In 2004, then UPN, then followed by the CW, television network premiered the American television show Veronica Mars, starring actress Kristen Bell as a high school student whose extra-curricular activities includes solving cases as a private investigator. The critically acclaimed series ran for three seasons and had a substantial following during its run. However, when executive producer Rob Thomas presented his script to Warner Bros. for a feature film, the company turned it down. Thomas then took his idea to Kickstarter and through that fundraising campaign raised the $2 million goal in less then ten hours.
Kickstarter, considered one of the world’s largest crowd funding sites, is a company that allows creative artists to raise money for their projects by offering various awards for donations to fund the project. Contributors to Kickstarter’s projects donate what they want and based on the amount of the donation, receive a “reward” for that contribution. In the case of Veronica Mars, rewards included an emailed copy of the script for $10 contributions, a download of the movie, t-shirt and script for $35 all the way up to a small walk-on role for $10,000. Although the studios and even Kickstarter say this form of financing projects is a revolutionary change to how films will be made, others aren’t so quick to support the campaign.
Critics of the campaign argue that this kind of fundraising is merely charity for big name studios and actors like Warner Bros. and Zach Braff to benefit from this financing yet get to walk away with the profits once the project blossoms into fruition. The success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter makes people wander why should a studio risk its own money when thousands of fans could do it for them?
Typically when someone invests in a film project they eventually get to see some of their investment return in the form of profit. With Kickstarter, however, the over 91,000 investors make it so the studio gets the money it wants but doesn’t have to pay back any of the profits if the film proves successful because the backers of the project are not entitled to any bite of any profits.
Thomas and other backers, however, say that the rewards contributors get are worth the contributions. They claim that the rewards provide fans of these projects to experience the process in a way they may not have done before. In addition, the fact that so many people are backing the projects in the form of their contributions means that the studio must make the film. As noted on Kickstarter’s website, project creators must agree to “fulfill rewards or refund backers if a project is not fulfilled and could result in damage to your reputation or even legal action on behalf of the backers.” In other words, both the creators of these projects get to see their ideas come to life and creators are entitled to ensure fans get to see the film they obviously want.
The success of this fundraising effort has even inspired other big names like Melissa Joan Hart and Zach Braff to begin their own Kickstarter campaigns for their respective projects. This leaves the question of whether Kickstarter campaigns that help fund big studio projects is just a form of a handout in which the studio’s profit more from had they funded the projects on their own or is this the beginning of a new era to bring fans closer to the film-making process? I guess only time and the aftermath of the debut of Veronica Mars in early 2014 will tell.