If you were hoping to drop $10,000 to get a speaking role in a Veronica Mars movie, you lost your chance Wednesday at around noon. Within hours of launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million to fund the project – “our one shot” to revisit Neptune, California -- series creator Rob Thomas exceeding his goal, breaking crowd-funding records along the way. He didn't need to beg: Fans jumped at the chance to donate, and Twitter and Facebook quickly exploded with speculation about what the film’s plot might be.
But when fans are that invested in – literally! -- something like the long-discussed Veronica mars movie, what happens if it doesn’t meet their expectations?
We're entering a new era of crowdfunding. In the early days, your favorite webcomic artist might ask for money to keep his site going, or you might donate a few bucks to a Kickstarter campaign in return for a preview of a cool gadget or receive a credit on an obscure fan film. The real game-changer in crowdsourcing isn't Veronica Mars, however -- it's Amanda Palmer, former frontwoman of the Dresden Dolls.
Palmer funded her album, art book and tour last year with $1.2 million she raised through Kickstarter. Like Thomas and Bell, she has a loyal fan base hungry for more content from the artist, and willing to pay up front to get it. In the moment that she raised all that cash, Palmer was the poster child for what crowd-funded projects could be. Artists directly communicating with fans! No middlemen! No labels! And then … it all took a turn. Palmer went on her promised tour, but invited musicians to play on stage with her for free. “If my fans are happy and my audience is happy and the musicians on stage are happy, where's the problem?" she said in response to the criticism. But some fans weren’t happy that the money they gave to Palmer didn't then go to her supporting musicians. And here's the tricky thing about crowd-funding: The crowd tends to form varied and sometimes contradictory opinions.
Imagining, for a moment, that the Veronica Mars movie comes to life. It's early 2014, and we're all trucking to the multiplex, preview tickets in hand. What if the lights go down, the curtain goes up and the movie … sucks? Can we get our money back?
If you went to see a film in say, 1984, you had maybe possibly seen a preview it, one or two television spots if it was a big release, and had read a review in your local paper. No one knew whether the fans would show up on opening day until it was actually opening day. Now filmmakers offer teasers and backstage photos and interviews galore to drum up support for their films. It makes sense that they would, eventually, look to the same people who eagerly consume all those promotions to foot some of the bill upfront. But, then, as patrons of this art form, how much say should we get in its content and production? Studio heads give notes to producers based on focus groups and marketing strategies and product tie-ins. If fans, say, want Francis Capra to return as Weevil, but Capra wants a pay raise to do so, should Thomas give in? If someone was willing to give $20,000 for a speaking role in the film while wearing their company's t-shirt, should Thomas give in to that? Where is the line in a crowd-funded film where the crowd has to say, "Great, it's your movie, we trust you, do it your way."
Certainly, major film studios have given bad edicts to directors and producers and developed some godawful films. But, is a crowd going to be any better than a record label or a studio?
Tempting though it may be for creative people to turn to their fans in a time of financial need, those fans can turn angry and cruel in a heartbeat. Here's hoping that Thomas has a solid creative vision for the Veronica Mars film project that will please both the suits at Warner Bros. and the fans on Kickstarter.