Kickstarting the Veronica Mars Movie

20130313-233727.jpgThanks to 39,000 (and counting) people today, there’s going to be a Veronica Mars movie in spring of 2014. The project, by show creator Rob Thomas, was set to fund if the Kickstarter campaign raised $2 million within 30 days. It actually took only ten hours to reach the goal. As I write this, late in the evening of that first day, almost $2.5 million has been pledged.

And to my amazement, that’s driving some people crazy. My colleague Phil Michaels, for example, tweeted, “Congratulations to fans of Veronica Mars for your eagerness to hand over money to already well-compensated entertainers.”

True, making a movie with established actors isn’t going to cure any diseases, but the general sentiment is that this is superfluous, that Hollywood is taking advantage of regular people who don’t know better and who throw their money at glitter. And there’s the persistent idea that backing a project on Kickstarter is just a way to order stuff (in this case, DVDs, scripts, posters, and other things related to the movie).

I’m no movie industry insider, but I know that this isn’t some vanity project being foisted upon folks. Veronica Mars was a semi-successful TV show that had great writing, an intentional film-noir approach to high school that was different than most TV dreck. When it was cancelled in 2007, viewers still cared about the characters, and since then Thomas and star Kristen Bell have tried to get a movie version made.

Even with an established property and an ongoing fan base, they ran into walls. No studio wanted to do it. That’s common in Hollywood. According to the creators, the Kickstarter project was a last-ditch effort. They talked to Warner Bros. and made a deal: if they could raise $2 million on Kickstarter and show that an audience exists, WB would greenlight the movie. Letters to studios and fan petitions only go so far—money talks loud and clear.

I suppose some people think this is just an easy $2 million for Thomas to pocket, but realistically that’s a tiny fraction of what it would take to make a movie. That’s basement-low money in Hollywood. That gives you a cast working at scale, a small crew, and equipment rental. I saw elsewhere that $2 million is about what each episode cost when the show was on the air (or maybe that’s the average cost of a scripted TV episode now; I’ve lost the reference). A small budget works for something like Veronica Mars, which will no doubt be heavy on words and light on special effects.

To release the movie, Warner Bros. will spend at least that amount in marketing alone, and that’s just for a small campaign. The more money raised by the Kickstarter project, the more they can put into production.

A lot of media writers are going to point to this in the coming days and project all sorts of things. I’ve seen it on Twitter tonight already: In the near future, you’ll have to pay for movies in advance; studios will turn to crowdfunding to further line their coffers; etc. And some of that will be true, and some of it will be tried, and a lot of it will fail. You can bet a ton of old properties that might have some whispers of fan bases will be resurrected. And they’ll probably collapse. Small budget filmmaking is essentially a private version of Kickstarter, with moviemakers asking friends and relatives for investment, running up credit cards, and the like. Kickstarter gives the process a streamlined approach that can involve a lot of people you don’t personally know.

This isn’t the case of a handful of movie folks rolling in money. The whole point of the campaign, and of Kickstarter in general, is to get started, and to create something worthwhile. I pledged $50 because I want to support people who want to create something good, and I’m betting that a Veronica Mars movie will be good. It may not be. It could be a disaster. I may not even go see the movie in theaters (which would cost me more money; my pledge isn’t buying me a ticket); it may not even be released in theaters. But that doesn’t diminish my desire to support the creation of good entertainment.

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