“Maybe there’ll be a movie!” It’s been the rallying cry of many a disappointed fan of a prematurely dead TV series. Deadwood fans have carried the hope of a wrap-up movie ever since the HBO Western was fed to the pigs. Arrested Development has teased fans with the promise of a Hollywood feature for years—and still is, even as it gets ready to release a new season on Netflix, which is intended as the prelude to a still-not-certain flick. Community pre-emptively raised the hope while it was still on the air with the slogan, “Six seasons and a movie!”
There has been similar talk about a Veronica Mars movie ever since the UPN/CW teen-noir drama slept the big sleep too soon, after three seasons in 2007. But it may actually happen—depending how badly its fans want it.
Creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell have launched a Kickstarter project to raise $2 million to pay for a Veronica Mars movie. You pay for it, they’ll make it. As with many Kickstarter projects, there are sweetener incentives for donors—everything from T-shirts and digital downloads of the movie (“within a few days” of the theatrical debut) to being cast as a background extra. But there’s also a catch. Because of schedule issues (particularly Bell’s commitment to House of Lies), they need to raise the funds in 30 days. If not, no one pays—they leave the pledges uncollected—and the chance to make the movie passes forever.
Now I’m not in the business of telling you what to do with your money. But I will say that this is an important experiment, not just for this particular movie but for the movies (and TV) in general. Yes, I’d like to see Veronica Mars get a chance to come back. (And I say this as someone who doesn’t always think movie versions of TV shows are a good idea; but Veronica Mars’ mystery format and unfinished business make it a good candidate.)
The bigger deal, though, is what a successful Mars mission could mean for supposedly lost causes, niche stories, and tough-to-finance projects in the future. Getting a movie (or a TV show) made successfully isn’t just about pleasing a home audience; it’s about crafting a pitch that convinces a smaller audience of studio executives or investors that the show is worth their money. You may really want a certain movie to be made, but you are only going to buy so many tickets (or, later, DVDs). In other words, in movies as in TV, there’s an assumption that you have to satisfy a broad audience to succeed.
The potential for projects like Kickstarter is that they provide a way to monetize depth, not just breadth, of interest—which is something that has helped creative diversity in the larger entertainment world. Netflix, HBO and Showtime make series that couldn’t be made 10 years ago, because they have a way of monetizing TV fans who like the shows so much they’ll pay. Likewise, established artists like Louis CK have been able to retail their art directly to fans.
In the same sense, the traditional movie business doesn’t really monetize intensity of interest. I mean, you can decide to see a favorite film ten times, but beyond that, the ticket of an intense fan generates no more money than that of a casual fan. Kickstarter can change that, even more than direct-pay models like iTunes or indirect-pay models like pay cable. Do you really want a Veronica Mars movie? Well, you can now literally set a price on how badly you want it. If this project fails, of course, others may think twice about trying again. If it succeeds, though, who’s to say we can’t pay for more non-TV-based movies, or iTunes-style downloads of entire TV seasons?
As I post this, hours after the drive went live, the pledges have just cracked $100,000. As I said, the call is yours, but my money is on expanding the opportunities for creative work to get made.
[Update: I should note, in the interest of somewhat complicated disclosure, that the movie would be made for Warner Brothers, which is currently a sister company of TIME in Time Warner--though, also in fairness, under the terms of Time Inc.'s spinoff plan, it will no longer be a sister company by next year when the movie is made and any profit realized. So consider that connection, or future lack of connection, accordingly.]