The movie industry gained more than 50,000 new investors this week. If you haven’t been following the story, lead actress Kristen Bell and creator Rob Thomas took to Twitter on Wednesday, asking fans of the long-cancelled cult tv show Veronica Mars to foot the bill for a movie.
Bell and Thomas had good reason to think their fan base would be on board with the idea of a movie. A small but fiercely loyal band of “Marshmellows” (as Veronica Mars devotees call themselves) has been clamoring for a next chapter ever since the show unceremoniously disappeared off the air in 2007. After all, in the Season 2 words of Veronica Mars tortured bad boy Logan Echolls, his story with Veronica is epic, “spanning years and continents. Lives ruined. Blood shed. EPIC.” Marshmellows from around the world have done their part to prove Logan right. In lieu of ruining lives and shedding blood, they have spent years signing petitions and organizing letter writing campaigns. The cast hasn’t been far behind the fans, loudly and unanimously making known their desire to reprieve their roles. Bell has perhaps been most vocal, telling Entertainment Weekly that she “has never fallen so deeply in love with a character.” She even went so far as to say that she “would have put on Veronica Mars: The Circus to bring it back.”
But this fundraising campaign of Thomas and Bell’s was still a Hail Mary. Likely recognizing that a noir reunion movie about a quippy detective is unlikely to become a summer blockbuster,Warner Brothers has staunchly refused to give the green light to a Veronica Mars movie. Recently, in a last ditch effort, Bell and Thomas struck a deal with the studio. If they could raise a $2 million production budget , the studio would grant the rights and pay marketing expenses.
And so it came to be that the only way a Veronica Mars movie had any shot of getting made was for fans to put their money where their mouths were. In an age where most franchises are consumed with fighting illegal downloads, struggling to collect any payment at all from supposed fans, Veronica Mars set out to monetize its Marshmellows with no threats, no law suits, and no content – only the promise of a resolution to Veronica’s story. Logic would suggest that the Veronica Mars campaign should have failed spectacularly. Instead, the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign broke all previous records by raising $2 million in 12 hours.
What makes Veronica Mars so special? Why would people so willingly shell out money for Veronica Mars on one hand while, on the other hand, illegally pirating content put out by HBO, for example, or Disney or Def Jam.
Maybe because Bell and Thomas asked. To be more precise, Bell and Thomas asked a community they have cultivated with mutual engagement and respect to help them create something that resonates strongly with them.
If you saw Amanda Palmer’s phenomenal recent TED Talk, The Art of Asking, you know that I am echoing her philosophy. If you didn’t, you should know that Amanda Palmer holds the record for biggest music crowd funding project to date. Her current band, Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to fund their album. You should also know that Amanda doesn’t believe that people should be “made” to pay for music; she believes they should be “asked.”
In her mind, the real compensation problem in the entertainment industry today is that fans don’t feel connected to artists and therefore feel no obligation to pay them for their work. Historically, she argues, artists were connectors first and foremost. They connected people to ideas and attracted small, devoted followings of people who felt strongly about these ideas. This model has been cast aside in our our era of mass produced entertainment, where celebrity status hinges on who can amass the most Twitter followers, the biggest budgets, and the highest salaries. Amanda claims that celebrity is about generating an “army of fans to hold at arm’s length.” Artistry and creativity, on the other hand, are about activating “a community of people who, for whatever reason, resonate with the same thing.”
Bell and Thomas have followed this model to a T, not just with their current campaign but with the Veronica Mars franchise in general.
Much has been written in the past 24 hours about whether the success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign can be replicated by artists and rising brands in the future. Most of these articles arrive at the conclusion that Veronica Mars is an anomaly, a campaign spearheaded by a recognizable actress with the entire cast willing to work for very little compensation and a story that already held a special place in the hearts of many people. All valid points. But I see these as effects, not causes. Kristin Bell became recognizable because she was so beloved as Veronica Mars. The cast is willing to work for very little compensation because filming this movie is a labor of love. The show holds a special place in the hearts of fans because they feel so connected and engaged by the characters, the creators, and the actors.
Ultimately, the success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign can be traced to a carefully cultivated community of followers who resonated with an idea. And that is absolutely something that any aspiring artist or brand can and should strive to replicate.