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Mar 15, 2013

VERONICA MARS: Kickstarter Funded Film Begins New Movie-Making Era

Kristen Bell Veronica Mars Kickstarter

Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign made history in more ways than one. The creator of the Veronica Mars TV show, Rob Thomas, completely founded his movie adaptation of that TV series in less than 12 hours on Wednesday, March 13, 2012. “In less than five hours it hurdled the $1 million mark, and was completely funded about ten hours after the campaign began.” When I read about this, I was impressed. I never watched a full episode of Veronica Mars when it was on The WB (now CW) from 2004-2007 but I could appreciate the premise of the show and its fun-factor even-though at its core was absurdity.

With so many directors out there that wish to get their film made through Kickstarter, this occurrence is inspirational but it should be placed in proper context: 1.) its star is even more popular now and is on a hit Showtime TV show, 2.) the project previously had its own TV show, 3.) it has a fan base that has grown up and that is now earning an income. When that fan base heard that a Veronica Mars movie could happen by donating $10 dollars, they jumped at the chance. Other Kickstarter projects do not have these three elements going for them.

What if other TV-to-film projects and sequel films that the major studios will not fund do possess these elements? Those director, creators, and show owners (Warner Bros. owns the rights to Veronica Mars) that have always wanted their projects to be translated to the big screen but lacked the funds can now use Veronica Mars as an example of how to make that dream come true.

Veronica Mars‘ success with Kickstarter, dubious when inspected closer:

$2 million might sound like a lot to many of you, but consider they lose an estimated $400,000 to Kickstarter fees and taxes. They will likely have to pay 20% in fees and taxes of any future raised funds too. And they also need to pay for the various rewards to those who have and will fund this project, which includes shipping posters, t-shirts, dvds and box sets. The film will likely have to be a union production, and while its expected the actors will be working close to scale (and participate in the back end) it still will be very costly at the absolute minimum level.

will spur many more higher profile projects into movement through the Kickstarter medium. “The Kickstarter effort [was] carried out with the cooperation of Warner Bros., who’ve agreed to market, promote, and distribute the movie if fan interest [was] high enough.” It was and the donations are still rolling in. The film is now on “track to shoot this summer, enter pre-production this fall,…hit theaters early next year [, and Warner Bros.' digital distribution arm will aid in a limited theatrical release next year and a VOD release after that with a plot that details how life] has taken Veronica away from Neptune. In the years since spoiling Keith’s chances to be reelected sheriff, Veronica hasn’t taken a case. But something big is about to bring her back home and back to her calling…It is, after all, time for Veronica’s 10-year high school reunion.”

This type of interest gauging could spur a new way of funding pr0gressively more expensive films, ambitious films that major movie studios are on the fence about. Crowdfunding like this is a way of shifting some of the funding for a film to a new third partner, in this case, the fans. Its also a viability barometer. Fox used the DVD and Blu-ray sales of Firefly as theirs before green-lighting Firefly‘s movie adaptation, Serenity. Now Warner Bros. has used Kickstarter as theirs.

Imagine for a moment a crowd-funded Dune adaptation or a third season of Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Endless possibilities spring to the mind.

Ben Pearson believes that what just happened with the Veronica Mars‘ movie has “transformed the definition of what is possible in the entertainment landscape”. I am in agreement with that belief with a caveat: the Veronica Mars ingredients, in part or in whole, need to be present for such a success to be replicated. Another Kickstarter campaign will not be as successful as Veronica Mars‘ campaign unless: 1.) there is an established fan base, 2.) there is per-existing name recognition for the project, 3.) there is per-existing name recognition for the star of the project, 4.) the fan base has money to donate, 5.) the project is something the fan base has been craving to see happen, 6.) there is a creative video asking for support on the Kickstarter campaign page, 7.) the donators are given swag increasing in value, proportional to the donator’s pledge (I am impressed by what donators receive for the Veronica Mars‘ movie. Very creative and cool, especially in the $750-$10,000 range), and 8.) media coverage on websites, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook (Veronica Mars received that free coverage after the film raised $2 Million, so its not the cart before the horse.

