This was a surprise: Early on Wednesday, Entertainment Weekly broke the news that Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, was launching a Kickstarter project to bring his character to the big screen. Within hours, the project amassed $900,000 (as of the start of my writing this), and it looks as though we’re going to have a new Veronica Mars production. It’s exciting news for fans of the show, with its pop-culture references, smart characters and great stories. The project, according to Thomas, aims to raise $2 million in the next 30 days, which will finance the production of the movie. Warner Brothers, which owns the rights, will handle the distribution, production and promotion of the film, with a limited theater run and online VOD release. What’s interesting about this project is that it’s the latest in a crowd of projects that seem to be gaining a new lease on life with the help of its fan bases.
Another beloved, three season television show was brought back from the dead last year: Arrested Development. The quirky family comedy was highly acclaimed, production, with a vocal fan base that went along with it. Since its end, there have been persistent rumors of a reunion – either in movie or other format – which became a reality when Netflix announced that it was bringing the show back. Other productions have been talked about, such as CBS’s Jericho, which has been linked to the DVD Rental / Streaming Video company. Additionally, AMC has recently announced that it was reversing the decision to cancel another one of their shows, The Killing, which will see a third season in the coming year.
With the wide range of online outlets for movies, television shows and short films, it’s little wonder that a website such as Kickstarter would see something on this scale. Hundreds of short films have been presented and funded through the site, and major moneymakers such as the Pebble and Amanda Palmer have attracted a wide range of attention towards the potential of a crowdsourced idea, whether it’s a production, product or personality. It also makes sense to see major companies, such as Amazon or Netflix launch efforts to create their own, exclusive content in an effort to retain their customer base. While this Veronica Mars project doesn’t quite fit into that box, it does demonstrate the abilities of the web when it comes to major productions.
The inevitable question that comes out of this is clear to me: How soon before Joss Whedon does this with Firefly? There’s a bit of wishful thinking here, but given that there’s a continual, growing fan base for the beloved Fox TV show, cast members who speak nostalgically about it and a director who filmed an entire movie in a house on his honeymoon, projects like this make me wonder if the long absence of new Firefly material is growing shorter. I certainly hope so.
It also makes me wonder what other cancelled shows might return to our screens at some point in the near future. Babylon 5 seems like a logical choice, as there had been efforts made for a movie at one point, with a direct-to-DVD release of The Lost Tales out not too long ago. Terra Nova, Spielberg’s dinosaur and time travel show also seems like a good candidate, as there had been some talks at one point for a return with Netflix. I’m sure that there are others.
The larger implications however, go beyond individual productions and fan bases, as something like this, if it’s successful, represents a major fragmentation of how movies and other productions are funded. In a lot of ways, it’s a democratization of the movie industry, and if handled correctly, could yield some interesting things for audiences. It could represent the ability for a genre’s fan base to have a voice in the production of films that they’re interested in. I know that for all of the mindless blockbusters that have come out, there’s the real ability to vote with my feet and money and either help or not help a production. How this shakes out, I don’t know, but it’s an interesting, and potentially exciting change.
On the other hand, it could be an extremely troubling development.
You’ve got a recently cancelled TV show with a small fanbase – Dollhouse, Awake, Jericho, Prison Break, Heroes, and many more. Is this the salvation of all shows that have been given a sunset provision? Probably not. Veronica Mars is a dramatic example, simply because it seems to be the first of its kind. All of the elements are right, and my guess is that we’ll see some projects that will fail to meet their goals. In some cases, the fanbases simply won’t be enough.
In some ways, this is corporate opportunism. It’s the ultimate win for the rights holders – in this case, Warner Brothers, because a decent chunk of their funding has been provided, by the fans, and in fairly high amounts, too. I can expect to spend $20-30 on a trip to the movie theater with my wife. While with this particular Kickstarter, I get the film on DVD shortly after it’s release, I’ve still paid quite a bit more than I would have otherwise. The studio doesn’t need to shell out as much as they might have otherwise, making a previously unsustainable project a reality. What happens when this attitude is taken to more of the smaller, more risky projects? In recent years, some of the most interesting SF/F films have been ones that were unconventional -Moon, or District 9, not connected to any major franchise, or featuring any major A-List stars. Does this class of film get relegated to the back of the line due to their disadvantage of not having a build-in core of people willing to spend a lot of money? Time will tell, most likely.
By the time that I finished writing this, the Veronica Mars project has amassed $1,021,066, with only 14,350 backers. That comes out to an average pledge of $71 dollars. By the time that this is published, it’s surpassed $2.5 million. It’s a landmark, potentially game-changing model that I think has a lot of potential, but one that comes with some ramifications that will need to play out to be fully understood.
However, would I pay that much to see more Firefly on the big screen? You bet. Other things? Maybe not.