After a few years of new tech products and music albums being “crowdfunded” by fans who get a piece of the action in return, the first high profile movie is set to launch based on that same principle. But rather than being an outsider indie project with the kind of script that can’t get made in Hollywood and starring newcomers who wouldn’t fit in there, the movie in question turns out to be a recycle of the old Veronica Mars television show.
With the movie industry establishment increasingly turns to sequels, prequels, reboots, and other movies centered around familiar plots and characters over the past decade, the popular complaint among viewing audiences has been that Hollywood must be out of ideas. Studios are playing it safe more than ever, assuming that a bad sequel with known characters is likely to be more profitable than a high quality movie based new characters. And those bets have more often than not turned out to be correct. Taken 2, a widely panned sequel with a mere 21% approval rating on movie critic site Rotten Tomatoes, nonetheless had a bigger box office take than its much more highly critically regarded predecessor. Even as opening weekend viewers took to Twitter to complain about just how bad the sequel was, others continued to go see it merely because it starred Liam Neeson playing the same character as the first Taken movie. And so Hollywood continues to serve up retreads because, for lack of any other consideration, they make money. If fewer inventive or original or even good movies get made as a result, then so be it.
The democratization of the internet now threatens to put that decision making power into the hands of fans directly, to the point that they now have the power to collectively fund a multimillion dollar movie by each throwing in a few bucks on a site like Kickstarter. Fans of Veronica Mars can donate as little as a dollar, but larger amounts will net them a series of tiered rewards. Ten dollars will get you a copy of the shooting script. Twenty-five nets you a T-shirt. Ten thousand dollars gets you a small speaking role in the movie itself. So far the project has netted more than $3.3 million from about fifty thousand people, with the average donation size being sixty-five dollars. With more money already in hand than needed for production, fans of the television show starring Kristen Bell will get their movie.
What remains to be seen is whether the sentimental monetary support for a movie based on a beloved television show with a large installed fan base will translate into other projects receiving significant crowdfunding based independent merit, or whether the public greenlight on this project will merely lead to similar sentimental cinematic resurrections such as Firefly. Veronica Mars is far from the first movie to be funded in such a manner, but it’s the first with a budget that rivals what Hollywood would have given it. Whether viewers begin collectively putting significant money behind original ideas will determine whether such films get made, or whether the traditional movie studios are correct in their assumption that sequels and retreads are what audiences truly want, despite their own claims to the contrary.