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.

Veronica_Mars_season_3

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?

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    8 thoughts on “When Kickstarter jumps the (Veronica Mars) shark

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    2. I think you’re missing a rather large point… not only is the money not going to the studio (i.e. If they don’t make the movie, why would Rob hand over the Kickstarter earnings to the studio?) 2 million dollars isn’t enough to make a movie. They could barely pay Kristen alone for that much. What the studio said was that if they could prove that fans want to see the movie then they’d consider making it. The Kickstarter is just to show that people are behind the project. The studio is obviously going to have to pay millions of dollars to get this made regardless of how much the Kickstarter makes… Unless it makes 40 million dollars or something.
      Movie studios want to make money…it’s not Rob’s reputation on the line that’s the incentive. Now that the studio knows people will pay money to see this projectmade there is no reason not to make it. The reason they resorted to Kickstarter is because this is a movie based off of a canceled TV show. The studio isn’t going to throw somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 mil at a project they might not make money on. There is very little reason to be upset that this Kickstarter exists.

      • Matt: thank you for sharing your thoughts. But I have to disagree, of course the movie studio is going to be the beneficiary of the Kickstarter funds. Maybe not directly, but indirectly, by not having to pay Mr. Thomas as much as they normally would, or not having to spend their own money on development and preproduction costs. Ultimately, they are the owners (and legally, the “creator”) of Veronica Mars, so they will reap the most benefit.

        But the distribution of funds is only half the equation. The thing that I have a problem with is this implicit assumption that if the Kickstarter is successful, the movie gets made. It’s a gamble with any Kickstarter whether your money will be used by the creator to meet his/her promises, or whether they’ll just walk away with it. But in this particular case, the scenario is even murkier because the “creator” running the campaign is not the “owner” with the legal rights to make the movie.

        Movie deals fall through all the time. That’s a lot of faith and optimism to put into this one being made as promised. What if the studio decides they want to “tweak” the script in ways Rob doesn’t like? What if they decide they need to add in gratuitous nudity, or make it in 3D, or have a musical number, or any one of a hundred different ways movie studios interfere in the creative process? What if Rob decides to walk away from the project over “creative differences”? What happens to the millions of dollars pledged and collected?

        One last point: you said “What the studio said was that if they could prove that fans want to see the movie then they’d consider making it.”

        This goes to the very heart of my problem with this Kickstarter. Fans shouldn’t have to “prove” anything, certainly not by ponying up $3.5 million dollars of their own money. Do you realize how absolutely ridiculous that is? What do we owe the movie studio? I say this without malice, but seriously, fuck the studio! If they can’t make money from their property because there aren’t enough fans to make it a viable business transaction, then fine. That’s called capitalism. They don’t owe us anything, and by the same token, we shouldn’t have to carry the burden of risk on their behalf.

        And yes, I completely understand that the principle of capitalism also says if the creator/studio are able to convince fans to willingly put up all this money on faith, then more power to them. I get it. I’m not arguing this sort of campaign should be banned from Kickstarter. I’m not saying this should not be allowed; should be illegal.

        I’m saying it’s not a good idea. I’m saying there’s got to be some level of self-respect present in fandom. Just because you want something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do whatever it takes to get it, especially when some other entity benefits from it way more than you will.

    3. I think you’ve completely missed the point of what KS is, and what the V.Mars KS is about. You don’t have your facts straight. KS is a free-market, open tool. Nobody is forcing anyone to give money. If the project is not worth an audience, it won’t find one.

      You’ll benefit from reading this editorial on Bjork’s failed KS:

      http://amandapalmer.net/blog/20130213/

      I second Matt, there is actually NO reason to be upset about this KS. I think it’s great, and I look forward to more of these coming down the pike.

      • Tom: actually, having backed projects on Kickstarter, and having run a successful Kickstarter for my own project, I haven’t missed the point and I do have my facts straight. Respectfully, you’re the one who completely missed the point of my post, if you even read it at all.

        You said: “KS is a free-market, open tool. Nobody is forcing anyone to give money.”

        Yes, I completely understand that, and I agree with it. From my post:

        “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.”

        As I said in my other comment to Matt, nowhere was I advocating banning these type of projects. I was simply articulating why I think these types of projects aren’t a good idea. I was pointing out where the risks and harm are, both in terms of financial risk to backers, and a less quantifiable, but nevertheless real, harm to our collective fandom.

        The more we’re willing to blindly throw money at our pop culture obsessions, the less incentive the owners of those franchises will have to take on any responsibility. I’m sure Marvel would like nothing more than to just publish X-Men and Avengers comics that sell really well, and outsource the funding and marketing of their C-list books to the fans of the books. What a great deal for them! We pay extra because we just can’t live without our monthly Ka-Zar comic, and they get to extend the life of their IP, retain all ownership and rights, and reap any potential windfall down the road.

        So yeah, I do think there is actually quite a big reason to be upset about the precedent this KS campaign sets. More power to you if you want to support them, and more power to Warner Bros. if they can pull it off. But personally, I think it’s fraught with a ton of pitfalls that most fans will gladly turn a blind eye to.

        • Dara, Sir that was an excellent reply and well stated indeed. I think it is imperative to small artists that avenues like Kickstarter are available and not dominated by huge corporations funding their projects, limiting their risk and taking attention from fringe or otherwise ignored works.
          Peace, Art

    4. Great post Dara; right on the money!

      It’s all to easy to see the Kickstarter money being funneled to Warners some way or another. Knowing how Hollywood studios handle their accounting for film projects, it would not surprise me in the least to see this film being inevitably stuck in ‘development hell’ too.

      It’s too good of a deal for Warners to pass up! Throw some token money at a writer, etc. and pocket the difference. Voila, instant profit with zero risk!

      And what do the backers get? El zilcho! They don’t have a contract with Warners and that studio sure as hell isn’t going to honour a contract that doesn’t have their name on it.

      If Rob Thomas is looking for a surefire way of heading up the creek without a paddle, he’s sure found it. No offence to himself, but he’s playing with fire and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t get his fingers burnt.

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