If I were to rank the female TV heroines I value and adore the most, Veronica Mars would be somewhere between Mary Richards and Liz Lemon. If Liz Lemon is the screen version of me and Mary Richards is who I dream of being, Veronica, the spunky teenage detective, played by Kristen Bell on the CW program Veronica Mars from 2004-2007, resides somewhere in between; an idealized version of myself, but something seemingly more attainable than the practically perfect in every way Mary.
So, when I heard that there was a chance my beloved Veronica Mars was going to potentially make a movie, I was thrilled, but not without a little trepidation. Any time shows are resurrected years after their conclusion, I always worry the show will feel false and manufactured, with a goofy inciting incident that justifies why the gang is getting back together. I will also add that, while I love all three seasons of Veronica Mars, I believe Season 1 has an argument as one of the single best seasons of TV ever produced. The same argument can’t be made for Season 2 and Season 3 saw a drop off in quality from that. So I am somewhat skeptical that the movie or Season 4 or the flurry of other rumored VM projects we’ve heard about over the years will be as good as the lightning in a bottle that was Season 1.
I went to Kickstarter and I watched this positively delightful trailer. It erased so much of my wariness in one fell swoop. As I saw the dollars for the project climb into the millions, I knew the show would hit their $2 million goal with ease, but I decided to pledge money anyway:
Some might ask why I would, especially those who do not feel entirely comfortable with contributing money to what they see as a giant conglomerate. You see, Warner Brother TV is the rights holder of this show. Not only do they need to okay the production, they also will be used to market and distribute the final digital product.
I saw several on Twitter complain that it isn’t right to give money to a massive conglomerate like Time Warner. Others suggested that the contributors deserved a piece of potential profits. Me though? I gladly handed over $100 with no expectation of getting anything back except my Veronica Mars movie. There are a few reasons I am completely okay with this:
I am getting a fair amount of bang for my buck.
These discussions of the VM Kickstarter project frequently use the word “donate”, a word that I don’t think describes the relationship between producers and consumers in this particular scenario very well. I am not donating, I am buying a product. In fact, for my $100, I am buying several:
-Periodic email updates about the production with behind the scenes info
-A pdf of the script
-A digital copy of the movie
-A movie poster
-A Blu-Ray/DVD combo of the film with special features (and there is nothing I love more than DVD special features)
I’ll be honest. I am not normally spending $100 for this amount of stuff. Those who know me well know that I live by the motto, “never pay standard retail price for anything.” However, I do tend to spend a little more on indie films or small time shows that I know benefit more from my patronage than others. Veronica Mars is one such project, so I am willing to pay a premium, and consider my $100 to be effectively a pre-order, kind of like buying season tickets for the theater in advance so they can use the money to put on the shows I am going to watch.
You are still effectively financing an independent film
Many of my friends have said if this were an indie film, not a WB product, they would feel better about the arrangement. In actuality, the production model for this movie matches up pretty well with how independent films get made. If you are a small scale movie like The Blair Witch Project, you raise capital to shoot your film. In the age of YouTube and mass consumption of digital content, you can try to go about getting your film in front of people’s eyes on your own, but in order to be really successful, you tend to need a distributor. Netflix makes these sorts of distribution film with all sorts of indie movies, documentaries in particular.
In this instance, Warner Brothers is allowing these folks to produce a film and not challenge the rights issue, but according to the Kickstarter page, they have very little to do with the production phase. According to this Entertainment Weekly article, Warner Brothers Digital Distribution is really just agreeing to market, promote, and distribute the movie. While I can’t say for certain, it seems like Mars creator Rob Thomas and his gang of misfits will shoot the movie and basically just deliver a final cut to WB.
This is the part of the process where most indies travel the festival circuit trying to sell their film to distributors. Most of the money for the filmmakers in these deals is up front. In Hollywood, getting a percentage of the gross is an uncommon occurrence. Moreover, you don’t really want a percentage unless your movie is Harry Potter. Movie studios have very creative means of accounting and they can make something that cost $5 million to shoot and grossed $50 million look like a financial failure. Since these percentage deals on grosses are done based on numbers after the cost is recouped, it is very, very difficult to see money post-release if you are a producer on one of these indie hits (Blair Witch and The Passion of the Christ being the real exceptions. Trust me, Mel made boatloads of money, then enough money to make Titanic-sized cruise liners out of more money with which to carry the boatloads of money back to his Malibu pad).
So, in my mind, the $2 million is kind of like the up front fee that Thomas would normally get from distributors buying his product. Warner isn’t willing to pay it, but we, the fans, are.
Let’s face it: This movie isn’t getting made any other way
The list of shows the internet laments the premature death of is a mile long. Veronica Mars, Freaks and Geeks, Arrested Development, Sports Night are just a handful. If you are a broadcast network like CBS or ABC, it would be financially idiotic to keep producing them. Simple fact of the matter is, not enough people watch the shows to make them viable commercial television products.
We’ve gotten extra seasons out of networks here and there, such as when Chuck fans went to Subway en masse to prove they were willing to put their ad dollars to work if NBC put their show on the air.
We even got a movie out of the short-lived Joss Whedon-helmed show “Firefly”. This sounds like a success story, but it isn’t. No one went to see the Firefly movie “Serenity”. It made $38 million globally in its theatrical run. You know how much it cost to make before marketing, distribution, and exhibition costs? $39 million.
Movies are expensive, even small ones. A film with a $39 million budget is considered a low budget studio film these days. The way the movie studio business models works is such that the amount of time and money that goes into development and production mean that they can’t waste their time spending $5 million on a movie that makes $10 million. That is not to say the studio system is the smartest business model on Earth. This is purely to let you know Warner Brothers simply doesn’t make movies on the scale of the Veronica Mars film. The beauty for us film fans is that there is a very healthy indie film business for just those types of pictures.
So that is why I gladly pulled out my credit card and pledged my money. Not only because I miss Veronica oh so much, but because I think this a genuinely viable business model in which small groups of rabid fans can keep their favorite projects alive when they fail to succeed in the standard TV and movie channels.
Even if you’re not a fan of Veronica Mars (and you’re probably not a fan simply because you haven’t watched, so get on the stick and watch Season 1 ASAP y’all), this is a groundbreaking, paradigm shifting kind of moment for film and TV fans. This is a new channel, a new chance for us to proactively determine exactly what kind of content we are willing to directly spend money on. For those who complain about Downton Abbey being delayed in the States or Game of Thrones not being available on streaming services, this might just be our answer. So, Marshmallow devotee of Veronica Mars or not, this is something that should excite you, not have you worried that the corporate arms are extending their reach even further.
Note: If you are interested more in how the development, production, distribution, and exhibition of movies work, most of my information in this post comes from a class I took at USC based heavily around The Movie Business Book by Jason Squire. It is a touch old, but a very clear cut explanation of how movie studios work.