Saturday, March 16, 2013

Kickstart to Mars

For my (measly amount of) money, if there's been one story this week that's worth its weight in news gold, it's not the selection of another sad old man to serve as the figurehead of a sad old institution. It's the (geek jargon alert) mainstreaming of crowdfunding, the taking in of over $3.5M in just three days ($2.4M of that in just the first twelve hours) to support the production of a movie based on a cult teevee show that lasted four seasons and ended in 2007. Folks, as far as I'm concerned, the only word for that is awesome.

And I agree with John Rogers, like, a kajillionty percent on the "questions" raised about this. I've never seen the show, and frankly couldn't care less if the movie even gets made or not. But I've already been researching Kickstarter for a few weeks now (*see below), and been impressed with both the principle and the process. In the case of the Veronica Mars movie, what you see is mutual investment, by fans and cast/crew, in making this thing happen. Take a look at the reward tier on the KS page. There are 100 slots available at $500, for which Kristen Bell will personally record an audio file for you to use as a voicemail or whatever. For $600 (50 slots), Bell will record a 20-second video message for you.

Think about that for a second. I don't know much about Kristen Bell, but I know who she is, and she seems to be a busy, working actress. And yet she (and other cast members) believe in the project enough to do extra things like this. It's not exactly digging ditches or scrubbing toilets, but you probably wouldn't be willing to record custom voicemail messages and videos for scores of strangers -- for free, at that -- if it wasn't something you really believed in.

So that's a nice thing, on both sides of the equation; fans love the show and the prospect of the movie to put up a lot of money for various cool things, and the actors love it enough to give something extra for the fans. Again, I've never seen an episode of Veronica Mars, but that's pretty damned great all the way around. This serves as a model for possibly resurrecting other niche or "cult" shows, as indicated in this article.

Will there be some point in the future, probably sooner rather than later, where megacorp assholes bigfoot their way onto Kickstarter and cynically use the fans to springboard some piece of shit? Sure; in fact, some claim that that's more or less what happened with Amanda Palmer's KS album project, which netted over $1.3M.

I don't have a dog in that fight either -- other than enjoying the Dresden Dolls' version of War Pigs, and knowing that she's married to Neil Gaiman, I am completely unfamiliar with Palmer and her music -- so I'm not offering an opinion there one way or the other. But in my anecdotal KS research, I have seen a great many project pages, from books to video games to albums, where creators gleaned two or four or (as in Palmer's case) ten times as much money as they were asking for. Many of these people are struggling artists, or at least ill-equipped to just spin on a dime and completely expand the scope of their project (which typically run 30-day campaigns) to match the donation intake, in order to keep querulous funders satisfied that it wasn't just a big carpetbag.

But I'm suggesting that these things point up a set of circumstances peculiar to the internets and its wondrous modes of instant and granular communications, what Douglas Rushkoff terms an ecology, rather than an economy. It's interactivity at almost the most individual level possible, being leveraged to do cool things that twenty (or even ten) years ago would have been cost-prohibitive to even consider.

*As you might infer, I've been researching KS in order to set up a page to generate capital and publicity for an upcoming ebook project, for another site I run. I'm hoping to have the reward tier and project page approved and ready to run a campaign through the month of April, so there will be updates posted here within the next week or two. There's no big hush-hush secret, this will be a guitar-oriented music book, but I am still working on a few visual things on the site before I start publicizing it. Stay tuned.

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