Commentary: Collaborations of for-profits/nonprofits threaten to drag us all down

Tory Bailey, executive director of Theatre Development Fund,, 5/12/13

I have spent my professional life in intersections of the commercial and not-for-profit theater. I respond to In the Intersection [a report on a meeting at Arena Stage of US commercial and not-for-profit theater producers] on multiple levels.

  • The first is a tactical response to specifics about the relationship between the two sectors. A thread throughout the report is that the intersections are very different, depending on who originates the project. More successful collaborations occur when an artistic director is passionate about a play and identifies a commercial colleague who responds to the material and agrees to help fund it. Also when a commercial producer has a project she is passionate about which needs a sheltered environment under the care of an artistic director experienced in the development of new work. Not so successful are enhancement deals where one party appears to be using the other solely for monetary benefit.
  • Another level is qualitative and much more troubling. The report outlines in no uncertain terms how much enhancement [money] has become an integral part of the not-for-profit business model as well as commercial producers' development model. One might ask "Does it matter?"  I think it matters a great deal. The purist in me would like to see the practice go away but it is clear that, absent an infusion of resources for not-for-profits and a new economically-viable development path for commercial productions, it is here to stay. The group that gathered at Arena was populated by good people from both sectors who respect and understand each other. Their collaborations represent the good end of the spectrum. But there is the other end, not represented at the convening. I have heard many stories of those collaborations and they are ugly. They happen all too frequently and they threaten to drag us all down. We must focus on best practices and share them.

Point: Commercial Hollywood is ruining funding outlets for unknown artists

Emmy winning writer/director/producer Ken Levine on his blog, 5/7/13

Zach Braff is trying to raise money on Kickstarter to fund a movie he wants to make. Zach Braff is a good actor and a fine filmmaker. But I wouldn't give him a dime. Why? Because it defeats the whole purpose of Kickstarter. The idea -- and it's a great one -- is that Kickstarter allows filmmakers who otherwise would have NO access to Hollywood and NO access to serious investors to scrounge up enough money to make their movies. Zach Braff has contacts, a track record.  He can get in a room with money people. He is represented by a major talent agency. But the poor schmoe in Mobile, Alabama has none of those advantages.  So someone who otherwise might have funded the Mobile kid instead will toss his coins to Zach Braff because he figures it's a better bet and he gets to rub shoulders with show business.  Recently, Kickstarter was used to fund a new Veronica Mars movie. This is obscene to me. It's a known television series distributed by a major studio. This is what Hollywood does. It sees an opportunity for exploitation and takes it. The Sundance Film Festival is another prime example. At one time it showcased modest little movies by unknown filmmakers. The result was discovered talent. Now look at the festival. Every entry features major Hollywood stars. Sundance is a lost cause. But Kickstarter isn't. Not if we put a stop to this now. If you only have so much money to give to charity, give it to cancer research and not to help redecorate Beyonce's plane. Support young hungry filmmakers. Kickstarter is for the "working man," Zach and Veronica.


Counterpoint: Everyone benefits when famous folks use Kickstarter

Adi Robertson,, 5/9/13

After high-profile projects by Zach Braff, the Veronica Mars creators, and other celebrities, there's been ongoing controversy over whether such projects are true to the spirit of Kickstarter. Now, in a blog post, the company's leaders gave their blessing to celebrity projects, backing their viewpoint with some statistics. "The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far. Nearly 40% of that has gone to other film projects." Big projects, they argue, can have a halo effect on the rest of Kickstarter, drawing in new people and helping other creators. Essentially, Kickstarter's argument is that campaigns aren't a zero-sum game, in which one project can deprive another of funding. "Kickstarter is a new way for creators to bring their projects to life," the founders say. "Not through commerce, charity, or investment -- through a new model powered by a willing audience." Of course, that altruism also has fairly strong benefits for the site itself: the more people know about Kickstarter, whether through celebrity projects or not, the better it will do and the more it will make.


Commentary: We can survive only if we destroy the creative middle-class

Scott Timberg,, 5/12/13

Jaron Lanier is a computer science pioneer who has grown gradually disenchanted with the online world since his early days popularizing the idea of virtual reality. He's also a longtime composer and musician. [His new book,] "Who Owns the Future?", digs into technology, economics and culture in unconventional ways. (How is a pirated music file like a 21st century mortgage?) Much of the book looks at the way Internet technology threatens to destroy the middle class by first eroding employment and job security, along with various "levees" that give the economic middle stability. [As] he writes in the book's prelude: "At the height of its power, Kodak employed more than 14,000 people and was worth $28 billion. Today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth all those middle-class jobs created?"

Q: You say early in the book, "As much as it pains me to say so, we can survive only if we destroy the middle classes of musicians, journalists, photographers." I guess what you seem to be saying here is the creative class is sort of the canary in the digital coal mine.

LANIER: Yes. That's precisely my point. So when people say, "Why are musicians so special? Everybody has to struggle." And the thing is, I do think we are looking at a [sustainable] model. We don't realize that our society and our democracy ultimately rest on the stability of middle-class jobs. When I talk to libertarians and socialists, they have this weird belief that everybody's this abstract robot that won't ever get sick or have kids or get old. It's like everybody's this eternal freelancer who can afford downtime and can self-fund until they find their magic moment or something. The way society actually works is there's some mechanism of basic stability so that the majority of people can outspend the elite so we can have a democracy. That's the thing we're destroying, and that's really the thing I'm hoping to preserve. So we can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.

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