Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Five Cents: WB's 'Veronica Mars' Movie Exploiting Kickstarter...

Earlier today, Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and series star Kristen Bell said the words so many fans were longing to hear: They are officially working on a Veronica Mars movie. But there's a catch with this potential project, and it's a big one. Although the television show was a Warner Bros. production, and they claim they have a commitment from Warner Bros. to release the project, they are relying on the fans to fund it. To the tune of $2 million.

"Almost since Veronica Mars went off the air, there's been talk of making a movie. In that span, I've taken different tactics in dealing with the question of whether it might happen. To be clear, I've always wanted to make a Veronica Mars movie. I love writing these characters and working with these actors. Kristen Bell has always wanted to make the movie," Thomas wrote on his Kickstarter page.

"There was a moment, a few years ago, when we thought we had a real shot at making it happen. I developed a pitch that revolved around graduation day at Hearst college -- Wallace and Mac were graduating at least, Veronica had been sidetracked by freeing Keith from prison. Plus, there was a murder in Neptune that was affecting the beach city's spring break business in much the same way a great white shark affected the beach community of Amity. I probably stoked fan fervor in my optimistic comments about the prospects. Warner Bros. wasn’t convinced there was enough interest to warrant a major studio-sized movie about Veronica and the project never got off the ground."

Thomas created a Kickstarter account for the film-- something that everyone from independent writers, producers, and directors, to graphic novelists, to crafters use to get their projects made. But the difference is, even with star power attached, generally the people utilizing the community fundraising aspect of Kickstarter are those who do not have a big studio attached. As we said, they are independents, often people who are actively choosing to make their project outside of the studio system in order to keep control. In this case, it just appears that Warner Bros. doesn't want to pony up the money (though $2 million for a feature film is still considered a Low Budget film, under SAG's contracts and guidelines). The reasons for that are certainly vast: it is so long after the series went off the air-- and it was not a very highly rated series when on or it would have lasted longer anyway. Rather than worry about recouping an investment, the studio can stay out of the financing and just sit back and reap the rewards if and when the movie gets made.

Thomas is not asking for finishing funds here; he is asking for the whole budget. So technically, every person who gives is actually responsible for making the film and should feel like they own a piece of it. It's extra special for the most die hard of fans, but in a way, the fans are doing the studio's job for them, and the studio will still go on to profit in ways the fans will not. Additionally, announcing the project at this stage, in this way, is the perfect way to stir up buzz in the social media world. But a project like a Veronica Mars movie would have received that kind of buzz at this early development stage whether it was doing something new and creative for its filmmaking process or whether it was a stock report on

Though I am both inspired by the passion of the fans in this case and upset at the studio's approach and response to such a project. As someone who produces low budget, independent projects (mostly web series), I don't love that big studio projects are coming in and taking over Kickstarter. I donate to projects all of the time, and I am not trying to dissuade anyone from doing so here; I just don't consider this one like anything else on Kickstarter, and I worry that its presence will change the way the site is used and by whom. Admittedly, I planned to post a project on Kickstarter myself in the next few weeks. Now I am rethinking. I have seen a lot of big names use Kickstarter before, but generally it is because they want to do something a studio wouldn't back but which they still believed in. It was a place for passion projects. In this case, the studio believed in it once but is turning its back for a bit, and that is a huge shame.

Additionally, The inevitable success story of this particular Kickstarter campaign is not indicative of the average filmmaker's experience or of what might happen if other prematurely cancelled shows try to replicate this experience. Can't you just see fans trying to raise money for a The Secret Circle film? In actuality, this campaign may actually take attention and donations away from some of the smaller projects. For many independent filmmakers, Kickstarter helps them share their voice with the world for the very first time, to get noticed and given a shot to do bigger and better things within the industry (and yes, the studio system). In this case, Thomas is someone with access to powerful people and studio money but being told it's not a good idea/investment to go forward. I can't blame him (or the fans) for not wanting to give up, yet I can't completely get behind being powered by the people here. The fan in me hates to say it, but sometimes when a film isn't going to get made from a studio that once supported the idea, there are very valid reasons. Exploiting the fans doesn't take those reasons away, it just removes financial responsibility from those who will end up profiting the most in the end.

"Warner Bros. still owns Veronica Mars and we would need their blessing and cooperation to pull this off," Thomas pointed out.

But Warner Bros. clearly doesn't have much interest at this stage-- or faith in the profitability, which is always more important to a studio than fan love-- or they would have green lit the movie, with their usual funding sources, themselves. It is impossible for Thomas to follow through on his interest in his passion project without the studio that owned the television series, but though Thomas plans to release the film in early 2014 if the Kickstarter meets its goal, I wouldn't necessarily expect a wide theatrical release but rather a smaller, more limited "intimate" engagement.

The deal with Kickstarter is that fans can choose the level of donation they provide, and they receive "rewards" or incentives for doing so. This particular Kickstarter is being very generous to its fans, offering a copy of the shooting script to those who donate a mere $10 to the film. From there, the prizes just get better, including personalized voicemail and video messages from Bell and the rest of the cast, being followed on Twitter by both Bell and Thomas, tickets to the premiere, and chances to be featured as an extra in the film or name a character-- all in addition to the usual movie poster/DVD copies offered. But Kickstarter protects the donors, or the "investors," if you think of this from a business perspective. If the "goal" (in this case $2 million) is not raised, no one gets charged, and the project simply doesn't get made. With a fandom like Veronica Mars, though, who as of press time, a mere few hours after the project went live, have already raised over $150,000, that doesn't seem to be an issue. There is a month to get them to their goal, and it seems like they will actually end up raising much more than they are asking.

"Keep in mind that the more money we raise, the cooler movie we can make. A two million dollar fundraising total probably means cross words are exchanged at the class reunion. Three million? We can afford a full-on brawl. Ten million? Who knows," Thomas said.

"Hey, if that total goes high enough, I’ll bet the good folks at Warner Bros. will agree a sequel is a good idea."

But just how often are sequels ever a good idea!? Let's not put the cart before the horse anyway...

How do you feel about funding a Veronica Mars film? Let me know in the comments below.

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