By now you have probably heard that a Veronica Mars movie is probably in the works, as long as some unusual conditions are met, namely as long as they can raise money on Kickstarter, after which the studio will complete the rest of the budget. From Entertainment Weekly:

Today, Thomas and Bell are launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a low-budget Mars movie that would be shot this summer. The goal: $2 million in 30 days. If they reach it, Warner Bros. Digital Distribution has agreed to put the movie into production and pick up the tab for marketing, promotion, and distribution. (The film would be released in the first quarter of 2014 for a limited-time theatrical run, before moving to VOD, iTunes, and other digital platforms.) If they don’t reach the goal: No movie.

Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, you can understand how this is welcome news to people who are, and why they would be more than willing to shell out a few pesos (hahahahahah, who even WRITES this website?!) to see the project come to life. (And for those willing to shell out more than a few pesos, there are some classic Kickstarter-brand prize packs including a speaking role in the movie for a donation of $10,000.) The campaign was announced this morning, with a month left to raise 2,000,000 dollars, and as of this writing, they have already raised over 760,000. Piece of cake. (There’s probably a fun, kicky Veronica Mars reference I could make there, like, “easier than Logan’s sandwich,” and the fans are like “oh mg LOL, right?” but I’ve never actually seen the show.) All of this represents a new and interesting experiment in The Way We Make Movies Now, but before the Veronica Mars fans start popping the champagne (or whatever they would drink on the show: spoiled milk? Alien Nation style?) we should talk about it, because I think it’s a little problematic!

In retrospect, it’s funny how mad I got last summer when Charlie Kaufman and Dan Harmon announced their Kickstarter project. I mean, I was/still am mad about it: these are two highly successful dudes who could single-handedly pull together $200,000 by making a couple phone calls, who have earned that success through the very same Hollywood system that they were pretending to suddenly stand against, and here they were asking their fans, many of whom do not have that much money, to provide funding for a project that they would then have to pay more money to actually see later, and acting like this was a treat for the fans. Look: it’s a free world, man. Let’s all live our lives. If you want to give money to Dan Harmon and Charlie Kaufman knock yourself out! It is your money! But I found the whole thing to be a tad disingenuous. You’re more then welcome to go begging in the street, but please don’t pretend like the act of begging is doing the passersby a favor.

Again, that is silly, considering that now you have a straight-up MOVIE STUDIO asking people to pre-pay for the movie. Unusual! But perhaps this is the new landscape. And there is something appealing about it, right? Who wouldn’t kick in 10 dollars to see something they really want to see that they wouldn’t get to see otherwise? And OK, as weird as it is, I think there can be something psychologically appealing about these donations. It’s participatory, and everyone likes to participate. Now it’s like YOU are the mogul for two seconds. Tuck your thumbs into your vest, fat cat, and light your big cigar with another 10 dollars, who cares, you’re a 10 dollarnaire. Admittedly, you have no real ownership stake in the process, and there will be no return on your investment. But hey: Veronica Mars, right?!

Here is where I think things get tricky: most of Hollywood movies these days are already trending towards instantaneous name recognition, which is how you end up with people regularly complaining that everything is a superhero or a dystopian child slaughter gameshow. Independent cinema continues to get marginalized as small movie theaters go extinct and the megaplexes need to put butts in seats. (A quick note: I have barely any idea what I am talking about, just in terms of actual economic trends or how the world works. Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m for sure right, and I am not trying to discredit my own opinion. I’m just saying, the minute you start throwing actual numbers at me is the minute I throw my computer in the bathtub. This is what we in law call The Blogger’s Defense.) Last year, the Disney corporation released John Carter in the hopes that it would launch a new franchise, but it was widely considered to be an historic failure, one of the great flops of our time. Do you know how much money this late night monologue punchline of a movie made worldwide? More than $282,000,000. AN ABSOLUTE DISASTER, I AM SURE. So you see the scale that we are facing.

