If you got a script, and need finance, who would you call? Crowdfunders. (You’re supposed to re-read that line while playing the Ghostbusters theme music in your head.) Crowdfunding is a concept which has been around for quite a while, but has picked up only in recent years in its current online format. For those unaware, crowdfunding is basically the collection of finances for a project from a large pool of people, usually in the form of small contributions from many parties. Online websites have been created to act as a platform where an individual or organisation proposes the project idea and a crowd of people who support the idea contribute towards it till the project’s required financing is met.
Now we are so used to the lavish budgets on which Hollywood movies are made, and the further expenditures that go in the marketing, that we may be forgiven to imagine the Hollywood studios having piles of dollars stashed in a secret (and gigantic) basement in which the executives dive in and out like our beloved Uncle Scrooge. But whether that basement exists or not, the studios are in fact stingy like Scrooge when it comes to giving out that money. The potential of a film, the returns that it can provide, are things which are looked at for a $10 million funding as much as for a $100 million funding. And this what Rob Thomas, creator of the American television series Veronica Mars, found out when he sought to bring his character onto the big screen.
Veronica Mars premiered on the telly in 2004 and lasted for three seasons, ending in 2007. It featured the tale of a student Veronica Mars, played by Kristen Bell, who progresses from high school to college while moonlighting as a private investigator. The series had garnered a strong fan base during its running and so Rob Thomas was keen to build a movie around it once the television series was cancelled. He took his movie idea to Warner Bros. who had been involved in the production and distribution of the television series, and well, got rejected. Back in 2009, Bell mentioned that Warner Bros. has shown no enthusiasm to make a Veronica Mars movie. In 2010, Thomas repeated something similar, “I would write it if anyone would finance it. If anyone’s interested in making that movie I am available, Kristen’s [Bell] available. I would love to do it. I think the closest we came was Joel [Silver] (executive producer) pushing it at Warner Bros. and they didn’t bite. It has sort of gone away.”
(Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell)
With no support from the studio, Rob Thomas still persevered to get a film out on Veronica Mars. And in March 2013, Thomas and Kristen Bell took the unconventional route of crowdfunding to raise finances for a Hollywood film. They launched the fundraiser at Kickstarter (an online crowdfunding platform) in an attempt to get the film made with the help of fans to reach the goal of $2 million. It achieved its goal in less than 10 hours! By the time the campaign was closed after a month, an amount of $5.7 million had been raised from about 91,500 donors. Seeing this enthusiasm, Warner Bros. too jumped in, and agreed to distribute the film. The film Veronica Mars was released over this weekend, and became the first movie associated with crowdfunding to be distributed by a major studio.
In another unconventional route, the film has been released online and in theaters at the same time – a practice known as “day-and-date” that is typically reserved for independent films. The movie has been released in limited theatres in the USA, 291 in fact, and has already seen a very strong earning-per-theatre figure; the movie is expected to make more than $2 million over its first weekend. That was the money they were initially asking for, remember? It is also available online on Flixster and Ultraviolet. But as it turns out, there has been a lot of backlash on the limited options available for downloading the film, since more popular options like iTunes and Amazon are missing. The irate customers are mainly the fans who had pledged $35 or higher and were promised a digital version of the movie within a few days of the movie’s theatrical debut, but have been unable to download their copy from the two sites offered by the studio. Rob Thomas has already apologised on this and Warner Bros. has now announced that dissatisfied contributors will either receive $10 or a full refund after buying the movie elsewhere.
Barring from this glitch, the making of Veronica Mars seems to have been a success overall. It would make other film makers sit up and notice the power of crowdfunding, a method to circumvent the dominance of the studios which would also allow them to reduce interference in their scripts. Already a number of other small sized projects are reaching out to the fan base through this route for funding. Zach Braff was much in the news when he too started a Kickstarter campaign and raised $3.1 million to partly finance his movie Wish I Was Here. The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014, and its distribution rights were then bought by Focus Features; the film will have a wider release later in the year. Katherine Heigl is currently raising funds from another platform, Indiegogo, to cover post-production costs for her lesbian comedy-drama film Jenny’s Wedding. Another actor Matthew Modine is looking for $5 million for a movie called The Rocking Horsemen, a coming-of-age stories set in the 60s; he plans to share the profits with his investors.
Veronica Mars may well have opened the doors to another way of funding a movie. It gives the opportunity for fans to be more deeply involved in the film (contributors giving more than a certain pre-fixed amount were also cast as extras in Veronica Mars). Imagine going to the theatre and saying that I made this movie happen! It would also fuel some dream projects which usually remain on the shelves, waiting for some financier; movies with niche following that can be made on shoestring budgets have an avenue to try their luck. Of course, we are still looking at movies with quite minimalistic budgets to follow this route, but a good movie has never been judged on the amount of money it was made on, has it? Successful crowdfundraising would also get the studios eager to distribute, for it shows the popularity amongst a section of the people to view the movie. Word-of-mouth publicity would begin by the contributors before the movie is even made. There is a lot that can happen in this space, much has already started happening. Eh, who knows, maybe an Avengers 6 would be funded by ones like you and me, right?