Crowdsourcing On Steroids

Below are our posts covering the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie.


Mar 14, 2013 @ 7:58am

A reader writes:

Because of your interest in fan-based funding and the independence of the new Dish, I thought you might find the Veronica Mars movie kickstarter project interesting. [Yesterday] morning it had about 30,000 dollars, right now it has about 1.7 million dollars. And this isn’t some indie movie; it’s a real Hollywood production.

As of now it’s passed $2.5 million, in just 24 hours since launch. The project’s goal was $2 million.


Mar 14, 2013 @ 3:21pm

A reader writes:

Can we discuss the Veronica Mars thing? Because this is a Warner Bros property! So what, everyone chips in their $100 or whatever, gets their t-shirt and whatnot, then buys a ticket to see the movie? So now the audience has paid to make the movie AND for the price of admission. For a WB movie. A huge corporation. Yes, they will be paying for advertising and distribution, but this is a con. They risk next to nothing and potentially reap all the profits on the back end.

That is, in my opinion, NOT what crowd sourcing is about. I do love that it’s getting a movie made that otherwise would never see the light of day, but come on. Crowd sourcing should be to support independent ventures. (And speaking of which, keep up the good work; I’m already in for $100 and intend to give at least that each year because The Dish is an independent venture that I can get behind crowd-sourcing!)

Another adds:

And guess what happens with all the money collected on Kickstarter above and beyond the $2 million goal? There’s no transparency, so we don’t know.


Mar 15, 2013 @ 8:33am

A reader pushes back:

Your readers are wrong on a few key points about the Veronica Mars movie. First, depending on the deal, Warner Bros will not be getting all the profits. Producers and others will get a cut, actors will be paid royalties, etc. Furthermore, WB is distributing the movie and promoting it. This costs quite a bit of money. So there is not “no risk”, as one reader claimed. And having that corporate muscle at your back can make a big difference. But WB believed that there wasn’t a fanbase for this movie that was willing to pay for it, and they have good reason to be skeptical (I’m looking at you, Snakes on a Plane). Also, if you really gave $100, you would get to see the movie for free because they’ll be sending you a digital copy of it (as stated in the rewards). As for transparency, the Kickstarter video clearly states that they need $2 million to get off the ground, but that all additional funds will be used to expand the film (able to do more action/effects/locations, etc).

Now, this shouldn’t be the model for all productions, but for a cult show with a loving fanbase that has been wanting it for years, this sounds just about right. Kickstarter is about making projects that people want but wouldn’t be funded otherwise, how does Veronica Mars not fit that mold?

Another:

Can we please stop with the crowd sourcing snobbery. I’ve never seen Veronica Mars, but this movie kickstarter is an unmitigated good. A dormant intellectual property with a passionate fan base is being used to create something new. The creators get to work on a project they love, the fans get a movie they’ve been hoping for, and yes, a studio makes money. No one loses here.

Plus, if your reader had looked at the Kickstarter page, he or she would have realized that the backers are getting much more than a T-shirt for $100. Here is how much each piece of swag they are offering would cost if they were unbundled:

Digital Script: $10
T-Shirt: $15
Digital Movie: $10
DVD: $15
Poster: $25
Blue ray: $25
Complete TV Series: $75

Just by selling these products at reasonable prices they raised ~$1.7 million. What is much more interesting is that by selling things like a 15 second voicemail greeting by one of the cast members ($500 for Kristen Bell, $350 for others), tickets to the premier and after party ($1,000), being a background actor ($2,500), and even a line in the movie as a waiter ($10,000), they were able to raise ~$1.2 million.

Some may worry that letting fans pay to get this close and even become a part of the process jeopardizes artistic integrity, but for years Hollywood and the Indie movie scene have been luring in big money by offering access to the glitz and mystique of movie making. Now Kickstarter is allowing producers to offer a piece of that to their fans too. Plus it’s a hell of a lot more transparent because everyone knows the waiter paid to be in the movie. I expect we’ll see more movies and creative endeavors take this fan involvement approach. (Maybe if the Dish can’t make it’s budget in future years I’ll hear Andrew greeting me on my friends voicemail.)