This also starts to give you a sense of how cynical this experiment actually is. Warner Bros. will fund the rest of the movie if normal people cough up $2,000,000? OK, but $2,000,000 is literally what they spend on bottled water every three months. It’s nothing to these guys. Either make the movie or don’t, that’s not my problem. But don’t pretend that an inconsequential budgetary line item was the only thing getting in the way. As Wallace Fennel would say, “Oh please!”

So then what is actually going on? Well, maybe the studio just wants to make absolutely sure that the audience is there so that when they do finally put in their financial stake, they know where they stand in terms of getting a return on their investment. (A return on an investment that is not available to the people making the initial investment.) Sure. Look, it’s a business. You can never get mad about it being a business because it was always a business. (And for anyone who thinks that pop culture has gotten cynical and is no longer about the art, uh, guess what, it was always cynical and art never had nothing to do with it.) But so, OK, they want to make sure they know who/what they’re getting into bed with so that they know for sure that they are going to come dollar signs. (Sorry. But showbusiness is gross! That’s not my fault, I didn’t invent that part of it!) If you’re a Veronica Mars fan and this is how you get a Veronica Mars movie, it might seem like an imperfect relationship but one that ends correctly*. Here’s why this sucks:

A LOT OF TIMES WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE WANT UNTIL WE SEE IT.

If you think that Hollywood is overly reliant on pre-established franchises now, wait until they start second guessing even this system. The end result is going to be heavily focus grouped broad-based crowd pleasers with a pre-approved track record. Gone are the surprises. Gone are the things we as an audience didn’t know existed until we loved them. Look, I’m being a little dramatic. But the idea that we should all vote on what we want from a limited selection of options before we are even provided with an even more limited selection of options based on the ones we pre-voted from, the world is going to become a very small, very un-exciting place. The Internet, I guess, is where you find the most unexpected things these days, but the Internet doesn’t have the budget to make the kinds of things we are talking about. There’s basic cable. That’s pretty good! But not everything has to be a six season TV show. (Does it?! Wait, does it?!) Movies, at least for now, are still movies. And one of the best things about a movie can be going into it without even knowing what it’s about, and discovering new actors and characters and everything. It would be cool if that didn’t disappear.

In conclusion: I’m not saying not to donate to Veronica Mars. Donate if you want to donate. But just know that this is not actual charity, and it’s maybe not even that good of an idea. (Ugh, so in conclusion, “maybe”? TL;DR!)

*There is one way in which this entire thing is promising, though, which is that Hollywood studios are notoriously tight-fisted about their property copyrights, and sometimes once they decide not to go through with a certain project, even the creators of the project are stuck because the studio owns the rights. At least in that sense, this is good.
Comments (58)
  1. How’d you get a picture of me from spring break?

    • edmondhaskell  |   Posted on Mar 14th, 2013 -5

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  2. Tl;dr, but regardless, there are two reasons to donate to a Kickstarter project.

    1) You’re essentially agreeing to pay the value of what you’re promised to receive, such as “I want to make a new record, and if you donate essentially what you would be paying for the completed record, then I will provide you with a copy of the record”. Pretty much a fair deal, and the person involved isn’t really trying to make a profit off of you. Though the additional premiums may or may not be somewhat ridiculous.

    2) People who you trust to make a good product who actually need to the cash to make said product, as well as there being some inherent value in what you’re donating. I gave some money to a couple guys who were opening a brewery because I’d had their beer before and it was awesome, so now each time they release a new beer, I’m guaranteed at least one bottle before it goes on sale to the public, and it’s pretty great beer. And they’re doing pretty well right now, and I get some glassware and keychain.

