When the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie was announced I was interested rather than excited. I have seen a reasonable number of episodes of the TV show but not enough to be a real fanboy. Not top of my list of anticipated films of the year, I did intended to see it. What I didn’t realise was that it wasn’t going to get a UK general release. I therefore missed it on initial release but have finally caught up with it.
I don’t intend to review the film but here are a few thoughts before I move on to the reason for this article: The film opens with Veronica about to take a job with New York City law firm when she learns her former squeeze Logan has been arrested for murder. She drops everything to go and help him. This means returning to her (fictional) hometown of Neptune, California, a place she describes in voiceover as “a Springsteen song, get out while you’re young”. The central conceit of the film, the events take place during a school reunion is actually handled really well and doesn’t become obtrusive. The balance is perfect, there is just enough comedy to keep the drama light, more importantly for someone like me with only a passing knowledge of the TV show there is just enough exposition. It does leave me with the question, why isn’t Kristen Bell a bigger star? She has had a successful TV and movie career without ever appearing in a massive film (if you take out her voice work in Frozen). At 33, in a youth obsessed industry she is most likely at the peak of her career now. Fans, don’t despair, she isn’t about to disappear from our screens, IMBD has plenty of forthcoming projects listed for her and there is talk of a second Veronica Mars movie.
The thing it got me thinking about was the way it was released. As mentioned above, it only had a limited cinema release across ten venues in UK and Northern Ireland. It appears the release in America was similarly confusing with a small release across one chain. The foreign box office only lists three counties, Austria, Germany and United Kingdom. Given the unusual funding, it’s hard to say if the film has been a financial success or not, it appears to have taken $3,485,127 against a budget of around $6 million. Although their appears to be a $2.5million hole, I expect it isn’t that simple. The film was also released to rent or buy online platforms and through video on demand at the same time as its cinema release. Were the rights presold or is this an extra revenue stream? It is also worth remembering that the Kickstarter campaign was the most successful ever with $5,702,153 raised from 91,585 donors. Whatever the truth, the story of the films finances are far from over, with DVD/Blu-ray sales and TV deals the movie has time and options to make money. It may even encourage back sales of the box sets of the original show.
Historically direct to video/DVD movies were made up of lower budget films always intended for the home market and films intended for a cinematic release that didn’t make the grade. This is usually because the studio responsible were concerned about the films chances of making their money back and decided to cut their losses and not spend a fortune on marketing. More recently direct to video has been overtaken by video on demand and new trend has emerged. Smaller films that don’t have the marketing budget (many films spend more on marketing and distribution than on production), get a premier and/or a small cinematic release as a loss-leader to help raise the profile of the film and promote the online sales. We are in an interesting time for film distribution, not least because Veronica Mars represents a new step in the process. The film was the first to be distributed in the United States by one of Hollywood’s six major studios (Warner Bros) for home viewing and theatrically at the same time. This is process that is likely to happen more and more, film critic
Mark Kermode supports it as a way to encourage people watch films legally online and not via illegal sites. As time goes on the process will be refined and the studios will work out the angles to ensure they make money out of it. Will this help deter piracy or encourage it? I’m not sure.
If this is the way forward, I can see a positive side to it. If it helps filmmakers get their product to as many people as possible and get paid for it allowing them to continue their art, it must be a good thing. The downside, I like watching films at the cinema on big screen, and if less and less smaller and independent films make it to the cinema, that cannot be good.