When Kickstarter jumps the (Veronica Mars) shark

I try to keep things generally positive on my blog, but something about this story really irks me, so…

Let me begin this rant by saying that I like the idea of Kickstarter, the crowd funding site. I’ve supported many projects on it, and most recently had one of my own funded via the site. But I’m sorry, I have to call bullshit on this one.


Are you kidding me? A major movie studio (Warner Bros.) basically asking their audience to fund their movie, to the tune of $2 million! Of course, fanboys/nerds/genre geeks (whatever you want to call them, and I do include myself in the group) being who they are, have gladly shelled over $3.5 million so far to fund a giant corporation’s movie. And there’s still 26 days to go, so who knows how many more millions they’ll fork over.

OK, yes, I know it’s a democratic process and nobody is forcing these people to fund the project. They’re doing it because of their love of the property, and their desire to see more of it. I get that. But still, it feels very, very wrong to me.

Crowd funding sites came about to help *CREATORS* fund their projects, not subsidize some multinational mega-corporation.

And there’s another aspect to this Kickstarter campaign that I think the folks rushing to throw money at it haven’t really thought about: accountability. From Kickstarter’s own FAQ page:

Who is responsible for completing a project as promised?

It’s the project creator’s responsibility to complete their project. Kickstarter is not involved in the development of the projects themselves.

Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project.

Now, I’m not saying that the owner of this particular project, Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, is undependable or has no intention of following through with his plan to make the movie. Far from it, it’s obvious that he’s passionate and energetic and fully committed to making this movie. But here’s the thing: when all’s said and done, he has no power whatsoever to follow through on his goal, genuine as that may be.

Ultimately, Warner Bros. gets to make that call. And guess what? They’re not the Kickstarter project owner, and have zero responsibility and zero obligations.

Here are Rob’s words, from the Kickstarter intro:

“Of course, Warner Bros. still owns Veronica Mars and we would need their blessing and cooperation to pull this off. Kristen and I met with the Warner Bros. brass, and they agreed to allow us to take this shot.”

First of all, allow me to congratulate Warner Bros. for being so incredibly generous to “allow” people to give them free money, with absolutely zero risk to the studio. What great movie making folks they are. And secondly, if the phrases “met with the Warner Bros. brass” and “they agreed to allow us to take this shot” make you feel confident that the movie studio is obligated, ethically and legally, to make this movie, then you’re either the world’s biggest optimist, or stupidest investor. Seriously.

It’s not like it’s a strictly guarded movie business secret. Everyone knows that the promise of a movie being made is worth absolutely zero, even if there are reams of contracts and dozens of signatures involved. Movies get optioned, talked about, promised, worked on, only to be ultimately abandoned with no rhyme or reason, and no accountability. Hell, movies get made and then shelved/abandoned, never to be seen. What makes these folks think this case is going to be different?

(Aside: on the topic of Kickstarter and accountability, I made the following comment in the discussion thread of this same topic on Facebook, and thought it would be worthwhile to share it here as well: If I (as an individual creator) fail to meet the obligations of my Kickstarter project, the damage to my personal reputation would be great, and it’s conceivable that the 88 backers of my project could collectively or individually take legal action against me. As a single individual, the threat of having to defend myself against such action is considerable, hence there’s immense incentive for me to meet my obligation. I don’t think the same incentive exists for a massive movie studio, because frankly they don’t give a damn about their “reputation,” and they have an army of lawyers at their disposal. I don’t even think they would suffer any repercussions down the road. I can pretty much guarantee the same fans who may bitch and moan about boycotting Warner Bros. should this Kickstarter campaign get scuttled, will still be first in line for the next Batman movie, or whatever genre flick the studio releases in the future.)

But again, I realize that people like what they like, and if Warner Bros. (and Rob Thomas) can convince folks to throw money at a potential movie project with a high risk of never coming to fruition, then I guess more power to them. That’s capitalism in action.

For me, personally, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and feels like a terrible precedent being set.

I can’t wait for the comic book industry to capitalize on this trend next. I can just see it: Marvel will start a Kickstarter campaign to have the fans fund the publication of a Doop solo title, so the company won’t have to take on the risk. You’re DC and want to further develop your Creature Commandos characters for pitching to Hollywood, but know the comic won’t sustain itself? No problem, have the fans fund your business venture for you.

doop-speaks2 creaturecommandos_wwt093_01

Oh, and by the way, for their generous subsidy to the corporate coffers, the fans will get partial ownership in those intellectual properties, as well as royalty on the sales of the comics, and residuals if those properties are ever translated into successful movies or TV shows.

Oh, no, wait. They won’t get jack shit.

But you will get to consume more of some property you have an affinity for, and isn’t that what fandom is all about?