Musings & Observations On The 'Veronica Mars' $2 Million Kickstarter Campaign...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
March 13, 2013 6:14 PM
11 Comments
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I assume you all are following the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign that launched earlier today, with a goal of $2 million. It's all over the media right now because, within a matter of hours, the campaign raised half of that figure, and is well on its way to raising the entire $2 million likely a lot sooner than the 30 days the filmmakers have allotted for the campaign.

I haven't seen a single episode of Veronica Mars, so I certainly can't call myself a fan. It's just not a program that attracted me.

Created by Rob Thomas, and starring Kristen Bell, the series premiered in 2004 on what used to be the UPN network, and ended its run in 2007, when UPN was replaced by the CW network.

The series is set in the fictional town of Neptune, California, and stars Kristen Bell as the title character, a student who progresses from high school to college while moonlighting as a private investigator under the tutelage of her detective father. In each episode, Veronica solves a different stand-alone case while working to solve a more complex mystery.

The series averaged 2.5 million viewers, was critically-acclaimed, garnered several awards and nominations, but was eventually cancelled, inspiring creator Rob Thomas to pen a feature film script of the series, in an effort to continue it. Unfortunately, Warner Bros wasn't interested in the idea at the time, despite the cult following the show had attracted over the years, as fans continued to hope for some kind of a revival of the series, whether on TV or as a feature film.

Skip ahead to today, March 13, 2013, to Thomas launching a Kickstarter campaign to produce the film, with a minimum goal of $2 million. According to the Kickstarter page, if the goal is reached, production is scheduled to begin this summer, with a projected release date of early 2014.

According to Thomas:

Kristen and I met with the Warner Bros brass, and they agreed to allow us to take this shot... They were extremely cool about it, as a matter of fact. Their reaction was, if you can show there’s enough fan interest to warrant a movie, we’re on board."

I think it's safe to say that, given fan participation in the campaign, Warner Bros brass will be on board. My guess is that "on board" likely means that they may add to that $2 million raised (although, at this pace, it's very likely that the campaign will blow past its $2 million goal, with 30 days left), and they'll also distribute the film.

So there's your back-story.

All that to say, ultimately, what this proves is that, if there's a hungry audience for whatever it is you're selling, they will most certainly support your effort, by speaking with their dollars (or whatever currency you use).

I've already read/heard a few folks analyzing the campaign - why it works, if there's some science to it, something that others can learn from and mimic, etc. I really don't think much analysis is necessary here. We're talking about a TV show that was on for a few seasons, built (and still has) a fairly large cult following, from all that I've read about it, who really want to see the series revived in some way, and are seemingly ecstatic to have this opportunity to directly impact whether or not the film gets made.

Power to the people, right? You speak with your dollars - a saying that I think we've all heard before. But it works, doesn't it? When a large group of people collectively get behind a project, this is what happens. Success!

The process has been democratized.

As of the time of this post, the campaign has raised about $1.3 million. A large percentage of that - about $1 million, came from contributions of between $10 and $200; so we're not talking large individual donations from a small elite group of people. It's folks like you and I for the most part.

On a weekly basis, we share 2 or 3 Kickstarter campaigns on this site, and I'd say that the majority of the campaigns we have shared were successfully funded (not that I'm taking credit for that by the way; campaigns travel and are often posted on many sites, including social networking shares, so those that are successful are collective efforts, and not just due to a single site).

As I noted in an earlier post today on Kickstarter statistics you should be aware of, I said that the bulk of successful film/video campaigns have goals in the $1,000 to $20,000 range, and that those asking for $100,000 or more were very rarely successful. I believe for those asking north of $100,000, the success rate was something like 1%; and those asking for between $20,000 and $100,000 was around 10%.

Roughly 80% of all successful film/video project campaigns on Kickstarter have fundraising goals that range from $1,000 to $20,000.

Obviously, this Veronica Mars campaign will have some effect on these percentages.

I couldn't help but think of Aaron McGruder's own Kickstarter campaign last month, for his Uncle Ruckus movie - a campaign that ran for 30 days, seeking $200,000, but was unsuccessful in raising that money. The total contributed by the end of the campaign, earlier this month, was $129,000 - just over 50%.

So what does that mean? Other than the fact that there obviously aren't/weren't enough fans who wanted to see an Uncle Ruckus live-action movie?

Writer Jasmine Golphin explored reasons for the campaign's failure in a piece on this site that you can read HERE.

Ultimately, I think it just comes down to what I said earlier: in short, if it's something enough people want, it'll succeed. You'll get your money!

Obviously making sure that there's awareness of your campaign is crucial to its success. But I'd say that there was a healthy awareness for McGruder's Kickstarter campaign. Could he or his team have done more to ensure that even more folks knew about it? I think one can always do more; but I also think that enough people knew about it, that if there was a strong desire for it, the money would've been there in the end.

I recall reading many disparaging comments from fans and non-fans who weren't interested in the movie at all, as well as fans specifically who said that they'd have given money if the film included other key characters from the TV series, and not center solely on Uncle Ruckus.

Also keep in mind that the campaign used up the entire 30 days, and still couldn't raise the $200,000.

