Fan-Funded 'Veronica Mars' - Co-op Week

By Molly Freeman

Photo courtesy of Mandy Shelton.

Last week, Veronica Mars held its world premiere at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, about a year after The Veronica Mars Movie Project Kickstarter launched and made history within less than ten hours for being the fastest project to reach its goal. As anyone involved with the Veronica Mars movie will tell you, it was all thanks to the fans.

On March 12, 2013, Rob Thomas, creator of the Veronica Mars television show that ran from 2004–2007, launched the crowd-funding campaign. A story ran on The Hollywood Reporter’s website and the news spread like wildfire throughout Veronica Mars’ cult fan base.

Thanks to the fans, The Veronica Mars Movie Project raised $1 million dollars in four hours, 24 minutes (a speed record for Kickstarter) and the project reached its goal of $2 million (the highest goal in the site’s history) in the first ten hours after it was launched.

By the campaign’s funding deadline on April 12 of last year, Veronica Mars had raised $5.7 million from over 90,000 backers. It caused many in the film industry to wonder if the crowd-funding site had completely changed the game. Would more potential blockbuster films end up getting financed through mass patronage crowd? Will movie studios expect fans to invest in the production of a film based on little to no information about the film itself? And then still expect fans to pay ten dollars or more to see the film in theaters?

Now that we’re a year removed from the Kickstarter’s launch date—and the movie premiered in theaters today—perhaps we can answer some questions generated by the film’s unconventional funding.

Some, like The Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Sun, wondered, “Are we in a post-Veronica Mars Kickstarter era?” Hollywood filmmakers Zach Braff and Spike Lee tried to replicate Thomas’s successful model. While they didn’t reach the levels of record-breaking success as Veronica Mars, both Braff and Lee did meet their Kickstarter goals after taking many jabs from naysayers and critics.

However, Sun explored the possibility of cancelled-too-soon television series following the Veronica Mars path and attempting to revive fan-favorite projects like Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, and Chuck. Although Pushing Daisies might become a Broadway musical, neither of the other series have faired any better as a result of the Veronica Mars’ Kickstarter campaign.

Joss Whedon, who’s well known for multiple cancelled-too-soon shows, also expressed interest in crowd-funding models following the Veronica Mars route. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Whedon said he’d love to revive Firefly again, but not until his contract with Marvel expires.

Although the film industry is largely unchanged by the Veronica Mars Kickstarter, with many deeming the episode a flash in the pan rather than the beginning of a new era, one positive outcome from the experience has been a closer relationship between fans and those behind the production of the movie.

In the year since the project’s launch, backers of the Kickstarter project received 88 updates from either Thomas or members of the cast and crew while working on the film. Included in the updates were progress reports of the project in both pre and post production, thank you videos from the cast, as well as news updates in regard to release dates, ticket sales, and premiere locations. Backers of the film were also granted first access to behind the scenes videos, trailers, and clips from the Veronica Mars movie.

Historically, there hasn’t been so much interactivity between filmmakers and fans prior to a movie’s release. One notable exception can be found in 2006’s Snakes on a Plane. After reading comments from fans in web forums, director David R. Ellis reshot and added scenes to the film in order to give the fans what they wanted: more gore, more nudity, and more creative snake attacks as well as more obscene language from Samuel L. Jackson.

More recently, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe took fan opinions into account with their last release, Thor: The Dark World. After Tom Hiddleston dressed up as his character, Loki, and made a giant splash at San Diego Comic-Con, Thor director Alan Taylor decided to conduct reshoots for the film in order to add more Loki, who is a fan-favorite character in the MCU.

If there is one lesson to be learned from Veronica Mars, it isn’t that movie studios should look to fans so much for financial investment in a film, but rather, that an emotional investment between filmmakers and fans will benefit all. Perhaps, once Hollywood sees the opening weekend numbers for Veronica Mars, they’ll realize they need to work with the fans more, instead of just hoping the fans will support their films.