and made this proclamation solely to shame Braff, which seems like an insane thing to think. Why would Smith care what Braff does? Smith has made a very nice career for himself out of basically being one of us – a pop culture obsessive. The guy is living the dream, lording over his empire of comic books, television, film, appearances/speeches, and podcasts.
The idea that Kevin Smith would come out and publicly shame Zach Braff is not only probably untrue, it is also ludicrous. Smith very famously walked away from Hollywood a few years back after the debacle that was Cop Out disillusioned him from film making. His credibility took a dip for a year or so, but Smith is revered by his fans and is considered to be almost an elder statesmen of pop culture — I knew the guy would bounce back. He has no reason to foster some kind of feud between himself and a perceived out-of-touch ex-sitcom actor. Additionally, if Smith’s words have been interpreted by “fans” to be a slight against Braff, how are they also not a slight against Kristin Bell and Rob Thomas? Why do Bell and Thomas keep getting off light here? Do the words that Smith has about Kickstarter (that it should be used for up-and-coming filmmakers) not also apply to Bell and Thomas, who should also be rich several times over and have also had fairly sustained success in Hollywood? There seems to me to be some kind of double standard when it comes to Kickstarter, and that is wrong to me. Either it’s all ok, and Kristin Bell and Zach Braff can both have their movies crowd-funded, or none of it is ok and these projects should just be for the indie filmmakers. Let’s not praise one and condemn the other. Who really cares if Zach Braff makes use of Kickstarter? How is it, in any universe whatsoever, bothersome to you? I hope Braff does get to make his next pet project, and I hope it is a huge success.