Mars Madness

Earlier this week, like a large portion of the internet, I was excited and fascinated when Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign to finally fund a much-discussed, long-overdue Veronica Mars film. Since the show’s complicated demise during the 2006-2007 TV season (more on that in a minute), Thomas and star Kristen Bell have been diligently trying to bring Veronica and the residents of Neptune, California to the big screen but lack of studio interest has stalled the project each and every time the topic has been brought up. Until now.

“The Veronica Mars Movie Project” was launched early Wednesday morning with a modest goal of $2 million and in a remarkable, “only by the power of the internet” sort of way, it surpassed that goal by early evening. As I write this, they are closing in on the $3.3 million benchmark and there are still 28 days left to go for the campaign.

As is the norm these days, the internet quickly went from curious to excited to skeptical to straight-up bitter in a matter of hours. If you were online at all Wednesday afternoon, you know that this graphic by Matt Patches is in no way an exaggeration:

As a “back in the day” fan of Veronica Mars (I own a complete set of Veronica Mars trading cards, guys), I was thrilled at the idea of the Kickstarter campaign, then puzzled by the negative reaction to it and by night’s end, full-on perturbed by it. I’ve read more articles and tweets on the topic than I could list here (I’ve had a bit of a rabbit hole situation the past few days, that’s for sure) but if you ask me, much of the aggression/confusion/cynicism surrounding the project seems to come from a place of knee-jerk reactions and/or ignorance, be it willing or not. So I thought I’d tackle some of the more prevalent questions here, mostly for my own peace of mind:

  • Why can’t Rob Thomas and/or Kristen Bell just finance the movie themselves? They’re being lazy/selfish/taking advantage of fans.
    • For one thing, if you think a TV writer who is best known for 2 shows most people have never heard of (Mars and Party Down) that ran on 3 networks most people have never heard of (UPN, The CW and Starz) and the star of YOU AGAIN have millions of dollars laying around, you probably have an unrealistic idea of how the entertainment industry works. But as a matter of fact self-financing was discussed at several points over the years, with Thomas and Bell even exploring the possibility of a low-budget webseries to close out the story of Neptune. The problem has always been that Warner Bros. owns the rights to Veronica Mars and basically said that the property was not “financially viable” enough for studio to make a movie and yet apparently valuable enough that they were unwilling to give up the rights to let a movie be made independently. Warner Bros. has basically been squatting on the rights to this property for 6 YEARS. The fact that they even agreed to let this Kickstarter go forward is a win within itself. The campaign is a way to make everyone happy: the creatives get to make their movie, the fans get to see their movie (and receive snazzy rewards for donating) and Warner Bros. gets the guarantee that there is indeed an audience for this film.
  • Why should Warner Bros. be able to invest nothing and then rake in the cash if the movie is a hit? Why are fans paying for it and getting nothing in return?
    • Well first off, the obvious return for fans is the movie’s existence. It wasn’t going to be made and now it is. So. That is something. Secondly, as Willa Paskin over at Salon points out, technically audiences have been “financing” studio movies for years, the only difference is now we’re actually getting to finance one we specifically want to see:

“The reality is that mass culture consumers — movie attendees, DVD purchasers, music buyers — regularly give money to companies like Warner Bros. And it is that money with which they take “their” risks. Yes, Warner Bros. typically fronts the money for a movie and then it succeeds or fails at the box office on the strength of our wallets, but that money — the money from our wallets — is part of what goes into their next movie. So, sure, Warner Bros. paid for Rock of Ages and it was a flop, but some of the money that went into Rock of Ages came from the insane success of, say, The Lord of the Rings movies. We’ve been funding Warner Bros.’ projects without getting a payout long before Veronica Mars. At least I want to see a Veronica Mars movie — I can’t say the same about the next Hobbit.”

    • On another note, do we really expect Warner Bros. to turn a profit from this? The audience is funding the movie but Warner Bros. is paying for distribution, promotion and marketing. So they are putting money in. And a low-rated TV show being adapted into a low-budget movie doesn’t realistically seem like blockbuster material. Did we learn nothing from Serenity? A low-rated show made a big-budget, studio-funded movie and nobody saw it. (I saw it 7 times but that is beside the point.) And aren’t space cowboy operas a tad more marketable than teen detective noirs?

