YAY VERONICA MARS! We Got Our Movie, But Is That A Good Thing?

Logan and Veronica may be my OTP, but I’m not 100% convinced this crowdfunded project should be a source of universal rejoicing, because it’s creating a lot of sticky thoughts about media, ownership, and production.

Mar 14, 2013 at 2:30pm | Leave a comment

In case you missed it in the flood of Pope-related Tweetery yesterday, there is for sure going to be a “Veronica Mars” movie, thanks to the magic of crowdfunding. I’m going to have a hard time imagining that you did miss it, though, because it was all over the Internet, and with good reason; a creator taking to the Internet to ask for help with funding a project is nothing new, but a creator asking for two million to make a movie out of a beloved television series is something novel.

And so is the fact that he met his goal in under 24 hours. I had the window open all day, watching the numbers tick steadily up and up, and as of right now, it’s exceeded $2.7 million (I expect smoldering in exotic locations, Logan). (I had to update that number between my first draft and this one, and it's still going to be outdated by the time this article goes up.)

The setup: “Veronica Mars” is one of the most amazing television series of all times. Its gritty, noir feel is the perfect backdrop for the heroine, who’s fallen from a life of privilege to a disillusioned reality as she understands how quickly the people around her can turn on her and her family. It’s got sharp, snappy dialogue, sassy, independent women, and story arcs that unfold over the course of multiple seasons, drawing you in and spinning you out again. Did I mention that Veronica Mars is a detective, like her father? Because I love me some lady sleuths.  

Rob Thomas created a masterwork of television here, and it only ran for three seasons, because there is no justice in the world, and every time I find a television show I love, an angel loses its wings. It’s a show that engages with class, race, gender, and sexuality; not always perfectly (some excellent criticism has been written about Weevil, the show’s primary Latino character), but in a way that is sharp and engaging.

Contrast with “Buffy” (also an excellent series), where there’s nary a Latino character to be seen, even though the setting, as with “Veronica Mars,” is Southern California, where a lily-white population stretches the bounds of believability. (Then again, so do hellholes, vampires, and ancient vengeance demons who are afraid of bunnies.)

When the show was canceled, fans pleaded and begged for more. No-go, said the studio, and we subsided into a sad, sullen mass. Occasionally our hopes of a revival would be rekindled, not least by Rob Thomas himself, who kept teasing us with a movie. If we were very, very good, perhaps we would get to reunite with the gang.

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So when Rob Thomas took to Kickstarter yesterday morning with Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni, and Ryan Hansen to ask for funds to revive the series, my ears perked up. This was our shot, apparently, but when I saw the target goal, I deflated. $2 million is a lot of money. Like, a lot a lot. And it’s actually pretty cheap for a movie production; the only way they were getting away with it was that Warner Brothers had agreed to help with distribution (in addition to giving clearance to the project).

But it was still an ambitious goal.

WELCOME TO THE INTERNET, AND NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF FANDOM

However, I hadn’t considered two things. One, the deep love for “Veronica Mars” that lies deep in the breast of so many people, and two, the publishing industry. I’m not kidding. My Twitter exploded with agents, editors and writers squeeing with excitement over the thought of a movie and the Kickstarter project, and I watched the numbers turn over so fast I could barely keep up throughout the day.

By the time I’d hit my last cat video of the day, the deed was done. The little movie that could had done it, with funds to spare, and it had 30 days to go still, which meant that it could potentially get even more funding to make it even more spectacular. (That’s not a hint or anything. No, not at all. I wouldn’t tell you to go donate if you hadn’t already right in the middle of an article about this phenomenon, that would be crass.)

Amazing precedents were set here; “Veronica Mars” climbed to one million faster than any other Kickstarter project, and it blew past two million in record-breaking time.

Like, woah, people! Revolutionizing media! That’s the whole point of Kickstarter, and it’s exciting to see it happen with this project in particular. People across the Internet were crowing about how this might signal hope for so many other beloved and abandoned franchises (“Firefly,” we hardly knew ye).

