I have never seen an episode of Veronica Mars. I know I should, just as I know I should watch Breaking Bad, eat vegetables, and work on my thesis. However, many other people (56,029 people and counting) have not only watched Veronica Mars, but have felt passionate enough about the series to help fund its feature film adaptation via a campaign on the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter. This may appear as just another cool story, but it in fact raises important questions about the power of fandom and the future of cinema.
Veronica Mars perfectly fits the definition of a cult TV show. It received much critical acclaim, had a short run (three seasons on UPN/The CW), and had cast members (Kristen Bell, Amanda Seyfried) who became household names after the show went off the air. Thus, the idea that Veronica Mars would become a film with the participation of the original cast and creator (Rob Thomas) seemed to be a pipe dream. However, on Wednesday, an official Kickstarter emerged with the participation of Thomas, Bell, and Warner Brothers (who hold the rights to Veronica Mars). The goal of the project was to raise $2,000,000 in a month with different rewards given as incentives to individuals who contribute certain dollar amounts. The project raised its goal amount in under a day, as fans wanted to not only see the continuing adventures of the collegiate private investigator, but to be given a voicemail by Kristen Bell or be invited to attend the premiere of the film in Los Angeles. Thus, the meaning of the donations is not just tied to the film, but also to the idea of being a good member of the Veronica Mars cult. In some ways, this is an extension of the fanboy/fangirl aesthetic that has emerged around certain franchises as a result of events, such as the San Diego Comic-Con. While those events allowed fans to become invested in the making of their anticipated entertainments, the fact that fans are now literally “investing” in films could have dubious consequences.
The fact that the goal of the Kickstarter was only $2,000,000 should raise some red flags. That seems like a high number, but is miniscule compared to the customary $200,000,000 budgets of recent blockbusters such as Oz: The Great and Powerful. In comparison, $2,000,000 is just under the budget ($2.5 million) of Garden State, a very small-scale film that was made almost ten years ago. On a budget that small, it seems safe to say that the Veronica Mars movie will probably be disappointing to fans. While Thomas has stated that the more the Kickstarter raises, the higher the budget (and thus the production value), setting the bar that low is a little devious and only satiates fans’ hunger through instant gratification. If something like Wonderfalls (a cult TV show from the 2000’s that I enjoy) were to be given a film adaptation, I would hope that the film were as good as possible and that the script were not determined by how well its creator can fundraise.
While I think that Kickstarter is a great tool for funding potentially risky projects, I am worried about it becoming a tool that mainly functions (at least when it comes to feature films) as a way to fund adaptations of known properties. While a Veronica Mars film might be entertaining, it is a less important film project than an original vision that might never have had a chance in the studio system if not for Kickstarter. However, those kind of projects are unlikely to meet their goals, since people have no concept of what the finished product might look like. Thus, Kickstarter seems likely to further the obsession with the franchises that characterize Hollywood. A Veronica Mars film will be good for fans in the short term, but the long term may not be rosy for those who appreciate quality filmmaking.