Director's Cut Make Penn Bad LaughingMan Padded Room

Deplorable Celebrity Crowdfunding… Penn Jillette Exception

Penn Jillette’s online fundraiser for “Director’s Cut” has met and exceeded its goal back on November 11, 2013; almost two months before this article was finished. What transpired during that time was an eye-opening experience in regards to not only Penn Jillette’s project, by my perception of Hollywood ‘e-begging’ as a whole. Enjoy.

As Wikileaks founder Julian Assange once said in an interview with ex-Senator Ron Paul: “I have a philosophy that people can only be as good as the sum of the knowledge permits.”

In his assessment on the war on information, Assange had compared shifting public opinions to scientific theory in that science is always changing as we continue to learn more about the world around us. Science isn’t rigid and unchanging, but flexible and adaptive; it grows. If a new proven breakthrough were to disprove everything we know about life, the universe and everything, science would conform to the new truth accordingly. And in that respect, a person must also be flexible and adapt through one’s accumulated knowledge and experience.

What I personally took from the quote is that life isn’t a black-and-white, right-or-wrong false dilemma fallacy; there’s various shades of gray depending on the evidence and each instance of a given situation should be weighed on its own merits. When a person is presented with more facts, an opinion is bound to change, perhaps for an instance or perhaps as a whole. And my opinion is the following:

“Celebrity Crowdfunding is Deplorable… But Penn Jillette’s crowdfunding campaign is an exception.”

It’s not hypocrisy, it’s a new perception of an individual instance. It’s science.

ccs-video-podcast-laughingman-cinemax-bmask

In July of 2013 Bmask, CineMax and I participated in a podcast episode regarding what we considered were abuses to the crowdfunding movement: “Kickstarter: Professional E-Begging & Questionable Fundraisers“. My belief is that the Internet, and thereby online crowdfunding, is heavily Darwinistic (“survival of the fittest [idea]”) and has meritocratic elements. Crowdfunding by its design gives people who don’t have access to funds or have enough influence an opportunity to present their ideas and potentially see them come to fruition. It’s a beautiful meritocratic concept, certainly: The strength of an idea being determined by the masses, not a handful of people in a board room (if the idea was lucky enough to get that far).  However, it was hard to ignore the evidence that we found suggesting that the technology wasn’t being utilized as I had once hoped. Some of the examples of crowdfunding abuse that we highlighted ranged from Kickstarter programs that mismanaged their money due to the lack of a proper business, to blatant scams on Kickstarter, and to outright e-begging during times of hardship.

There were two additional culprits in our Kickstarter podcast whom we asserted were abusing online crowd funding. The first of which are large publishers and producers who either already had the revenue to fund their own projects from start to finish, or have attempted to exploit smaller development teams by having them create fundraising campaigns on the publisher’s behalf. This example of fraudulent crowd funding abuse is one that we explored at length in our Kickstarter Video Podcast.

However, there was a mysterious second crowd funding culprit that we also discussed at length, but didn’t include in our video podcast due to time constraints: Celebrities.

During our initial round of conversations prior to recording, we’d unearthed some startling and controversial e-begging by celebrities who wanted to get their own projects off of the ground. We had choice words about Scrubs star Zach Braff’s Kickstarter campaign for his follow up to Garden State, Wish I Was Here. We vivisected the notion that Rob Thomas generated $5.7 million for the Veronica Mars movie. The venom and invectives flew freely when we learned that a popular hands-off contribution incentive by many celebrities, including Veronica Mars star Kristen Bell, was to follow the contributor on Twitter for a year.

Veronica Mars Kristen Bell follow you on twitter for a year kickstarter

Same contribution amount, same god-awfully expensive t-shirt/blu-ray/poster combo, and equally the same “hands-off” gratitude by Kristen Bell when when one of the incentives is to be followed on Twitter.

I won’t lie to you, in my own understanding celebrities are more likely to be well-connected within Hollywood, and thus are far more likely to have their own dream project green-lit due to that metaphorical ‘foot in the door’. Having a famous name is essentially having an established brand, and having a recognizable ‘brand’ would most likely give producers more of a reason to at least hear out an idea. That’s in comparison to the struggling film student who NEEDS the resources via Kickstarter, FundAnything, or the various other online crowd funding programs on the net. In essence, I viewed (and still view) a celebrity e-begging with a crowd funding project on par with, say, the multiple and unnamed multi-million dollar publishers who tried to coerce Obsidian entertainment into crowd funding on their behalf. It’s the wealthy asking for a handout from people with limited incomes in an attempt to pad out their bottom lines.

