Dark Doctrine: “Mars Attacks”

In the space of just ten hours, Rob Thomas reached the $2 million goal on his Kickstarter campaign for a film version of the TV series he created – “Veronica Mars”. Since its cancellation in 2007, Thomas spent several fruitless years trying to move forward on a feature based on his cult teen detective drama series that boasted whip smart comedy and film noir sensibilities.

Yet the studio thought there was no longer an audience for it, and so allowed him to try this last-ditch effort. Now, nearly a day after it launched, the campaign sits at $2.6 million. The people have answered and the response has been incredibly enthusiastic – this was the fastest and largest capital raise so far in the (albeit brief) history of crowdfunded movies.

Thomas has promised that the higher the amount, the more production quality can be pumped into the project. With the required minimum now cleared, Warners will fork out for marketing, promotion, and distribution of the project. Filming will get under way early this Summer for a limited theatrical and VOD release in Q1 2014.

The campaign’s success has stirred off a huge amount of talk on the blogosphere of the implications that this could have on moviemaking at large. On the negative side, some have decried people for spending their money this way, calling it charity towards a major corporation that should be funding the project itself.

Some have taken this argument a bit too far, blatantly insulting others for spending on personal pleasure rather than giving to the needy. While those who contributed will score incentives like shooting script PDFs and digital copies of the film, they are not equity partners and thus see no actual fiscal return should the film be a success – in fact, they will still have to pay for a ticket.

Others are upset of what this will mean for money that could toward other film-related projects on Kickstarter – obscure shorts, documentaries and features that can range from amateur pastiches to inventive and daring storytelling. It is, after all, a model designed for those who don’t have the connections to get financing elsewhere.

That makes the big (and illogical assumption) that people would just as readily spend their money on those untested projects as they would on a pre-existing franchise they adore. In reality, this simply doesn’t happen. Only a few Kickstarter film projects truly break through, such as the Oscar-winning doc short “Inocente”. The rest are usually only seen by those actually involved in the making in some way, and occasionally those strange beings who seem to spend far too much time hanging out at film festivals.

On a more positive note, people are applauding and genuinely excited about all the possibilities that could stem from others following this example. From the granting of new life to cult projects long thought dead, to the even grander vision of the current film funding model being shaken up by a whole new paradigm, one which Kickstarter has previously indicated they are not interested in pursuing – equity crowdsourcing.

Despite my own personal desires, I’m fully aware that the chances of five prematurely cancelled great shows – “Deadwood,” “Carnivale,” “Firefly,” “Dead Like Me” and “Angel” – getting revived this way in some form is impossible, not only due to the much higher costs involved, but also due to scheduling and other commitments by cast and crew members.

However, other prematurely cancelled shows would appear to lend themselves well to this kind of technique. Could we see “Journeyman,” “Party Down,” “Rubicon,” “Jericho,” “John Doe,” maybe even “Farscape,” “The X-Files” or “24” get revived in one form or another? Expanding beyond television, certain frugal film franchises or movies that deserve sequels could finally have their time in the sun.

Of course, that is probably being a little too ambitious. Before yesterday, the highest profile feature film to score funds through Kickstarter was David Fincher’s animated project “The Goon” with $441,000. There is a long way to go, and many issues to work out, before we will see a sea change in the way films are financed. Not to mention the greater ethical implications of what this means for how studios generate profit.

Much will also be read into the actual box-office success of the movie once it does get made – Thomas may have his film financed, but the pressure on him to deliver the goods is now that much more. As a fan of the show when it was airing – it was a smart and fun series with solid actors (especially Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring and Kyle Gallner), some quite dark material at times, and a truly excellent first season.

If it works though, this could fairly be considered something of a minor bellwether moment. Whether it’s a good or bad one, we’ll only know when all of this week’s hoopla is considered something that took place a long time ago.