While the eyes of the world were fixed upon Rome and the selection of a new Pope, thanks to Kickstarter an amazing little revolution was simultaneously taking place in Hollywood.
The entertainment world was about to discover if a mutli-million dollar feature film could be funded by fans. For quite a while now, filmmakers and other artists have been turning to crowdsourcing as a method of raising thousands of dollars to finance their projects, but this time the ask was to raise millions of dollars in just thirty days.
Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas says he has been asked about the possibility of a movie based on the short-lived television show ever since it was canceled in 2007. After a stalled attempt to pitch a script a few years ago, Thomas thought it might not ever happen.
Then he learned about Kickstarter, a popular source for crowdsourcing. He and series star Kristen Bell went to see executives at Warner Bros., who agreed to back the project if they were able to successfully demonstrate fan interest through the crowdsourcing.
Thomas, and members of the original cast, launched a Kickstarter campaign, and the early indication is that fans are indeed more than interested in the prospect of a feature film. The goal was two million dollars, and "marshmallows" as the show's fans are affectionately known, chipped in a staggering million bucks in just the first four hours, shattering records, and surpassed the $2M target on day one!
For those unfamiliar with the TV show, it centered around a clever and often snarky high school student, played by Bell, who worked alongside her father as a detective in her spare time. She began by trying to uncover the murderer of her best friend, and ended up solving all kinds of crimes. In fact, the crime spree in tiny Neptune, California, is probably only eclipsed by that of the sleepy-turned-deadly village of Cabot Cove, Maine, where Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher hung out a decade before.
Unlike Murder She Wrote, which enjoyed 12 seasons on CBS, Veronica Mars' life was cut short prematurely after just three seasons, or so aficionados clearly feel. Fortunately, Veronica's fans skewed much younger, and most grew up in a social media world. They have kept the brand alive, and now a movie is within their grasp at last.
Donation rewards attached to the funding campaign range from a copy of the script ($10) all the way up to a speaking role ($10,000). The latter was snatched up by Steven Dengler, a wealthy entrepreneur and philanthropist, who reportedly made the donation mostly because he simply likes the idea of crowdsourcing.
It is easy to see the attraction. Raising money for any cause or project is difficult to say the least, and frequently made harder by limited access to the people and entities with the deepest pockets. Crowdsourcing taps into the admittedly shallower pockets of much more available resources.
In the past this has led to "everyman" being able to bring dreams to life, but this case takes on an interesting twist. These are powerful, arguably wealthy people by most Americans' standards, asking for contributions. The vast majority of the contributors gave between $10-$100, and won't these be the same people they hope will buy tickets when the movie hits theaters? Perhaps their sense of ownership will drive them to go in droves. After all, people get very invested in reality shows that give them a vote in the outcome, which raises another interesting question.
Does funding from multiple small sources remove the pressure to bend to the whims of powerful studios and financial backers, or does it simply make the artist beholden to many more? Contributors in this case were offered the opportunity to buy their way onto the set, name characters, and even grab a small speaking part. Those seem like an innocent minor price to pay, but does it open the door for larger concessions in the future?
Product placement once consisted of subtle inclusions like a character driving a Ford or unwrapping a Hershey bar, and is now sometimes as obvious as verbally hitting the audience over the head with a name-brand mentioned repeatedly throughout the dialogue. Where is the line?
Benefactors and sponsors have long been a necessary partner in the creation of art. Now those funders may be coming in smaller, less demanding forms, but they will still have expectations. Audiences, especially loyal fans, tend to have huge expectations, that one can't help but suspect will be exaggerated by helping to create the project.
Yet in the end, despite its often liberal leanings, this might be the most democratic moment Hollywood has seen in decades. Sure people vote with their dollars at the box office every week, but for the first time, average people from outside the industry, have had a chance to put a film of their choosing on the box office ballot. I can't wait to see what the public demands next, something tells me whatever it is, it will have often been described as having a "cult following."