However, we believed that the presence of celebrities is an even larger detriment to crowdfunding than simply the foot-in-the-door theory. When a celebrity, whose name is a recognizable brand, announces a crowdfunding project, it’s also given far more weight and free promotion in the mainstream media than even the most promising indie-project. And when that happens, guess where most of the finite money supply goes? And worse yet, because the amount of money is finite, arguing that the star-power is bringing money into other crowdfunding projects is entirely debatable. Myself, I believe that multi-million dollar celebrity crowdfunding causes sink-holes for funding, drawing that finite supply of money like a black hole absorbing starlight.

The scenario that we at the CCS roundtable had kicked around was: “If I go to Kickstarter with a personal budgeted maximum of $25 to spend, who is more deserving of that money; a celebrity who has been on a popular sitcom and wants to make a new film starring himself, or a complete nobody who wants the opportunity to make a film that could be a breakout hit like Kevin Smith’s Clerks?”

In that context and in that frame of mind, the choice is fairly obvious. However, is it the right choice? More importantly, with such biased language framing the question, is it an OBJECTIVE choice?

penn and teller

Penn and Teller

In September 2013, my good friend B-Mask brought up an interesting new crowd funding project by none other than a man whom we at the CCS Podcast all greatly admire for his work, his humor, and above all else his humanity: Penn Jillette, co-star to the various Penn & Teller projects like Showtime’s Bullshit!, the British show Fool Us!, and the movie with the biggest and best comedy lineup of all time, The Aristocrats (2005). B-Mask explained the concept of Penn Jillette’s new project, a movie titled Director’s Cut.

Penn Jillette has apparently always wanted to play a movie villain because, let’s face it, villains are always the most interesting characters in just about every plot. As one example Penn says that Goldfinger is, in his own opinion, more interesting than even the Sean Connery James Bond. The premise of Penn Jillette’s movie Director’s Cut is that Penn would be a person who, ironically, uses online crowdfunding to produce a movie. According to my understanding Director’s Cut is a thriller movie inside of a thriller movie, where the film begins with what sounds like a director’s commentary over a murder mystery film featuring an outstanding leading lady. However, in the director’s commentary the director seems to be focusing on the leading lady a little too hard, causing a few unsettling red flags. Tension escalates as ‘found footage’ begins leaking into the film being commented on, and the viewer slowly begins to realize that not only is the commentator NOT the director, but that there’s actually something terribly insidious going on.

In short, to me it sounds like a ton of fun to not only watch, but ‘experience’ in a breaking-the-fourth-wall sort of way. However, Hollywood considered it “too smart” for the viewing audiences, and even wanted to give the role of the villain to someone other than Penn. Executive meddling would defeat the purpose of the film on just about every front.

While I have my own cynical views about most celebrities and their fundraisers I have to lay my prejudices aside and provide some objective reasoning as to why this revelation left me with both a sense of excitement, and a bad taste in my mouth.

Make no mistake that Penn Jillette is a celebrity and the idea of a celebrity asking the public to back a personal project with donations has always rubbed me the wrong way. It would be easy for me to simply say “Kickstarter is for the little guy!” and “You can afford to make your own crap”, while ignoring the likelihood that a celebrity could have a potentially interesting idea as well as my personal meritocratic convictions that good ideas deserve to thrive.

After deliberating for a while with my good friend B-Mask, we essentially narrowed the criteria down to what I like to call The Three Meritocratic Virtues of Crowdfunding:

  1. Ideas – Is it an interesting idea? And if so, does it really matter who it comes from?
  2. Incentive – Is there a reason that I should donate my money to this cause? What is the return on my investment?
  3. Honesty and Humility – What are the intentions of the crowdfunding campaign? Am I being extorted to inflate a bottom-line? Will the project see fruition?

Ideas

One thing to keep in mind that crowd funding, and indeed the internet as a whole, is NOT necessarily a meritocracy, but a democracy where people essentially vote for ideas whether it be through a Facebook Like, a Re-Tweet, subscribing, etc. While at its meritocratic best crowdfunding can take an interesting or inventive idea and aid in its fruition by rewarding it with popularity, it still boils down to whether or not an idea is appealing to the masses.

So the question remains: in this online democracy how do would I, personally, choose what to vote for? The largest factor in determining the worth of any project is, sadly, the least objective and most relative: The idea itself.