Kristen Bell Veronica Mars Kickstarter

Kristen Bell Veronica Mars Kickstarter

Because of Veronica Mars crowd-funding campaign, Warner Bros. is in a especially blessed position:

Warner Bros. can give full autonomy to Thomas and his team, sit back and let the fans fund the movie, and then rake in whatever profits they earn from distributing it. This is where a lot of people raise concerns over a Kickstarter-funded version of a movie that’s still within the studio system: most Kickstarter and IndieGoGo projects are made to avoid run-ins with the kind of bureaucracy that comes with studio interference.

Maybe Rob Thomas should have raised funds through Kickstarter to buy Veronica Mars from Warner Bros. first then ran a second Kickstarter campaign to get the movie made. That may have been too much even for Veronica Mars‘ fan base but it would have avoided the above scenario.

What Pearson wrote also raises another question: what if movie studios begin running Kickstarter campaigns to fund films? That will take money away from the people that really need those funds, the little guy. The newbie with no Hollywood connections could theoretically find themselves with a Kickstarter campaign that lacks the luster and polish of a studio Kickstarter campaign. I hope Kickstarter and IndieGoGo take steps so that this scenario does not happen, at least not openly anyway. A TV or Hollywood studio could always use a property’s director or creator to create a Kickstarter campaign under the guise of a passion project thus creating a proxy and mouth-piece on the crowd-funding websites.

Regarding passion projects on Kickstarter, Pearson points out that:

bigger names than Thomas have taken to Kickstarter to launch projects before, but nothing has seen the insane success rate that this project has so far. David Fincher, Charlie Kaufman and Dan Harmon, and Paul Schrader have turned to the crowd-funding platform to find support for projects that studios wouldn’t finance. This has started a huge debate about whether “famous” people should be allowed to use the service, or whether it should go to more truly independent users working on smaller projects.

but he neglects to point out that those were passion projects. Veronica Mars is unlike those projects. Its star was someone girls could identify with, wanted to be friends with, and who guys wanted to have sex with. It wasn’t foreign, it was familiar. If Joss Whedon said he wanted to fund a second season of Firefly and started a Kickstarter fund tomorrow, there would be a landslide of support that would blow what Veronica Mars did out of the water. I would donate to the Firefly Kickstarter campaign with a great big smile on my face. Tens of thousands of other fans (Brown coats) would as well. If Joss put out a video like this for the project on YouTube, it would be even bigger. Will something like that happen, who knows. Could it? Anything is possible. Many dreams projects, a gaggle of fan passions projects may get off the ground if most if not all of the Veronica Mars ingredients are present within them.

All eyes in the entertainment industry will now shift to how well the “Veronica Mars” movie performs, and you can bet that studio execs will be watching closer than anyone else. WB has already received a ton of free publicity for this project, and they haven’t spent a dime.

Correct but the true success has already been achieved: 1.) the Veronica Mars movie is getting made, 2.) fans donated and got their movie made, and 3.) the fans were successfully empowered to take positive action toward a collective goal.

Because of Veronica Mars crowd-funding campaign, Warner Bros. is in a especially blessed position:

The current situation is interesting because it essentially seems like a win-win scenario for the studio. Warner Bros. can give full autonomy to Thomas and his team, sit back and let the fans fund the movie, and then rake in whatever profits they earn from distributing it. This is where a lot of people raise concerns over a Kickstarter-funded version of a movie that’s still within the studio system: most Kickstarter and IndieGoGo projects are made to avoid run-ins with the kind of bureaucracy that comes with studio interference.

That is the reality of this campaign and the ownership of this particular property. Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell could not care less who owns the film, they love Veronica Mars and wanted to get the movie made. The profit and residuals from the film were never apart of their equation.

Fans have and always will vote with their wallets, and I don’t see anything wrong with supporting a project that you feel strongly about, regardless of whether or not a conglomeration will profit from it. At least fans will finally have what they’ve been wanting for years, and it will be their money that made that possible.

That is exactly what Thomas, Bell, and the rest of the cast and crew were thinking. The big question now is: can the Kickstarter, Veronica Mars scenario be replicated? Can the ingredients be successfully harnessed for another campaign?

Only time will tell.

Source: Kickstarter, Slashfilm, Firstshowing

  • Jay

    Haven’t seen the tv show yet but its incredible how the fans poured all the money in such less time for the movie.

  • Rollo Tomasi

    Now other TV creators know how resurrect their TV shows.

  • Jay

    I was wondering the same thing.
    I haven’t seen Firefly yet either but i think they might consider it too since people are still crazy about that show.