Veronica Mars – Indie or Studio Film?

A funny thing happened in the last day or two – Rob Thomas, creator of the TV series Veronica Mars, launched a Kickstarter project to make a Veronica Mars movie. You probably know this by now, but the project went well. It raised it’s target $2m the first day. The movie will be made, but there is controversy…

I know nothing of the project beyond what I’ve read on the Kickstarter project and a couple of associated news articles, but the impression I’ve been left with is that Thomas and most of the Veronica Mars cast have been keen to make a movie of the show since the show ended. However Warner Brothers, who own the rights to the show and it’s characters, has never been all that convinced that it’s a worthwhile endeavour and movie studios are hugely risk averse.

After a number of publicly hopeful statements (and even an email campaign directed at Warners) it seems that the studio agreed to allow Thomas to produce a Veronica Mars if he could demonstrate the fan demand. The Kickstarter project appears to have done this pretty well. So the movie will be made, and Warners have agreed to distribute it.

Is this a studio film, or an indie film? It’s a little unclear, but to me it seems like the latter. Assuming Warners isn’t actually funding the film (and the Kickstarter seems to give the impression that the $2m target is the film’s budget) then it seems that it will be produced essentially as an indie film on a super low budget (in Hollywood terms) . The fact that a studio is involved for the rights and a distribution agreement is already in place does confuse the matter a little though.

The objections to the film’s Kickstarter concept seem mostly to stem from the idea that either a rich Hollywood studio or rich Hollywood stars are taking advantage of the denizens of the internet for profit. People point out that Warner Brothers will profit from the film (they will) and that the backers of the project won’t see any share of the profits (they won’t).

Even assuming that this is a cynical Hollywood ploy (I don’t think it is) I’m still not sure there is too much to complain about. The majority of the backers are essentially pre-purchasing a copy of the film and various merchandise, in doing so they provide evidence of demand for the film and encouraging a Hollywood studio (in this scenario) to produce a film that wasn’t just a sequel, remake or comic-book adaptation.

But I don’t think this is a Hollywood scheme. Hollywood doesn’t need consumers to pay for their movies, and even so $2-3million is almost a rounding error on Hollywood feature budgets these days – the Hollywood studio system isn’t equipped to make low budget films.

From what I’ve learned about the project is really seems that this is an indie project that just happens to be in the unusual situation of already having a distributor and also is based on a property that is owned by a studio. If Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell were trying to fund a new original project that they hoped to take to Sundance for a distribution I don’t think anyone would be complaining.

It’s also worth considering that the people backing the film are well aware of what they’re doing and if basically buying a DVD ahead of time is enough to secure the production of a film you really want to see, then why not?

Some people seem to think that Kickstarter is only for charity and that people shouldn’t be making a profit from it? That’s absurd – many of the most interesting Kickstarter projects have been creative products that have gone into production and become profitable retail products thanks entirely to Kickstarter – the backers of those projects saw nothing more than their pre-purchased product as reward for that, certainly no profit share.

I happened to see this great TED Talk today from musician Amanda Palmer about her experiences with Kickstarter and the reactions she received from some people to her efforts. It’s interesting, emotional and enlightening – I think a lot of it applies pretty well to the Veronica Mars project.