To be entirely objective and give democracy a chance, one has to consider that while the idea might not be appealing to one’s self, it might be appealing to others. The idea of Zack Braff making a sequel to his first movie doesn’t appeal to me in the least, nor does a Veronica Mars movie, but there’s likely an audience that wants to see them. Let the people vote with their money if they choose to support the project. It’s their choice, not mine. However, democracy does have its occasional drawbacks. When contemplating the mere existence of Michael Bay Transformers sequels one has to question what it is that people really want. It boils down to mere entertainment value, or, as my friend CineMax calls it, “mental junk food”. Why else does the most insipid content on YouTube go viral and infect the news? Perhaps Benjamin Franklin got it right: “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner”.


Jimmy Kimmel subverts mainstream media with his viral “Twerk Fail” video. At the end he mutters a poignant statement about how the masses want to be distracted and entertained rather than be informed about a pending war in Syria.

But to be fair, who says that my own opinions are any more righteous or legitimate compared to others, even yours? That’s the nature of the beast and often public opinion or demand goes against the grain of one’s own. However, anything less is fascism.

Incentive

Incentives or ‘rewards’ for contributing to a crowdfunding project are, like ideas, also subjective to every individual. However, unlike ideas, incentives can be directly compared because of the often tangible and monetary nature of the incentives; you can usually measure the bang for your bucks. Perhaps dropping $10-25 into a project and getting a pre-release copy of the film in blu-ray/dvd/digital is enough of an incentive. Perhaps the next donation tier includes a t-shirt that you think would be cool. That’s your call. However, when you start getting into the ‘big prizes’, when you start donating hundreds of dollars into a project, I imagine that one becomes a bit more frugal in their spending and will likely research the project a bit more thoroughly to compare apples to apples. Which is exactly what I did with Penn Jillette’s Director’s Cut and one of the aforementioned offenders, the Veronica Mars movie fundraiser.

twitter is stupidMy main source of contention was the “I’ll follow you on Twitter for a year” as a prize. For $400 Kristen Bell will follow you on Twitter for a whole year. She can’t be arsed enough to make you a sort of personalized “thank you video” (image included higher in article) for funding a movie that she will star in, but she will follow you on Twitter.

Whoopdy-fucking-doo. A ‘follow’ is not a tangible thing. It has no intrinsic value, you can’t sell or trade it, and more than likely the person who is only subscribed to your Twitter account doesn’t interact or re-Tweet your content. It’s not direct contact with the person in question. In fact, I’ll happily follow anyone on the CCS Twitter if they donated $50. I won’t even let it expire. Why? Because it doesn’t cost us either time or money to do so. One click and an occasional glance in exchange for ~5 hours of work at your job (before taxes). Do you sort of see what you’re getting with such an exchange? If you paid for a celebrity to follow you on twitter, and that included the guarantee of the re-Tweeting some content for your own marketing/social purposes, I’d certainly see an advantage of the Twitter incentive. But sadly, such a clause isn’t included in the purchase price. So, yeah, thanks for your appreciation of our money, Kristen Bell.

That being said, I was devastated to see that Penn Jillette was offering the same incentive for $335:

Look at my Twitter account. You probably have. I have about 2 million followers and I follow 7 people and one of them is Teller and he doesn’t count. Want me to follow you? For a whole year? And read what you write? I like to point out all the bullshit in this world but there’s one thing that’s pure and that’s your support. Every moment of every day I realize that YOU are the reason that Penn and Teller have been going strong for 13 years in Vegas. You are the reason I get to create books and television shows. And YOU are the reason I’m going to be able to make Director’s Cut the kind of movie we both want to see. I will never, ever, lose sight of the fact that absolutely none of this could… or would… happen without YOU! If you choose this Reward, I’ll return the loyalty and support you’ve given me by following you on Twitter for an entire year.

You’ll also get the following gifts: Limited Edition DC T-Shirt – Gallery Quality Movie poster – EARLY DVD–DC Website Access – Screenplay PDF – Your Name Featured in Ending Credits

Well, the “I only follow about 7 people” line isn’t exactly correct. There’s about 96 people and/or organizations that Penn Jillette follows as of the time of my writing this article. Some of them might even be due to the FundAnything campaign, though the Twitter incentive doesn’t seem to be included in the rewards for higher contributions. However, for the discounted rate of $335 Penn Jillette will follow you on Twitter for one year. In addition, you’ll also receive the swag package which includes more than the Veronica Mars package (ex: A Screenplay, Website Access, Name in Credits) for less. I’m not nearly content with the “Will follow you for money” line of e-begging because it sounds like printing money, however the incentives are a bit better in the case of Penn Jillette by the price and swag alone.

But the fun doesn’t seem to stop there. In an interview with Glenn Beck, Penn Jillette drops a few bombs that renewed my faith in the Director’s Cut fundraiser:

“I also think we went a little crazy with the rewards.. If you put in like $500 dollars into the movie you get a suite at the Rio [Hotel in Las Vegas] and tickets to the Penn & Teller show. You end up with more than $500…” – Glenn Beck interview with Penn Jillette

For example, here’s the full $555 donation incentive:

Please join me in Las Vegas for an unforgettable weekend. I’ll provide you and your guest with a pair of my very own personal VIP seats for The Penn and Teller Show. I’ll also arrange for you to be my guests for the evening with a complimentary SUITE that night at the beautiful Rio Hotel and Casino Resort. So we are talking about a complete and total Penn immersion, and that’s before I bury you in all the cool movie stuff. After the show, please come introduce yourself in the lobby and get some photos taken. I’ll also autograph whatever you like. (We do this for everyone after our show, but if you’re willing to wait until the normal people have all gotten their pictures, we can hang a little more – okay?).

You’ll also get the following gifts: Limited Edition DC Contributor T-Shirt – Gallery Quality movie poster – Early Blu-ray – DC Website Access – Screenplay PDF – Your Name Featured in Ending Credits, you’re my pride and joy etc.

But not only do the prices get exponentially larger, but so do the prizes:

  • $150 – Private Red Carpet Advanced Screening with Me and the Cast – Los Angeles / San Francisco / Las Vegas / Chicago / New York
  • $290 – I’ll answer all your phone calls…FOR LIFE!! (Custom answer machine message)
  • $555 – VIP Penn and Teller Las Vegas Weekend
  • $1,040 – VIP Weekend and Private Backstage Juggling Lesson!
  • $1,060 – VIP Penn and Teller Las Vegas Weekend and Private Backstage Magic Lesson!
  • $1,150 – Be a Guest Star on Penn’s “Sunday School” show

It was sounding pretty good so far, but here’s where Penn Jillette’s own outgoing personality and genuine passion for his project began to shine:

  • $1,300 – Attend a Movie Night Party With Penn and His Friends at His Home, The Slammer!

penn jillette slammerI was speechless when I read that incentive. Penn Jillette will invite you to his own HOME for a movie night. Let’s consider something: How many celebrities would EVER let anyone in THEIR HOME for a movie night for even a $5000 contribution? $10,000? It was at this turning point that I began to consider just how passionate Penn Jillette was about having his film made. “The Slammer” -as Penn Jillette’s cool custom home is affectionately known- has been a site where Penn has invited not only some of the biggest names in Hollywood, but some of the greatest minds on earth. In Penn Jillette’s hilarious auto-biography “Every Day is an Atheist Holiday” he tells a story about inviting debater, journalist, and author Christopher Hitchens to The Slammer, and not allowing him inside unless he left a bottle of alcohol at the doorstep. To be a complete stranger with a relatively small donation, and be welcomed into Penn Jillette’s own home is a testament to the man himself.

It’s a powerful gift, and the reason I explained it is so that I could compare it to the following:

  •  $1000 – Attend a Veronica Mars movie premier and get two tickets to the after party
  •  $1000 – Attend a Wish I Was Here movie premier and get two tickets to the after party

The incentives for all three are quite comparable, and I don’t intend to demean the incentives for Veronica Mars and Wish I Was Here with shorter descriptions, however when stacked against the opportunity to be welcomed into Penn Jillette’s own home for a movie party with “[his] friends” (Ron Jeremy? Gilbert Gottfried? Matt Stone and Trey Parker? I’d be happy as shit if it was only him and Teller) one has to see such a very intimate opportunity as priceless. I know that, myself personally, the values that I would place to hobnob at an after party is far less expensive than allowing strangers into my home. It’s a comparison that may seem relative, but ask yourself how much a stranger would have to pay for you to let them in your house?

The only way I would let a stranger into my own home is by having a suitcase with enough cash money to pay off off my mortgage or give me an 8 hour blowjob.

However, like I had said in the beginning of the heading, Incentives are also subjective. Perhaps you’d rather have a cocktail with Kristen Bell or Zack Braff? Perhaps Twitter is just as priceless to you as an opportunity to visit Penn Jillette in his own home for a movie party would be for me? You can measure apples to apples with dollars and swag, but in my opinion lifetime experiences ring only once.

