Major Studio uses crowdfunding to increase profit margin
Luke Pebler guest blogs on Suzanne Scott’s website, talking about My Gigantic Issue With the Veronica Mars Kickstarter.
I think the studio let Thomas try this out because he’s passionate and they’re clueless, but what happens in a month, when they’re suddenly holding $4 million of our money, and Rob writes a script that budgets out to $6 mil? Or $12 mil? Do they pony up the rest? Do they delay the shoot and insist on rewrites? Do they scrap it all and give the money back?…
If the studio is unable to take our word when we sign a petition, then why are we sending them money blindly and taking their word for it?
Has anyone ever heard of development hell? What if Veronica Mars goes into development hell after the successful kickstarter campaign while Warner Bros sits on the dough? The project remains uncompleted but not ‘cancelled’ as such, just delayed. To get their money back fans would have to mount a class action.
…What does Warner care about whether Veronica Mars fans are happy anymore? The show’s been off the air for years. The disconnection between the project that is being sold and the entity selling it is the key here. All the details of this campaign smell of the studio. The donation premiums are all pretty boiler-plate studio swag (and not deliverable until 2014 or later, natch). Your backer’s day-of-release digital copy? Not a convenient, DRM-less file, but a license code for Flixter, the WB-backed online movie site.
I’ve never used Flixter, but I’m guessing it’s not DRM-free….
It’s important to keep in mind how much money we’re talking here. $2 mil is a very weird sweet spot for Rob to pull out of the air. It’s exceedingly low for a feature film. To produce such a movie would basically mean the cast & crew were all willing to work for union minimum. But if that’s the case—if everyone’s dying to do it and so excited and can’t wait—why can’t the producers raise the funds privately? In this case, it’s because the underlying intellectual property is owned by the Warner Brothers, and therefore any movie that emerges is necessarily a WB studio venture.
Bear in mind that if Rob Thomas owned the IP for Mars, and this was a wholly independent venture, I would be mostly fine with it (though I would still gripe that he should raise the money himself privately).
I’ve seen a number of crowdfunding projects that I felt like giving a standing ovation to, while sitting at my computer (Anita Sarkeesian, Iron Sky); Veronica Mars is not one of them. This crowdfunding campaign is one of an increasing number that has left a foul taste in my mouth. Luke Pebler writes passionately and well, covering most of the issues here. (Full blog here.)
In my opinion, crowdfunding platforms should restrict access, preventing big business from abusing the model. I think a major company like Warner Bros using kickstarter is an abuse of the crowdfunding model. They’re essentially getting fans to financially back the movie without giving them a cut of the profits, which is ethically questionable conduct. Sitting on the money, getting interest from those $millions will be great for Warner Bros. And if the movie goes into development hell? Betcha they don’t give the money back without a fight. I anticipate tears, if not for this project then in future crowdsourcing by Hollywood movie studios. I also believe that this crowdfunding campaign is actually FREE PUBLICITY to build anticipation of the movie.
The difference between Anita Sarkeesian’s crowdfunding and Veronica Mars is that Anita wanted a modest amount ($6000) to complete a project that was unlikely to get backing any other way. Anita’s project, a feminist exploration of gamer culture, clearly met a felt need. Personally I think the only other way that project may have come to fruition is if a feminist completed a PhD on the subject, which wouldn’t have been as accessible as Anita’s webseries. Watch. It’s a must.
The chasm between Iron Sky and Veronica Mars begins with who was making Iron Sky: NOT a multi-million-(billion?)-dollar company in Hollywood; Iron Sky was made by a bunch of people living and working in Finland whose previous projects were an evolving series of fan films. The last fan-film prior to Iron Sky was Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, a goofy comedy where Star Trek went to war with Babylon 5. This movie had excellent production values in spite of being a dirt cheap fan production because these guys were in it for the love. Iron Sky was the next step, beginning with the Finnish government giving them a grant to provide a professional script writer. Over the years that followed, they secured more grants, were creative with crowdfunding and the movie grew. The Iron Sky team may have – at least partially – moved on to Hollywood in the wake of Iron Sky‘s success, but Iron Sky itself was not a Hollywood production. There were no other alternatives for funding: they explored them all. Veronica Mars crowdfunding is an easy ploy for big business to get seed funding that could be sourced elsewhere and to abuse the crowdfunding model for cheap advertising. A very bad precedent.
The Veronica Mars kickstarter has raised questions about Firefly: in my opinion, any Firefly kickstarter needs to START with the purchase of the rights from Fox, NOT be a means of Fox increasing its profit margin. We’re headed down a slippery slope here.