Thursday, March 14, 2013

How I learned to stop worrying & love the Veronica Mars film.

30,000 people donated an average of $64 during a several hour period yesterday, and thus we will be getting a Veronica Mars movie sometime next summer.  Creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell used Kickstarter to basically prove to Warner Bros. that there is indeed an interest in a continuation of the cult detective drama that ran for three low-rated seasons on the CW back in 2004-2007.  The deal was basically to raise $2 million in a month and Warner Bros. would agree to distribute and market the film, giving it a limited theatrical release and the various home-viewing options.  They hit their target at 5:55 pm this evening.  I made a bitchy joke earlier in the day about raising money to find domestic 'food insecurity' among American children by calling such an initiative 'Save Firefly!' or something to that effect.  My first instincts were ones of priorities and what this said about our 'entitlement culture'.  Upon reflection (I purposely didn't write anything immediately), I'm still not sure how I feel about this. This is indeed very interesting, it may even be *news*.  But is it good news overall?

Obviously if you're among those who really really wanted a Veronica Mars movie or were involved in the Veronica Mars television series, then it's pretty good news. I don't know whether this will be a game-changer of any kind.  I don't know if this will change how indies are funded or whether this is merely a variation on the 'get independent funding, then find a distributor' model of so many indie films.  The idea of fans putting their money where their mouth is does have a certain worth.  But I do know that thousands of people donated their money not to a charity or even to a proverbial starving artist, but to a multinational for-profit corporation with no promise of any kind of return on their investment. Thousands of people willingly donated their money to an incredibly wealthy corporation so that said corporation could make a movie which they would then theoretically pay $10 a piece (be it a theater ticket or a VOD price-point) to view in a year's time.  They were basically paying Warner Bros. to do what Warner Bros. is supposed to do with the money they have already accumulated.

The Kickstarter page notes that a number of donors past the $10 range will receive various perks for their contribution (digital copies of the film, PDFs of the script, etc.).  UPDATE: This fascinating article highlights the good news (most people who donated got something for their contribution) and the bad news (the rewards will be incredibly costly and time-consuming to produce) of the fundraising process. The donors receive no ownership stake in the final product, and the cost/reward is indeed something more akin to spending money to win tickets to buy a stuffed animal at a fair.  It's not a complete wash, but it's along the lines of winning a stuffed bear worth $5 after spending $20 to accumulate the tickets.  No one got ripped off since everyone knew that they were or were not getting for their contribution.  For most, of course, the booty is merely beside the point, with the primary goal being merely the satisfaction of having donated in order to bring about a mainstream big-studio release based on a long-cancelled TV show.  And that's the other part that really bugs me.

Veronica Mars was one of the best shows on television when it ran back in the mid-2000's.  But it's been off the air for nearly six years. We live in an entertainment culture of presumed entitlement.  We *deserve* more seasons of Arrested Development because uh... it ran for three solid seasons and only got cancelled when its ratings got so bad that they started dragging down the shows around them on Fox's schedule.  John Carter absolutely deserves a sequel because the vast majority of critics and ticket-buyers just didn't get it and Disney really ought to sink another $250 million into a second chapter just because! In 1996, Mars Attacks! tanked at the box office. Burton fans such as myself licked our wounds and moved on.  Today David Duchovny wants fans of The X-Files to start a letter-writing campaign because, bomb office catastrophe be damned, the fans obviously deserve a continuation of the nearly 20-year old television show.  The idea that certain properties have a natural life cycle has given way to an entitled presumption that no franchise should die or end, ever.

I do worry about the various ways this can go horribly wrong.  I do worry that studios will eventually start seeing this as a business model when dealing with geek properties.  "Pay us $5 million and we won't cancel Revolution!".  I worry that studios will demand some kind of Kickstarter upstart money before embarking on a film like (random example) Kick Ass.  I worry that the allure of upfront investment from the very people who will buy tickets will make studios more likely to fund known properties as opposed to original pictures that won't necessarily drum up fanatical fan interest. I worry that geek-centric properties that are partially subsidized by fans will be even more dependent on giving the hardcores what they theoretically want and we'll end up with more 'Venom in Spider-Man 3' scenarios. On a societal level I worry that Kickstarter start-ups will get crowded out by rabid fans giving their money in order to buy an advance on an additional season of Jericho.  And yes it does bother me that thousands of people basically made a charitable donation to a corporation.  But there is indeed potential here.

If the announcement involved someone like George Lucas offering to help fund Guillermo del Toro's In the Mountains of Madness provided a certain financial goal-post was hit, after which Lucas donated the money to one of his charities, I'd admittedly feel better about it.  If it were an announcement from Michael Moore offering to help fund a bunch of social issue-documentaries out of his own pocket provided there was financial interest, I might feel a little better about this.  My misgivings are at least as much about what's being funded (Really?  A Veronica Mars movie?  They haven't moved on yet?) and who the money went to (again, basically it's a $2 million+ gift to Warner Bros.) than the concept at work.  The idea of Kickstarter being used as a tool for raising capitol for well, anything at all, is of course the whole point of the program.  That I really really don't think the world needs a Veronica Mars movie shouldn't preclude me from being happy for those who indeed voted with their wallet and made a pipe dream into a reality.  I may have misgivings about what it all represents, but that doesn't mean I have to piss on everybody else's parade.

