Kickstarting Veronica Mars: A Moment in a Movement

March 15, 2013
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Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 7.55.20 PMOne of the advantages of platforms like Antenna is that we as scholars get the opportunity to respond to events as they’re happening. However, at the same time, it often seems impossible to capture media events as they transpire, especially when they “begin” and “end” within the same twelve-hour period. When I woke up on Wednesday morning, the idea of a Veronica Mars movie was a pipe dream; by the time I went to bed, almost 40,000 people had contributed to a Kickstarter campaign that had passed its $2,000,000 goal in record time, meaning that a Veronica Mars movie is tentatively scheduled to film this summer and arrive early next year.

While the feat is remarkable in and of itself, what struck me was how the Internet managed to keep pace discursively, going through the full cycle of initial enthusiasm (wondering whether this could be a step forward for how television is produced), emerging skepticism (concerns over funding a project for a large studio like Warner Bros.), and then finally the inevitable “Now what?” that comes with any successful Kickstarter project. Normally this cycle could take a week, or even a month (which is how long the Kickstarter had to reach its goal), but anyone who spent their day in front of a computer could experience it all in the span of about twelve hours.

As soon as the Kickstarter was revealed, I could hear dozens of media studies professors mentally adding to their lesson plans on fan cultures, another case study to join Chuck’s Subway sandwiches, Jericho’s peanuts, and Roswell’s Tabasco sauce. I could also see other creators—like TerriersShawn Ryan, Men of a Certain Age’s Mike Royce, and The Middleman’s Javier Grillo-Marxauch—tweeting about what this could mean for other shows canceled before their time, and Deadline was reporting on distribution and marketing as soon as it was clear the Kickstarter would reach its goal. While the Veronica Mars movie may have been transformed into something real through its Kickstarter, the Kickstarter itself was transformed into an abstract case study as soon as its success was guaranteed.

Like everyone else, I am excited to integrate this into my lecture on fan cultures, intrigued by the prospects for other creators to utilize similar strategies in the future, and incredibly curious—and conflicted—to see how Warner Bros. approaches the production of the project in the wake of the intense fan support. However, at the same time, I am hesitant to give into this abstraction having had the experience of “being there” on Wednesday. While it would be facetious to suggest that this is the kind of event that you’ll tell your grandchildren about, or that you’ll “remember where you were when the Veronica Mars Kickstarter ticked over $2,000,000,” the experience of watching the numbers go up throughout the day or refreshing the page in the final seconds was nonetheless a key space in which the meaning of this Kickstarter unfolded; when the Kickstarter converged with the selection of a new Pope on Wednesday afternoon, during which cable news informed me I was witnessing history, it called attention to the shared “liveness”—if not shared scale—of the two events (and created a new genre of Veronica Mars/Catholicism mashup jokes we’ll never get a chance to use again).

The Kickstarter conversation began in earnest last year surrounding a collection of successful video game projects, and at the time Ian Bogost asked “what if Kickstarter is more about the experience of kickstarting than it is about the finished products?” He goes on to suggest that when you support a Kickstarter “you’re buying a ticket on the ride, reserving a front-row seat to the process and endorsing an idea.” Building on that idea, following a Kickstarter as it approaches its goal strikes me as the equivalent to waiting in the queue to a ride at Disney World, an interactive experience in its own right that is designed to build excitement for the ride to follow. The introductory video and the tweets sent out by Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell were like the pre-recorded content that plays on the screens as you walk by; the social media chatter between fans lines up with the conversations you strike up with the people waiting in line around you; just as I used Spotify to listen to the Veronica Mars soundtrack while watching the Kickstarter grow, “We Used To Be Friends” would be playing on an endless loop in the Magic Kingdom.

As with some theme park rides, the line between the queue and the ride will be blurry in this case: does the ride begin when the Kickstarter reaches its goal? Or when the film is released next year? Or when the film goes into production this summer (since viewers were supporting not the project being released but rather the project existing at all)? Regardless, however, I want to maintain the importance of Wednesday not simply as a procedural act—backers contributing to a Kickstarter—but rather a social experience in which latent fan cultures were awakened, mobilized, and monetized in real time. Even if it’s twelve months until the project sees the light of day, and even if the Kickstarter earns another ten million dollars, I would point to Wednesday as a distinct cultural moment rather than simply the beginning of a larger trend.

The challenge, of course, is capturing a “moment” for the sake of either research or teaching. It shifts our role as scholars from careful researchers to frantic curators: I spent my day trying to chart the growth of the Kickstarter in terms of average contributions, while I saw at least one scholar using Storify to curate relevant Twitter conversation. I don’t know what I intend to do with this data, precisely, but for the moment I can only hope it helps combat the “ephemerality” of Wednesday’s experience in the queue as we move forward in teaching and researching the meaning of this campaign.


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4 Responses to “ Kickstarting Veronica Mars: A Moment in a Movement ”

  1. Joshua Johnson on March 15, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    Thank you for a great post, Myles. I’ve been similarly wondering how we distinguish between the experiential value of the kickstarting process vs. the consumer/activist/spectatorial experiences that will follow. I like your point about seeing Wednesday’s huge fan response as a moment of importance unto itself, and I agree completely.

    I wonder, though, about your language in thinking about fans’ reaction to and involvement in this process as being one of a group of people being awakened as opposed to, I don’t know, redirected, refocused, or something like that. I think the danger in thinking of this as an awakening of fans is that it again characterizes and legitimizes fan activity, especially the impetus of that activity, only when it’s seen as functioning under and directed by industry rules or structures (I realize, too, that my suggestions similarly privilege industry as the manipulating force for fans; I’m just unable to come up with anything to fit my thoughts right now). Along those same lines and in regards to the twitter conversations going around concerning fan involvement and representation in a project like this that is fan-backed, your post here makes me curious about the ways in which fans have been able to, in a very real sense, own VM since the show stopped but are now in a position of seeming ownership in an industry sense (financial) that carries with it a potential shift (away from fans) of content ownership despite their apparent mobilization and presence in the conversation.

    • Myles McNutt on March 15, 2013 at 9:51 AM

      I see what you’re saying about “awakened” being problematic; on some level, my use was more to literally refer to being woken up by the news on Wednesday morning, but you’re right it holds other connotations. I would say the campaign as a whole, rhetorically speaking, hasn’t suggested that fan activity needs to be tied to the industry to have value. Veronica Mars fans have been adamantly supporting this project as long as Thomas and Bell have been talking about it, but the unwillingness of Warner Bros. to allow the movie to happen has placed a limit on what that fan engagement could accomplish. The Kickstarter is a way for those limits to be removed, and for existing fandoms—which were comparatively dormant, if not non-existent—to gain value.

      Obviously, as you note, this brings up complicated questions of ownership. On some level, the Kickstarter is about allowing Thomas and Bell to reclaim their ownership of these characters, to make the movie they would have probably made independent of Warner Bros. if they didn’t have to deal with rights issues. And so I like your choice of redirected or refocused, as this really is taking a general goal—the desire for more Veronica Mars—and giving it a specific outlet, which comes with distinctive consequences we’ll be following as the project evolves.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

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