Mission to Veronica Mars

     |    Friday March 15th, 2013

by Andrew Horn

Yesterday I was all but conked on the head by something that popped up on IMDB. For the one or two of you haven’t already heard, it seems that the producers and stars of the tv show “Veronica Mars” had started a campaign to turn the property into a movie. They wanted to raise $2 million to put towards the production, the idea being that this would impress parent company Warner Bros to greenlight it for the rest.

I have to say when I saw their video embedded in the article, it was very jokey and looked like some parody thing on Funny Or Die.com, and I didn’t take it seriously.

Until I read further and found out that they raised over $1 million in 6 hours! The next morning I woke up to find that by 10 hours they had already exceeded their goal by half a million. With 29 days to go!!

And now, as I finish writing this they’re at almost 3 million!

I find this both cool and scary. Comments for an article on the Entertainment Weekly site on Thursday – aside from the obvious, and many, expressions of joy from fans of the show – illuminate the possible “moral dilemma” this made me think of.

Dan said:

So, did people actually, consciously make a DONATION to WARNER BROTHERS? Because they certainly need the money. Am I misunderstanding how this works? I guess next time I’m feeling philanthropic, I’ll just DONATE a hundred dollars to Disney. What???!!!

Michaelangelo0296 said:

They raised two million dollars for a movie in a few hours…you’d have a harder time raising two million in a year for a debilitating disease.

Jen said:

You seem to be under the illusion that there is huge profit to be had in this venture. No matter how much they raise, I assure you that this will not be a big box office hit so it’s all okay.

Hgfhghhh answering a similar post said:

“A handful of hard-core fans care about this. It will be released and will make a marginal profit.” And that is the whole point and exactly the reason why it is groundbreaking and will set a precedent.

Dan added:

To ask people to donate / invest / finance in a commercial venture is not illegal but I do question the ethics. (…) Shouldn’t buying a ticket or watching an episode be the most I do to fund Rob Thomas’ [the producer] salary? I think the approach is a little manipulative. That’s aside from all the suffering arts orgs out there that struggle… I hope that Kickstarter and crowd funding going into the mainstream media like this only helps to energize individual arts giving.

Another poster pointed out that Kickstarter says that these bigger projects attract attention to the site and actually help get people involved in smaller ones. I’d like to think that’s true.

There are a couple of directions to go with this story. Staying with the “Veronica Mars” example for the time being it does suggest an interesting precedent. IMDB is full of comments about cancelled shows where the people bemoan the “insensitive” actions of this or that network or cable station for cancelling their favorite show. Fans have come together in various write-in campaigns to trying save their favorite shows, most of the time unsuccessfully. One show, “Global Frequency”, got gonged at the pilot stage, but after being leaked to Bit Torrent, it became a multi-million download. You’d think someone might get the message that there was an audience there, but no.

 

Now when actual money is on the line, it looks like people are ready to listen. Joss Whedon’s much beloved “Firefly” could not be resurrected, despite major fan action, but after racking up monster dvd sales, the follow-up movie, “Serenity” was made.

I can’t speak for “Veronica Mars”, I never saw it, but there are certainly shows I liked that I would love to see given that chance. But vox populi is a power, like any other, which in the wrong hands can be an awful weapon. As much as I would like to see that final resolution to “Carnivàle”, I’m afraid, we might be more likely to get “Honey Boo Boo – The Motion Picture”. (Or maybe Kickstarter could become the Lazarus of cancelled TV shows? A mixed blessing to be sure.)

 

And what happens when Hollywood producers – or under the circumstances maybe we now have to say “other” Hollywood producers – wake up to the prospect of crowd funding? As comment-maker Dan said, why are we giving money to Warner Bros. who doesn’t need it? Is this like banks taking taxpayer bailouts? Will it divert all the money to the big guns? Or will it call attention to the process and build up the infrastructure that will benefit the rest of us?

But before we get giddy, them raising that kind of money does not mean that you or I should expect the same. The recognition power of a network TV show, even one that only lasted 3 seasons is a lot more than most normal people could ever muster. Particularly one with a solid, and obviously still lively, fan base.

Ironically, over a million downloads did not get “Global Frequency” greenlit, but as little as 47,000 fans, when they put up cash, did. Hmm…

That all being said, the only conclusion I draw here is that there are more questions than answers. I see, based on even a cursory look at what’s happening at Kickstarter, a lot of opportunity. Someone on the comments board offered a link to a talk by Amanda Palmer, who used to be in the Dresden Dolls and now has a solo career. She says she finds it better to give her music away and just live from crowd funding “donations”. And she’s been very successful, raising over a million bucks. Yet still I get this sort of creepy feeling. Admittedly it could be because it’s something new and I am not ready to accept it. Letting go of convention is hard. And yet…

When Kickstarter first appeared I was a skeptic. As I recall it was primarily for film at the time and the projects listed were booking returns in the low thousands. A few years ago some friends of mine did some stuff on it and their projects were in the 10 to 20 thousand range. It still didn’t seem to me to be viable as a significant funding source, though obviously good for getting something off the ground or finishing it off. Meanwhile I’ve seen instances of films booking $100,000+, but these seemed to me to be the exceptions that proved the rule.

As someone who is used to begging, I suppose I should feel that this is something I should be doing for my film, but I’ve been reluctant. Somehow it felt morally questionable to be asking for money like this. Not that I haven’t always asked for favors and such, but then to put it on such a public platform, I just feel…

I think part of my problem has been the “slippery slope” idea that if TV stations – not only a large source of funding around these parts, but whose participation is a major requirement in applying for a German film subsidy – would justify their already shrinking license fees by saying that films can get financed without them so why should they pay a reasonable price to show them? This would also apply to distributors, investors, as well as grants and subsidies. What a great way to feel good about saying no.

On top of that, it just makes me think of all the solicitations for political campaigns, charities and disaster relief I get every day. With all kinds of worthwhile things needing money, how do I justify asking for it for my film?

Or maybe on some level I’m just scared I won’t make my goal – it’s one thing to be gonged by some panel or jury or other, but to be gonged by the masses…?

But anyone I know who does what I do has to, on some level, live with (and perhaps feed on) paranoia, fear and rejection. Let’s face it, if we didn’t, we would never get anything done.

Of all the questions I ask myself, the only question I know the answer to is this: with this kind of money flowing through it now, is Kickstarter listed on the stock market? The answer is no. At the moment, anyway.

But if it were, I’d be all over it. After all, there’s more than one way to fund a film…

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Ahorn