Upon reading the news that James Franco is the latest name talent to take the crowdfunding route on a new film project, my first reaction was, “Well, of course.” My second reaction was, “Wait, is this only the first time he’s doing this?” Franco’s extracurricular activities beyond acting — filmmaking, art, writing, what have you — are so many and varied, and executed with such can-do scrappiness, that the crowdfunding model seems like something he might have invented just to keep them all going.
Nevertheless, he’s following the likes of Zach Braff and Melissa Joan Hart into this increasingly popular trend, seeking $500,000 from the public to produce a trilogy of feature films based on his own short story collection “Palo Alto.” He’s using the website Indiegogo rather than Kickstarter, but otherwise, the drill pretty much the same: $10 gets you a PDF script when the films are released, $10,000 gets you an executive producer credit and dinner with the man himself, with various permutations in between. (Always wanted James Franco to record your voicemail greeting? Knock yourself out.)
At first glance, this could be dismissed out of hand as a vanity project: a self-styled filmmaker seeking money to bring his self-styled literature to the screen. (I’ve read “Palo Alto,” and while it’s not without its moments, it’s fair to assume no other filmmakers are clamoring to adapt it.) But this isn’t just the James Franco Experience, and there’s actually a noble element to the project — beginning with the fact that Franco won’t be directing the films at all.
Instead, he’s inviting four new filmmakers — three of them NYU grad students — to develop and direct the films. Meanwhile, profits generated from the sale of the films will be donated to The Art of Elysium, a charity fuelled by artists and performers in aid of children with serious medical conditions. Yeah, it’s still a vanity project, but one that could help some other people along the way — which you might say is something it has over Zach Braff’s controversial Kickstarter effort from earlier this year.
Franco, who has directed and producted six independent features of his own — most recently the middling William Faulkner adaptation “As I Lay Dying,” which premiered at Cannes last month — deflects the standard why-doesnt-he-stump-up-the-cash response by reminding potential supporters that he’s no stranger to self-funding: “I have put in my own money to produce my films and my student”s films. However, this time it”s different; We need more funding, I will still fund part of it but I need of your help, filming three feature films back-to-back requires more funding than I can give.”
The films, “Yosemite,” “Memoria” and “Killing Animals,” will all combine the narratives of multiple stories in Franco’s collection, all of which focus on teenage experience in suburban California. Two of the directors, Gabrielle Demeestre and Bruce Thierry Cheung, also collaborated with Franco on “Tar,” a portmanteau feature inspired by the work of poet C.K. Williams (played by guess who), that has played the Rome and SXSW fests; Mila Kunis and Jessica Chastain also feature.
Not that he’s ever been much for down time, but this has been a busy year for Franco so far: he had “Interior. Leather Bar.,” “Kink” and “Lovelace” in Sundance in January, “Maladies” in Berlin in February, “Spring Breakers” and “Oz the Great and Powerful” released in March, the aforementioned “As I Lay Dying” in Cannes, with summer comedy “This is the End” now in theaters. London, meanwhile, is currently hosting his latest art exhibition, the Hitchcock tribute “Psycho Nacirema” — a high-kitsch reconstruction of the Bates Motel strewn with dildos, bloodied rubber ducks and images of Franco in drag as Marion Crane.
I checked it out last week (the same day he presented a screening of “Psycho” at the British Film Institute) and it’s rather a lot of fun — certainly more worthwhile than the collection he presented in Berlin a couple of years ago. “As I Lay Dying,” meanwhile, showed some formal progress from his previous directorial efforts, so is Hollywood’s oddest career starting to yield some fruit outside the acting realm? And are you at all tempted to help fund his latest project?