Let me start by saying I have no opinion about the show Veronica Mars. While I have been aware of the show, I have never watched an episode. I enjoy the star of the show, Kristen Bell, and coincidentally, have in the past very much enjoyed the work of the actor who plays her father Enrico Colantoni in Just Shoot Me and Galaxy Quest. That being said, Veronica Mars is a show I just never got around to.
When I heard about the Kickstarter to fund a Veronica Mars feature film, while listening to the excellent podcast Monkey in the Cage, alarms immediately started to go off. To my limited knowledge of Kickstarter, the majority of projects being funded are for a small niche of the populace, and will not generate a lot of revenue after the project is completed. A Veronica Mars movie, however, is another beast entirely.
According to Nielsen, during its final season (2006-2007) Veronica Mars finished with a rating of 1.1/3. This means that during a showing of Veronica Mars, 1.1% of all households with a television (approximately 1.2 million of the 112 million total), and 3% of all television households with a television on at the time, were watching Veronica Mars. If we assume that a household contains on average 1.5 people, then Veronica Mars had a fan base of 1.8 million people. I believe that assuming half of those 1.8 million people will pay to see the movie in one form or another is reasonable. Additionally, since Veronica Mars left the air, Kristen Bell has expanded her fan base with movies and TV appearances, meaning the movie will probably bring in viewers who have never heard of Veronica Mars prior to the movie. As a comparison, Kristen Bell’s 2010 film “When in Rome”, which was overwhelmingly panned by reviewers, still grossed $32 million. There is definitely money to be made.
The kickstarter is asking for 2 million dollars, and at the time of this writing, it had amassed nearly 3.8 million dollars with 3 weeks still to go. A budget of 2 million (or 3.8) is miniscule by today’s standards. Two million is enough to get the movie made, and not much else. If special effects and the number of locations are kept to a minimum, a movie can be filmed and edited fairly cheaply. For these types of films, where you accrue the most costs is marketing; it doesn’t matter how good a film is if no one knows about it. For an independent film, the best way to market the film is to not market it at all. I know this contradicts the previous sentence, but follow me. If a filmmaker uses their entire budget to produce a quality movie to completion, so all it needs is to be marketed and distributed, you may be able to convince a major studio to market and distribute the film for you. You share your profits with the studio, and everyone is happy. The Veronica Mars television show was produced in cooperation with Warner Bros, so they’re the obvious choice to distribute the film.
So now the question arises, if a movie has a fan base (profits) already in place, a major studio to distribute the film, the star’s husband (Dax Shepard) has a production company, and the star has a net worth of 8 million dollars meaning she could fund the entire project herself if she really wanted to, why hasn’t the movie been already made? Why go to kickstarter? My answer is Serenity.
The film based on the show Firefly grossed 25 million in theatres. However, it cost 39 million to make and 10 million to market. The movie didn’t make it into the red for the studio until DVD sales. My guess is Warner Bros is unwilling to risk funds producing a Veronica Mars movie, but has told the show if the movie gets made, they’ll distribute it. Serenity may have only grossed 25 million in theatres, but it grossed 39 million from DVD sales, rentals, and TV licensing. Veronica Mars fans are not as rabid (probably)as Firefly fans, but Veronica Mars likely has broader appeal (not Sci-Fi, larger female audience), so I am going to assume that the Veronica Mars film can expect similar figures, while also costing more than 30 million less to make. That means after ticket sales, DVD’s and rentals/TV, the Veronica Mars film can potentially gross 59 million dollars, while only costing 4 million to make. If Warner Bros spends an additional 10 million in marketing/distribution, that is still a gross of 45 million dollars. As an investor in the production of the film, shouldn’t you get some of that money?
For the larger tiers in the Kickstarter for Veronica Mars, you can be an extra, get personalized voicemail/videomail messages from the stars, get tickets to the premieres, and other similar goodies. For the big investor ($10,000), you get a one-line speaking part in the film as a waiter (plus you have to fly yourself to the shoot at an additional cost). Nowhere does it allow the investors of the film to recoup their money or earn a profit. For $10,000 I should get whatever prizes are already offered, and I should get my $10,000 back when the film is profitable. A film production normally has to hire the extras and bit players at a cost, but why bother when they’ll pay you absurd amounts of money?
Under normal circumstances, the producer finds funding for a film. Entities invest in the film by giving money to the project, and the investors see a return once the movie makes a profit. It’s kind of like the stock market; you buy shares in a movie, and at some time in the future, they (hopefully) pay out. Now with Kickstarter, studios don’t have to worry about the money owed to the investors eating away at the profits, because there isn’t anything owed. All the risk and cost is taken away from the studio and given to society (kickstarter donators), but the studio still gets all the profit associated with that risk. This represents a huge shift in the way a studio finances a movie. Why go to banks and the like for financing when someone is more than willing to give you $8,000 to be an extra and name a character in the movie? The Veronica Mars kickstarter heralds the unraveling of a proven business model. If this film makes anywhere close to the numbers I’ve projected, and the investors get none of that money, the investors have been screwed, plain and simple. And judging by how successful the kickstarter is, this isn’t an isolated incident. Shame on them.
*Author’s note: All the figures listed in this article have been culled from various sources on the internet and I cannot vouch for their validity