This morning, television writer Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a movie based on the cult teen detective show he created, Veronica Mars. If they get to $2,000,000, they'll make the movie and Warner Bros. will distribute it and everyone will win. Right? Wrong! While I'm a fan of V. Mars and her sleuth gang, this Kickstarter strikes me as a bit problematic. And you know what? So does a lot of Kickstarter.
In Veronica Mars's case, they're asking you to pay for what will ultimately be a studio movie. This is not some independent film, financed on credit cards and bake sales. Nor is this an investment that anyone who donates will ever see a return on; essentially you'll be a pro bono producer. There's even a joke in the campaign's introductory video about giving donors an associate producer credit, the joke being that the title is itself a joke. Aside from some assorted rewards that only get good in the really high donation brackets, the only thing you get in return for your investment is the movie, which (depending on the size of your investment) you'll have to pay for anyway. And that movie will be based on a little-watched television show that's been off the air for six years. It's hard to see how the juice is really worth the squeeze. If this was some little indie movie it'd be different, but again Warner Bros. will be the ones distributing it and, theoretically, pocketing any extra money that comes in. Basically you're donating money to a movie studio. Is that something anyone should be asking you to do?
Which brings up the larger issue of Kickstarter as a whole. Most of these campaigns aren't people who need the money, they're people who just want it. The same could be said for lots of actual charities, sure — if you boil the word "need" down enough, nothing but food, water, and air is left. But here in the bourgie, comfy confines of wealthy Western society, we're talking about people like the indie musician Amanda Palmer, who raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to make and distribute a folk album. That's all. Amanda Palmer, who is married to successful author Neil Gaiman and has been a prominent musician for a decade or so. Handed $1.2 million because she asked for it. People are free to spend their money however they want, but there's something so unseemly about the asking, isn't there? Maybe that reaction is owed to some overly reserved New England quality in me that I should fight against, but I can't help but feel that Kickstarter campaigns for stuff like this, that is stuff people are having no trouble selling elsewhere, are a bit gauche. Plus it's too easy.
Sure there might be some campaigning to be done on, I dunno, Twitter or whatever, but mostly Kickstarter is a passive thing. You set up the page, set certain reward levels, and then sit back and watch the dough roll in. Well, that's if you're prominent enough, I guess. Anyone can start a Kickstarter for just about any reason. I guess my ire is really directed at the famous and semi-famous people who, rather than hustle around town drumming up the money from proper backers and investors and then hoping money from their fans will roll in, just make some cutesy video instead and figure their work done. There's an arrogance to it that I find extremely unbecoming. You need look no further for evidence of that arrogance (in the guise of doing a Super Cool thing) than the reward for a $400 donation to the Veronica Mars movie: "If you kick in $400 to the cause, we will love you so much that Kristen (@IMKristenBell) and Rob (@RobThomas) will follow you on Twitter for an entire year." I mean ugh, right?? This is the kind of thing that Kickstarter facilitates. It's the height of tacky.
Another part of my revulsion is, yes, likely to do with the simple fact that art-related Kickstarter campaigns strip away the pretense that art and commerce aren't inextricably linked. Money has always been part of the commercial art game, but the budgeting and haggling is usually done out of view, by a few select professionals. Kickstarter, though, puts the economic reality right out in the light for all to see. Someone like Amanda Palmer is essentially telling us that she doesn't want to work on spec, so if we want to hear something new, we have to pay in advance. At a moment when we're discussing the complexities of for-pay creativity, Kickstarter openly democratizes the compensatory system. I intellectually know that's probably a good thing, but my gut still finds all the upfront money talk to be a bit unrefined, let's say. Art should exist for art's sake! Crassly bringing money into the conversation sullies everything.
So, I know that part of my distaste is silly. But there's still the problem of that tackiness, the self-indulgence posing as community bartering. That would be more palatable if there was some return on the investment beyond the production of a thing that people giving the money were going to buy anyway. I realize it's unrealistic to propose that Kickstarter figures out some kind of reciprocity arrangement. That would defeat the whole point, really. And I realize that were it not for an outrageous thing like this, the Veronica Mars movie could very likely never be made. (Maybe that would be a good thing though? If you think about it?) It's pessimistic to rain on everyone's "we can do this" parade, yes, but wealthy celebrities drumming up consequence-free cash for their next projects just doesn't feel like the proper use of a site like Kickstarter. Want to start a campaign to, I dunno, send a dying person on a nice trip? Sure, go right ahead. It doesn't even have to be as serious as that. Use Kickstarter to get a sports team some new equipment, whatever. But when it's used to pay production costs for a Warner Bros. movie, the system seems abused.
Clearly I'm in a minority here. The Veronica Mars campaign has shot past a million dollars in less than a day. (Of course, studio economics being what they are, they are still nearly a million dollars short of their goal.) So people are into the idea of funding this movie. And that's fine, it's their money. What annoys me is that the campaign's success might embolden other essentially corporate interests to do the same thing. It's free money and they pocket all the profit! It's a great arrangement for them, so why wouldn't they try it? As charming as the Veronica Mars crew is, some darkness lies behind their big idea. Which is why it might ultimately be better if it fails. There, I said it. Corporate opportunism posing as empowerment of the masses is not something we should encourage. Sorry, Logan.
But hey, Mars crew. When you do make it, because you will? At least put all the names of the people who donated to the movie in the closing credits. The largest Kickstarter in history probably deserves the longest movie credits, don't you think?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.