Veronica Mars Lives!

I’m a huge fan of the television show Veronica Mars.  I didn’t watch it when it aired, so I guess I’m part of the problem.  I watched the first two seasons on DVD and then waited about 6 months before watching the final season, because I knew once I was done, I was done.  The 3rd box set included a preview of what we would have gotten had the series continued, Veronica Mars, FBI.

I’m writing about this for three reasons

  1. I love the show and am super-excited to see the movie
  2. I follow crowd-funding news and this is a big milestone
  3. The way it was funded may mean big changes for the future of film and television

I loved the show.  Keith Mars (as played by the wonderful Enrico Colantoni) is the type of father I’d like to be and I’d love to raise a daughter as smart and independent as Veronica Mars.  The show was witty and well-written.  Nancy Drew for the 21st century.  It followed what I like to call the Whedon story arc, which is one overarching theme/mystery/villain for the season, with minor mysteries solved each episode, but every few episodes reveals a clue that leads to the climax at the end of the season.  It’s a great way of doing a serial story-line but still making it OK to miss one episode.  It was one of the best shows not enough people watched.  According to Wikipedia the final season had only 2.5 million viewers (Walking Dead Season 3 premiere got 10.3 million and this year opened with 12 million, American idol averaged 20 million in 2012.)  The thing is that’s still 2.5 million people who loved the show.

Just What is Crowd-Funding

I follow news about crowd-funding because I have a project I hope to have crowd-funded later this year (I’m keeping it secret for now, but more will come later).  Because I follow so much news about crowd funding, I’m surprised when other people don’t know about it.  For those that don’t know, it’s pretty much what it sounds like.  You get people to fund your project (usually art, film, music, etc) by donating small amounts and giving the donors some sorts of “perks” (copies of the finished film, on-screen “thank you”s, etc.).  You do this using sites like Kickstarter, Indigogo, gofundme, and others.

What has gotten the most media attention recently is that Veronica Mars reached it’s $2 million funding goal in just 12 hours.  A lot of my favorite projects have been quite successful in their crowd-funded projects: My Drunk Kitchen, Cyanide and Happiness, and Rifftrax.  Each of these projects reached their goals in record time, usually within one day (most projects have a 30 day window to reach their funding goals).

The thing you need for successful crowd-funding is a strong, loyal following who value your project enough to cough up some money.  In the case of Cyanide and Happiness and My Drunk Kitchen (which give their products mostly away for free) you can worry that “maybe no one will really give me any money”.  Why would someone pay for something that is given away for free?  I don’t know the answer to that, I just know that LOTS of people did. 

  • My Drunk Kitchen: Goal $50K, received $222,957
  • Cyanide and Happiness: Goal $250,000, received (at the time of this writing) $756,819
  • Rifftrax: Goal $55K, received (attotw) $228,281
  • Veronica Mars: Goal $2M, received (attotw) $3.6M

When you total that up that’s nearly $5M raised entirely from fans.  So crowd-funding is becoming a legitimate way to fund your independent project, if you’ve already got fans.

The Future of Making Movies?

Thanks to Veronica Mars there have been quite a few stories being written about how this is a game-changer for how movies are made.  Those that actually follow this business are more conservative in their predictions.  I, for one, think this will definitely have an effect on how cult projects get made.

The big problem, and what a lot of cynics are pointing out – quite justifiably, is that Warner gets a much lower risk deal.  They only have to pony up for marketing and distribution, and can probably recoup those costs a lot easier.  Why is this a problem? Well, this might make studios a lot less likely to fund indie projects.  They might require filmmakers to get their own funding first.  From interviews I’ve heard with even successful, big-name directors, getting your movie made is hard.  Studios don’t want to take risks, several directors of blockbusters have had to put up their own money and take deferred payment to make certain films.  If Hollywood doesn’t want to give money to the director of a movie that grossed $200M, why would they give money to you, who has never had a film released in a theater?

The one area I think a revolution could, and should, occur is with contracts.  If Rob Thomas (creator of Veronica Mars, not the singer) had the rights to the character he created, he could have already shot the movie and sought independent distribution.  Fans would have already had their film (or films or web series).  Warner is what has held this project up.

The same goes for the beloved Joss Whedon’s projects.  He doesn’t own the rights to Buffy, Dollhouse, Firefly, etc, the studios do.  He created the characters, but if he wanted to make even a short film with Echo, FOX would sue him.  He’d have to make a parody and argue fair use.

What needs to happen is for creators to keep some control of their projects, or at least have the rights revert back to them.  Of course, this could mean we get something like what happens with Hellraiser (a new crappy movie is put out every few years so they don’t lose their rights.  The last film was made for $300K in 2 weeks).  However, I’d like for creators to be able to take their projects with them if a Network or Studio doesn’t think it can make a movie with it.  It’s almost vindictive the way studios hold onto the rights of properties.  “We don’t think we can make any money with this, but, in case we’re wrong, we don’t want you to make any money either.”

Fans logically wish their favorite cancelled show would just be released on another network or on Hulu or Netflix, but production can’t continue because the studio won’t release the rights.

I doubt we’ll ever see a day where creators actually retain the rights to their creations, but it would be nice.  I hope that agents take notice of what happened with Veronica Mars and negotiate the ability for their clients to take their projects private if they choose (especially since it might mean more money for them).  Say, if you cancel a show mid-season the rights revert back to the creator. That would at least be a start.  And we might have gotten many more seasons of Firefly, Pushing Daises, etc.

I, for one, can’t wait for the Veronica Mars movie and hope this does cause some shake-up of the Hollywood system.

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