But the Veronica Mars project has raised more than half of its goal (which is 10 times what McGruder was asking for) in less than a day; and they aren't doing anything particularly special with their campaign. They posted it up, fans ensured that it went viral, and the rest is history.

They are offering some nice perks, but nothing out of the ordinary, except when you get into the higher figures. But, as is the case with most campaigns, the higher the contribution, the more extravagant the perk.

And as a reminder, the bulk of the contributions so far have been from those giving at the bottom of the perk hierarchy.

Also worth considering is that success begets more success. Because of the names involved in the project, as well as the fact that the project already has a history and following, as its Kickstarter campaign contributions rapidly grew, that got the attention of the media, who reported on it (major sites like Deadline, Forbes, Entertainment Weekly, Yahoo Movies, and many others), which only helped drive even more traffic to the project's Kickstarter page, many of those clicks likely turning into contributions as well.

All this made we wonder about any black films that we could see funded at this level - in the multi-million dollar range - via Kickstarter; or used as a demonstration to show studios that there are audiences for certain projects. I'm thinking of a few that we've written about on this site, that seemed (and still seem) to appeal to a large number of you folks, based on number of comments, and what is said within those comments. Most recently, there was Ernest Dickerson's revelation that he has a solid completed script adaptation of Octavia Butler's Clay's Ark, but hasn't been able to find the money to get it produced.

I recall some of you even suggested in the comments section of that post, that Dickerson launch a Kickstarter campaign for the project, and you'd gladly contribute to it! Your enthusiasm was great to see, although, as someone pointed out, a film like this will likely require more than a couple of million dollars - or maybe not! After all, I didn't ask Ernest what his budget for the film was.

However, future dystopian wastelands created on film, as well as alien life forms, and the like, don't come cheap.

But, as I also stated, a Kickstarter campaign for a project like that, or any of the many others we've said that we'd like to see produced, could serve as a launching pad - essentially, as proof to studios that there's a passionate, large enough audience for these films, and demonstrating this fact by raising $2 million (for example) could encourage a studio exec to sit up and pay attention to the potential, and, in the end, greenlight the project.

Ultimately, to wrap this all up, studio filmmaking aside, WE can decide what gets made, and what we see. If Hollywood's black cinema output isn't appealing to you, contribute to those Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns we post on this site that DO appeal to you. And don't just contribute - be a rabid fan! Share the campaign, tell everyone of your Facebook friends about it, as well as your Twitter followers. And don't just tell them once; tell them twice, thrice, or more, spread out over the length of the campaign you're supporting of course.

With the success that Veronica Mars is seeing right now, I'm sure others of their ilk will take to crowd-funding with dreams of seeing their projects realized as well. But it could be that this Veronica Mars campaign is one of those freak occurrences, and future campaigns by others with similar back-stories, may not be anywhere nearly as successful.
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11 Comments

  • TheEbonyCinematheque | March 19, 2013 6:40 PMReply

    What this just proved to everyone in Hollywood was that studios could make films out of beloved properties that the fans enjoy (Veronica Mars, Twin Peaks, Family Matters, Sister to Sister) only if the fans are willing to come up out of their pockets and pay for half of it and if that's how they wanna play why not? If we wanna see serious, in depth portrayals of African Americans in films and well as genre cinema(horror, scifi and thrillers), start a Kickstarter project and wait for the donations to come in. Prove to the studios there is still interest, that's what happened with V.M - they didn't believe anyone wanted to see it, till they got over 3M for fans. But the creator already wrote a script, reached out to the cast and got everyone on board, could the same be done for untapped African American properties?

    - Lesia Dasah

  • Laya | March 14, 2013 4:11 PMReply

    One advantage indiegogo has over kickstarter is that even if you don't hit your goal, you still get to keep the money that was donated (depending on which plan you choose - I think the site gets a higher cut if you opt to keep the money). So that may be an option for projects that aren't sure they will hit their goals. Also, I've seen a lot of projects post their kickstarter in stages, i.e: we need this much to get the script done, this much for initial production costs, this much for various parts of the post-production process. And they keep people updated on every stage of the process. That may be another way to get the money raised without needing to do a large initial amount.

    Also, it may be lower amount kickstarters that get funded but isn't that only a portion of costs? Freddie Wong did a really interesting post about the costs of making his webseries, Video Game High School (google it - i think posting the link is making me look like spammer). They set a goal of $75,000 and ended up raising $273,725, but the actual series cost $636,010.71. And they spent $40,000 just fulfilling the orders for the Kickstarter perks!

  • M. | March 14, 2013 12:46 PMReply

    I'm happy for their success buuuttt...I'd rather them bring back the show instead of a movie. I'll go to the theater and watch sure, if only to see what the characters lives are like now, but again, I'd rather have the show.

  • Whitney | March 14, 2013 2:19 AMReply

    I donated. Loved the show, particularly the first season.

  • Pk | March 13, 2013 9:24 PMReply

    I am a fan of "Veronica Mars", it was good. Witty & mysterious..rare in a US teen show. Diverse with a black male best friend, a Latino co-lead & various episodes with multiracial casting.
    The lead actress , Kristen Bell is out there today, visible with "House of Lies" & hasn't shied from the show. On her twitter she posts about hanging out with former cast mates & the fact 1 or 2 have appeared on "House of Lies".

