|$3.8 million later… Kickstarting Warner Bros|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Monday, 25 March 2013 08:13|
10 days ago, Rob Thomas broke the internet – and potentially the movie industry – with his Veronica Mars Movie Project on Kickstarter. Could a crowd-funding campaign really raise enough money to resurrect the cancelled TV show?
$3.8 million later and the answer is more of a collective “SQUEEEEEEE!” than a “Yes”. Fans around the world are overjoyed their favourite series is getting a big-screen outing. But that’s nothing compared to the squeeing that must be going on at Warner Bros.
Veronica Mars broke several firsts when it passed its $2 million target. It’s the first old TV show to be rejuvenated by crowd-funding, the first Kickstarter film to ask for over $1m (only 87 successful film projects have ever asked for over $100k), and – most importantly – it’s the first studio-backed movie to crowd-source money.
At the time, everyone turned straight to Joss Whedon, hoping it would kick-start some kind of Firefly resurrection.
One week on, the dust has settled. What’s changed?
Whedon’s already ruled out the idea, pointing out that he’s busy with The Avengers 2 for another couple of years. Shawn Ryan tweeted: “Very interested to see how this Veronica Mars kickstarter goes. Could be a model for a Terriers wrap up film.” Zachary Levi, meanwhile, commented: “1st, congrats to @IMKristenBell & @RobThomas for helping move entertainment a little closer in the direction I’ve always hoped it would go… 2nd, to you Chucksters, believe that this news only bolsters my faith that I can help bring you a #ChuckMovie. Be patient. Stay tuned.”
So far, neither has announced anything. But in that time, loads of independent project are still chugging ahead on Kickstarter, hoping to find a following. In the past month or so, I’ve donated money to a 3D-printing pen and a short film by a producer I met at the London Film Festival last year. That’s what Kickstarter is best at: giving a hand to the little guys, whose films (or projects) wouldn’t get made otherwise.
A “Warner Bros. Kickstarter movie”? That just doesn’t sound right. Ok, you could argue, a Veronica Mars movie wouldn’t happen otherwise, but the circumstances are hugely different. Studio projects don’t need crowd-funding. That’s why they have studios.
Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing system, without equity. If the Veronica Mars movie happens and is a success, will its backers get a cut of the profits? No. The producers will. Will the backers get a say in the direction of the film? No. The producers will. Of course, the producers earn that by supporting the production to begin with, by putting up the collateral and taking a risk. But with Kickstarter providing a $2 million springboard, that risk has been passed straight to the consumers.
Some have compared it to pre-ordering a ticket for the film. Normally, audiences can only tell a studio they don’t want a film by simply not seeing it. Now, Kickstarter gives them an indication in advance of whether there’s an audience out there. It’s on-demand funding – and thanks to the site’s tiered rewards system, if you donate enough money, you get a digital download of the film ($35) or a DVD ($50) in return.
But if normal backers without much money want to see it in the cinema, they’ll still have to stump up the cash again, cutting studio costs two times over.
The reward for reducing studio risk and slashing their budget? A t-shirt advertising the movie. That’s cutting costs a third time.
Now, Rob Thomas hasn’t intentionally set out to do that – it’s just what happens when an indie platform is adopted by an industry machine. It’s a strange combination of empowering the fans and exploiting them at the same time.
“NO one is getting big upfront money," Thomas told TGDaily. "Trust me Kristen [Bell] is not getting paid close to her quote, or anywhere near. We’re all working for labor of love prices."
But labour of love prices, really, are closer to zero. For years, indie filmmakers have been putting their whole financial lives on the line to make their labours of love.
Tomorrow, a film called How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song? is released on video on-demand around the world. It premiered in the UK at the Raindance Film Festival last year – and it’s fantastic.
Director Gary King wouldn’t have made the film without the $31,101 they raised on Kickstarter from 239 people. I asked him about the whole Veronica Mars thing.
“I loved season 1, thought S2 and S3 were terrible so I'm not really looking forward to it just based on the creative side,” he told me. “[But I’m] very happy for them and the fans. [It’s a] great way to continue content that people actually want.”
“However, at this point I don't plan to support projects like this because there is a TON of studio money that could easily pay for it. So I choose to support indie artists who truly need money to create work. Rob and Kristen could have easily used their money to make the film if they wanted to. I cashed out my 401K for my first feature. If someone like me is willing to sacrifice my own financial security, then they for sure can spend their money to create films they believe in.”
Back to Joss Whedon, who did exactly that in 2008 during the Writers Guild of America strike, putting $200,000 of his own money into Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a wonderful little three-part musical. If you go and buy that now, the money goes to him and the cast, who weren’t compensated at the time. Not a Hollywood studio.
That’s independent film making – and that’s what Kickstarter allows fans to be a part of: the joy of bringing something otherwise impossible into existence.
There’s still that question, though, of whether that something should exist. Fans of Veronica Mars will be pleased that it’s returning, but what if it doesn’t work? I don’t mean if the production stalls halfway through. I mean, what if it SUCKS?
Star Wars Episode II. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Bumhole. Even the latest series of Red Dwarf, produced by Dave (then a “game-changer”, until Netflix and Kickstarter both proved how behind the times that model is), was a disappointing return for a long-time dormant franchise. And disappointed fans are bad for everyone. Star Wars lovers were crushed by George Lucas’ CGI cash-cow prequels, even without being financially invested in them.
“What if the movie doesn't end in the way I've believed it should end for the past six years?” asks a question on Veronica’s Kickstarter page. The response: “Eek.”
Which brings us to breaking the system again. Veronica Mars hasn’t done that. Not yet. President Obama did that last year, when he passed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which will allow (once implemented) the public to crowd-fund businesses/projects with equity. Fans would then be able to own a stake in a film and actually benefit from taking on Hollywood’s risk – not just by getting a t-shirt with a logo on it.
Nonetheless, the Veronica Mars project is an exciting step for an industry that could seriously transform the way cinema and audiences interact. An increasing number of films at Sundance (and other festivals) are being funded by Kickstarter every year. The 2012 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Short (Inocente) was Kickstarted.
But for every column inch that goes towards The Veronica Mars Movie Project, less attention goes to all of those. 6,592 people put $25 into Veronica Mars to earn their Warner Bros-produced t-shirt. 60 people donated the same to How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song?, bagging themselves a copy of the film when it’s released tomorrow.
Gary King’s been stuffing envelopes for the past week, hastily sending out DVDs and Blu-rays to people in the US and further afield. At the same time, he’s been touring American cinemas using Tugg, an on-demand theatrical screening system that only puts on a showing if enough people buy a ticket beforehand.
With funding, online distribution and now theatrical distribution for independent films all relying on crowd support to actually take place, how do you release a Veronica Mars movie? Ah yes, it’s getting help from Warner Bros.