Why the Veronica Mars Kickstarter may just change the film industry and the universe, as we know it

5 Apr

That may be a slight exaggeration but hear me out.

I wanted to be Veronica Mars. I wanted to be the cool, sassy outcast who everyone secretly wants to be, who solves crimes that the incompetent police cannot, who wears improbably expensive clothes for someone from the poor side of town, who has a high number of guys chat her up and smoulder at her, who has witty remark for every occasion and a cool Phillip Marlowe-esque internal monologue describing her every action. I really loved that show.

Created by Rob Thomas, who originally envisioned it as a novel, Veronica Mars follows the titular heroine (Kristen Bell) in her hometown of Neptune, California. The story starts when her best friend Lily (a pre-fame Amanda Seyfried) is brutally murdered and her Sherriff father wrongly arrests Lily’s Dad as the culprit. He loses his job and Veronica is quickly dropped by her ultra rich friends and ex-boyfriend (who is also Lily’s brother) and becomes the subject of ridicule. While her father becomes a PI (and sometimes enlists Veronica to help) she begins an investigation of her own which spans the entire first series, with many of the plot points becoming important in the second series.

Reasons why I love Veronica Mars: the title character, the supporting characters, the ace opening theme, the way class is dealt with in the show, the neo-noir vibe and the way it deals with tough issues e.g. date rape, racism and multiculturalism, domestic abuse etc. I could go on and on in extreme detail but that would just bore you. Rent the DVD and find out for yourself. In the meantime get a taste with the (extremely spoilery) fan made video below:

The show was cancelled after its (disappointing, pretend I didn’t say that!) third series though a fourth was planned with Bell as the only remaining cast member and followed Veronica’s work i tried to protest to keep the show on air until Thomas informed them that there was no chance.

But wait…

Internet Fandom to the rescue! On 13th March 2013, Thomas created a Kickstarter for the long wished for Veronica Mars movie. Funnily Kickstarter has its origins in another cancelled show beloved by fans, Arrested Development. However it would be three years before the sight was up and running and AD is getting its own (non crowd funded) movie. The basic premise for Kickstarter is you use it to crowd fund an arts or tech project (video games make up most of the top ten projects), you pick an amount to raise and a time period and if enough people back you within the time limit you keep the money and deliver the project to your fan base. Prizes and incentive including DVDs, signed scripts, producer credits etc. are often offered as incentives to back a project. Song writer Amanda Palmer is a huge advocate of Kickstarter  (and social media in general as a tool to connect artists with their audiences) using the project to fund her independently produced album and proclaims the benefits of this radical way of making art.

With the Veronica Mars project Thomas had one month to make the $2million (pennies in TV land) to fund the movie.

They reached their goal in under 12 hours. A Kickstarter record. Warner Brothers agreed to back the project the next day.  At the time of writing the project has amassed over $3million and the counter is still going.

So why is this so important. TV is driven by money, which comes from advertisers who are interested in the viewing figures. The success of this project means that the ultimate power rests not with the network executives or even the advertising companies but with the viewer, and not just the casual viewers but particularly the fans.  They have become an active part of the process of creative TV rather than just a passive recipient of what the networks make. The logical conclusion to this is that the audience has the power to choose what shows get made in the first place.

This has lead some fans to speculate that other shows, namely Joss Whedon’s space western Firefly and Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies might receive “The Kickstarter Treatment”. However, while Veronica Mars was relatively cheap (in TV terms) to make both Pushing Daisies and Firefly relied on intricate sets and lots of special effects to convincingly portray their narrative worlds.

Alongside this is the issue of who owns the rights. Rob Thomas was lucky enough to get Warner Brothers on board but how do we know the same can be said for Fox or other networks? Add to that the fact that at the end of the day show business is just that – a business and the fact is the powers that be felt that Veronica Mars’ (and other cancelled shows) viewing figures weren’t high enough for it to be a viable product so why pour more money into it?

As Alan Sepinwall writes in his article on Hit Flix:

…Simply by going first, the “Veronica Mars” movie gets to benefit not only from the love of fans of the show, but from the interest of people who like the idea of crowd funding, and of people who want to see this one succeed so that their favorite might have a shot down the road…

Things are tentative at the moment. The success of the Veronica Mars movie doesn’t guarantee that similar projects will work but the genie has been let out of the bottle. Whereas before crowd funding was the domain of the Indie scene it has been demonstrated to have some mainstream appeal and anything that gives fans a measure of control over shows and series they love can’t be a bad thing right?

Whatever happens next, whether this kick starts (excuse the pun) the new era of content making or it is merely an interesting and unique footnote in TV history, crowd funding will at least always have a place among the smaller artists and writers who are struggling for recognition and funding and at least we’re getting a Veronica Mars movie.

Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging or tweeting, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.

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