One year ago, Rob Thomas (no, not that one) started a Kickstarter campaign. His goal was to raise $2 million in order to make a movie. Not just any movie – he wanted to make a follow-up movie to his beloved television series, Veronica Mars, which had been cancelled 7 years earlier. Rob Thomas announced the campaign with a video featuring some of the stars of the show, including Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring, and Kristen Bell (whose voice you might recognize as Anna from Frozen).
Within 11 hours of the campaign launch, the $2 million goal had been met. By the end of the campaign, The Veronica Mars Movie Project raised more than $5 million from more than 90,000 backers, and the movie went into production. Tomorrow, the movie will be released in select theaters across the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, and Sweden. At the same time, it will be released to Video on Demand, and backers who pledged above a certain amount will receive a digital copy of the movie. All of this is unprecedented, especially for a movie that is being distributed and marketed by a major studio (Warner Bros. in this case). It all raises the question: is this the future of movies?
Other filmmakers have followed in Thomas’ footsteps. Shortly after The Veronica Mars Movie Project was funded, Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs) raised $3 million to fund his new movie project. Spike Lee’s latest project raised $1.5 million through Kickstarter. Cartoons, action movies, thrillers, and documentaries have all achieved funding through Kickstarter, and people are starting to question the traditional model of big studios. After all, if you can get enough people interested ahead of time, why bother negotiating with a major company and risk losing profit, rights, or control of your project?
But you have to consider the other side of the coin. All of these films (with the likely exception of Braff and Lee’s projects) will be produced, edited, marketed, and distributed solely by their filmmakers. Say what you will about major studios, but no one can deny that they are quite effective at marketing and distributing films. While Netflix, iTunes, and other VOD options are changing how we watch movies, cinemas still turn huge profits – and how will films get into theaters without a major studio backing them?
What could happen is a shift in responsibility and power. Filmmakers may turn to crowdfunding more and more in order to get their projects made. Meanwhile, studios may focus more heavily on distribution and marketing, more on finding the next big hit and less on trying to make it. Is this a good thing? Who can say? But if it prevents us from seeing Saw 15, yet another Superman remake, or Pauly Shore’s newest project, I’m all for it.
(Full disclosure – I am a huge Veronica Mars fan, and was one the people who backed the campaign in the first 11 hours. I will be wearing my Veronica Mars t-shirt tomorrow, seeing the movie this weekend, and generally celebrating that a television show I love has finally made it to the big screen. If it is showing in your area, you should see it too!)