  • Why are people being forced to pay for this movie twice, once to fund it and once to see it once it comes out?
    • Generally speaking, fan culture doesn’t have a problem paying for things multiple times, whether it be for DVD double-dips, variant merchandise or just simple encores of our favorite films (I just said I saw Serenity 7 times – my record is 13 trips to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World). However in the case of Veronica Mars, most won’t necessarily be paying for the film twice. Warner Bros. has promised a “limited theatrical run” along with a VOD release. The size of the theatrical release is unknown at this time but “limited run” usually means big cities like Los Angeles and New York so it is possible that the film may not even come to every fan’s city. To solve this problem, a $35 donation will gets you a digital copy of the film “within a few days of the movie’s release”. You’re only paying for it once. If you want to wait and see if it comes to your city or watch it on VOD but are weary of being spoiled/can’t wait to find out the story, $10 gets you a PDF of the script on the day of release. And again, it all comes down to: if you don’t pay, the movie doesn’t exist.  Most people who care about seeing this movie made don’t mind the extra step.
      • How is this much different from someone paying to see a movie in theatres and then paying to own it on DVD a few months later?
  • You’re terrible people. Everyone donating to this project should be donating to charity instead.
    • That money you’re spending on that internet service that you’re using to tell people they’re terrible? Why aren’t you donating that to charity? Or the money you spend on your cable bill? Or Netflix? Or anything else trivial or non-essential you have in your life? We all have things that we like and it’s each individual’s prerogative to decide where their money goes and how much of it goes there. So basically, don’t tell me what to do.
  • Sure they’re making millions of dollars “for the movie” but isn’t most of that going to get eaten up by Kickstarter fees and rewards? What are the fans really paying for?
    • Rob Thomas addressed this concern late Thursday in an interview with HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall, explaining that he and Warner Bros. took reward costs into consideration when setting the goal and that getting the rewards in order is part of the reason why the project was approved about a year ago and is just now being launched.
  • Why does the world even need a Veronica Mars movie? The show wasn’t that great and you got 3 whole seasons out of it. Let it go.
    • To be fair, all art is subjective. I thought the show was pretty darn good. But the final season of the show is one of the most frustrating I have lived through. For the youngsters out there, The CW used to be 2 separate networks called The WB (which brought you the likes of Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Smallville, Dawson’s Creek and Supernatural) and UPN (which brought you Veronica Mars. That’s basically it.). During the 2006-2007 TV season, the two fledgling networks joined forces to make one fledgling network (it was a bizarre decision, wonderfully detailed in this book by Susanne Daniels) and both networks hacked away at their programming to make a combined schedule. Veronica Mars just barely made the cut and the network execs implored Thomas and his writing staff to make the show more accessible to new viewers (always a positive note, she said sarcastically) and more “mature” to set it apart from The WB’s teen-centric image.

      In other words, the show attempted to become CSI: The College Years and most of the season was spent trying to maintain the balance between what the network wanted and what the show used to be. It was entirely frustrating and largely did not work. A season finale was produced without knowing the show’s fate and forever the optimist, Thomas chose not to write a makeshift-series finale. While it wasn’t exactly a “Woody’s Roundup” cliffhanger, many things were left unresolved. Facing cancellation once again, Rob Thomas threw a Hail Mary pass in the form of a total series revamp: Veronica left college and joined the FBI! No more teen drama, just a crime procedural with a snarky blonde at the center of it. A “presentation trailer” was produced, The CW didn’t bite and everyone moved on. So would I like a chance to see this story end for real, without “what ifs”, “just in cases” and weird alt-verse FBI procedural  Absolutely. And the bottom line answer for this question is: if it was a property you liked, you wouldn’t be asking this question.

  • Is “crowdfunding” movies going to be a thing now? Why can’t people just let things go?
    • “Crowdfunding” is definitely going to be a hot topic for a while but I sincerely doubt it is the future of film. I see Veronica Mars as a special circumstance: the right people involved at the right time with a fanbase just the right size with just the right amount of excitement and disposable income. Of course people are going to try and make this a thing – Zachary Levi has already whipped his fans into a frenzy by suggesting a Chuck film (this is why we can’t have nice things) and Joss Whedon has already had to gently remind his rabid fanbase that he’s going to be too busy for the next few years “being the Tom Hagen of the Marvel Universe” to even entertain the idea of revisiting Firefly/Serenity – but I suspect like most trends, it will fade.
      • Not to say that all future “crowdfunding” has to be of the eye-rolly nature. I am personally guilty of flailing more than a few times today as Bryan Fuller has expressed unbridled enthusiasm in exploring a Kickstarter-backed Pushing Daisies revival. (A show that met a slow and painfully untimely end -22 episodes!- and interestingly enough, another property with rights currently being held in a death grip by Warner Bros.) Several users on Twitter have suggested that instead of reviving dead shows for films, studios might consider campaigns to bring shows to DVD (a popular suggestion of course being The Wonder Years, which has tried and failed to be released for years because of expensive music rights). For fans of cult entertainment, this could be a low-risk, high-reward way for studios to bring us some very cool, very specific things.

Hopefully as the hype dies down, people will realize that the Kickstarter success of Veronica Mars is not the end of the entertainment industry as we know it. Fans have longed for the opportunity to revisit these characters for years and now they will finally get the chance. Yes it would’ve been cool if Warner Bros. had taken a chance and funded this movie themselves but we’ve been playing that song for 6 years now. It really appears as if this was the only way this film was going to happen. And now it is. Ask anyone who donated and they’ll probably tell you that a fan-funded movie is better than no movie at all.

Fans, be happy. Naysayers, naysay away. Discussion is healthy and this unconventional production is ripe for discussion. But it’d be cool if you didn’t personally attack the people who are excited about it. If you think the project is a cool idea and you’d like to help out, donate away. If you don’t, then don’t. Sometimes things really are that simple.

We live in a world where The Bluths and Veronica Mars are alive once again. We’re living in some strange and exciting times. We can all agree on that, can’t we?


One thought on “Mars Madness

  1. Pingback: Talentedwithreason's Blog | Crystal’s Best of 2014: The Movies

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