Kickstarter,Veronica Mars and the Question of Fan Labor or Agency?
(Let me preface by saying that Kickstarter was not the first online crowdfunding platform, but it has become the most prominent and the majority of my case studies are from this website.)
Kickstarter is a global funding platform that was created in 2009 by Charles Adler, Perry Chen, and Yancey Strickler (Kickstarter.com, 2014). Their motto is “Bringing Creative Projects to Life” (Kickstarter.com, 2014, p. 1). In the past five years Kickstarter’s brand has grown, with the Veronica Mars movie becoming one of their first big high profile campaigns and one that was funded completely by fans of the television show (Kickstarter.com, 2014).
Veronica Mars is an American television show created by screenwriter, producer, and director Rob Thomas (Wikipedia.org, 2014). The show aired on the UPN/CW network (United Paramount Network/CBS and Warner Bros.), from 2004–2007 (Imdb.com, 2014). Fans tuned in every week to watch the young and quirky teenager Veronica Mars, played by actress Kristin Bell, solve a mystery in the affluent town of Neptune, California. The show was considered a sleeper hit and began to accumulate a rather large fan base. The neo-noir-ish mystery and semi-comedy drama continued for three seasons on the network before it was cancelled (Wikipedia.org, 2014).
Fans petitioned UPN/CW for a revival of the show but without much notice from the network. With the fans’ support, Thomas wrote a screen adaptation of the popular TV show in the hopes that the studio would back the film. The network didn’t believe the show would bring in a profit, since the last season showed such low ratings. Thus, Thomas decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.com (McMillan, G., 2013).
Thomas noticed how crowdsourcing helped sports groups, tech groups, and independent filmmakers for documentaries, and he figured it could work for a mainstream movie (Widjaya, I., 2013). The Kickstarter was Thomas’s last-ditch effort to make the movie a reality, and he took over a year to plan it out (John, 2013). Thomas never imagined the outcome. Thomas surprised everyone; even himself, as on the first day of the launch, and just within the first 12 hours, the Veronica Mars movie “became the fastest Kickstarter to reach both $1 million and $2 million, and the highest goal to be met by other campaigns” (McMillan, G., 2013, para. 1). Thomas definitely did not need the studio to help him. The final tally earned for Veronica Mars was 5.7 million dollars and arguably became a game changer for how one can fund a film (John, 2013).
Here’s the promotional video from the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign just to give you an idea:
Setting aside breaking records for Kickstarter, the Veronica Mars movie brings up the question of fan agency and labor. Could fans very well be fooled into spending their hard-earned money by studios and networks (Chin, B., et. al., 2014). Bertha Chin, PhD from Cardiff University, mentions in her and her colleagues’ Dialogue Journal online interview, “Veronica Mars, Kickstarter and Crowdfunding” (2014), that the fans are not fooled. Fans have, what Chin calls “fan agency.” Chin also adds, “No longer merely acting as grassroots promoters, celebrity gatekeepers, subtitlers, and such, fans are now financing feature-length film projects on crowd-funding platforms…” (Chin, B., et. al., 2014, Para. 1.3).
I agree that fans do have agency, but are they informed enough to know what they are getting themselves into? It was originally thought that the fans that funded Veronica Mars were also the ones paying the ticket prices at the box office, which is partially correct. Some fans did pay to see the movie in theatres, as well as donate to the campaign, but the majority of them were allotted a gift for their donation. Many of them opted out from seeing the movie in theaters for the promised reward of the complete season set on Blu-ray of the TV show if they donated at least $15, and with a $35 dollar donation they received an exclusive digital download of the movie before it was released (Chin, B., et. al, 2014, para. 2.2). Those who donated $1000 were invited to attend the premiere and the after party (Solomon, D., 2014). Fans still had to pay their own way to Los Angeles to actually see the premiere though.
I remember the MDA (Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon) sending me a bumper sticker when I donated my babysitting money; I was happy to receive the sticker, but I would have rather gotten the chance to talk to John Wayne. I believed a sticker for $10 was not much of a trade off for a young 11-year-old girl in 1973, and my mother determined that it was one expensive sticker.
Fan labor is not just about the donation of money but of time. The resurrection of a show and turning it into a movie is a triumph for any fan that curses “the powers that be” for taking their favorite show off the air. After the cancellation of the Veronica Mars television series, fans laboriously signed petitions and sent emails and letters to the network, begging the studio to bring the show back on the air (Jagernauth, K., 2010). Some even created a Facebook page to keep the campaign alive (Jagernauth, K., 2010).
As noted in my previous post, fans can become super fans and have an invested interest in all aspects of the production, and some fans believe donating their time gives them a piece of the stock. Should fans have a say so in all aspects of the film? Probably not, but this does give fans a sense of freedom and closeness unlike any time in the history of film. Donating time gives fans a familiarity to the stars, to the people, and to the production of these films.
Next time I’ll share a case study on a rising music star named Amanda Palmer who used the Kickstarter platform to promote her music and created some negative fan labor issues of her own.
A Brief History of Kickstarter. (n.d.). About Kickstarter. Retrieved from https://www.kickstarter.com/stories/fiveyears
Chin, B., et. al. (2014). “Veronica Mars Kickstarter and Crowd Funding” [dialogue]. In “Fandom and/as Labor, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 15. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0519. Retrieved from http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/warner_bros._sets_up_official_petition_email_for_ veronica_mars_film
John, E. (2014). Veronica Mars, the movie: ‘Fans gave the money, there was all this pressure.’ Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/mar/13/veronica-mars-movie-fans-money-pressure-return-kickstarter-funded-marshmallows
McMillan, G., (2013). Veronica Mars KickStarter Breaks Records, Raises Over $2M in 12 Hours. WIRED. (13, March 12). Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2013/03/veronica-mars-kickstarter-record/
Solomon, D., (2014). “Veronica Mars” Creator Rob Thomas On How To Give Fans What They Want, But Not What They Expect. (Blog Post) Retrieved from http://www.fastcocreate.com/3027625/veronica-mars-creator-rob-thomas-on-how-to-give-fans-what-they-want-but-not-what-they-expect
Veronica Mars (TV Series 2004-2007) – Trivia. IMDb. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412253/
Wikipedia, (2014). Veronica Mars. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veronica_Mars