Another:

It sits poorly with me when anyone thinks they get to determine how a crowd “should” behave. Perhaps Veronica Mars rests uncomfortably inside the current tent of crowd-sourced projects, the Dish included, that are truly independent and transparent. But maybe the tent is going to get bigger and more various, with crowd-sourcing doing something simpler: giving the people what they want. If the people want a corporate-owned franchise that doesn’t release revenue figures, so be it. I think their priority, in this instance, is spending time with characters in a universe they love. Who are we to judge?


Mar 18, 2013 @ 5:41pm

The Dish Model, Ctd

A reader writes:

What I find particularly brilliant about the Rob Thomas/Veronica Mars Kickstarter project is that the producers of a good have found a way to exploit certain consumers’ higher willingness-to-pay for that good as a means of financing the good’s production. I’m sure most of your readers have at least a vague recollection from Econ 101 of intersecting supply and demand curves, and the notion that customers towards the left of the demand curve were willing to pay more for that good than the market-clearing price. Until now, there hasn’t really been a way to charge $50 a ticket, or $500 a ticket, to the people who really value the movie that much, while only $10 a ticket to the customer whose interest in the movie is only marginal. But then you dangle the carrot that the movie will only exist if the customers with high willingness-to-pay step up … and suddenly you’ve found a way to tap into that enthusiasm.

Another crunches some numbers:

The project currently has about 46,500 backers to a tune of 2.79 million dollars. That means everyone gave on average 60 dollars each, which is far more than a ticket price of 10 dollars. That also means that without a Kickstarter model, if those 46,500 people simply went to see the movie, it would make only 465,000 dollars – a pittance, not worth Warner Brothers’ time.

Similarly, if the Dish had not allowed readers to set their own price, the current subscriber base of 23,644 would be yielding $472,644 in revenue rather than the current total of $641,944 – which translates to an average price of $27.15, or 36% more than the required minimum of $19.99.

Also like the Dish, the creators of the Veronica Mars movie are tapping into a preexisting fan base; the Veronica Mars TV show aired for three seasons under institutions of Warner Brothers and the UPN network, similar to the Dish’s six years under Time, The Atlantic and Newsweek/Daily Beast (though the blog started as an independent entity).

But one big difference between the Dish model and the Kickstarter model is that the latter takes the safer approach of not spending any money on the project until a critical mass of supporters pledge the minimum amount needed to fund the project. The Dish, on the other hand, was leaving the Beast and spending the necessary start-up capital – my savings, if worse came to worse – regardless of whether any readers signed up. Thankfully that wasn’t the case; we jumped off the fiscal cliff and you caught us. But if we had not generated enough subscriptions to fund the Dish for the first year, it would have disappeared. And technically, if enough current subscribers decide not to renew for next year, or the year after that, the Dish could still end.


Mar 19, 2013 @ 6:39pm

Crowdsourcing On Steroids, Ctd

Readers keep the popular thread going:

I think most people who “donate” on Kickstarter think of themselves as something like small-scale patrons of the arts. I know it sounds silly when applied to a TV show instead of a symphony or museum, but people with less money and low(er)brow tastes are allowed to donate some of their money towards art too. I agree there are issues here with respect to Warner Bros being a corporate interest that stands to make money off of this, but that’s not really enough in my mind to condem the entire thing. Everyone who donated already knew that.

Another is more skeptical of the movie corporations:

I think supporters of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign are missing what a dangerous precedent it sets. If the studios realize they can mitigate financial risk simply by crowdsourcing funds from the fans of established properties, what’s to stop them doing it for more and more, larger and larger productions? And why stop at production expenses? “Oh no, Firefly fans! We got the new movie made, but we can’t afford to distribute it to theaters! Donate $50 and you get a deluxe Blu-ray!” While I’m sure Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas is not being cynical in this situation, one should never doubt the power of Hollywood studios to cynically manipulate consumers if it means they can save a buck.

Rob Thomas emails the Dish and, in part, addresses our readers’ concerns over corporate influence:

The least important thing I’ll say is this. I am thrilled this debate is happening. I am an avid reader and early subscriber to The Dish. I live on this site. Before we launched the Kickstarter drive, I wondered if there would be a Dish debate about the auspices of the Veronica Mars movie. I am so pleased that there is.

