We know Rob Thomas. He’s our Bedford neighbor, a songwriter, and frontman for Matchbox Twenty.
Outside of Westchester, though, there’s another Rob Thomas. He’s famous for creating Veronica Mars, a TV show that aired on the CW from 2004 to 2007 about a spunky amateur private investigator who solved mysteries while in high school and college. It wasn’t a ratings blockbuster, but it did have a dedicated fan base of between two and three million viewers.
Ever since the show’s cancellation, everyone in its orbit — from Thomas to the cast to the fans — have been clamoring for a Veronica Mars movie. Still, you could understand the risk it would pose to a movie studio. If three million fans weren’t enough to keep a show on the air, they might not be enough to make a movie — even a low-budget one — into a moneymaker.
So Thomas and Warner Brothers, the studio behind Veronica Mars, put forth an interesting experiment: Warner Brothers agreed to distribute the film if Thomas could raise the money to make it from Kickstarter.
(For those of you who don’t know, Kickstarter is a way to “crowdfund” projects through the Internet. You set a fundraising goal, offer incentives for people who make certain pledges, get people to agree to donate, and — here’s the ingenious part — nobody gets charged unless the goal is met. So, for those doing the funding, there’s no risk that you’ll fork over some cash, only to have it go to waste when the project falls apart because it didn’t make enough.)
Veronica Mars had a $2 million goal. To sweeten the deal for potential fans, incentives included everything from PDFs of the shooting script (if you pledged $10 or more) to a speaking role in the movie (if you pledged $10,000 or more). Here, though, is my favorite incentive:
To which our Bedford neighbor replied:
Awww. Now that, my friends, is the magic of Kickstarter.
So, how did the fundraising efforts do? Amazing. It is now the stuff of legend. According to that legend, it was the fastest Kickstarter project to reach the $1 million mark, hitting it in just four and a half hours. It made its goal within the first day. As of this writing, pledges are up to $3.6 million — and there are still 25 fundraising days to go.
There’s no question the experiment worked. The passion of the Veronica Mars fans led them to really open their wallets for the movie. Yes, someone even bought that $10,000 speaking role. The $3.6 million was raised by just 55,200 fans. If they’d done things the traditional way, and made a movie on a $2 million budget, only to have just 55,200 fans buy regular-priced tickets at the theater, the movie would be a money-loser. By going through Kickstarter, the studio gauged interest ahead of time, and they were able to squeeze out more money per fan.
The lightning-quick Veronica Mars funding was one of the hottest stories in pop culture last week. Now, it seems that everyone who’s ever been a part of a show with a cult following has to weigh in on whether or not their series will be taking to Kickstarter and appealing directly to fans. (Will I finally get the Kings movie I’ve always dreamed of? Oh, Kings, you were too beautiful for this world.)
I say we have to lower or Kickstarter expectations. There are many reasons that it worked for Veronica Mars that might not happen for other shows. First of all, it had a creator willing to fight for a movie for five years, a cast with the availability to reunite, and a studio willing to distribute it once the fundraising goal was met. They could all get together and make the movie on a $2 million budget, since the story is not really dependent on expensive sets or special effects. Those are four really difficult hoops to jump through. Veronica Mars also has a subject matter that can translate well into a one-off movie — even half a decade after the series ended — which is rare.
But let’s say all of these would work for another project. Do you think this is the way movies studios should develop their slate of offerings — by asking fans to pledge their support (and their dollars) up front? Or do you think it takes advantage of fans to ask them to shoulder some of the financial burden of these endeavors (often at way more than the price of a movie ticket)? Let me know in the comments.