05/03/2013 07:21 pm ET Updated Jul 03, 2013

Crowdfunding 201: Wish You Were Working

By Lucas McNelly (@lmcnelly)

It was inevitable.

After the Veronica Mars folks raised their $2 million in record time, you knew a similar project would come along. Hollywood, after all, is pretty good at taking what works and doing it over and over and over again until everyone is sick of it. So you just knew that some multi-millionaire from TV would launch a campaign for their own dream project. And you even knew they'd go for the same goal. Because, hey, that's how these things work.

And the outrage--oh the outrage! Why can't they fund it themselves? They're rich and stuff. How dare they?? launched and no one cared. No howls that they were going to bilk a fanbase out of millions, no cries that they should somehow allow people to make a profit (never mind that you can't legally do that yet, but why bother with facts? It doesn't stop CNN and Fox News.)

But, no. Melissa Joan Hart--she of multiple TV series and the over 300,000 Twitter followers--launched a campaign and 60 fans rallied to her cause on the first day.

A collective shrug.

But no one wants to talk about Melissa Joan Hart. Everyone wants to talk about the greatest monster cinema has ever produced: Zach Braff.

Noah has been tracking a bit how nearly everyone is getting the story wrong, although I disagree with him about Sean O'Neal's piece because, well, that's what the AV Club does with every news story.

I was going to talk about Melissa Joan Hart's campaign in contrast to Zach Braff's and how why the failure of the former re-enforces the success of the latter. In other words, Braff's is working for the exact reasons it should: he has a track record of a filmmaker who previously made movie a lot of people like. He wants to do it again. The fact that's he's rich and famous only speaks toward the scale of the campaign, not it's validity or whatever other hipster qualification people want to put on it to make themselves feel better.

Also: he's putting more effort into his campaign than you put into yours. So maybe that has something to do with it.

Hate Zach Braff all you want, but he's out-working you. End of story.

But then my research took me down a different path, starting here:

It's one thing to hear that sentiment in 2009 when crowdfunding was a new idea or from an outlet that doesn't cover film on a regular basis. I'll give them a mulligan, perhaps, because they quite simply have no idea what they're talking about. But Anthony Breznican? Breznican is a Senior Writer at Entertainment Weekly. He leads the Oscar beat. He writes under the blog heading "Inside Movies". This is kind of his job to understand the basics of something as widely-used as Kickstarter. Especially when we just went through this with Veronica Mars. That might be an indicator to start doing some perfunctory research. But, hey, I'm sure Entertainment Weekly has other movies to spend their time on. It's not like Entertainment Weekly was the outlet that broke the Veronica Mars story. And it's not like he has the resources of his co-worker (and non-Senior Writer) Adam Carlson, who had no trouble getting ahold of Braff for an interview and asking him the investment question that same afternoon. Literally, while Breznican was spouting nonsense on Twitter, Carlson was doing real, actual journalism. But hey, if you want 5(!) articles in 17 days on the new Superman movie, there's your man.

I know what you're thinking: at least he read the blog post later that afternoon on his own blog post and put forth some sort of mea culpa, or at least showed some indication that he had, you know, learned something. Nope. Not. A. Word.

So if you're wondering about the state of film journalism, that pretty much sums it up.

We're shining a flashlight on Breznican, because it's a pretty easy target at a big outlet, but he's hardly alone. David Poland of Movie City News is equally clueless and there are dozens and dozens of others, including filmmakers who've actually funded projects on either Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.

Hell, there's people who write books on crowdfunding who don"t grasp basic concepts of legality.

Just in case the people in the cheap seats didn't get the point: people cannot offer equity on a crowdfunding campaign. They cannot offer a return on investment. Full stop. It is--currently-- against the law.The SEC is building the framework for equity based crowdfunding, and until that's in place no one can offer it as an option. Criticizing someone for failing to do it just sets a false expectation.

These campaigns are going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. And we're going to keep having this same conversation over and over and over again. The same stupidity. The same lazy hacks posing as journalists. The same misinformation.

If you're tired of this now, you'll be really fed up with it in a year. And that, more than celebrities, is something that could hurt the crowdfunding campaigns of aspiring artists. We need the people who are writing about crowdfunding to have a semblance of a clue as to what they're writing about. Ask them if they understand it and they'll say they do. They don't.

What to do?

Call them out on their ignorance. Be louder than the chattering class. But that's not easy.

Personally, I think if you're going to write a think piece about what should and shouldn't be on Kickstarter, you should be showing people what exactly you've put your money behind, if anything. That should be public information. Me, I've backed 49 campaigns, including Braff's. Put your mouth where your money is, and all that. That's something that'll very much influence what you perceive Kickstarter to be.

You wouldn't listen to a diatribe about Twitter from someone who's never used it.

My suggestion is that unless you hear otherwise, assume they've backed no more than 3 projects, if any. You'll be right way more often then you're wrong.

And for you "journalists":

Have some respect. Do your job.

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