The potential downside to Veronica Mars’ Kickstarter success

The success of Veronica Mars' Kickstarter campaign is great news, but what effect will it have on crowd funding in the future, we wonder...

When the Kickstarter campaign for a proposed Veronica Mars movie soared past its $2million goal within 24 hours, it was rightly regarded as an exciting victory for series fans. Having waited with crossed fingers for an ending to a story which ended all too abruptly in 2007, fans’ support for the project also served as a rebuttal of the studio opinion that a Veronica Mars follow-up couldn’t be a success.

For series creator Rob Thomas, launching the Kickstarter campaign was the final roll of the dice; he’d been trying to get the film off the ground for several years, and after a long struggle, it seems that crowd funding will finally convince Warner Bros – who hold the Mars rights – that the project is viable.

As Simon pointed out in his piece yesterday, the Veronica Mars campaign is likely to mark a considerable change in the way films are funded and promoted. For the past year or so, we’ve seen all kinds of videogames, documentaries and other artistic projects acquire their funding through Kickstarter, and the sheer enthusiasm with which the Mars project has been met will surely popularise the notion of crowd funding further. After all, what could be more democratic than allowing fans to choose which projects they’d like to see, rather than leaving that decision to money lenders and studio executives?

Already, articles and comments sections are awash with suggestions for future campaigns. Firefly is one name which has, understandably, come up time and again. Other revival ideas include Deadwood, Community, The X-Files and a sequel to last year’s Dredd. They’re all worthy candidates, and speaking personally, I’d throw in reboots or adaptations of obscure 80s TV shows Star Fleet and Ulysses 31.

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There is, however, a potential downside to the attention the Veronica Mars campaign has brought to Kickstarter. Since it began in 2009, the site has attracted a broad range of artists and entrepreneurs, and their proposals have varied from small arts projects to huge, multi-million dollar ventures, such as the Ouya console, which raised a remarkable $8m last year.

Thus far, the mix between small and large projects has been a healthy one. Pledges amounting to $319.8m were placed against 18,109 projects in 2012, mostly in the fields of music and games. Kickstarter has also been a huge help to independent filmmaking, with 10 per cent of the films shown at the Sundance film festival having been funded through the site.

As Tech Crunch recently wrote, Veronica Mars is the first Kickstarter project to have links to a major film studio – in this instance, Warner Bros, its distributor. Had Warner not agreed to allow Rob Thomas to place Veronica Mars on Kickstarter, the project never would have happened, as Thomas himself put it:

Of course, Warner Bros. still owns Veronica Mars and we would need their blessing and cooperation to pull this off. Kristen and I met with the Warner Bros. brass, and they agreed to allow us to take this shot. They were extremely cool about it, as a matter of fact. Their reaction was, if you can show there’s enough fan interest to warrant a movie, we’re on board.

Veronica Mars is therefore a (so far) successful experiment for Warner, and we can be sure that both it and other studios – both in movies and television – will begin to think about Kickstarter as a potential proving ground for its projects. The platform makes perfect sense from a business standpoint; it tests audience reaction and builds publicity, and also generates an initial investment which, unlike traditional forms of bankrolling from banks, doesn’t have to be paid back with interest.

The strong possibility, then – especially if the resulting film is a hit – is that we’ll see a considerable number of major film and TV projects like Veronica Mars appear on Kickstarter over the next few months or so. Whether they’ll involve the sorts of names geeks love to dream about – Firefly and so forth – remains to be seen, but given the emphatic response to the Veronica Mars Kickstarter, studios and producers would be foolish not to explore this avenue.

What’s potentially quite worrying is that, with big names and major projects grabbing headlines, capturing headlines and prising open wallets, attention will be drawn away from smaller campaigns and unknown artists – and those are precisely the people Kickstarter was set up to support.

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We’ve already heard complaints from certain quarters over the use of Kickstarter by established videogame designers, such as Peter Molyneux, David Braben and Tim Schafer, when they could use their fame and respectability to secure funding via other means. There’s a certain validity to that argument, and it’s one that would also apply to film and TV producers should they user Kickstarter to get their own projects off the ground – particularly if they’re based on pre-existing properties.

There’s an alternate possibility, perhaps, that a second crowd funding website should be started up by major producers and filmmakers. Audiences are clearly embracing the idea of paying a certain amount of money up-front for projects that excite them, so why not introduce it as a formal part of the film financing process? “It would have been far more appropriate had [Warner] just set up a ticket pre-sale store on its own website,” was how Ben put it in his article over at HeyUGuys.

Veronica Mars marks an important moment in filmmaking, and its success should be applauded. How far-reaching its impact will be remains to be seen, but whatever happens on Kickstarter in the future, I merely hope that lesser-known artists and filmmakers continue to have their ideas noticed and funded, and aren’t overwhelmed by the sheer number of familiar and more lucrative names clamouring for our attention and money.

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