Kickstart My Heart Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-03-16 14:00:00 No comments

So the Veronica Mars Kickstarter succeeded. Now what?

You need a very particular set of circumstances to pull this magic trick off. First, you need a beloved, pre-existing property. If Veronica were a brand-new character, the donations don't fly in this fast and furious, even if Thomas had a strong track record from other series. Maybe down the road, someone like Dan Harmon or Joss Whedon tries an original concept this way (I imagine "Dr. Horrible" could have been done this way had Kickstarter existed during the last writers strike), but for the time being, anything that requires several million dollars to work will have to be something the funders already care about.

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My wife's a bigger fan of Veronica Mars than I (and that's mainly because she's seen the show and I haven't; I'm not pre-emptively excluding myself from the possibility of being a fan), so for me, from the outside, this appears more curious than genuinely exciting. What stood out most for me was the above insight: that you have far more success riding on the coattails of an established piece of IP than you do trying to sell someone on a new idea, cold, no matter what the venue.

It's a little like something I once told a friend in half-jest: Given the recent craze for public-domain mash-ups, I bet I could write The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Ninja Assassins and it would outsell everything else in my catalog put together by several orders of magnitude. He asked my why, then, I didn't commit such a fine, ambitious enterprise to paper. I threatened to give his septum a fist massage.

The terrible thing is, he's probably right. If I wrote that, I could probably attract a fair number of people who would find such a thing a) funny and b) worth dropping a few dollars on for a decent chuckle. And it might well have drawn some attention my way, which I could have then parlayed into promotion for my other, more serious work. ("From the creator of Huck FInn, Ninja Assassin ... ")

Putting aside the fundamental dishonesty of such an approach -- it reminds me entirely too much of the attention-troll click-bait tactics of websites I've since stopped reading -- there's another problem. If I'm trying to get people interested in my work on its own merits, why attempt to tease them with something that I know full well isn't what I want to be doing in the first place and will almost certainly never be followed up by anything remotely like it ever again? Why bait and switch? And, moreover, why do it by taking a squat on poor Mark Twain, who suffered enough disappointment in his lifetime that his shade hardly needs more of it? Just because something's out of copyright doesn't mean it's fair aesthetic game.

Anyway, the original point: the only thing more valuable than the fans' money in this case was their pre-existing knowledge of and devotion to the franchise. That's not something that has a pricetag, and has to be built at least partly on the ground level. Even a tentpole movie with a promotional budget that by itself dwarfs the costs of many other films has to make some kind of heart-to-heart connection with its fans to be taken seriously. That right there is the kind of heavy lifting that might only be possible with the tons of money available to a major studio, label, or imprint. And I'd like to be proven wrong.

Also: the importance of the creator, as well as the material, is something to be explored further and separately. Should a creator who only has his connection with his audience, however small, cultivate that before he tries to draw attention to himself through his creations? That sort of thing.

Tags: Kickstarter crowdsourcing fandom television