So the Veronica Mars kickstarter is less than a day old at this writing, and it's already 92% funded with 1.8 million bucks raised as I begin this post. At the rate they've been going, it'll be many thousands more by the time I'm done with this.
At first, I thought, well, this is pretty cool for fans of that show. (I am not one, but just because I never really watched it, not because I watched and found it wanting.) It's nice that they get a chance to vote with their wallets and bring back the characters they love. I joked on Twitter about a Buckaroo Banzai sequel, but I probably would have pledged for that in a heartbeat if they did a kickstarter for it.
But then, later in the day, I had second thoughts. And they grew out of the kickstarter page itself. Show creator Rob Thomas writes:
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. They were extremely cool about it, as a matter of fact.
So, let me get this straight. You asked a multibillion dollar corporation if they'd be willing to use other people's money to fund a movie, and they said okay. Wow, that's so cool!
Here's what bugs me: you're not kickstarting Rob Thomas or Kristen Bell. You're kickstarting Time Warner, a company that certainly doesn't need your capital. (read this if you don't believe me.)
Here's something else that bugs me: what's your piece of the back end of this movie? Ah...nothing. So if this two million dollar plus production makes ten million dollars, who's getting a piece of the profits? Rob Thomas? Almost certainly. Kristen Bell? Again, almost certainly. Time Warner? Definitely. So you're bearing the risk of this production, and someone else is making the profits.
Isn't that the case with every Kickstarter project? Well, no. On mine, for example, my donors are funding the costs of book production (editing, design, and printing). I will snag whatever profits come in from this project, but I haven't been paid anything for writing this book yet. So my donors are risking some money on a book they may or may not like, and I've risked about a year of my writing life on a project that may never pay me anything.
As union members, Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell can't work for free. Even if they work for scale, they're getting paid. The crew is getting paid. Everyone working on the film is getting paid, which is as it should be.
So you, the fans, are bearing all the risk for this project.
Call me cynical, but I think this sucks.
Call me doubly cynical, but I was struck by what's not said in this paragraph:
The Veronica Mars movie project faces the usual risks of film and TV production — what if Kristen Bell joins a cult bent on the destruction of visual media? What if gangland enforcers break Rob’s typing fingers? Never fear: we are offsetting those risks with production insurance, contingency plans, and a production team with decades of experience.
Did you see the part where Rob Thomas promises to give you your pledge money back if the movie doesn't get made? Me neither! So if that production insurance pays out, who gets the money? It's not you! Update: I stand corrected! As Philip Weiss points out below, Kickstarter's terms and conditions require a refund if the project tanks. I remembered this article when I was writing this, so it seems clear that Kickstarter won't start the legal action if a creator doesn't live up to those terms. So you're trusting Time Warner to play fair with you, and if they don't, you can take them to court for your fifty bucks. Good luck with that.
Of course this is a risk with every Kickstarter. But most Kickstarters are not putting money into a bank account controlled by an enormous media conglomerate.
What I like about Kickstarter is that it allows artists who don't have access to a lot of capital to fund projects that might not be possible otherwise. I, for example, simply don't have an extra 3500 bucks lying around, so the only way Enter the Bluebird was going to see the light of day is if I got my friends, family, and fans to kick in some cash to get it done.
The other thing I really like about Kickstarter is that it provides a new model for artists and fans to connect.
Time Warner sees this as a new model too, but in a different way: if this works, as it will (note--they've raised another 200k since I started writing this post, so it's fully funded already) , they will have gotten people to back a movie without having to share the profits at all. So rather than artists and fans bypassing corporations to connect, fans are actually allowing a big corporation to bypass inverstors who are looking for a return on their money and grab a larger share of the profits than ever before.
If you pledge 25 bucks to the Veronica Mars project, they'll send you a t-shirt. I hope it says, "I loaned a multibillion dollar corporation 25 bucks, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."