And, as Arielle Duhaime-Ross pointed out at “The Atlantic,” it also marked a pop culture victory because “Veronica Mars” contains one of the most complex, authentic depictions of rape and its aftermath, in a storyline that stretches across all three seasons. At the start of the first season we learn that she was raped at a party, and we spend the next two seasons tracking her efforts to find out who did it and why. In the course of the third season, she’s pulled into the investigation of a serial rapist on her college campus, and her own experiences become a key part of the story. (Not everyone at xoJane likes the handling of Veronica's rape!)

Gosh, it’s almost like people want to see defiant, aggressive television that not only features awesome female characters, but also talks about rape. And doesn’t flinch away from ugly things, like the STI Veronica got as a result of her rape. And admits that rape isn't a Very Special Episode subject that can be stretched over one or two episodes at much, but an event that stays with you for life.

In this movie, projected for release in 2014, we’re going to be seeing everyone ten years later, older, wiser, more experienced, and with their own baggage to bring to the table. Where could it lead us?

TIME TO RAIN ON YOUR PARADE

But all is not perfect in the world of crowdfunded TV projects. Ashley Edward Miller, a writer, producer, and story editor with over 10 years of experience in the industry, sounded some warning bells on Twitter this morning, and they were right on point.

I hate to drop a steamer on the party, but the Veronica Mars thing is a TERRIBLE precedent unless studios profit share directly with donors...The point is not about the legal/financial vagaries of kickstarter, but studios shaking down fans and creators...in time, said creators will LITERALLY have to treat fans as owners. Studio notes are bad enough. Wait until Bob from Wichita sends a memo...If you think the issue is Kickstarter, you are oblivious to the reasons why the studios think this is a good idea AND how it can be abused.

He raises some critical issues here that need to be addressed; “Veronica Mars” had the power of novelty, a loyal fan base, and a whole lot of buzz, making it a bit unique in terms of the kind of funding it could attract. For the studio, this was a no-lose proposition. If the project didn’t get funded, great, who cares. If it did, the studio would have a dangerous precedent, showing that it’s possible to force fans and creators to bring their own funding to projects they want to see made.

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Which makes it even more unlikely that offbeat projects without high profiles would have a chance of getting made, because those kinds of projects die on platforms like Kickstarter every day. Not enough momentum, not enough fans, not enough buzz. As Miller says, this is something that could be ripe for easy exploitation; yes, it’s unprecedented, yes, it’s a novel illustration of a different production and funding model...but is that a good thing?

I’m as excited about the “Veronica Mars” movie as pretty much my entire Twitter timeline (and I’m as pissed about the Pope as pretty much my entire Twitter timeline too), but I’m also cautious. The last few years have seen repeated fan attempts to resurrect canceled or on the bubble shows, and many of those have failed spectacularly. The “Veronica Mars” movie is a long, long way from hitting a theater near you, and along the way it could hit a number of stumbling blocks.

And the idea that fans can be compelled to cough up funds to get the projects they want out there is stirring all kinds of ideas in the industry. At the same time that studios are considering ways in which they can insulate themselves from financial risk by putting the burden on the fans, fans are also considering their new role in this media empire; by stumping up for a film, do you also have an ownership stake?

How many people will take their honorary “producer” titles literally, believing that their funds entitle them to input into the creative direction of a project? How many creators are ready and willing to struggle with conflicting interests in the process of trying to make a project on what is, Hollywood budget-wise, a shoestring?

Logan and Veronica may be my OTP, but I’m not 100% convinced this crowdfunded project should be a source of universal rejoicing, because it’s creating a lot of sticky thoughts about media, ownership, and production. Rob Thomas did something bold and precedent-setting here, as did all the marshmallows who tossed some funds at the idea, but where (as Buffy says) do we go from here?