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by Bryce J. Renninger
March 13, 2013 6:46 PM
6 Comments
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Five Reasons WB's 'Veronica Mars' Experiment Won't Be the Last Time a Studio Goes on Kickstarter

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.

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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.

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6 Comments

  • James | March 14, 2013 9:12 PMReply

    "I believe you receive a digital download of the film for a $35 pledge. $50 you get a dvd copy."

    Which is why this Kickstarter is a huge ripoff. Normally with other non-movie projects supporters get something back that is of greater value than their donation. Take game Kickstarters for example. $20-35 usually gets you the game plus a bunch of extras. That about less than half the retail price of a normal game through Amazon or Steam.

    This does nothing but set a bad precedent for other big studios to take advantage of blind fandom.

  • Cory | March 14, 2013 7:21 PMReply

    This seems like a win on the surface - and probably in the long run as well...

    But below this is the fact (which no one talks about) that it's just one more way for Hollywood to outsource financing/ production of films they would have made 10 years ago (ok, maybe 15) to China (aka as "indie" producers) who can make it for 10% of the price that a studio can.

    Instead of spending $30mil on a unique, small film, they'll let (insert indie producer name) make it for under $5mil in a way they never could themselves (couch surfing, union avoidance, favor begging...) and then they'll "buy" it for $1mil and it'll gross as much as if they'd actually spent the $30mil. And after "marketing" and so on, the "indie" producer is left with little to no overages.

    We have to wake up to the fact that the majority of the jobs that used to exist in the film industry have been outsourced to China. The studios are making more by producing less. Sound familiar? Auto industry? Clothing manufacturing?

  • Jordan | March 14, 2013 10:57 AMReply

    We're always complaining about how the studios are risk-averse and how this makes their decisions about what gets made unrepresentative of what the public wants. The public is given the opportunity to team up with the studios and actually have a role in what gets made and all we can do is - - - - and moan about how this "isn't what Kickstarter was meant to do.
    Crowdfunding has only been around for a few years, who are we to say what it was meant to do or what is capable of doing? Not saying anything bad about your article Mr. Renninger, more criticizing the public response to the phenomenon.

  • Denny | March 15, 2013 2:32 PM

    WB knows GOOD and well that a show like Veronica Mars ALREADY has a large, dedicated fanbase. It's an established major property that was on a major TV network for quite a long time for a show like that. And you're telling me that it's a "risk" for them to spend a measly $2 million on it to make it into a feature length movie?

    What this is is market research for studios, that WE freaking pay for. "Oh, you want _____ back on the air or made into a movie? Wellllll we dunno, we rich peoples don't want to lose our money, so if you PROVE to us that you REALLY want this to happen, pay upfront and or else!" Threatening to pull the plug on a property if fans don't prove their loyalty by fronting a part of the bill so they don't have to.

    Yeah no. **** that. It's one thing for an independent entity that doesn't have the same access to resources to start a campaign to raise money for a new idea that they really believe in. It's an entirely different thing to take advantage of people's overzealous fandom and blind loyalty so they won't have to front as much of the bill because new/risky ideas are too scary for them.

    Hell this very well may signal studios to take even LESS risks now. Even LESS incentive to create new, original properties. Why do that if they can just take existing properties (as usual) but this time not even have to PAY for these kinds of projects to get off the ground if the fans are going to be so overly eager to dump money in their laps before freakin pre-production begins? We're basically pre-ordering movies the same way we pre-order games now. And anyone who paid attention to the Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle knows how ugly it's GOING to get sooner or later.

    The more I think about this, the more I facepalm at the direction the movie industry is heading toward.

  • DougW | March 13, 2013 11:34 PMReply

    I believe you receive a digital download of the film for a $35 pledge. $50 you get a dvd copy.

  • Jlw | March 17, 2013 6:11 PM

    This show was cancelled about six years ago. So if the wb wanted to do something with this series probably would of done it. The creator also being trying for years to get it done. Also for the 35 dollars, you can also get a PDF of the script and updates. In the end that probably cost about that much or more.