So in the meantime, mazel tov on the new Veronica Mars movie.  I hope it's good, and I'll probably watch it when the time comes.  But for now I'm hoping I'm wrong.  I'm hoping that this indeed broadens the opportunities for aspiring filmmakers rather than leading to a bunch of Kickstarter projects intended to continue long-dead franchises.  I hope studios don't look at this and see a way to offset at least a portion of their budget even for films they were going to make anyway ("We want to shoot Justice League entirely in IMAX, and $5 million can make it happen!").  And as for the other qualms, in terms of societal priorities and whether or not we just got somewhat grifted by a movie studio, it is what it is (it's not like I haven't severely cut back on charitable contributions since having kids).  This is indeed something new and different that happened yesterday.  Despite my misgivings and discomfort, I can at least take solace in the fact that A) something new and different happened yesterday and B) a lot of fans of a specific franchise are very very happy today.  That's gotta count for something.  

Scott Mendelson


Erlend Lunde Holbek said...

"ABC News reports that certain high-end donors will receive various perks
for their contribution (digital copies of the film, T-shirts, etc.).
But for the vast majority of donors, they basically gave their money to
a movie studio"
No. The vast majority of donations were for 35 or 50 dollars, which means you get a t-shirt, a script, updates and, when it's released, either a digital copy or a DVD. The "high-end" donors get set visits, producer credits and stuff.

That's the thing about Kickstarter. You primarily pay to get the thing you want, but you're willing to pay more than usual in order to insure the thing you want gets made.

Brandon Peters said...

ABC news? Scott, why didn't you just go tot he Kickstarter page and read the details?

Movie is shooting this summer for an early 2014 release. Also, those donating at least $35 will be sent a free digital copy of the film around the theatrical release. So, even then...they really don't have to fork any more money over to go see it in the theater.

Scott Mendelson said...

You're right, I wanted a news outlet article (this piece btw - but I should have just gone straight to the source. It's been updated.

Brandon Peters said...

I'll consider my reward that article you added a link to in there. Fascinating indeed. Good read

dailyd said...

I'm glad you saw some of the good points to the story. It will definitely be fascinating to watch this unfold in future projects.

I think your point of entitlement is an interesting one ... in that I think that's exactly the reason that this was a good idea. Studios absolutely shouldn't be shelling out cash for low-rated shows just because fans feel they are owed one last chapter. A Veronica Mars movie by all definitions was a bad investment for Warner Bros., as would be the other examples you stated. So Warner said, hey, you want it, you pay for it. We won't get in the way.

Maybe it was a little late to the game, but it could set a precedent for failed properties to still fund satisfactory finales for fans willing to shell over the cash ... maybe just not so long after the fact. I know that I have lost trust in getting invested in new television shows for fear they will get cut short with no solid conclusion. This type of capitalistic relationship could reinstate that trust between fans and networks.

Also I see this more as $2 million going to producer Rob Thomas. Lumping creators of projects into the same category as studios and corporations isn't really an accurate depiction. Producers find outside funding all the time. Big studio involvement had to happen here only because of rights issues. Maybe I won't get a monetary return on my investment (though I will get merch), but as you point out how much profit is a project like this really going to make after all the costs? It's a passion project, not a cash cow.

And even if it is giving to a corporation instead of a charity, every time I go to the store I'm paying a corporation way too much for an end product so they can pay for all of their operating costs. I've gotten used to it. Movies are always funded by money they made off of movie-goers. I overpay for movie tickets so studios can fund their next projects. At least in this case, the people get a say in what that project will be.

And maybe it will get abused by some, but that is the nature of giving the world nice things I think.

P.S. I've never seen Veronica Mars, but all this hubbub has certainly renewed my interest in going back and watching the series! Maybe another bonus? :)

Ana Bastow said...

Hi Scott great article as usual. :)

Even though I agree the entitlement culture is huge and should die, the funding trend is not about entitlement but closure.

Would you watch a movie or start a book if you knew it doesn't the ending? My particular idea of hell is a library with every book every written, every single one of them with the last page missing.

In the case of series and movies the fans are subjected to the whims of market and producers it makes sense that if the series cut short or if the movie was left ambiguous a huge portion of the fans will do anything within their power to see the ending.

I also think this is something that could never be used in a big scale. People don't like to feel they are getting rip-off a big studio demanding payment for not cancelling a series or for making a sequel will likely find a lot of push back and even though some fans might contribute those are the same fans that will turn against their own series if they "Don't get what I paid for. DANCE MONKEY DANCE!" No Studio wants more meddling than necessary specially for people that only paid a couple of bucks but think they financed the whole project on their own.

I think this will be an opportunity for projects that might not have the numbers that please the Studios, but have enough audience for a small release, will get an opportunity to give the fans the closure they need.

Now off to write a letter to Bryan Fuller suggesting him to do a Kickstarter for a Pushing Daisies movie or/and the comics. :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails