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Variety’s 2014 Breakthrough Movie Winner: ‘Veronica Mars’

Cult series gets $5.7 million from Kickstarter fans to make bigscreen leap

The Variety Breakthrough of the Year Awards, which recognizes a select group of rising stars in entertainment and technology, will be held Jan. 9 at the Consumer Electronics Show. 

“We’re making a ‘Veronica Mars’ movie! Now the only question is, how big can we make it?”

Last spring, writer-producer Rob Thomas posted that quote, along with a short film, on crowdfunding site Kickstarter with the goal of raising enough money to create a feature film of his Kristen Bell-starring cult TV show “Veronica Mars.” He had no idea what to expect. He certainly didn’t think he’d make his $2 million goal on the first day – not for a film based on a series that was canceled in 2007.

SEE ALL: Breakthrough of the Year Awards

And certainly not that once the bidding to donate to the film caught fire the media would give him all the press and promotion he could possibly want. He ended up with $5.7 million.

“In my mind, the Mendoza Line of whether I was satisfied or not was $5 million,” he says, borrowing an expression from baseball. “Five was the number I wanted to get to; if we’d landed at $2 million it would have been a murder mystery inside a house with 10 speaking roles; instead, we have 60 speaking roles, a high school reunion and car crashes.“

Thomas’ Kickstarter success hasn’t just demonstrated what’s possible in terms of financing creative projects via the online world — it also helped set a template for the way independent projects could be funded in the future.

“Movies in this price range have been dying and hardly get made any more,” says Thomas. “This might be an avenue to see those made, instead of everything being a big tentpole project.”

Thomas says he and Bell were the “perfect guinea pig” to see if a crowdfunded film might work: “We have a built-in audience, we’re a known quantity and we’re one of those cultish shows where the fans are really devoted.”

But approval from distributor Warner Bros. was hard to pin down, and the idea languished until Thomas Gewecke (now president of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution) saw the short film Thomas had made for the project. After that, wheels began turning again.

“Veronica Mars” now has a planned March theatrical release date. Bell says “every penny” from the Kickstarter funding has gone into the film. Kickstarter has become a viable option for several filmmakers, and other Hollywood names, including Zach Braff and Spike Lee, have reached out via the crowdfunding site — with varying degrees of success.

Bell, now a fan of crowdsourcing, thinks that everyone should give it a shot if they need funding, regardless of their own personal net worth. “I can understand how people question celebrities using the platform, but clarity comes when you understand it’s not the celebrity asking for money – it’s the project,” she says. “I’m not a little guy, but my project, ‘Veronica Mars,’ is a little guy. There is no possible way this film would have been made without crowdfunding. Trust me, we spent seven years trying.”

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