    Donating money to rich people who don’t really need the money, but are asking you for it because they figure a big chunk of their fanbase is made up of suckers who will give them money with dreams that maybe someday they can meet Kristin Bell and become best friends because they donated to her Kickstarter campaign is just dumb. Of course, I’ll reserve complete judgment until I see what they’re offering. If it’s like $30 for a voucher to see the movie, a digital copy and/or DVD, then meh, if you’re a big enough fan you’re going to pay that much anyway (I mean, I won’t be, but I never watched the show). But that $10k premium is pretty ridiculous. “Give us $10k that we really don’t need and probably lose under the seats of our cars a couple times per year and we’ll reward you with a completely valueless opportunity to provide us with free labor!” I don’t have a lot of sympathy for suckers, but I have less sympathy for people who blatantly take advantage of suckers.

    • Also, I recognize the seeming lack of self awareness in posting what looks like a short story in response to a post I claimed was too long. As penance, I’ll read Gabe’s original post (eventually).

    • Also another great reason to donate to Kickstarter, for everyone bagging on Kickstarter, STORY WAR! by everyone’s favorite Keyboard Cat meme maker (and guest Videogum editor that one time) Brad O’Farrell! (also two other neat-o dudes)! It’s a card game! $25 for a card game! and putting in more money gets you more stuff like the expansion pack and Special cards! I might not be selling this very well, though no one even asked me too!

      BUT LOOK, you like fun right? and pretty pictures? and stories? WELL “Story War is an innovative party game where you battle your friends by telling stories, referencing pop culture, and making stuff up!” It’s like You Can Make it Up by way of Apples to Apples with Unicorns and Dragons and Celebrity Colin Mochrie (from Who’s Line is it Anyway!)!

      Story Wars Kickstarter: http://kck.st/155MjkF
      Cantrip Games Blog: http://blog.cantripgames.com/

      Fun times. See if you like it. If you like it toss some cash at it. 9 days left.

  3. Fuck Kickstarter, man. I have no interest in donating money to shield any sort of going concern from actually having to spend their own capital and having to take actual risks with their business decisions.

    It would be cool if it were actually just used by nobodies without a penny to their name to fund their artistic dreams. I thought that was the whole idea behind Kickstarter. This is just horseshit.

  4. The whole studio system seems like more or less a racket for the rich to stay rich. This just makes that notion shine all the brighter.

  5. I don’t know – if they were asking for money with no “prizes” other than the fact that the movie will be in theaters next year, then I see a big problem. Seriously WB, take the money you made off Harry Potter coffee cups and fund more independent features.

    However, I don’t think it’s weird to donate $35 for a copy of the movie and a t-shirt because that is approximately the cost of a DVD and tshirt, but by paying for these things in advance, you actually get to see the movie.

    And the big ticket items on this particular Kickstarter are pretty fun – speaking role, attending the premiere, being an extra, etc.

    I’m biased on this project for sure. This is my favorite show and even though I don’t think it needs six seasons, they cancelled it without even wrapping up the story. So, I think this show needs closure. I was really surprised that a WB/CW show could be so good and have such great writing. It’s hard to believe that some of the actors haven’t gone on to more successful careers. I want this show, cast and crew to succeed.

    If this was a Kickstarter for Gossip Girl, then that would be a whole different story.

    • I was thinking the same thing and budgeting for the $200 stuff (because let’s face facts, I will see that movie $200 worth of times) until I read that Piz is attached. How much do I have to donate to keep Piz out of the project?

    • Most Kickstarter projects annoy the hell out of me (especially book Kickstarters, but that’s a special bias; can we talk about this, though?: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/532638631/the-girl-who-would-be-king) because they reward people who have the nerve to ask not only strangers, but friends and family, to give them money to fund their vanity projects. I do not like this model!

      THAT SAID I AM FUNDING THE SHIT OUT OF THIS KICKSTARTER. I mean I’m not donating crazy money, but $35 for a movie and a T-shirt isn’t wildly over face value. There aren’t too many projects that fit the profile of the Veronica Mars movie – continued, demonstrated hardship paired with continued, demonstrated interest – so I’m okay with this one succeeding. I am also obviously biased, having clamored for a VM movie in the VG comments as recently as yesterday.

