2.5 million dollars in 10 hours.
Imagine the incredible, complicated hoops one would have to jump through to make that amount of money in such a short period of time. The wrangling, the deals, the contractual obligations, the improbable lotto win, the prospective soul-selling.
Conversely, imagine none of the above were at all applicable, and you simply offered a desired social commodity to the masses. Like, say, a teen drama with a cult following that really, really want to see said drama on the big screen.
This is, in fact, a thing -- and it's going to continue happening with increasing frequency.
Yesterday, show creator of hit CW series Veronica Mars, , and his leading lady , launched their feature film fundraiser for the show on crowdfunding site, Kickstarter. Not only was the result unprecedented in the volume of money donated in such a short period of time, but the fact that a known quantity in Hollywood had put the life of a project in the hands of the fans suggested a corner may have been turned in Tinseltown.
There are a variety of ways this event can be seen as unique, not least of which is allowing name Hollywood directors, producers, and actors who may have lost their luster an opportunity to skip pandering to studios and their executives, and move directly to creating projects on their own terms. Rob Thomas is no slouch, but he's also not exactly in high demand in writing, producing, and directing circles. His resume is an odd mix of recent successes, baffling failures, and some outright stinkers. Party Down, a woefully under-appreciated Starz comedy starring and survived two season before being dropped. ABC's one season of Cupid starred as a guy convinced he was, well, Cupid. It was...misguided. While his redux of 90210 ran for five seasons, it was not renewed by The CW for the 2013 season. His two latest efforts, Good Behavior and Plymouth Rock, were never picked up by the networks.
Thomas is a creative guy with talent to spare, but he's been batting under .300 for a while now, and it's difficult to sell a spotty resume. This, more often than not, is the story of many showrunners, producers, and creative types that populate the film and television landscape. Like Rob, many of these folks have at least one past creative ace up their sleeve that keeps them in the good graces of the entertainment community, and in the hearts of their fans. For Rob Thomas, that ace is Veronica Mars, and the intensely dedicated fanbase that want more of Bell's unconventional private detective these six years after its final episode are his keys to the castle.
Founded in 2009, Kickstarter has been one amongst a growing number of sites dedicated to crowdfunding; the online fundraising vehicle for getting everything from restaurants, albums, indie films, video games and more off the drawing board and into the world via donations. Site's like Indiegogo are currently crowdfunding such eclectically different projects as getting the world's first sonic vibrator into production, to getting professional wrestler Scott Hall a new hip and dental work. FundaGeek promotes the innovative scientific endeavors of its users.
Crowdfunding is a model of creation that is custom-made for this generation; a generation that enthusiastically creates their own entertainment, expects to be heard and acknowledged, and perhaps most importantly, has been burned in the past by Hollywood.
In the world of television, fans have dealt with the frustrations of essentially groveling at the feet of networks to keep their shows afloat, or to even revisit shows that had a good run, but have more story to tell. The defeats outweigh the successes. Yes, Arrested Development is back after seven years away from television on Netflix, and both Futurama and Family Guy saw successful resurrections, but shows like Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, Pushing Daisies, and Sports Night drifted into the world of syndication and Blu-ray/DVD release long before their time in spite of fan outcry and petitions. Series creators and their staffs championed these projects to no avail, shackled to the whims of executives, bad time slots, and studio-mandated creative changes. Sure, some needed to die, but many were simply dealt bad cards.
Now, there appears to be a possible solution, and at first glance it looks to be groundbreaking. Kickstarter is suddenly not simply the stomping ground of unproven writers and directors attempting to make their mark on an insular entertainment industry, but has potentially become the incubator for the resurgence of careers, and the saving grace of projects that still have more gas in the tank. What might even be better, Kickstarter provides a litmus test in proving whether or not fans are really willing to put their money where their mouth is.
In 2008, the highly-praised but poorly viewed post-apocalyptic action/drama, Jericho, was cancelled after CBS relented to a massive fan petition to keep it on the air for a second season. The ratings didn't improve upon viewers getting what they demanded, and the eventual outcome was expected, if not deserved. It was a shame, but also a valuable lesson in risk versus reward for networks and studios alike. Why let a petition, no matter how many signatures it receives, dictate smart business decisions? A signature on an online petition costs a viewer nothing. Ask them to pay for what they claim is their favorite movie or series, and it swiftly weeds out the talkers from the doers.
Sites like Kickstarter are measuring sticks for legitimate fandom, and the amazing funding haul for a Veronica Mars feature film is a fantastic example of this. It's screamingly clear that fans of the series want this movie, rather than the idea of one, and they've ponied up their wallets to prove as much.
What does this mean for studios? It very well might be the beginning of the end for the perpetual state of creative retread we've been suffering through since 2008's economic downturn and the '07-'08 WGA writers' strike that threw a wet blanket on production of original content. Outside of allowing fans an opportunity to revisit worlds and faces they're familiar with, this unprecedented utilization of Kickstarter and its wild success can, and will, benefit other names in the film industry with new stories to tell. While I doubt or are going to throw in with the crowdfunding...crowd, people like , , Mark and Jay Duplass, and have sensibilities that, from my perspective, are perfectly designed for the Kickstarter generation. There are original stories that aren't being told, and spec-scripts that have gone ignored in the wake of an industry that has been too gun-shy to embrace risk investment.
A slate of high profile Kickstarter/Indiegogo/what have you projects succeeding at the hands of fans, being produced, and most importantly, seeing financial success once released, may be a formula for change. Much like Tarantino's Pulp Fiction broke the industry of its early '90s big-director-or-nothing doldrums and once again let the indie-kids sit at the adult table, these crowdfunded projects could very well result in Hollywood embracing the trend of new once again being valuable, and usher in a vibrant era of creative, original filmmaking seeing wide release.
All of this vast potential prospectively realized at the hands of a man who wrote a pilot about a teenage private eye almost a decade ago, a proven platform in Kickstarter, and the active enthusiasm of fans.