Should Kickstarter Be Collecting Your Money For Hollywood Movie Studios?

The long-awaited Veronica Mars movie just appeared on Kickstarter, making tons of money. But where's that money going?

Veronica Mars was a TV show that aired for two seasons on UPN and then a slightly truncated, slightly worse third season on the CW. It was about a plucky girl detective, played by Kristen Bell, solving various murders and rapes and thefts and all kinds of other adult things while navigating high school life in a Southern California town with a fierce economic divide. It was delightful! And then it was cancelled.

As one of those cult shows, like Freaks and Geeks or Firefly, that was cancelled entirely too soon, the cries for a movie, or for it to be picked up by another network, began immediately after cancellation. But the actors went on to other projects, the creator created something else, and that was that…until this morning, when the creator, Rob Thomas (I know. Not that one.), posted a Kickstarter page for a Veronica Mars movie, asking for a whopping $2 million.

It’s an interesting case; it’s one of the biggest Kickstarter projects ever (Googling around, it seems like certainly the largest film project in Kickstarter history, though it didn’t ask for as much as the not-entirely-realistic Death Star). But compared to the other ones that really took off–the Pebble watch, the Ouya Android gaming system–this has the flavor of big corporate money around it. Those other projects are very independent, with the mythology of a few guys tinkering in a garage. But not this one!

The way it’s set to work is that if the minimum of $2 million is met (and it will be, soon; at the time of writing, on the first day of funding, the project is well over $1.6 million), Warner Brothers will agree to distribute the movie, paying for that as well as marketing and advertising. The actors will work for cheap, so you’re paying for equipment and set dressing and editing and that kind of thing.

The movie will certainly earn more than its $2 million minimum, but its momentum will soon slow down, leaving the creators with a doable but distinctly low-budget movie. What’s novel here is that regular internet users are, in one way, taking the place of Hollywood investors; whereas some rich mogul-type might usually drop a million dollars into a movie like this, instead you can pay $35. On the other hand, you’re not actually an investor; you will not make back any money on your investment. You might earn yourself a t-shirt, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Unlike, say, the Double Fine adventure game (from the creators of cult classics like Grim Fandango), which had a similar flavor of crowd-funded cult classic, the Veronica Mars system will actually cost users more money than they’d normally pay. If you chip in $25 for a computer game, well, you’d probably have paid at least that much just to buy the game, which you’re getting as a “prize” for chipping in to the Kickstarter. But for this movie, you have to chip in $35 before you get an actual copy of the movie (as well as a t-shirt), which is three times as much as you’d pay to see the movie or buy it on iTunes.

The Double Fine Kickstarter felt like a group effort to create something. Veronica Mars, much as I loved the series, feels like handing cash to a corporation.