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On Kickstarter and Veronica Mars

veronica-mars-kickstarterThis Veronica Mars/Kickstarter thing is pretty cool, but the media are going way overboard in their proclamations that it has changed the way Hollywood does business.

It isn’t true because Kickstarter is just not a reliable or valid ongoing business model (unless you are actually Kickstarter, that is). If your business’s ability to meet its financial needs in order to stay a viable entity are dependent on, what in effect are, donations from the public, then your days are numbered.

Keep in mind that the true business entity behind the movie has next to nothing at stake on this endeavor. Warner Brothers only guaranteed to provide distribution support and some marketing – the distribution offered is not wide at all, it is mostly digital, through VOD (Video On Demand) and a small scale theater release (akin to the kind of release patterns low budget art films get). I am sure the participating creatives, Rob Thomas, Kristen Bell, etc, all have some amount of profit sharing involved, but the profit on this will not be huge in any way that you look at it. And the movie business is based heavily on being able to make big bets for huge return.

Small, modest return is not something that Hollywood has time to pour resources into.

Having said that, it is important to note that it is true that the business model of Hollywood has been slowly changing for years. Kickstarter in this instance is just a symptom, not a cause. At some point, Hollywood’s prolifigate spending and their all or nothing approach, coupled with the democratization of technology and the lowered barriers to market entry will force it to level set or to crumble under its own unmanageable weight.

But what about Firefly, you may ask.

Again, Kickstarter is not a viable business model, but that would indeed be absolutely super cool. And I would donate to it in a New York second, but understand that a second Firefly movie is an order of magnitude more difficult (and expensive) to put together than a Veronica Mars movie (which goes to the point of this not being a viable way to do business). Serenity is reported to have cost appx $40M to produce, not counting P&A, and etc, and we are now almost 10 years on from when that was made. Prices have not gone down in that time.

But what about Amanda Palmer, you are now asking.

Well first off, Palmer isn’t a filmmaker – she is a musician. And an awesome one at that, but she is also an outlier – she is probably the only one that could replicate her own crazy success on it. But for every Amanda Palmer, there are thousands, even tens of thousands of artists that won’t be able to leverage it even once (48,559 unfunded projects). Fully 67% of successfully funded projects are for less than $10k. That is 25,000 projects out of 37,000. Fully 90% of funded projects are for less than $20k.

In the realm of Film Making, 87% of successfully funded projects were for under $20k (8146 projects out of 9280). The likelihood of those projects ever matching in profit dollars their funding amount is very small. 11% of successfully funded projects (1048) were for between $20k and $99k. There were less than 1% of the projects funding successfully for between $100k and $1M. And only one single project reaching its goal for more than $1M – the Veronica Mars movie. For sure there will be others, but there has been a total of  23,395 Film/Video projects launched on KickStarter with less than 40% of them being successfully funded, and the vast majority of those will never see any real profit whatsoever.

I love Kickstarter (and other similar platforms). I support projects regularly of people I know and don’t know, simply for love of art. Multiple of them that were successfully funded have not delivered all of the promised “consideration”. But I don’t care about that. I supported the artist because I believed in them, not to get something back. But it simply is not a dependable business model on a case to case basis. And the more an artist or business entity returns to it, the harder it will be to match previous funding successes.

Again, and finally, Veronica Mars getting funded by Kickstarter is really neat – I even donated to it (at the $35 level, even though I have never seen the show – I just loved the pitch video), but don’t expect all of your old TV favorites to suddenly get greenlit by raising production funds online. As One-Offs and Passion Projects, Kickstarter is great (as long as you have a motivated following in place already), but as an ongoing and scalable business model it just will not work.

I don’t mean this to sound discouraging to young artists. They – Filmmakers, Musicians, Developers, etc – should all absolutely continue to try to leverage platforms like KickStarter to advance their craft, but it is not a way to replace sound business planning. It is a tool to be used strategically to get you closer to there from here.  Prepare the long plan, and then be ready to take advantage if the stars align and give you more.

 

 

(Kickstarter statistics from: http://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats)

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