Honesty and Humility

penn jillette god no

With Director’s Cut I’ve read several accounts of Penn Jillette telling stories of his going around to various movie studios and pitching the idea. According to Penn, most Hollywood execs and producers are more than willing to bank their money on just about any project that Penn would pitch:

If I tell the suits in Hollywood I want to make another documentary, Hollywood would give me some jingle. If I told the Fat Cats in Hollywood I wanted to do one of those bullshit magic movies they’ve been cranking out – they’d toss me even more money. Maybe one day I’ll do those movies for them, and if I do – I won’t need your help. -Penn Jillette, Fundanything

And why not? Penn Jillette is the author of five books and two successful autobiographies. He and his partner, Teller, are co-hosts of numerous television shows such as Bullshit!, Fool Us, and Tell a Lie. They’ve made dozens of cameos on televisions biggest shows, and they’ve made feature films, and they even made a (sadly unreleased) video game, Troll Your Stupid Friends- er, I mean, Smoke & Mirrors. The name Penn Jillette is a time-tested brand that comes complete with a legion of faithful (probably not the best word to use) followers. A fanbase equals asses in theater seats, and asses in seats equals a return on investment. A return on investment equals a safer bet than a nameless nobody who wants to make a movie. Sadly, that’s just business.

And make no mistake that Hollywood is a business and that the ultimate goal of businesses is to make money. And one of the cruel rules of business in Hollywood is that profits come before artistic vision, which is what Penn ran into during his pitches:

But right now I’m asking you to help me make a movie Hollywood won’t let you see. You see, I shopped “Director’s Cut” all around Hollywood. Everyone who read it said they loved it (but they lie), but they thought it was too smart for you. They didn’t think it was too smart for THEM. -Penn Jillette, Fundanything

According to what I read in several news articles and opinion pieces, Penn was confronted numerous times about his film pitch being “too smart for general audiences”. This appears to be commonplace in the business of movie making because if a statistic sampling of movie-goers were taken, you could form a bell-curve graph of the results, measure what sort of films are most profitable, and possibly predict the success of a future release based on several factors. In this case, the execs were complaining that Penn’s movie would be “too smart for general audiences”. And considering that James Cameron is at the top of the movie returns bell-curve with Titanic and Avatar, it’s a grim look at the demographic that the film industry is pandering to. So naturally, the Hollywood execs wanted to make Penn’s film “more accessible to the majority” by, you guessed it, dumbing it down.

penn jillette movie too smart director bell curve profitabilityToss a few big action sequences in it, throw in a contrived romantic sub-plot, make a few political statements, plagiarize other material entirely… Presto! Director’s Cut by James Cameron. It’ll take the number-three spot of top ten highest grossing movies of all time because it hit all the bases for the “prime demographic.”

But wait a minute… Isn’t this exact same scenario what Zack Braff ran into with his own movie project? Hollywood wanted to interfere with an extremely personal movie project and so he went to crowdfunding? So why am I taking sides with Penn Jillette’s project and not Zack Braff’s?

Let’s compare:

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Penn Jillette explains his using crowdfunding:

I hear you ask: “Why don’t you just take all your own dirty Vegas money and make your own Penn Bad Guy movie? Well, I did that with my last two movies: “The Aristocrats” about dirty jokes, and “Tim’s Vermeer” about my buddy painting a Vermeer in a warehouse in Texas. There were no investors, there was no studio, there was no crowdfunding – we just made those movies with our own money. By “our own money,” I mean money people gave us for doing our Penn & Teller magic show in Vegas. We paid for these projects with money we got from people paying for our last projects. That’s a fine way to do it. “The Aristocrats” did well and “Tim’s Vermeer” looks like it’s going to do very well, but my money is still tied up in that. I don’t have enough of my own money to make “Director’s Cut” right now. – Penn Jillette

In my own ears, this sounds completely legitimate, as well as hilariously self-deprecating with the “dirty Vegas money” slant. Penn Jillette firstly addresses my largest concern with celebrities asking for Kickstarter money: Don’t they have enough money for their own films? In which Penn says, rather upfront, that he doesn’t have the money at this time. Being upfront is something I value greatly, especially in lieu of some disturbing rumors that crowdfunding has become an easy way for large media entities to pad their bottom lines.

