In 2005, there were a series of advanced screenings exclusively for fans of an unfinished Serenity. Before the film, a short introduction by Joss Whedon was played in which he thanked the fans. “It is, in an unprecedented sense, your movie. So, if it sucks, it's your fault.” This wasn’t the first or last time we heard this. Joss and the cast, throughout the production and to this day, have been very vocal about the role the fans had in getting a movie made out of their short lived tv show.
What’s most important about that isn't actually what we did to help the movie happen, but that Joss and the gang granted the fans ownership of the movie. We weren’t just the throngs of fans that were going to drive the box office, it was our movie and it succeeded and failed with us. That’s a special feeling for us Browncoats, and a clever marketing technique on the part of Joss. Had we the means, we would have funded a sequel ourselves, but it’s so often hopeless for fans to influence the decisions of mighty Hollywood, especially when profits are at risk.
About the same time, there was a little show about a teenaged sleuth that was little known but well loved, even earning itself a rare endorsement (and even a guest spot) by Joss himself. It was a cleverly written show with a character (Kristen Bell) that rivaled Buffy in the “strong female character” genre. While it survived three seasons, the complex season-long mysteries and consistently dark tone struggled to reach the mainstream audiences. Today, it might be a different story with the dark tone of so many popular cable series, but despite a new pilot shot and shopped around and a movie outline pitched to anyone who would listen, Veronica Mars was never heard from again.
Well... until this week.
If you haven’t heard of it, Kickstarter.com has been shaking up the way creative projects get funded for a few years now. Amanda Palmer has a must watch TED talk about her experiences. As we speak, some of the former Mystery Science Theater 3000 folks have raised over $225,000 to get the rights to riff on Twilight for an upcoming Rifftrax Live event.
Creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell started looking into what it would take to use Kickstarter to help get a Veronica Mars movie off the ground over a year ago. Warner Bros. was intrigued, but it took a year for the lawyers to look over all the possible implications. By the time they went public on Wednesday, all the dots were i’d and all the p’s were q’d... or something like that. They announced at 11am that if they could raise the $2 million budget for the film in 30 days, Warner Bros. would greenlight the Veronica Mars movie. They set a new Kickstarter record by hitting $1 million in 4 hours, and hit their $2 million goal in under 12. The total continues to rise, with the balance now over $3.7 million. The higher that number goes, the more significant a movie they’ll be able to afford. Keep in mind of course that the average Veronica Mars episode cost $1.8 million and even your average romantic comedy comes in at around $20 million.
The news of this has reached all corners of the media because in a single day, it’s changed the way we look at the fan-creator-studio dynamic. It’s hyperbolic to say that it’s changed everything, but for the first time the fans have a power over a movie beyond simply flocking to the theater and buying lots of tickets. This is not good news to everyone. There are dissenters who believe that money should go toward charity or that the studios are taking advantage of the fans to fund a movie they’ll be making money off of. Some worry that this is the beginning of an dystopian future where studios demand payment from fans up front before any genre film gets made. There are certainly some well thought out arguments made by very smart people along those lines, but those of us in fan communities see the world through a different lens. The kickstarter offers real rewards in return for donations, from a t-shirt, to a digital copy of the film, to roles as extras in the film. Each donor donates the amount that they feel that the movie plus the rewards are worth to them. For the more cynical, less fanatical folks out there, spending that much on schwag is ridiculous. To geeks, it’s called Tuesday. As Abed says in Community, “I guess I just like liking things.”
So now for the obvious question... Hardly seems even worth saying out loud. I’ll leave it to Joss (in an interview with BuzzFeed):
“That's what everybody wants to know about. Uh, yeah. My fourth feeling when I read about [the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign] was a kind of dread. Because I realized the only thing that would be on everybody's mind right now. I've said repeatedly that I would love to make another movie with these guys, and that remains the case. It also remains the case that I'm booked up by Marvel for the next three years, and that I haven't even been able to get Dr. Horrible 2 off the ground because of that. So I don't even entertain the notion of entertaining the notion of doing this, and won't. Couple years from now, when Nathan [Fillion]'s no longer [on]Castle and I'm no longer the Tom Hagen of the Marvel Universe and making a giant movie, we might look and see where the market is then. But right now, it's a complete non-Kickstarter for me.”
In other words, Joss and the gang of course want to do it, but it’s not that simple. For starters, Serenity cost $39 million. With a global browncoat movement, I wouldn’t be all that shocked if we could pull it off, but that’s a heck of a project. The crux of it though, a week ago it was a hopeless exercise even dreaming of a return of the show or a proper sequel. Today, it may just be a matter of time.
In the meantime, Bryan Fuller called Rob Thomas soon after the kickstarter went live asking how he could use this technique to bring back the beautifully quirky Pushing Daisies. Same goes for Zachary Levi who has tweeted his intention to make a Chuck movie happen. We probably won’t know if any of this will work, or even if it’s a good idea, until Veronica Mars: The Movie is released next March, but the world of fandom has changed, and that ain’t nothin’.