Veronica Mars

Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell raised $2m through Kickstarter yesterday, and they did it in under 10 hours. As of this morning, their effort to score a budget for a Veronica Mars movie has secured their goal with about $500,000 and 29 days to spare. One guy, entrepreneur Steve Dengler, even gave $10,000 to the production to get a small speaking role in the film (and because he’s a big, big supporter of crowdfunding).

What they did took a certain kind of courage. Maybe not greater courage than the more-standardized model of getting money from fans when they hand it over at the box office, but absolutely a different type of courage. After all, it’s one nerve-wracking thing to convince studio executives that your idea has an audience, but it’s another to prove it out on the limb without the amount of fan support you thought you had. Simply put, it’s likely we’d all be writing different pieces if Thomas and Bell’s Kickstarter campaign were still languishing at $6,000.

Fortunately, fans have proven their overwhelming dedication to seeing Ms. Mars again by breaking records and ensuring that Thomas may actually get to include a big choreographed fight scene amid all the broody talking. With 29 more days to raise funds, who knows how high they might go.

Now, all of this comes with a catch: Warners (because they’ve held onto the copyright) will be distributing and making money off a movie that fans are funding. Depending on the deal they have with Thomas, the studio was just handed a free movie to do with what they please, and that’s caused a lot of concern among the people that get concerned about this kind of thing.

But you know what? It’s going to be okay.

Frankly, all the cultural hand-wringing is a bit bizarre. I get all the hypothetical arguments about what this will do to the state of filmmaking and about the generic boogeyman of corporate co-opting, but they all sound like the bellowing that happens when a remake of a classic film gets announced. Granted, I lived in that mindset a few years ago when the ramp up really started on that latter front, but the core truth — that a remake won’t erase every copy of the original — sunk in, and I got over it. That same core truth applies here alongside a few other reasons this revolutionary moment isn’t really such a big deal.

  1. Veronica Mars is an ultra rare phenomenon. It’s a cult television show whose passionate fans persisted despite low ratings. They’ve called out for its return for years, and its creator has had countless phone calls and meetings trying to make something happen again. With Arrested Development taken care of by Netflix, you can count on one hand the properties that match Mars on these fronts, and even though studios are taking notice this morning, it’s highly unlikely that there’ll be a massive flood of studio projects hitting Kickstarter tomorrow.
  2. Even if there are, even if we reach a point where studios are collectively putting up dozens of big movies on Kickstarter, the market will absolutely take care of itself. There will be a bigger backlash against the practice if it gets out of hand, and if there isn’t, who is any single person to tell fans what they should give their money to? If someone has waited a decade for a new Firefly series, isn’t $35 for a t-shirt and digital download a steal at twice the price?
  3. It’s also pretty ridiculous to think that Veronica Mars‘ success is taking away anything demonstrable from any of the indie projects on the site. No one was on the cusp of donating $10 to a promising video artist’s stop-motion project when their Twitter feed lit up with the news.
  4. And, if anything, there’s a higher probability that the high profile and larger buzz brought more attention to what Kickstarter is doing, which is a win for everyone.
  5. Speaking of which, it’s a good time to remember that Kickstarter is a rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s not like the service has been fundamentally altered simply because a giant company discovered a use for it. They’re not making it exclusive to studio use or anything.
  6. Oh, and if you’re still concerned about how the fabric of indie filmmaking has been altered here, you certainly don’t have to donate anything.

Ultimately, the concern all feels like whatever the opposite of schadenfreude is. Like when the star quarterback joined the chess club and turned out to be a natural. Or like when someone incredibly attractive wins the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament before winning the lottery.

Was it easier for Veronica Mars than the average, aspiring unknown? Of course. Of course. But even with its massive leg up, it’s still a creator selling the public on a vision and appealing to whether they think it’s worthwhile or not. Thomas is going to have a lot easier time with distribution, but the grounding factor is that this is a story that fans clearly want that would not have gotten made without them. Yes, Warners could have made it, but they didn’t, and they weren’t going to, and them’s the breaks. Now, Veronica Mars is going to be in theaters in 2014.

Finally, I want to toss out a hypothesis of my own: that studios finding ways to occasionally leverage Kickstarter is a good thing. I spoke with Vimeo’s VP of Creative Development Blake Whitman yesterday (the conversation will be part of this Friday’s Broken Projector Podcast), and when asked about whether they’d be comfortable with studios using their new Vimeo On Demand service, he said that all were welcome. Vimeo’s new product is also ostensibly for the indie creator out there trying to make a few bucks from his or her efforts, but it also seems reasonably within Vimeo’s best interest to court larger producers in order to offer their fans big movies and snag 10% of the ticket price at the same time.

Vimeo and Kickstarter are different programs, but big names and big money can also bring big attention. And more big money; Kickstarter and Amazon will net at least $180,000 now that Mars has passed $2m. That’s going to help keep their doors open so they can help indie filmmakers with their bootstraps, so with a few records broken and a model proven even more correct, it’s likely that there’s a Mars-themed party being planned at the Kickstarter offices right now to celebrate the rising tide.

Ultimately, all of this boils down to something unbelievably simple. If you feel that Kickstarter and other sites like it should be reserved solely for independent projects without celebrity faces instead of opening its virtual doors to studios, you have to ask yourself: Why can’t it be for both?


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