When Rob Thomas launched the Kickstarter campaign to turn his TV series "Veronica Mars" into a feature-length film, "Veronica Mars" became the first film attached to a major studio (in this case, Warner Bros.) to host a campaign on Kickstarter. (Kickstarter confirmed this to Indiewire today.)
In the coverage of the launch of the campaign, one quote from Thomas' explanation of the project was repeated again and again:
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. So this is it. This is our shot. I believe it's the only one we've got. It's nerve-wracking. I suppose we could fail in spectacular fashion, but there's also the chance that we completely revolutionize how projects like ours can get made. No Kickstarter project ever has set a goal this high. It's up to you, the fans, now. If the project is successful, our plan is to go into production this summer and the movie will be released in early 2014.
And so the narrative that this is a risky move for Warner Bros., and that they were reluctant has been spread over the Internet a few thousand times over. While Thomas and Bell probably needed to show off some Twitter data and fan sites to prove the "Veronica Mars" fervor was still alive, the WB top brass is probably elated at the project's success as the project looks on the road to cash in on its $2 million goal today.
But there are a number of reasons this plan is built to succeed, and not cost Warner Bros. much of anything. So while the studio has done nothing but be a naysayer, they'll take advantage of the outpouring of support for the show.
1.) The publicity is free.
We all know there's a lot more than production costs that go into funding a film. If the publicity machine that lets the world know the product is going to exist hardly costs anything (one imagines the actors were paid for their appearance in the Kickstarter video).
2.) The funds for the film are raised up front.
This one goes without saying, but it's a really big deal. It would probably be difficult for the producers to make the film they're imagining with $2 million (minus credit card fees and Kickstarter's cut) but there's no telling what the campaign will end at. This is something close to a no-risk production for the studio.
3.) Who needs a huge theatrical?
Collecting geographical data from Kickstarter donors is a pretty easy way to see where the most enthusiasm for the film can be. Chances are a fair amount of enthusiasm is coming from New York and Los Angeles, where week-long theatricals guarantee reviews in nationally respected publications anyway...more free publicity.
4.) The product doesn't have to be any good.
While this is true, and many people have already given up non-refundable donations to the film, having individuals from across the country, from across the world say that they're excited to see your film is a good way to make sure the film is actually good. But studios need not intrude like one imagines they did on films like "Battleship" to make sure the film is any good and hits all the sweet spots of audiences that market research says are potentially interested in the film.
5.) The Internet (and therefore, Kickstarter) is the place where fans come to geek out about their favorite films and TV shows.
What does well on Kickstarter? Games, gadgets and geek culture. Before the "Veronica Mars" monolith, the top five funded projects included two films about video games, a film produced by David Fincher, a film by Michel Gondry, and a film based on a viral gay marriage video. Expect to see studios or other media conglomerates use crowdfunding to see how much money should really be spent on a film reboot or a film component of a media campaign.
As more studio-owned properties head to crowdfunding platforms, expect the price points on actually receiving the product to become more reasonable (Thomas set a copy of the "Veronica Mars" film at the $50 donation level). As we've said when talking about celebrities on Kickstarter, there's a precedent of using Kickstarter as a marketplace. Only the first few film projects will be able to get away with over-charging on their rewards.
Building an audience for a film using crowdfunding is one way to make high-risk films out of old properties and to gauge how much more you should spend on said film. Who knows what will come of this? Perhaps more "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movies. Perhaps we'll get that "Ghostbusters" movie sooner than we expected. Or maybe big companies like WB will just have found another way to milk money from its audience.