Most ambitious crowdfund attempt yet earns half its goal in hours

The project that’s been kicking around since the show ended its three-year run in 2007 streaked past $2 million in pledges Wednesday evening, smashing previous Kickstarter records and easily clearing the bar that Warner Bros. set to commit to a summer production start. Backed by creator Rob Thomas, star Kristen Bell and other cast members, the “Veronica Mars” movie sailed past $1 million just four hours and 24 minutes after its Wednesday morning launch, making the TV cult favorite the first film project to come anywhere near that milestone.

And it never slowed down, crossing the $2 million goal by evening; anything thereafter will translate into production-quality gravy, Thomas said in his message on the Kickstarter site. Warner Bros., which owns the show that ran for three seasons on UPN and the CW, agreed to let Thomas and the cast mount the last-ditch effort in a long-sputtering attempt to bring his snarking, modern-day Nancy Drew to the bigscreen. Studio plans a limited 2014 release with a VOD component.

The blistering pace of incoming coin surprised everyone involved with the project, which still has 29 days left to pad its budget. As with many Kickstarter efforts, producers laid out incentives for fans — who are not equity partners, ergo see no fiscal return — ranging from a PDF of the shooting script (pledges of $10 or more) to a speaking part in the film (the highest pledge of $10,000, which was promptly claimed). Other goodies include a T-shirt ($25 or more), Blu-ray/DVD combo pack ($100) and signed posters ($200 or more).

As the total topped $2 million, the more than 30,000 pledges averaged just under $65, slightly lower than the standard Kickstarter movie pledge of around $70.

As “Veronica Mars” speeds into production, it’s easy to imagine a clutch of similar efforts to adapt low-budget cult properties that never found financial backing. TV shows “Firefly,” “24” and “Arrested Development” (which Netflix is now rebooting for television) had all been kicked around as possible films. None went the Kickstarter route, but might soon reconsider. Thomas even acknowledged as much in his pitch to fans:

“This is our shot,” he wrote. “I believe it’s the only one we’ve got. It’s nerve-wracking. I suppose we could fail in spectacular fashion, but there’s also the chance that we completely revolutionize how projects like ours can get made. No Kickstarter project ever has set a goal this high. It’s up to you, the fans, now.”

Kickstarter’s previous record film or video fundraise came last month, when Web series hit “Video Game High School: Season Two” pulled together $808,000. David Fincher’s animated project “The Goon” ranks next at $441,000, followed by Charlie Kaufman’s toon “Anomalisa” at $406,000 (all three are more than fully funded).

Videogames and gadget pitches have gone well over the million-dollar mark — a smart watch called Pebble, already over $10 million, is among the site’s biggest raises. But “Veronica Mars” was the fastest to $1 million among all types of projects.

Lending credibility to the pic, several original “Veronica Mars” cast members participated in a lighthearted promotional video about the project shot at Bell’s house. But the video also made it clear that if Kickstarter doesn’t work out, the movie is never getting made; adding to the pressure, the studio told Thomas that the crowdfunding effort would demonstrate consumer appetite.

“Kristen and I met with the Warner Bros. brass, and they agreed to allow us to take this shot,” Thomas said. “They were extremely cool about it, as a matter of fact. Their reaction was, if you can show there’s enough fan interest to warrant a movie, we’re on board.”

Warner Bros. Digital Distribution is managing the project, and has agreed to pay for marketing, promotion and distribution. The success of the Kickstarter campaign also gives the project a headstart in marketing, promotion and aud engagement, giving marketers a direct line to its fan base.

Crowdfunding has been a steady source of coin for micro-budget projects since Kickstarter’s launch in 2009. And the “Veronica Mars” payoff isn’t the first to lend legitimacy to the site as an incubator: Short doc “Inocente” — which received $52,000 from 300 contributors — last month became the first Kickstarter-funded film to win an Oscar.

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