“If I had the power and the rights, I would have done it myself already,” says Zachary Levi, star of the spy comedy Chuck, another Warner Bros.-owned series for which fans staged perennial “save our show” campaigns in its five seasons on the bubble at NBC. Levi believes that studios would do well to market revivals of niche properties directly to the fans.
“So much of the budget goes into advertising,” he says. “If we came out with a Chuck movie now, I don’t know how many more people who didn’t watch Chuck would watch this movie. You don’t need to do a theatrical release. You’re doing it for the fans. You’d want to do an online release, and if people want to pay extra dollars to get the DVD and Blu-ray, you can make money from those purchases. I would keep overhead as low as possible [with] social marketing.”
Levi wonders if Warner’s unprecedented agreement to let Bell and Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas attempt to crowd fund its intellectual property has anything to do with the studio’s new CEO, former home entertainment president Kevin Tsujihara, and his familiarity with the digital domain. Although Thomas reportedly first approached Warner with the Kickstarter idea over a year ago, long before Tsujihara’s promotion was announced in January, it is the digital division that will be handling legal work and distribution of the Mars movie via VOD and other digital platforms, as well as a very limited theatrical run. Insiders say full details on the extent of Warner Bros.’ involvement won’t be announced until the Kickstarter campaign ends on April 12, although Thomas has said that the studio is also lending its resources to research rewards fulfillment for the T-shirts, DVDs and other items that have been promised to the project’s 49,000-plus backers. On Thursday, Thomas announced that the movie, which will be co-produced by series executive producer Joel Silver, would receive a premiere and party in New York City as well as Thomas’ hometown of Austin.
The Mars movie project has pushed fan support into uncharted territory. Actual monetary pledges to foot production costs speak more loudly to studios than petition signatures, mail-in campaign stunts and trade-pub advertisements, but John Rogers, co-creator of the independently-financed heist drama Leverage, which concluded five seasons on TNT in December, believes that Mars’ crowd funding success is fascinating but not yet significant. “I don’t like to read big changes off a single incident,” he says, “but I will say this may convince a studio to allow small margin expansions on existing intellectual property…. Rob Thomas is saying, ‘I’ve mitigated the risk and brought in the audience.’ “
The campaign has prompted some criticism that crowd funding a studio-owned project violates Kickstarter’s indie ethos, but on Thursday the website’s official blog congratulated Veronica Mars and its fans, adding that Kickstarter was inspired in part by Fox’s cancellation of Arrested Development in 2006: “As fans of the show we thought Kickstarter could help. [Co-founder Perry Chen] got an introduction to David Cross through a friend and told him about Kickstarter: the fans fund the show directly and Arrested Development keeps going.” Cross was intrigued by the concept and became Kickstarter’s first investor, but said that the entertainment industry was too complex for saving a show like Arrested Development to be feasible.
“At the time, David was right,” wrote Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler. “But seven years later things are changing. Arrested Development is back thanks to Netflix. And yesterday saw the relaunch of Veronica Mars in stunning fashion.”
“We’re in the zeitgeist moment,” says Levi. “Veronica Mars is moving the needle [toward a new development model]. I think it’ll behoove studios to get on this train.” [Read the full article here]