In defense of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter project

Veronica Mars

Good news, people. There’s going to be a Veronica Mars movie, a continuation of the mostly great 2005-07 TV series that featured Kristen Bell as a whipcrack-smart pixie detective who solves crimes while navigating the hells of high school and later college. Though the second season was a little bit of a comedown after the show’s brilliant first year, and the overly dour third and final season was clearly mucked up by studio interference, the Mars universe continued to resonate enough that fans never stopped hoping the show would one day return in some capacity.

Well, that day has come, thanks to a Kickstarter project that Bell and series creator Rob Thomas launched yesterday morning with a cute little video featuring members of the show’s cast. It took less than 11 hours for the project to hit the $2 million goal necessary to ensure a green light. (Yes, I was among the donators.) But it’s not all huzzahs and party favors. There’s a sizable group of grumps out there, including folks who know the business and whose opinions I respect on other matters, who seem absolutely baffled (and borderline livid) that fans would be stupid enough to fund what they see as a corporate enterprise. Look, no doubt, there are some gray issues involved here — which we’ll get to a minute — but I don’t see how anyone who loves great storytelling could be anything but inspired by how this has gone down.

So let’s tackle some of the common questions and complaints I’ve heard today, shall we?

1. Why are fans okay with the fact that Warner Bros., the multinational corporation which owns the rights to Veronica Mars, is allowing them to pay for the movie rather than financing it themselves?

Well, the thing here is I’m not really seeing this as a Warner Bros. movie. Yeah, they’ll distribute it, for which I’m guessing they’ll be paid a fee, which is fair. But it’s not like the money earned from donations will go straight into Warner’s bank vaults; it’ll go toward making the movie. Now, there is the matter of what happens to any profits made from the film’s release. That’s a valid point that raises sticky ethical dilemmas. Truthfully, I’m not sure (and I’m not sure anyone else is sure) where exactly that money would go. I’m also skeptical that enough regular folk would be interested enough in a Veronica Mars movie for it to turn a profit in the first place. Remember, even with the fans covering the film’s shooting budget, I assume Warner Bros. will still have to pay for distribution and marketing. But if it does make money upon release and Warner Bros. gets a cut, I can understand people being annoyed as it’s money earned from a publicly-financed movie the studio didn’t even want to make.

But even this minor annoyance doesn’t dilute the basic purity of the project. Fans who donated (including myself) don’t want profits and are fully aware that we’re not entitled to any. We just want the damn movie. That’s the transaction, and everyone understands it. Essentially, Kickstarter allows customers to set their own ticket price to ensure the film gets made. Obviously studio accountants didn’t think a Veronica Mars movie could have been profitable under a normal theatrical/home-release model. Thomas and Bell repeatedly tried to convince them otherwise to no avail. But under the Kickstarter model, fans choose to pay more than the average ticket price to push the film into production. Right now, the most common pledge amount is $35, which means there are enough people willing to pay that much money to guarantee they’ll get to watch the movie next year.

Also, everyone needs to keep in mind that if you donated $35 or up, you get a free digital version of the film within days of the film’s theatrical debut, which means a huge portion of the movie’s backers aren’t even required to then go buy a ticket to go see it. They’ll be able to watch it right at home without spending a dollar more, if they so choose.

2. Aren’t Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas rich? Why are they asking other people for money? Why couldn’t they just fund the movie themselves?

First of all, I have no idea how much money Bell and Thomas have stashed in their bank account. I would assume $2 million — which, despite being the Kickstarter goal, is really the low end of what this movie can be made for — is a sizable chunk of change for either of them. I also find it completely reasonable to ask the fan community at large to fund the project in tiny low-risk increments — $35 is less money than it costs to go to a rock concert — rather than have the show’s creators risk hundreds of thousands or more by ponying up the entire budget themselves. Plus, it’s safe to assume that Thomas, Bell and the rest of the cast will be working at a salary far below what they are usually paid. You can choose to believe or not that this movie is a labor of love for them too, but it feels genuine to me.

3. Why are fans contributing money to a movie they’ll have no say in and that might not even be good?

Hitfix’s Drew McWeeny tweeted a variation of this one, and I must say … it’s a sentiment that is all kinds of dumb. I didn’t donate my money to establish some type of fractional authorship over a new Veronica Mars movie. I donated it so Thomas and Bell can make the movie they want to make unimpeded. End of story. And, of course, no one is ever guaranteed a good movie, but, in this case, people obviously feel comfortable supporting a creative team that has earned their trust.

4. This is bullshit! The money you donated would be so much better spent by going to cancer research or by funding a struggling artist who actually needs it!

I mean … yeah. But guess what? Donating to one does not preclude donating to the others. No one out there was about to give money to a poet living in a two-room apartment and then saw the Veronica Mars Kickstarter and decided to put it there instead. And it seems overly harsh to say that people should feel ashamed putting their money toward something that doesn’t serve to better the world in some large-scale capacity. Storytelling as entertainment is important, and sometimes great storytelling runs into roadblocks caused by low ratings, studio interference and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with people giving money to filmmakers they admire to continue producing adventures in a universe they enjoy. Especially when the filmmakers themselves spent a half a decade exhausting all other possible options first. Plus, just in general, telling other people how they should spend their money kind of makes you an asshat.

So those are my counter arguments, for the moment anyway. This kind of fan-funded film project has never happened before on this scale, and that’s no doubt that opinions, including my own, could shift as we see how this plays out in terms of the Veronica Mars movie’s release as well as the inevitable follow-up Kickstarter projects. (Already today, Shawn Ryan was making noise about a Terriers movie, and Bryan Fuller alluded to a Pushing Daisies continuation.) Still, it’s exciting how artists continue to use the Web to create and promote their product in ways that weren’t possible 10 years ago, from the student filmmaker posting his or her short films to YouTube all the way up to known talents using fan support to revive a beloved cult property we all thought was long dead. To me, both are valid. One hopes the latter won’t end up hopelessly corrupted, as some are already worrying about. But, so far, I don’t see any sign of that here. Just a lot of love for a TV show that burned bright and died far too soon.