    I'm a bigger "Boondocks" fan but their campaign had no confidence & poor timing ( Uncle Ruckus after "Django" ...). Uncle Ruckus had an episode of backstory & it was 1 of the weaker episodes of the series run. It took out the pop culture references I personally liked being scrutinized . The voice actors didn't keep fanfare going ( like 'Veronica' had).. we'd just hear the show would end..then it came back with a just decent season...& Aaron Mcgruder was attached with "Red Tails"..


    I do feel a black series could succeed like this. Though it was free , black fans were very active about saving "The Game" once it was cancelled from upn/cw. The actors were engaged in it, videos were posted, petitions spread through "black twitter" & popular black created blogs until it turned into a BET show with record ratings from any sitcom on cable in history.
    So many black series are cancelled with no warning & definitely no farewell episode. Being in my mid 20s , I'd hear my peers lament on being cheated by cliffhangers on "Moesha" , which ended with a kidnapping & a pregnancy test after 100 episodes. People felt similar with "Girlfriends" even though the last season or 2 had the weddings & births we expect from a finale. Still the series was on like 9 years , the longest for any series created in that time period. I honestly think that if Mara Brock Akil starts a kickstarter for a "Girlfriends" feature it will be successful. Another season could end up like "The Game" , (which has yet to find its BET footing) or Tracie Ellis Ross' last project, "Reed Between the Lines". A movie seems safer & "Sex & the City" has 2 films & a teen drama prequel series on CW now.

  • Nadia | March 13, 2013 9:03 PMReply

    Welp, it's passed the $2 mill mark as of 9pm. Right now it's at $2,024,000 so the movie is happening then. With 30 days to go, it's going to be interesting to see how much they raise total by the end of the campaign. This is very interesting.

  • Akimbo | March 13, 2013 8:44 PMReply

    I'm a fan of Veronica Mars and I'm glad the campaign is doing well, but I just don't believe in giving to people who have the means to finance projects on their own/without asking for handouts from the plebes.

  • bohemian princess | March 13, 2013 10:35 PM

    @Joe Nardo, it makes perfect sense. Kickstarter tells you how many backers are funding a project. If the VM Kickstarter campaign had one 2 million dollar donation coming from one source then that wouldn't exactly assuage Warner Brothers doubts about the lack of public interest now would it? Once again WB did not think there were enough fans to warrant footing the bill for a multi million dollar movie of a television show that was cancelled 6 years ago. Now that 35,000 people (and counting) have donated over 2.1 million dollars I think they are paying attention.

    There may be other ways to gauge fans interest but nothing speaks louder than money and when fans put their money where there mouth is I think that tells WB a hell of a lot more than any of these supposed other ways you speak of. Nothing talks like money. My guess is WB did not realize just how deep and rabid the fanbase for this show was and they probably told Rob to do the campaign because they didn't think fans would pull through. Remember he and Kristen have been bugging them for 6 long years

    WB is a multi billion dollar corporation. I have a hard time believing their ulterior motive is to bilk fans out of couple of million dollars which to them is a drop in the bucket. There goal is to make money and had they known the film would be successful they would have greeenlit it ages ago. I suspect as Tambay indicated in the article that WB may add to the budget now that their eyes have been opened in addition to footing the bill for the marketing, promotion, and distribution.

  • Joe Nardo | March 13, 2013 10:09 PM

    @BOHEMIAN PRINCESS - that doesn't make any sense: then why not just start a Kickstarter campaign and have Kristen Bell donate the $2m? I'm sure there are other ways besides Kickstarter that WB could gauge fan interest in the film. The only difference is those other ways wouldn't have fans funding a for-profit venture by a mega corporation- fans who then pony up again to see it once it hits the theatre, and then buy it on blu-ray the following year, and see it on the internet or TV for years following laced with commercials generating more money for WB, Rob Thomas, and the cast of the film. I don't blame them for doing it, but I think it's a shame this is being allowed and endorsed by Kickstarter.

  • bohemian princess | March 13, 2013 9:19 PM

    @Akimbo Kristen Bell offered time and again to fund the movie out of her own pocket but Warner Brothers who owns the rights VM refused to give Rob Thomas, the creator, permission because they did not believe there was enough fan interest to warrant a feature film. The only way they would allow them the opportunity to make the film was through a Kickstarter funded campaign to gauge the public's interest in which case they (WB) would distribute it and fund the marketing campaign. So you see, it's not that they didn't try this is the only way they could gain the approval after 6 years of trying every which way to make it happen.

  • FactChecker | March 13, 2013 8:13 PMReply

    I see this V. Mars thing as an anomaly. I never watched the show, but from what I read on Deadline.com it had a cult-like following. Additionally, I honestly don't see crowdfunding working for black movies because we're a much more fickle, less cohesive audience when it comes to supporting these types of ventures. And we don't have the discretionary $$$ to spend on folly such as this. ... But I also can't think of any other dominant culture brands that this could work for either.

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