We spoke briefly yesterday about the already-record breaking Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter, but that post was mostly to express our unbridled enthusiasm, our uncontrollable excitement about the possibility and then certainty of a return to Neptune. However, it would be irresponsible of us to talk about this revival, and convey our joy, without considering the very real ramifications of this money-making endeavor. The Veronica Mars movie, having already surpassed its $2 million goal by $1.3 million, has completely changed the paradigm for what a Kickstarter can be, and, certainly, raises the question of what it should be.
The obvious issue with this fundraising format is that Veronica Mars fans – you, me, Steve, Tom – are essentially not only paying for the production of the movie, and not only paying for the production of the movie so Warner Bros. doesn’t have to, but we’re paying for the production of the movie so Warner Bros. doesn’t have to and handing them the profits. There’s no backend deal here, there’s no recouping on our initial investment. We will not be entitled to any portion of the net. Meanwhile, while we pour our millions of dollars, perhaps contributing a significant portion of our incomes, spending money we really don’t have, a giant movie studio will reap the benefits. It’s easy to think – and very pragmatic to do so – that they have hundreds of millions of dollars to sink into the Harry Potter franchise, and then they have hundreds of million dollars to extract from the Harry Potter franchise, and they can’t fork over a measly two million for this little passion project? That’s not necessarily a cynical, misguided outlook. But it also doesn’t paint an accurate picture.
As VM creator Rob Thomas has noted (including in this in-depth interview with Alan Sepinwall) there was no other way (or no other options available) to fund a Veronica Mars movie. Fans have been clamoring for a film version since the show signed off somewhat abruptly in 2007, hoping for the tying up of loose ends while simultaneously providing a new, satisfying, self-contained story. Thomas, for his part, has been clamoring just as loudly, being very vocal on Twitter and in interviews about his unceasing desire to revisit the world of Neptune (as has series star Kristen Bell, who’s never given up hope of returning to the title character, even as her Hollywood stock has rose in the intervening years). He has, in one way or another, been campaigning for a movie since the credits rolled on the series finale, and that drumbeat has never quieted. Unfortunately, fervent, cult-like adoration has little chance against financial reality, that being that the economics of a Veronica Mars movie have not – and still don’t – made monetary sense for the studio. Logic dictates if the show could barely survive for three seasons – really making it to seasons two and three by the very skin of its teeth – then why would it be a bankable commodity as a feature film? Yes, there can be a petition of tens of thousands of Veronica Mars fans pledging their support to a Veronica Mars movie, but tens of thousands of fans does not a successful, viable movie make. Hollywood is not in the business of giving out favors to writers and directors like Thomas who’ve never really delivered a profitable product just because the studios are sentimental, because they recognize how much it would mean to passionate die-hard fans; if they did, they wouldn’t be in business. The understandable instinct is that Warner Bros. has tons of money and they realize that Veronica Mars has an incredibly loyal and committed fan base so they could and should just pony up a couple million – basically the cost of a single episode – and they wouldn’t even break a sweat. But, unfortunately, that’s not the reality.
So if we admit that the studio wasn’t going to put up the capital for the production of the movie – that it was against their best interests – then we can assert that a Kickstarter (or some other kind of crowdsource funding) was the only avenue for getting the film made. However, the moral (or ethical) dilemma here is should we be giving our money, our personal disposable income, to a movie, to essentially a for-profit venture, especially when there are so many worthwhile causes on Kickstarter. Moreover, has the Veronica Mars Kickstarter violated the spirit of the site? Should Kickstarter just be for campaigns and organizations that have some kind of positive mission or purpose, or to support those small projects that truly need a donation to get off the ground? By using Kickstarter for such a commercial product, has the Veronica Mars movie undermined Kickstarter, taking away from truly deserving entities and encouraging a flood of campaigns that have no discernible socio, political or economical benefit to the general public? Well, yes to the latter, by not necessarily to the former.
We can only speak for ourselves, but we pledged $35 to the Veronica Mars Kickstarter and did so happily. We did, however, pause briefly to consider how and where we were spending our money, that perhaps our $35 would be better served applied to a more “legitimate” or altruistic cause. We pondered the moral and ethical ramifications. We thought about the fact we gave as much (or maybe less) to Hurricane Sandy relief. It was a pickle, a sour one. But, in the end, we decided to become a VM backer and, upon reflecting, we’re completely content with our decision. Because by contributing to this cause we’ve put our money towards something tangible, something we know can and will happen. Essentially, we’ve just pre-paid for our movie ticket and the DVD (indeed, that’s basically what we’ll receive for the $35 donation anyway). Yes, there’s the hangup about giving money to a giant movie studio – an evil empire (can we use that term, Yankees?) – but those same questions and doubts exist when you donate to almost any cause. In fact, we feel more comfortable with this donation, than, say, providing food and medical supplies to the opposition forces in Syria, because in cases like that we just don’t know enough about the situation, about how the money will ultimately be used. Inevitably, it feels like there is some misappropriation, some dark underbelly, some controversy, or some unintended consequences. Ultimately, it always feels like there’s some kind of buyer beware, whether it’s because we live in an age of undying cynicism or because we are often subject to very real deception. Even with the Red Cross and hurricane relief there’s some doubt, some opaqueness, about where your donation will end up. And even if your money used properly and in the way was designed, it’s rare when you can actually see, point to the results. As silly and as contradictory as it may sound, a Veronica Mars Kickstarter feels more transparent than other charities and non-profits and “worthwhile” causes. While their goal might be questionable from an ethical perspective, there’s no question about what their goal is.
And, unlike other fundraising campaigns, we know what we’re getting. We’re getting a Veronica Mars movie. And one day we’ll hold that in our hands. We couldn’t be happier about it.