When Rob Thomas announced the “Veronica Mars” movie Kickstarter campaign this morning, he wrote “I suppose we could fail in spectacular fashion, but there’s also the chance that we completely revolutionize how projects like ours can get made.”
Less than 12 hours later, the Kickstarter had already earned its minimum $2 million goal. There will be a “Veronica Mars” movie, filmed this summer while Kristen Bell is on hiatus from “House of Lies,” and now Thomas and company have 29+ days to hope the money keeps pouring in and they can make more than a simple parlor room mystery set at Veronica’s 10-year high school reunion.
There’s been spectacle, all right, but it’s been spectacular success, not failure. The question now is whether this really will revolutionize the business, or if this is simply an anomaly.
Certainly, fans and creators of similar failed cult classics are hoping it’s not a one-shot deal. Shawn Ryan tweeted that he was watching the “Veronica” Kickstarter in hopes he might try something similar for a “Terriers” film; Mike Royce said something similar about a “Men of a Certain Age” film.
And certainly, others others will now try to follow Thomas through the door he kicked open. Lots of creators and fans have talked about the idea of Kickstarter-ing a passion project of this scale, but no one’s actually been able to do it. In this case, Thomas is working with a major entertainment conglomerate that owns the rights to the show and character, and corporations don’t step lightly with their properties. This surely had to be vetted legally, which can take time – the video on the Kickstarter page was filmed before Bell’s pregnancy, while Enrico Colantoni still had a job on “Flashpoint,” etc. – but Thomas’ ability to get approval means others can and will be able to do the same.
But will they be able to raise the necessary money this way?
You need a very particular set of circumstances to pull this magic trick off. First, you need a beloved, pre-existing property. If Veronica were a brand-new character, the donations don’t fly in this fast and furious, even if Thomas had a strong track record from other series. Maybe down the road, someone like Dan Harmon or Joss Whedon tries an original concept this way (I imagine “Dr. Horrible” could have been done this way had Kickstarter existed during the last writers strike), but for the time being, anything that requires several million dollars to work will have to be something the funders already care about.
Second, you need as many original participants available as possible. Thomas is in, and Bell is in. Colantoni, Jason Dohring and Ryan Hansen also appeared in the teaser video, and will presumably be part of the movie if their schedules allow. But if David Milch somehow got permission from HBO to Kickstarter the “Deadwood” wrap-up movies (which first presumes that David Milch would have any idea what Kickstarter is, or possibly the Internet), he would have to reassemble a huge collection of actors, many of whom are gainfully employed elsewhere. Here, it’s a matter of finding the hole in Bell’s schedule and then bringing in whoever else can come; so long as Veronica Mars herself is there, it’s a “Veronica Mars” movie. (Though it’s more of one with Keith, Logan, etc.) But with our hypothetical “Deadwood” Kickstarter, even if you can make it work while Timothy Olyphant’s on vacation from “Justified,” Ian McShane, John Hawkes and Molly Parker might all have other movie gigs during that window. If Whedon wanted to fund “Serenity 2: The Quickening” via Kickstarter, he’d have to somehow reassemble the entire cast during Nathan Fillion’s short “Castle” hiatus, which isn’t necessarily compatible with when Morena Baccarin is filming “Homeland,” Gina Torres is making “Suits,” etc.
Third, you need to make something that can be reasonably crowdfunded. Even if Whedon could magically make all the schedules fit, you can’t make another “Firefly” movie for $2 million, or even $10 million. (The original “Serenity” cost $40 million.) Once you start adding in special effects, or action sequences, the expenses pile up quickly. “Veronica Mars” was always the cheapest drama on any broadcast network when it aired, in part because most of the actors were unknown, but in part because a high school drama with film noir elements is inherently something you can make cheaply.
And simply by going first, the “Veronica Mars” movie gets to benefit not only from the love of fans of the show, but from the interest of people who like the idea of crowdfunding, and of people who want to see this one succeed so that their favorite might have a shot down the road. If the Kickstarter had topped out at $100 grand, no one else would have attempted this for a long, long time, and I have to think a decent percentage of today’s donations came from fans of “Terriers” or “Chuck” ” or “Party Down” (also from Rob Thomas) who just wanted the model to seem viable. Future Kickstarters won’t have the novelty, nor the fear that they’ll be viewed as a cautionary tale.
And once the novelty fades, you may also see more grousing that fans shouldn’t have to pay millions of dollars so that large conglomerates like Warner Bros. can produce movies for free. (Though I thought Salon’s Willa Paskin made a compelling argument that there’s always a level of quid pro quo in our entertainment spending choices.) It was exciting to be a part of this history-making thing, sure, but if it becomes more routine, do people start questioning why they have to foot the bill so that the studio and stars can make the profits.
In this particular case, though, crowdfunding was the only way the movie was going to be made, and now it will be. And as a fan of the original series, and the other work Rob Thomas has done in television, I’m very eager to see the world of Neptune come back to life. I just don’t know yet if this is a major shift in the paradigm, or a single longshot hitting big before the status quo reasserts itself.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org