But if Penn doesn’t have the money upfront, isn’t he well connected enough to ask others for it? I’ve taken several spins around Penn Jillette’s Director’s Cut FundAnything account and noticed that it had been accumulating dozens of Celebrity ‘shout outs’ by many of Penn’s acquaintances: Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Neil Patrick Harris, Gilbert Gottfried, Ben Stiller, Joan Rivers, Jim Norton, Ron Jeremy, Adam Carolla, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and even Penn Jillette’s own co-star, Teller. So why isn’t Penn Jillette just asking his network of celebrities for some funding? Why don’t celebrities pushing fundraising campaigns go to their friends for help? Perhaps they already have? Perhaps (celebrities or not) they don’t want to intrude on friendships? I don’t have any evidence to make an assertion, only speculation.

zach braff

Now let’s take a look at Zach Braff’s rather standoffish justification for crowdfunding his film in a WIRED Magazine article:

I’m not Oprah, OK? I think there’s people who have slight misconceptions about how much money I have,” Braff said in an interview with Wired. “I’ve been very successful in my career, I am going to put a ton of my own money into this endeavor, but I can’t go out and fund what will likely be a $5.5 million movie out of my wallet. If people think that, they’re very wrong.” – Zach Braff, WIRED Magazine

Motherfucker, there’s Saudi Princes who aren’t as rich as Oprah. Using a similar ‘wealth comparison’, even if you’re not $5.5 million-dollar-wealthy you’re likely still wealthier than most of the people contributing on Kickstarter. Maybe I should make a Kickstarter where I say “I’m not Zach Braff, OK? I can’t go out and fund what will likely be a $50,000 movie out of my wallet.” A “lesser-evil” (and Oprah IS evil…) comparison is fallacious reasoning for anyone to fund your project.

“I think it’s naïve to think we didn’t introduce an ass-ton – and you can quote me on the word ‘ass-ton’ – of people to the idea of Kickstarter,” Braff said. “And when you click on Kickstarter, it’s not just a big picture of me smiling, it’s dozens – if not thousands – of awesome projects.” – Zach Braff, WIRED Magazine

Potentially true that you helped get the name out there, but -as WIRED slips up by mentioning this- there’s not a lot of $5.5 million Kickstarter campaigns. Now, if most of the other fundraisers rarely break a goal of, say, $100,000, and there’s a FINITE amount of money to be obtained by less-than-wealthy contributors who want to invest in a project, doesn’t that result in sort of a sink-hole, a vortex of celebrity fame that absorbs $2-3 million dollars of revenue that could have gone to fund multiple, comparatively smaller projects? Penn Jillette’s project is not excluded in that reasoning, despite the fact that he was actually asking for less than $1 million in funding for his own film.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that, while searching for Penn Jillette videos on YouTube that I came across an interesting video between Penn Jillette and conservative talk show host Glenn Beck which cemented many of the opinions that I’ve expressed in this article:

Penn Jillette explains that not only does his own FundAnything movie project have an underlying tie-in with crowdfunding in general (breaking the 4th wall) but that he’s also using it to touch-base with fans and drive home the fact that the internet and crowdfunding can be the great meritocratic entity that propels ideas forward. He also claims that he’s done his fair share of funding various projects on crowdfunding sites because of his own meritocratic convictions. Penn was speaking my own language and my cold little heart grew three times that day. Penn’s own belief in the crowdfunding movement was touching, and it was open, honest and humble. And who would have expected any less from a man who, despite the glitz, the glamor and international success, still holds public meet-and-greets with his audiences after the Penn & Teller Las Vegas shows. (Teller, too, of course). In his autobiographies “God, No!” and “Every Day is an Atheist Holiday” Penn holds true that despite the success of both he and his partner, Teller, they never forget their humble beginnings and the audiences that made them successful. His active participation in crowdfunding movements, both giving and asking, prove to be no different.

If perhaps Zach Braff had presented himself and his idea even half as humbly and honestly as Penn Jillette did on the Glenn Beck show, I could honestly see myself donating money to his cause. Sadly, that was not the case.

In Conclusion

Perhaps some readers might believe that I wrote this article with a lot of bias towards a celebrity that I actually admire, vilifying all others but one whose work I hold in high regard. It’s true that I walked away from the experience holding Penn Jillette’s crowdfunding model as a more ideal celebrity crowdfunding approach, but it is an opinion based on several factors: It was an idea I liked, it had incentives that I deemed worthwhile, and its creator had what I believed was honest and humble intent. But, as I mentioned in the beginning, I had a lot of prejudices and mixed feelings about seeing even celebrities that I do like crowdfunding. WIRED Magazine attributes such an initial negative sentiment as being hardwired into our psychology, sort of an animosity to what we perceive as a ‘reverse Robin Hood’ situation where the wealthy want the public’s money. I’m no different. I’m only human, and I love to root for the little guy.

