Will the Veronica Mars Kickstarter be an Entertainment Trendsetter?

by Ernie Estrella on March 14, 2013 · 4 comments

in Film & Movies, Inside the Industry, Veronica Mars

By now you should have heard about the Veronica Mars Movie Kickstarter, or maybe you’ve already donated to it. The campaign raised over $2 million within 24 hours to meet its initial goal and the film was greenlit with marketing and distribution support from Warner Bros. If you are a fan and would like to contribute, please do so, as more money only helps make a bigger film. By the way, to all the MARShmallows out there, we have no doubt that creator Rob Thomas, cast and crew are going to give fans the film they’ve deserved after getting prematurely cancelled in 2006.

veronica mars movie banner

Regardless of the box office it will eventually earn in early 2014, the project is already a success. It sent a ripple in entertainment circles on how future projects could be funded. Is it a trendsetter? We’re not ready to declare that yet, but it is a game changer and if anything, the power of Kickstarter continues to grow. Here are the more interesting observations we made while checking in on that money ticker climb at a rate of $200,000 per hour in its first day.

1) If a project has a strong enough fan base, a final farewell film can be produced.
Let’s keep the discussion of the Veronica Mars film in proper perspective. It is a modern noir detective show, needing very little special effects. Action sequences could cost money, the right to use popular songs in the soundtrack could raise the budget, and shooting at multiple locations complicates matters. But in the world of TV, you learn how to utilize a strict budget week-to-week. This is a film for fans, so the actors are presumably willing to work cheap because it’s a show they all loved to work on. This will be a film made in a smart way with experienced people in the biz. Not every production will run this smoothly.

Curious onlookers should not get carried away and hope for shows that didn’t even last one season to get their own movies, especially films that would require expensive post production work. Visual effects artists are already getting the short end of the stick, they don’t need to low ball their services on a Caprica movie or Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles movie (as much as I’d like  to see the latter). The budget for something like that would be more like an estimate of $20-50 million–again I’m guessing–not $5 million, so the more elaborate a movie should be, the more realistic it is to project the budget out too.

The hardest part in getting a film made is getting the money to produce it, ask any independent filmmaker. But they’re working with an unknown commodity most of the time. Veronica Mars worked because it was a well-written, well-acted show and had three years to find its forever-long supporters of 3+ million viewers. No one should shrug $2 million dollars off; that’s a record for money raised in a Kickstarter film campaign–made even more astonishing is that they did it in a single day and still have 29 more to beef up the budget. There will no doubt be more that will try this path, but this probably isn’t the best way to fund every type of film. But it does make one’s mind wander at the possibilities. For example, Community may or may never get their six seasons, but they might have found a way to get that movie. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other Joss Whedon shows probably have the fans with that kind of clout. The fans of Lost might jump at the opportunity for another ending, maybe the Sopranos? We wonder how much money would it have taken to keep Arrested Development on the air before Netflix found a way to save it? It’s all in what you’re giving the fans for their money.

Warner Bros. liked and believed in Veronica Mars enough to give it three seasons. They were willing to leave the door open by picking up costs for promotion, marketing, and distribution. All of that will be costly, but it’s probably safe to assume that Warner Bros. would front costs as long as it was still profitable on their part. Meaning, they’re not going to market the Veronica Mars movie like they did Green Lantern. The budget of the production is probably the majority of the costs, so even if no one sees this film in the theaters, the folks who spent their money on it will get to see it in a digital file sent to them from the Kickstarter. Many will get the DVD/Blu-Ray with loads of extras, along with the T-shirt and movie poster. Those financiers are going to be able to see it one way or another, and they deserve to because they fronted the cost for the production. Technically, if WB wanted to, with digital distribution, home theaters, On Demand and Netflix, distribution could be held to a one or two week theater release and then be piped into homes and mobile devices. Look for studios to explore this model more, especially if there’s interest this high, and they only have to provide marketing and distribution support.

2) Nielsen ratings continue to be a weak indicator of a show’s success.
So what kind of noise can 3+ million viewers make? Actually it’s only 50,000 viewers and counting with disposable income that made the noise. Who knows how many more will contribute and how high the money  can go. We’ll find out on April 13. Again, it’s stunning and can’t be applied to every scenario, but it does show that the interest and buzz spread fast enough to get the initial budget raised. Warner Bros. is probably wondering if they could have been making money on the show for several years. We’ve preached it here before but Nielsen ratings is such an outdated way to determine if a show remains on the air or not. No one person should represent any other viewer but themselves. Who’s to say that the actual head count of a TV show was five million? There’s no way of knowing.

