the dark side of the Veronica Mars movie

I had this idea years ago, for the record. You don’t have to believe me but Kel and I talked about funding a movie we wanted to make by setting up a website that would allow people to invest in our movie and receive a share of the profits based on the percentage of their investment. So, you invest $5 – we make $20 million and you walk with $20. But the genius in the idea wasn’t what later became known as crowd-funding. The key to the whole idea was to cast fan favorites. People from cult hits and sci-fi shows – the kind of people who didn’t necessarily have the biggest fanbase, but definitely had the most fervent. Because those fans are the kind of people that will through $20 into the pot, not for the $50 return on their investment but for the chance to be a part of something; to be connected to this person that is the object of their passionate affection.


Cast the right person for the right role, of course. But also be strategic about delving into fandom and letting fans be a part of something they care about.

Then a year or so later kickstarter comes along and a few other websites and crowd-funding is a thing. But this week someone finally stepped onto that fan ledge and let them have a voice and everyone is talking about the results.

People think the Veronica Mars movie is going to reinvent how kickstarter is used. or How movies get made. or How beloved shows can have a second life. Everyone but the fans are blown away because they’ve never seen anything like this before and they don’t know what to do with it.

Because they still don’t know geeks.

The rest of us, aren’t surprised at all.

So, there you have it – someone said, ‘Hey, if you want a Veronica Mars movie all you have to do is pay for it.’ And before you know it, done and done.

The odd thing is the people who are complaining. I mean, who doesn’t think a Veronica Mars movie is a good idea?

But this article over at Collider sparked at least half this post. Most of their arguments I don’t care about one way or another, to be honest. Who cares if this is good for other projects on kickstarter or if fans should pay $35 for a t-shirt and a digital download or whether it’s unfair to criticize it for being good at kickstart. Who’s criticizing. We get a Veronica Mars movie! Isn’t that the whole point?

The biggest objection in the Collider article, and the only one worth countering, is that studios shouldn’t play in kickstarter waters. Because they have so much more than $2 million dollars at their disposal it’s… unethical? uncool? exploitative is the word they actually used. The essence of their argument being, if WB is going to make a Veronica Mars movie – pay for it yourself. Don’t ask the fans to fund it for you.

Except, WB wasn’t going to make the movie. Rob Thomas had tried reinventing the show and by all accounts had tried to get the movie off the ground and the answer was always, no. Yes, typically studios handle the financial burden of producing the movies they release. You know what else they do? Purchase distribution rights to movies someone else produced and handle marketing and publicity. In this case, they don’t have to expend money to acquire the distribution rights, but the rest of it looks pretty much the same.

But the fans are having to pay for their own movie! Isn’t it exploiting their adulation to get them to pay for something they want to see instead of WB funding it themselves?

Except WB was never going to fund it. This isn’t a case of WB saying, “We kind of want to make this movie but don’t really want to pay for it. What can we do?” WB said, if you want a movie, pay for it yourself. Because we don’t want it. We don’t care about it. We’re not going to put any money into this.

To me, there’s a comparison here of asking fans to buy books. You want to read book 3 in the Thief Errant series? Buy more copies of books 1 and 2. Show us, by the dollars you spend, that this is worth our effort.

It’s like making a sequel, only fans do that unconsciously all the time. You want to see The Hangover 3? Spend gobs of money on the first and second film.

Studios and media companies ask fans to show their support all the time by putting their money where their fandom is. But rarely do fans get the chance to have such a direct impact; to be empowered to literally get a movie they want made without having to beg the studio to make it or the network to renew it or the stars to realign their schedules and make it.

Is there a fine line between empowering and exploitation? Does it hinge on the full knowledge and willingness of both parties?

Because no one lied about how this whole thing would come about. None of the fans thought their money was doing anything other than buying them a Veronica Mars movie.

And do you think for a moment that Thomas wasn’t flooded with calls from producers around town who wanted to pitch in an extra million or two to be profit participants? Because they suddenly recognized the value in his property and the passion of the fans.

Because that was the key difference between my idea and kickstarter. I was going to give people money back.

March 15, 2013 | Commentary | this post contains affiliate links