However, my opinion was crystallized through the observations that I’d made while learning more about Director’s Cut, Veronica Mars, and Wish I Was Here, and the key differences in which each crowdfunding campaign was conducted. Penn Jillette approached the use of crowdfunding not only well aware of the scrutiny that celebrities are often subjected to -and rightfully so- with upfront honesty and genuine good will, but he also made a massive attempt to make his fundraiser worthwhile for anyone who also believed that his idea was worth their hard-earned money. And we must remember that all ideas are subjective to opinion, and opinions are born out of the facts that we know at the present time.

“…People can only be as good as the sum of the knowledge permits.” – Julian Assange

Perhaps, if presented by new facts, my opinion will change again. If science is permitted to learn and grow, then is it impossible for a human being to do the same? However, based on the knowledge that I have accumulated at present time, I’m a proud supporter of Penn Jillette’s Director’s Cut.

Unfortunately, on my fixed income I won’t be visiting Penn’s house anytime in the near future.  *le sigh*

***Special thanks to CineMax and B-Mask for input and guidance during the writing process of this article.***

 

LaughingMan

The loveable lunatic with the foul mouth and the iconic laugh, Laughingman is the founder of CCS. With more coffee than copper in his bloodstream, he's a full-time website developer by day, and a gamer, editor, and fiction writer by night.

6 Comments on “Deplorable Celebrity Crowdfunding… Penn Jillette Exception

  1. I should pick up this movie. I love both Penn and Teller’s individual and collective works immensely.

    To comment on the article itself, I’d like to say something referring to what you mentioned in the “Incentives” section of the article. While you pointed out the obvious fact that people have different things that they hold valuable due to personality differences and the like, I think that going to Penn’s own house to have a movie night is holds more objective value to everyone collectively than having a cocktail with Zack. The price and substance of the incentive can be judged from every point of view one could possibly think of, and that is objectiveness.

    I presume you didn’t mean to imply otherwise, I just mean to add my own commentary on the article.

    Can’t wait for the next podcast.

    • Thanks for the kind words and the keen eye regarding having a movie night at Penn Jillette’s house. One of the reasons I felt the need to make the “go to Penn’s House” prize a bit more subjective to my opinion is that from what I’ve read in Penn’s autobiographies (or more accurately listened to in his self-narrated audio-books) is that his parties can get pretty “wild”. Wild to the point where some people might be completely turned off by the goings on and devalue the prize.

      (*Cough* Extreme Elvis *Cough*)

      Not saying that a movie night would get that crazy, but such events could be subject to one’s own emotions and prejudices. That’s sort of why I went with a more “IMO” stance. But it’s still valuable, absolutely.

      Thanks for the comment and see you at the table THIS weekend. }:D

      • hey laughing man i have two words well a few have funny and dont run out of laughing juice alright ;3

  2. Wow, I really enjoyed reading this article. I love Penn and Teller. Spreading word about Bullshit (TV series) to people who have never heard of it is a past time of mine.

    On a more critical note, I’m also a huge fan of Veronica Mars and I kind of feel like the Veronica Mar’s movie should be up there with Penn’s movie for exceptions to the rule. On a side note: you should watch Veronica Mars, if for no other fact that Anita Sarkeesian hates it because it had the balls to have Veronica discover and expose a fake rape. The show is really good in my opinion. If you are not watching it because you think it’s feminist, it’s only “feminist” in the same sense that Avatar: The Last Air Bender (TV series) is. It just has great female and male characters that are well written and fun to watch.

    Back on point, the Veronica Mars movie was something the fans desperately wanted. It’s not just a one off movie like Penn’s movie is. The final season of Veronica Mar’s ended on a huge set of cliff hangers (yes, plural). Veronica Mars is much like Firefly. As you guys discussed in “The Platinum Age of Television: Nielsen Ratings Vs. Twitter”, Firefly would probably never been canceled if it came out today. The same thing could be said about Veronica Mars. After being canceled, it grew a larger fan base due to reruns. There are still reruns of it airing on TV till this day. Veronica Mars built up its characters for three seasons and for it to end on a cliff hanger wasn’t right. The fans needed the movie in order to establish closer for the series and the movie did just that.