  6. hollywood is an imperfect system with lots of negative externalities, but if you’re making an argument about economic incentives, then this is decidedly an awesome idea. because if internet interest can be quantified and monetized this quickly, that signals a very large market opportunity that might encourage studios to take on more diversified risk. which is how you get a smorgasbord of great content, which is the ultimate victory for the audience.

  7. My friend tweeted this yesterday:

    All That Remains of the Smiley Face I Tattooed on the Inside of My Palm instagr.am/p/WsOdc8IDMr/— Jack Judah Shamama (@shamama) March 10, 2013

  8. I would donate to the Kickstarter for Gabe to keep writing this kind of stuff.

  9. Does no one remember the horror of Veronica Mars Season 3??

    Look, economics aside I’m really against this whole thing where we want movies of the TV shows we think didn’t get a fair shake the first time. The Veronica Mars people made quite a good bit of money to have a TV show for three years! And now they make more shows you watch! Movie episodes or accompaniments to TV series are never very good and TV shows never continue on an upward path of greatness, so why will we never realize that the time is gone and we have to move on?

    • Not until I get Eerie Indiana: The Movie. RIP EERIE INDIANA.

    • I think this will succeed if Rob Thomas is able to do what he wants with the story. The third season was kind of a mess because of the CW (and Piz). They wanted audience members to be able to jump in throughout the season, so they took away the formula of a season long story arc that worked so well for the first two seasons.

      I have confidence in the man that brought us 2 amazing seasons and created Party Down. It probably won’t be nominated for any Oscars, but I think we can assume we will be entertained. The worst episode of Veronica Mars is better than 90-95% of the current things on television.

      • And that episode would be 100 percent better than anything if we launched a Kickstarter to keep Piz out of the movie.

      • See, I hate that argument though. “The network interfered.” Look, good material blooms under constraint, you know? They make plenty of great serialized TV without involving a Piz of any kind. And with a show that relied so heavily on romance and everything, so much so that they kept boring ass Duncan around forever, there would always be a Piz. One day, a Piz would always come. I don’t know, I feel the same way about Party Down. It’s over! We know Rob Thomas can make two great seasons of a great idea, let him go think of another one! We are all slowly marching to the grave and thus nothingness!

        • Duncan was the worst. He was like Original Piz. Ugh.

        • But I think it was good material. It just wasn’t AS good as the first two seasons. There were a lot of great moments in season three.

          I’m totally on board with Rob Thomas doing other projects. He does good work! If season three had two more episodes, I probably wouldn’t care as much about the movie, but the ending was too abrupt.

      • I believe in Rob Thomas. Also, I really liked the end of season 3 (BUT STILL WANT MORE).

  10. Hey you guys, New Pope!

    For a donation of $100 you can look at him on your TV and know he is smiling just for you

    For a donation of $500 you get a replica pope hat

    For $1000 you get a personal blessing mailed to you

    For $5000 he will mention your name in a prayer! Omg! (literally)

    For $10,000 a signed bible!

    • Hey everyone the new pope is the transsexual Carmen de Mairena. if ONLY

    • A signed bible?
      Why did the prizes get shittier the more you pay?

      For $10,000 I want a signed guarantee that says I’m getting into heaven and front row tickets to the end of world cage match between Jesus and Satan.

  11. JLE;DR; I agree wholeheartedly. I get pretty warm under the collar about the commercial (corporate? greed-mongering? I need to listen to more Planet Money) appropriation of things that sprung forth to end-run these very same art deathtraps. The internet as a creative and collaborative medium that has no other quantifiable bounds but the size and shape of our attention. It sucks that Kickstarter, a 3D printer of newness and goodness hitherto unimagined, would be gummed up by laziness and greediness.

