Kristen Bell and the other Rob Thomas may have just changed the way that movies get made. At least, the sort of movies that we care about. Yesterday morning Rob Thomas –the TV writer, not the guy from Matchbox 20- launched a Kickstarter with the goal of raising two million dollars in order to fund the film adaptation of his long cancelled cult classic TV series. Warner Brothers, the corporation that owns Veronica Mars and produced the series, wouldn’t pay for the movie but was willing to greenlight the project if the fans could fund it within a thirty-day timeframe. They did. It took them less than ten hours.
In the three seasons that it was on the air (first on the now defunct UPN and then later on a nascent CW), Veronica Mars established itself as a noble underdog. It was a clever sort of Archie-meets-The–Long–Goodbye teen noir series, a slightly lighter TV sibling to Rian Johnson’s Brick that was characterized by deft plotting, a hugely charismatic cast and some of the best dialogue this side of Aaron Sorkin. It was the best detective series since Columbo but even though its fan base grew steadily over the course of its run, it never grew big enough and the show was ultimately cancelled without having the opportunity to produce a true or satisfying finale. Needless to say, the talks of a movie that might pick up where the series had left off started before the final episode had even aired. The show ended in 2007 and those rumours never stopped, even if they never grew in credibility because of the economic realities of the situation.
Just like Twin Peaks or My So-Called Life, Veronica Mars was a conundrum: a fan-favourite franchise that seemed to lack the mass appeal necessary to warrant the inherent expenditures of a movie’s release. A Veronica Mars movie was impossible because it just couldn’t make any money. Especially now that all of the advances in digital technology and home viewing –from Pirate Bay to Netflix- have bit into the studios’ profits and mutated Hollywood’s climate so that the blockbuster with its potential for major Avengers-sized returns has rendered intelligent, mid-size fare all but obsolete. As the major studios choose more and more tentpole releases over the types of movies that are large enough to maintain a sense scope but small enough to afford the bold creative choices that will excite one portion of their audience while potentially alienating another we naturally get fewer movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Muholland Drive and more movies starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; as the total area of the movie industry shrinks, it shrinks towards its lowest common denominator.
And this isn’t just some vague shape looming over the horizon. It’s already begun. In 2011, Disney’s chief technical officer Andy Hendrickson said that all studios must focus almost all of their energy and resources on major tentpole releases because they are the types of movies that will attract the broadest possible audience. He argued that spectacle and brand-recognition must trump story or creativity saying, “People say ‘It’s all about the story.’ When you’re making tentpole films, bullshit.” He then presented a chart of the twelve highest grossing films in history and pointed out the lopsided presence of large, CGI-filled blockbusters on the list.
I want to make this perfectly clear: Disney’s chief technical officer went to a conference and gave a presentation on the uselessness of story and the importance of investing nearly every single corporate dollar into movies like The Expendables 2. This is the cultural landscape that we live in and it just isn’t good enough.
That’s why I thank God for the overwhelming success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter project. This project had the largest goal of any movie ever in the history of Kickstarter and it flew past that goal in a matter of hours. The corporations may continue investing their dollars in a cycle of dumber and louder movies as much as they please because we have proven that we don’t need them anymore. We can finance the movies that we want to watch all by ourselves. Veronica Mars has shown us a new and better way.
I only hope that others will follow.
Theodore Wiebe is a writer living in Calgary. He is also a backer of the Veronica Mars movie project. You can follow more of his important nonsense on Twitter (@TheodoreWiebe) or Tumblr (writingafterdark.tumblr.com).
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