    Besides establishing closure, the movie is more like an extra-long final episode than a movie. It needed the creative license to be exactly what it was. The movie required for people to have seen all three seasons of the show and remember a majority of the characters (even some that didn’t have screen time in the final season) in order to fully enjoy the movie. The final episode was in May of 2007. Now I’m no expert, but making a movie that caters only to people who watched a TV series about 6 years ago doesn’t seem like something someone would green light. Without complete creative control, the movie would have been needlessly bogged down with establishing characters and making it more friendlier for general audience, than using that time to do a quick cameo so we can know how minor but well developed character’s turned out. Looking at the movie without seeing the show is like watching an anime with planet sized plot holes. Sure there are quick monologues to help the newbies, but it’s nowhere as enjoyable as if you see the series. It’s like watching the season finale of Breaking Bad without seeing any other episodes of it, and having a friend fill you in on the back story during the commercials.

    My last point of the day is the rewards shouldn’t matter to you. Good rewards are a reward in and of themselves and the numbers prove it. The average pledge for Veronica Mars Movie was $62.26 where Penn’s movie has a $245.97 average pledge. Penn’s better rewards lead to more people getting them… except that the Veronica Mars higher tier rewards had limited supply that all mostly got bought out… making this data more difficult to analyze. Well, I can still conclude that the better rewards (and not placing stupid limited supplies on them) lead to Penn’s campaign getting almost a four times greater average pledge.

    To condense all the above, we should judge crowd founding on the merits of its ideas and if it was feasible to do it another way. If Rob Thomas was asking to make a movie about a female private eye or a movie adaptation of Veronica Mars, I would be with you saying he should have gotten the money in a traditional fashion, but that isn’t what the Veronica Mars Movie is. It’s a niche film for fans of an old TV show that gave a good ending to a series that deserved it. It would have been cool if Veronica Mar’s Kickstarter had even half the cool rewards as Penn’s FundAnything campaign, but it was the concept that had so many fans throw their money at it and I don’t think there was any other way to have done so.

    Wow I wrote a lot. Well, I hope I made a decent argument and informed you to some details you may not have known about. I look forward to reading your future articles… and hopefully my next response to one will be more… condensed. Thanks for reading ^-^

    • Thanks for the kudos, Librarian54. But thanks much more for the critical eye in regards to the Veronica Mars movie.

      Quite a few of my own beliefs in regards to celebrity crowdfunding were recently challenged in a fairly new Penn’s Sunday School episode ( http://pennsundayschool.com/ ) where Penn himself makes some excellent points in regards to the crowdfunding movement, and even defends Zach Braff’s film against criticisms that mirror several of the things that I said in this article. On many points Penn and I would certainly agree that more power should be given to the people in regards to what movies should get made (ie: our Deadpool Leaked Footage After Hours: http://cheshirecatstudios.com/leaked-deadpool-test-footage-fox-snuffs-r-rated-deadpool-movie/). But there is the reverse Robin Hood mentality that still genuinely weighed heavily on me, and it was still a deterrent to a cynical mind (my own). Granted, this belief was largely motivated by some base instinct and prejudices over rationality and objectivity, which I believe I admitted above.

      Pen’s conclusion, luckily, is very simple and very true: “You don’t like it? Don’t f***ing give them money!” It pretty much summed up the entire article and put me in my place. 😉

      In the same Sunday School episode, Penn Jillette broke down a few numbers in regards to how he funded several of his past films, and of course how he is funding some of “Director’s Cut” out of his own pocket, but he can’t fund the entire film. That missing piece of information does indeed shed a lot of light on celebrity crowdfunding, and the legwork and personal investments required by even Zach Braff. And, ultimately, it DOES come down to what the people want (even if they want to give someone thousands of dollars to make potato salad ;D )

      One thing that perhaps I still believe in is the “celebrity black hole” projects where millions of dollars seem to gravitate thanks to star power (oh gawd the bad puns). Penn also addressed this by also claiming that Braff and others have brought the crowdfunding movement more contributors, but at present time I’d need to see some numbers to prove the claim. Perhaps this too will be refuted with those stats, but at present time I remain a bit skeptical.

      Anyways, thanks again for reading and an even bigger thanks for the input! 😀

  3. I’m a proud supporter of Penn Jillette’s Director’s Cut too, but I’m not so proud now that word is out about how Penn faked thousands of supporters to make the campaign seem much more successful than it really was. (Just Google “Penn Jillette fakes crowdfunding success” to see some reports on Penn’s crowdfaking.) As a supporter, you can prove it to yourself easily: Every couple of weeks, an update YouTube video is sent to all supporters. Virtually none of the updates has more than about 900 views — so nearly 4,000 of the supporters listed on the Director’s Cut website simply don’t exist.

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