Other people have made the case effectively that we’re not asking for charity. We’re not asking for people to donate for the greater good. I understand why it is totally appropriate for public television to offer a $5 tote bag for a $100 donation, but it would be unseemly for our project to do that. We’re not. We’re offering great rewards for the pledges. A script, a T-shirt and a download of the movie for $35? That’s a helluva deal. What we’re doing here is pre-selling the movie. You can think of the Kickstarter page as a store. If you like the product we’re selling, buy in; if not, don’t. What Veronica Mars fans are doing is taking the risk out of making the movie by showing Warner Brothers there is demand for the product. I think everyone wins here. The fans get to see a movie they wouldn’t see otherwise. Kristen Bell and I get to finally make our passion project, and, God-willing, it’s profitable and Warner Brothers makes more movies this way and we get to see more of our favorite titles get a second life.

The other important point I want to make – the studio people I am working with on this? They are not chomping on cigars and demanding to see balance sheets. They want to make this movie. They’re fans of the show. They’re fans of movies in general, and they’re excited about opening up an avenue that could allow them to make more cool projects. There’s actually a lot of bravery on the part of the executives who pushed to make this happen. The easiest thing at a big corporation is to say no. They knew there would be a vigorous debate about this model. They said yes because they believe, at the end of the day, the consensus will be that everyone benefited.

Hey, if Freaks and Geeks follows our model, I will happily pledge whatever I can to make that movie happen.


Apr 26, 2013 @ 3:39pm

Zach Braff is following the Veronica Mars model:


Alyssa worries about this trend:

My concern is that we’ll hit a point where studios and creators with even larger fanbases turn to those fans to get financing for films that could have been funded for conventional means solely as a way to boost their own profit margins.

I totally understand that people are excited to pony up for projects that they’re tremendously excited to see go from fantasies to reality. But I hope that as much as fan bases are advocates for creators and series that they’re invested in, that fans remember to advocate for themselves in this process too. Just because you’re willing to give someone a ton of money, or even a little money, to make their movie doesn’t mean that what you get in return is actually a fair trade. It’s terrific to win creative freedom for talented people, but if fans want to upset the corporate business model that drives the film industry, they should recognize that this is still a business, and someone is still making money off of their investments. And if fans goal is to buy that creative freedom for their favorite artists over and over again, it’ll be much more sustainable for them to do that if they’re getting some return on their crowdfunding investments.

Gabe Delahaye is most unpleased:

OH COOL STRAW MAN ARGUMENTS, ZACH BRAFF.

Jim Parsons is an Emmy winning star of the most successful show on television. I don’t think the “money people” would be upset that Zach Braff wanted him to play his “friend.” No one is making Zach Braff rewrite his movie to star Justin Bieber, and Comi-Con has been a prominent feature of multiple movies and TV shows, so please do not try and appeal to the “nerds” as if they are underserved in our culture. If anything, nerds need to take a step back because seriously enough with the nerds already. But, like, DO NOT LIE TO EVERYONE, ZACH BRAFF! And especially don’t lie to everyone UNDER THE GUISE OF BEING THE MOST HONEST. Whatever the complications and restrictions involved in signing financing deals by traditional methods may be, the worst case scenario would by some slight fine-tuning of your project to broaden its commercial appeal, not a wholesale Mad Magazine parody of what people in the 1980s thought Hollywood was about.

In an interview, Braff says that he “would love, more than anything, to have it be you get an equity stake”:

You have 10 bucks, you make your 10 bucks back with the percentage of profit, like a stock. But that’s not legal yet. I think it’s an exciting idea, that you can go, “Oh, I like x, y, and z, I want to buy a piece of that potential film project.” I think that that’s coming. But we’re not there yet legally.

So what do you do in the meantime? You offer them any and every incentive you can think of. But at the very least, if you pay 10 bucks, you’re joining what I like to think of as this club. You see how active I am on social media. I drive my family, friends, and girlfriend crazy. I get a lot of joy out of it. So turning that into an online behind-the-scenes filmmaking magazine, where there will be videos and content and people who are interested in the behind-the-scenes of the making of a movie will go on this ride alongside me — I think that’s cool for 10 bucks.

The Dish’s coverage of the Veronica Mars experiment here.