We’re tapping into television in many ways in addition to cable these days. DVRs should be weighed more heavily, especially by cable networks in Live+3 and Live+7 ratings, where they see how much the show was watched in the week that followed. That was part of the equation in FX renewing The Americans for a second season. If I have to see one more commercial about the Dish’s Hopper DVR being able to record four or 14 shows at once, I forget, it will be too soon. Networks are streaming their content on their websites and yet the fate of network television shows depend largely on Nielsen? That doesn’t seem fair. Television networks and let’s face it, advertisers, should be coming up with a more accurate, more thorough process of figuring out what shows survive each season.

veronica mars rob thomas

3) What sort of messages does this send for future projects?
The Kickstarter isn’t a great indicator of what people are watching.  The Veronica Mars movie proves that a vocal minority wanted to have some ownership in getting a film they wanted to see get made. One very rich donor could have made the Veronica Mars movie possible, but it does show that if you make a connection with fans, studios can be taken out of the equation.

It took the press catching onto the Kickstarter, Twitter, Facebook and a clever video to viral market the campaign. It can be used to promote the finished film too. Theaters would prefer to be the end product before viewers can get their hands on it via streaming, digital download or a DVD/Blu-ray, but it’s not the mandatory path. It takes the studio executive out of the equation. One person doesn’t have to make or single-handedly kill a project. If the question is getting money, there are other ways around it now, especially for properties that have a very supportive fan base.

Now filling Hall H with rabid fans at San Diego Comic-Con does not equate to a successful film or breaking the bank at the box office. Ask Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and a host of other films that have flopped after a big Comic-Con splash. But that exhibition hall full of supportive fans could potentially fund a project. We could see studios looking to fans to fund more projects, help produce DVD features, or films themselves could be partially funded so a film is made properly. How much does a studio have to put into a film is there are others willing to donate? How long until studios tell us that the future of our favorite shows is in our hands? Actors and filmmakers have to be willing to swallow the pill if they want to be involved in some of these projects, but if it can be funded, a film could be made if the goal is attainable.

And what about properties that are unowned by the studios? Potentially, those projects could still be made without a big studio dumbing it down for a mass audience to figure it out. Endless comic book films that sit in rights limbo could be theoretically made, not the superheroes, but a lot of real-world, creator-owned stories like Preacher, Torso, 100 Bullets, or Y:The Last Man could be made without needing it packaged for a wide audience as long as the most important people are involved. Maybe that’s the final step in this. The public will eventually get to choose who they want to be creatively involved. ‘I wouldn’t fund the project if X director is chosen, but I might back this other one who is interested and has a proven track record.’ Wouldn’t that be a trip?

There are a select few TV Shows that could get extra legs as a film, and definitely independent-visioned films or documentaries that could get the funding IF the campaign and creators behind it are strong enough or have hundreds of thousands of twitter followers. It might take a while for another Kickstarter campaign to be this successful, but it’s given hope to many projects looking to sidestep dealing with studio executives to get the money they need to get started. After two days, Veronica Mars has over $3.2 million in the bank.

In this business, in today’s landscape, that’s more than half the battle.

Share your thoughts below on what projects you’d put your money behind and what the VM Kickstarter has given you hope for.

  • http://twitter.com/ErnieEstrella Ernie Estrella

    Agreed on Terriers and Freaks & Geeks. I think Deadwood, Pushing Daisies and anything Sci Fi would be a lot of money to raise. But real world based shows could probably push the limits with savvy producers who know how to stretch a dollar.

  • Xen11

    I’d love to see a Witchblade film with Yancy Butler continuing and/or wrapping up the two season series that aired on TNT (which had great ratings, but was ended because of some behind the scenes politics).

    I’d also love to see a Dark Angel film/series with Jessica Alba.

    Most of all: A season 3 of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles by Josh Friedman. You would need Megan Ellison and Warner Bros. to join together to make it as the rights are divided between the two.

  • http://twitter.com/BagsHooper Bags

    Well said! I’d definitely be up for some more Firefly and Terriers. Plus, I’d raise you the Black Donnellys

  • purehero

    I’d fund Firefly/Serenity, Freaks & Geeks, Undeclared, Deadwood, Better Off Ted, Pushing Daisies, Terriers

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