  12. There can only be one Rob Thomas.

  13. I don’t know if I’m as passionately against this idea as most of you are, but I will say that giving the script out is a terrible idea. And not just to the highest bidders, but to all donation levels! I mean, I understand the idea of being transparent with your investors, but it just gives credence to Gabe’s argument about there being no surprises left in movies.

  14. Yeah, but I would fund the fuck out of the Deadwood movie they were supposed to make a million years ago. I think the difference is that it was planned, and the series sort of requires it to wrap up? Whereas this would be a footnote to an already completed show.

  15. The difference between the VM Kickstarter and the Charlie Kaufman and Dan Harmon project is: no one asked for the Kaufman-Harmon project. They foisted the idea on the public.

    VM fans, meanwhile, have been bellyaching for a movie because nothing is ever allowed to just end. Well, guys, put your money where your mouth is.

    In all other ways, this critique is painfully right on. In the future, every doof with internet access will be walking around saying “I got three films produced this year.”

  16. I mean, one big problem I see is that none of the prizes are “Pay us the cost of your ticket in advance, and you’ll get to see the movie for free.” The closest they come in any reasonable price bracket is that you get the DVD, but obviously anybody who would fund this project is not going to wait until the DVD comes out to see this movie. So that means that everybody who donates to this project will also then spend their $13 or to see the movie. In one day they’ve already raised over a million dollars, which means they’ll probably greatly surpass their 2 million dollar goal. I just think it’s a bad idea for people to be pre-funding movies that they’ll then have to pay to see anyway.

    With that said, if they want to use Kickstarter for another Firefly movie, count me in!

  17. There was a really interesting thing at Slate last year that touches on some of what Gabe is getting at here: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/09/kickstarter_s_crowdfunding_won_t_save_indie_filmmaking_.single.html#pagebreak_anchor_2

    There’s this idea that Kickstarter is this magical place that gives real artists the means to circumvent Big Hollywood, but in practice that hasn’t really been the case. Some Danish academic found that Kickstarter isn’t really changing the culture so much as reproducing and reinforcing it.

    That said, I don’t think it’s entirely fair for Gabe to cast the Veronica Mars Kickstarter as a movie studio asking the audience to pre-pay. My understanding is that Warner Bros. flat turned the movie idea down, and that Kristen Bell & creator Rob Thomas kept the idea alive through sheer force of will. These are clearly people who love and believe in this show they created. And the fact that fans have rallied to the cause isn’t so much another case of, like, Americans only being willing to watch movies that are franchises or whatever so much as a powerful testimony to that particular show’s specialness. I can’t see how that leads to any of the horrible implications that Gabe laid out.

    I think it’s okay for established people to use Kickstarter if it’s in good faith, you know? I mean, that Charlie Kaufman project seemed self-indulgent because he seems like a creator who probably benefits from a certain amount of imposed limitations. And the Bret Easton Ellis Kickstarter made me straight-up angry. But if Joss Whedon had kickstarted MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING instead of funding it himself, I would have been behind him all the way because I can see how a movie would benefit from his singular vision.

  18. I thought the same thing when Ben Folds Five kickstarted their new album. Like, aren’t you already an established band? Wouldn’t basically any label be glad to put out a Ben Folds Five reunion album without needing the kickstarter project as well? It seems like it’s basically a publicity stunt.

  19. a friend of mine said it best: “kickstarter feels like people who dont want to work are asking their working friends and family for money so they can continue not to work, i.e. give me money so my band can put our album out”. not a bad take on things.

    • I think it’s cool as a pre-order system for things that would be prohibitively expensive to get made otherwise. Like, you’ve got a cool idea for a board game but it it’s a million dollars to have it fabricated and you aren’t sure that anyone would actually buy it. But yeah for a lot of things it amounts to basically people deciding they’d rather not pay their dues. If you want to put out your band’s new album, make money playing gigs to fund the printing (also CDs are relatively cheap to make on demand, compared to more substantial items).

  20. Just let me have my movie.

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