Yesterday the internet strained under the pressure of countless Twitter updates as people pointed to the Kickstarter project kicked off by actress Kristen Bell and writer Rob Thomas to get a Veronica Mars film off the ground, an initiative they succeeded in since the goal was met in less than 10 hours. The idea of a movie based on the popular TV show, which ran for three seasons, has been circulating since the show went off the air but, while fans have been behind the idea the studio has always balked, presumably under the belief that the core fanbase isn’t broad enough to make a feature film a successful venture.
But, as much as I’d like to see this movie, I think it indicates both a problem with the Hollywood system and with the idea of what a good use of Kickstarter or other crowd-sourcing platform.
Bell, Thomas and the rest of the people behind the show are not outsiders. They are firmly entrenched within the Hollywood system. To date that system has said “No” to the idea of this movie. Which is disappointing, sure, but these folks have access to the people behind the proverbial curtain, who are – rightly or wrongly – acting in their roles as gatekeepers between creators and the money they want.
Crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter are meant not for people like this but for those outside the system who don’t have access to resources and so instead are turning to what are essentially special interest groups to get their projects off the ground.
I don’t want to this down completely. Kickstarter can be a great marketing tool and even this appears to be more of a “proof of concept” execution than anything else, as the studio has said if the campaign can reach their goal then they will distribute the film. But it’s fundamentally not meant for people who have been shot down by the system that they’re already a part of as a way to get their pet projects made.
It makes me wish actually for an alternate fandom model, one that asks people to pledge to buy tickets or do so in advance instead of asking them for production capital. That can be found anywhere, including in the back pockets of the kind of talent involved in the Veronica Mars movie campaign. That feels more intellectually honest to me than asking fans to pony up cash in advance for a movie or other project.
On the studio end of this equation, I’m at a loss to see what they downside is that has kept them from greenlighting this project for so long? If a movie can be made for $2 million or so it’s almost guaranteed to make it’s money back from the existing fans alone. I’m guessing, though, that it not falling into either the “easily franchisable” or “prestige project” categories is what has kept them from committing. That’s a shame since there are so many movies, this one included, that fall into that middle ground and which are worth producing.
I also have to wonder why this needs to be a feature film. Would it be easier to market if it were a series of three 50-minute episodes that were released on-demand? That seems like a model more likely to reach a mass audience of fans of the show in a way that is easy for them to get. And it reduces many of the problems that crop up when you are planning for a theatrical release. That being said I can easily see how making it a movie provides more closure for fans, helps make it feel like an event and so on.
Again, I love the fact that Bell, Thomas and the others want to do something for the “marshmellows,” the fans of the show who have remained loyal and interested in more stories over the years. So my problems here are not personal. They’re more indicative of a model that I think is broken than anything else.