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How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Veronica Mars Film

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30,000 people donated an average of $64 during a several hour period last week, 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 that 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.