Remember Veronica Mars? It was a sharp, well-made mystery series that aired on the UPN cable network a while back – and that it was on the long-defunct UPN at all should give you an idea of just how long that “while” really is. The show had a devoted fan base, and those fans were justifiably ticked when Mars fell out of its orbit after a measly three seasons.
Rumors of a one-shot big-screen follow-up persisted for a while, and then everyone involved went on with their lives. But yesterday a funny thing happened: Rob Thomas, the show’s creator, launched a page on the Kickstarter crowd-funding website and challenged the world to help him rearrange Hollywood’s priorities: if a non-existent Veronica Mars movie could raise $2 million in donations from ordinary Joes like you and me – and do it in a month – Thomas promised the movie wouldn’t be non-existent any more.
Turns out he didn’t need to give fans 30 days. They didn't even need 30 hours. Less than a day later the word had spread sufficiently to attract the passion of fans who raised the $2 million and then some. The account will stay open for the month, so presumably the tally will keep going up.
This is big news for Kristen Bell fans, but the impact goes much further than that. For all its evolving on-screen high-tech wizardry, Hollywood has a behind the scenes production process that’s rather quaintly old-school: they invest millions of dollars (often hundreds of million dollars) on a vague promise that filmgoers will be interested in a movie in a couple of years. Will the film’s themes still resonate by then? Will it be released during a massive blizzard, thereby dampening the initial turnout that makes or breaks too many films? Will it stink? No one knows. They can’t know. They’re guessing.
But does it have to be that way? Advance crowd-funding efforts like this are a real way of taking the temperature of desired audiences. Instead of a screenwriter pitching a movie to a cynical studio executive – recreated vividly in Robert Altman’s The Player, seen above – the pitch can go straight to the American people, who can then vote with their wallets ahead of time.
I’m not saying this is the best way to make movies. There’s much to be said for film as an art form that needs the purity of its creator’s vision to keep it on track. But if Veronica Mars can do it, so can the creators of a lot of other projects – and you can bet your disposable income that they will.