“Veronica Mars” hits theaters on Friday. Warner Bros., a major studio, owns the rights to the film version of the cult TV show, but the movie was made with money from fans.
Increasingly, celebrities are turning to the masses to fund their projects even though they have access to studio financing.
That really irritates Dana Brunetti, producer of “The Social Network” and “House of Cards.”
“[Crowdfunding is] a brilliant idea that’s gotten out of hand,” Brunetti told a crowd at SXSW panel on Sunday. “I think it’s wrong when people like Zach Braff or Spike Lee use that same service to fund their films when they already have access. I think it overshadows and takes away from the little guys who actually need the funding.”
Blame it on Rob Thomas. Last March, the “Veronica Mars” creator became the first major celebrity to use Kickstarter to raise money for a film when he turned to the crowdfunding site to fund a film version of the TV series about a high-school detective.
Warner Bros., which owns the rights to “Veronica Mars” would have funded a direct-to-video sequel, but that’s not what Thomas wanted. The studio’s marketing surveys did not show enough nationwide familiarity with “Veronica Mars” to justify the millions it would cost to turn it into a feature, Thomas told the New York Times.
So Thomas turned to Kickstarter to show the studio his project was worth their money. Thomas raised $5.7 million, well over his $2 million goal, from 91,585 people within 11 hours. That was enough to get Warner Bros. on board with distributing it.
In Thomas’ case, asking fans for money was a creative way to convince the studio to get on board with a movie he didn’t have the legal rights to make on his own dime.
But then came Spike Lee’s latest joint, Zach Braff’s directorial debut, and a slew of other crowdfunding campaigns from wealthy, connected Hollywood celebrities who have access to other funding streams.
Should wealthy celebrities be asking regular people for money?
In his Kickstarter promotional video, Braff defends the practice as a way for artists to retain creative control over their work.
But if rich celebrities want to retain “creative control” why can’t they pay for their own films?
According to celebritynetworth.com, Lee is worth $40 million. Yet he turned to fans to raise $1.4 million for his new film.
And Zach Braff? The former “Scrubs” actor is worth $22 million but asked the journalists, janitors, baristas, and bus drivers of the world for $2 million to fund his transition from actor to director.
Then there’s the fact that, unlike regular film investors, Kickstarter contributors don’t recoup any of the money they put into a film.
Instead, celebrity crowdfunders have offered donors prizes such as autographed posters, copies of the script, an early release of the soundtrack. A guy who pledged $10,ooo to Veronica Mars got a walk-on cameo in the film.
Kickstarter backer Andrea Cremer told the Times she contributed $2,500 because she wanted to see if Veronica would get back together with her on and off boyfriend, Logan Echolls. “It’s a big chunk of money,” Cremer said. “I was planning on going on vacation this summer, and it was like, well, either vacation budget or ‘Veronica Mars.’ ”
For non-celebrity film-makers, crowdfunding could have the extra benefit of a foot in the door in Hollywood.
“[T]he economics of the business has studios betting mostly on bigger movies,” Thomas told Wired. “What we are guinea-pigging is a model that would allow studios the confidence to make smaller movies. If they can be confident the audience is out there and enthusiastic, we might actually see more smaller budget films. That seems like a good thing to me.”
“Veronica Mars” premiered at SXSW last Saturday and opens in theaters on Friday.