James Franco, of all people, may actually be the person to figure out celebrity crowdfunding. Franco is asking for $500,000 on Indiegogo to help fund three films based on his collection of short stories, Palo Alto. And while that may make you groan—we certainly did—Franco is actually offsetting some of the displeasure of, you know, giving a rich celebrity more money for a passion project by telling donors that all the profits from the sale of the films will go to charity. It's hard to hate on him for that.
Ever since Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas started asking the public for money to film their Veronica Mars movie (which started filming today) the question of just how a celebrity can ask you for your cash has been in contention. Zach Braff got in trouble after a production company stepped in to help finance his film. Zosia Mamet and her sister's campaign failed miserably, and so did Melissa Joan Hart's.
Franco is no stranger to asking strangers for their money. He pled for funds to help complete a project he guided at MoMA's PS1. And as easy as it is to lampoon Franco—trust us, we have—he seems to understand the intricacies of the celebrity crowdfunding dilemma. In his video on the Indiegogo page, he frames the project as a way to help burgeoning film talent, and explains how he is putting his own money into the projects. But, most importantly, the profits from the three feature films, which will be directed by filmmakers hailing from Franco's alma mater NYU, will go to Art of Elysium, a non-profit that, according to the Indiegogo, "encourages working actors, artists and musicians to voluntarily dedicate their time and talent to children who are battling serious medical conditions."
Following the launch of the Veronica Mars project our Richard Lawson wrote about his discomfort with the Kickstarter with the headline "Anyone Know of a Better Charity Than the 'Veronica Mars' Movie?" In the comments of that post, many took issue with the idea that crowdfunding should be equated with charity. That's not wrong. No, Kickstarter or Indiegogo are not charity sites, but knowing that money from Franco's film project won't go to his pockets or a studio rests well on the collective conscience. Yes, some of the gifts are ridiculous ($7,000 for a Franco painting!), and who's to say that these movies will actually make any money that will go to the charity or that this is anything other than yet another way for the world to stroke Franco's ego because he asked them to. But with this campaign, yes, James Franco himself is taking the quest to fill celebrity coffers and making it somewhat palatable.