It's not that I'm opposed to Kickstarters that aim to ultimately turn a profit (again, I'm not even opposed to this Kickstarter!), but I can't just ignore that the original spirit of crowdfunding was all about a leveling of the field. It's a way to give small operations or people with financially risky ideas a way to raise money that was otherwise only available through oversight or subservient "partnership" with a major corporate backer. Crowdfunding was, to use an unfortunately tarnished phrased, "indie" in the purest sense of the word, at least, theoretically. Smaller venue fan conventions used Kickstarter. Artists used Kickstarter. Independent filmmakers like the ones behind Zero Charisma (which I'm hearing great things about out of SXSW) used Kickstarter. Big studios, though? They've got their own money - money that they earn from us by making products that we want to buy. That's how it works.
Sure, sometimes they ask our opinions about which products to make in the first place - either through direct questionnaire or (more often) by analyzing our previous buying habits - but the basic premise of The Market has always been "You (studio/company/etc.) make the product, and if we (the consumer) like it we'll then consider giving you money for it."
This Veronica Mars scenario upends all of that, effectively creating a new paradigm: "You (the consumer) give us (the company) money to make something, and if we get enough of it you will then have the option of giving us more money so you can now buy it!" Oh, and maybe they'll also give you a hat or something if you gave enough money initially.
Granted, that's exactly the same paradigm as Kickstarters for genuinely independent projects, but the (at least hypothetical) trade off there is that the initial donors are willingly taking care of the overhead. Business operations are expensive to run, after all. That's why widget makers have corporations above them instead of just their factories and why moviemakers have movie studios. Zero Charisma didn't have a major studio handling its overhead, so they used Kickstarter.
And on the surface, to be sure, Veronica Mars: The Movie probably doesn't seem all that different. The studio that owns the property clearly didn't think it was worth spending even a paltry $2 million on, but its creator and fans evidently wanted to take a shot. So they went to Kickstarter, just like any other scrappy little project just looking for its shot, right?
Actually, no. I don't profess any special knowledge of how the Mars Kickstarter got together, mostly because I don't need it. Basic understanding of Hollywood business dealings and common sense will do. See, while Rob Thomas may be the creator of Veronica Mars with a likely not-insubstantial financial stake in the property via his Rob Thomas Productions, it has corporate owners too. The reason they (Thomas and Bell) could say right upfront that Warner Bros. had already agreed to the funding "if only" was because they would have to run this entire proposal by WB and their legal department before they said one word about it in public - hell, just for mentioning the company's possible involvement in the end product they'd have to do that, even if Thomas did own the property outright. And you'd better believe that Warner Bros. had some very real number crunching to turn to for that magic $2 million number. (I welcome the correction, by the way, if I am at all incorrect or mistaken about any of that.)
In other words, while there's no reason to doubt that the plan and the passion were all hatched by Thomas just like he said, what has effectively happened here is that Warner Bros. - acting through Rob Thomas, Kristen Bell and Kickstarter - has conducted a market research survey as to interest in Veronica Mars: The Movie where "Yes!" answers came in the form a financial donation. Fans paid a collective $2 million dollars for the privilege of saying "Yes, mister, we are interested in your at this point entirely hypothetical movie project."