What I’d Watch 3/15/13: Life on Mars


Hopefully everyone is happily being wary and not getting stabbed by their friends today.  The new releases are being wary as well, with just two films tip-toeing their way onto screens.  If 2,500 and 3,100 screens can be said to be tip-toeing.  But both have been awfully quiet, with only one having had any kind of recent TV campaign that I’ve seen, and neither looks like much of a threat to the reigning box office champ, Oz the Great and Powerful.

call2013_posterI saw the trailer for The Call a month or so ago and then it just sort of vanished.  I figured that meant it was a summer release, but here it is dropping before March is even over, and with not all that much fanfare.  Granted, it’s hard to generate much fanfare for a film whose director hasn’t had a film gross more than $4 million and whose writer hasn’t had a credit since 2001.  Halle Berry isn’t exactly an automatic draw herself, and this seems like one of those roles Abigail Breslin took just to remind people she’s not Little Miss Sunshine anymore.

?????????????????????????????????Besides, everyone on the poster for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has better hair than Halle Berry or Abigail Breslin.  On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer:  Steve Carell and Jim Carey as rival Las Vegas magicians?  How could this not work?  Well, the director comes mostly from a TV background (good TV, shows like The West Wing and 30 Rock, but still not feature experience), and the writers only feature film was Horrible Bosses, which also had what seemed like a sure-fire premise but didn’t do all that much with it.  Carell and Carey can certainly do a lot with a little though.  Just how little they have and how much they do with it will tell the tale on this one.

Meanwhile, everyone seems to have some kind of opinion on the record-setting Veronica Mars campaign on Kickstarter.  In a nutshell, Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell, the show’s creator and star, launched a fundraising effort to generate $2 million to turn the beloved show into a film.  They hit that goal before the first day of the campaign was even half over, breaking records and seemingly dividing people into camps of, “This is the future of movies,” and, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened.”

At first blush, this almost seems like a return to the idea of artists having patrons who fund their work.  Except in this case, the patrons aren’t rich nobles, but anybody with a Kickstarter account and some spare cash.  But for niche projects like this, it makes a kind of sense to allow those who really want to see it happen help make it happen. The only hitch is that none of that donated money grants the backers any say in how the film develops.  A pledge doesn’t make them producers, as some have likened them to, but donors, having to content themselves with trusting the filmmakers to use the money wisely and well.

Of course, that’s any Kickstarter project in a nutshell.  You’re not purchasing a voice in the product, you’re purchasing the actual existence of the product.  Anything beyond that should be gravy.  But the proliferation of early bird specials and stretch goals has turned a lot of projects into glorified pre-orders in a lot of people’s minds.  When really, it should be a futures market, not a store.  There’s a not entirely unjustified sense of entitlement that Thomas and company may not be prepared for.

And there’s no real guarantee the film ever gets made, despite it being funded.  It’s happened with other projects before, although not to a project anywhere near this order of magnitude.  Donors are willing to cut some slack to a struggling musician or small gaming company if their album or board game is a few months late, or if there are unforeseen delays.  Will people be willing to be as patient when it’s a multi-million dollar fan film being made by name stars and creators?  Look at how people chafed at the delays between volumes in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.  And they had absolutely no stake in those aside from wanting to buy them.

Some have worried that the Veronica Mars campaign marks the beginning of the corporatization of Kickstarter, that indie artists will start being pushed aside as big name studios and music labels and publishers start using the site as a way to hedge their bets on risky properties.  And that’s certainly possible.  I just have to wonder, given how slow those companies have been to embrace new media, if they’ve got the initiative and the savvy to do so.  Their big reluctance in accepting digital distribution has been in making sure they can maintain their profits.  Adding a bunch of outside voices to the funding process doesn’t strike me as their ideal business model.

In the long run, I think you’ll see this as the domain of niche properties, cult hits that couldn’t find new life otherwise. And for those who support those projects, it’s really not all that removed from buying every last scrap of memorabilia from a convention.  You’re still investing in a property that means something to you.  Just instead of spending that money on nostalgic indulgence in old experiences, you’re spending it to possibly create new ones. That’s got to be some kind of step forward.

Then again, funded fan fiction brought us Fifty Shades of Grey, so I guess we should be careful what we wish for.

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