05/24/2013 03:13 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2013

Crowdfunding 201: Kevin Smith's Missed Opportunity

By Lucas McNelly (@lmcnelly)

Recently, Kevin Smith took to Reddit to do an AMA, and because people were already going to ask whether or not he'd use Kickstarter, he had this to say in the introduction:

As for funding the flick - we nearly Kickstarted the budget back in November (talked about at great length here: But now I'm feeling like that's not fair to real indie filmmakers who need the help. Unlike back when I made CLERKS in '91, I've GOT access to money now - so I should use that money and not suck any loot out of the crowd-funding marketplace that might otherwise go to some first-timer who can really use it. So if I can get away with it, I'm gonna try to pay for CLERKS III myself. As much as I love the crowd-funding model (and almost did it myself in early 2009 with, that's an advancement in indie film that belongs to the next generation of artists. I started on my own dime, and if I'm allowed, I should finish on my own dime.

Fair enough. He's (mostly) wrong about crowdfunding's dynamics and macro-economics, but it's not like this is his job. He's an indie filmmaker (sort of). And being an indie filmmaker means that you get to make your movie however you see fit, whether you're a kid in Montana or Neil Young. That's what "indie" means. So when fellow filmmakers rail on someone like Zach Braff, it strikes me as incredibly selfish and hypocritical. Anyway, if he wants to finish the Clerks trilogy on his own dime, that's 100% his call.

But here's the thing: there's zero evidence that a campaign by him will "suck any loot out of the crowd-funding marketplace". In fact, quite a bit of the available evidence (i.e. all of it) says it'll do the opposite and inject money into the marketplace.

Still, the internet is a fickle place and considering the anger directed toward Braff, it's understandable that he might want to avoid putting a target on his back.

But what if there was a way he could flip the script? What if a Kevin Smith Kickstarter campaign could actually help change the conversation for the better? Consider this alternate-universe campaign.

Step 1

For really no reason at all that I can see, $2M became the new, hip goal number. And while I don't know anything about Clerks III and only saw a few minutes of Clerks II, it seems safe to assume he could make it for less than $2M, right? And even if he couldn't, if he's willing to fund the whole thing himself anyway, the money isn't really that important here.

Let's say he sets the goal at, I dunno, $500K. He'll make that easily, probably on the first day. He could do it even lower. If you want to really stay in touch with the narrative of the original, you put the goal at $27,000. Suddenly you don't look so greedy.

Again, the actual money isn't important here.

Step 2

In Clerks, there's a special, NSFW significance to the number 37 that's kind of a recurring joke. Let's pay tribute to the first chapter and make the campaign 37 days. Why? Because Step 3, that's why.

Step 3

One thing Smith is right about is that there's "real" indie filmmakers who need the help. There's thousands of them. So here's what Smith does. He doesn't really promote his campaign because, hey, he doesn't need the money. But a Kevin Smith Kickstarter campaign will attract a LOT of eyeballs. Smith has 2.4M Twitter followers. He has a very popular podcast. He does all sorts of stuff to engage his audience, pretty much constantly.

So what if, for each of the 37 days of the campaign, Kevin Smith sent out an update telling you about a campaign by a "real" indie filmmaker? And he tweeted about it? And he talked about them on his podcast? And in interviews? And could get outlets like indieWire and Entertainment Weekly to talk about campaigns by people who are trying to raise $20K for their first film? He could have the filmmakers on his podcast or whatever and talk to them about their film, why they're making it, what they hope to accomplish, who their heroes are. Whatever, really. He could, quite literally, put 37 filmmakers on the map, or at very least give them a pretty sizable leg up.

Considering what Clerks represents, both to Smith and to the independent film world as a whole, it'd be pretty much a perfect way to honor that legacy while finishing off his trilogy.

Close one chapter in Smith's career and potentially open one for dozens of aspiring filmmakers? How great would that be?

Again, Smith can do whatever he wants. It's his film and his career and his life, but considering how very, very fortunate he was that he made Clerks in 1993 and not 2013...

Or, to quote Uncle Ben: "with great power comes great responsibility."

By funding it himself, Kevin Smith is taking the easy route when he could do so much more.

Extra Credit

I need one of these shirts for, uh, research...This theater space in Seattle cruised past their goal. Also, they have nice graphics...Speaking of Seattle, this might be the only film shooting there where I don't know anyone involved (yet)....Tarkovsky!!!!...This Philip K. Dick movie is looking for theatrical distribution...Over at Indiegogo, there's this Canadian short.

Lucas McNelly (@lmcnelly) is the filmmaker behind A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. He consults on Kickstarter campaigns for a living. He hasn't lived anywhere in a long time.

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