The Veronica Mars fandom, named marshmallows, has a lot to be happy about right now. Last year, the Kickstarter was launched asking fans to donate money to a campaign entitled, The Veronica Mars Movie Project. For those who don’t know, Kickstarter is a crowd-funding website where fans can donate money to projects they want to support. Once the project meets their goal, credit cards will be charged for the amount backers wanted to donate. If the project fails to meet their goal, fans never get charged for their donation. The Veronica Mars Movie Project met their goal in eleven hours. By the end of the 30-day campaign, the project raised $5,702, 153 and had 91,585 backers. Those who donated money got exclusive access and backer emails all through out the casting process, production, and post-production. Even now, Rob Thomas, the creator of the show, is still sending out those emails. The fan-made and fan-serving movie was released to select theaters across the country on March 14, 2014. Unfortunately, a lot of backers did not have a theater close to them that was playing Veronica Mars. Therefore, as promised, those who donated a certain amount of money to the campaign were sent the codes to download the movie on the day it was released in theatres. Not only could backers see the movie the day it was released from the convenience of their own homes, but the entire public could, too; it was released on iTunes and Amazon the same day. Though, dedicated marshmallows still made the trek to theaters to see the movie on the big screen even though they had access to it from their own homes.
Rob Thomas then released the first ever Veronica Mars book on March 25th. This was written with Lauren Graham and titled, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. What’s even better is that Kristen Bell, the actress who plays Veronica, narrates the audio book. Not only did he release one book, he announced that there would be another one released this year. This fandom is clamoring for EVEN MORE. They want a second movie. They want a rebooted TV series on Netflix. They want it now. And it this age of media, anything is possible.
I am a proud Marshmallow and backer of the Kickstarter campaign. I was one of those dedicated fans who went to see the movie in theaters and even brought a friend who had never seen the show before who then became a marshmallow, too even though I had the code to the digital download. I fell in love with Neptune, CA and the cast of characters when I was 15 years old. I found Veronica at a time in my life when I needed someone to show me what a strong female character was. At the time, Gilmore Girls was in its last season and Veronica Mars had the time slot right after it. I was so sad to see Rory and Lorelei go, they were a huge part of my growing up, as well. Looking back, I think they started my addiction to coffee. One night after an episode of Gilmore Girls had ended, I decided to leave the TV on the WB. To my surprise, I was introduced to a spunky blonde with a feisty attitude who solved crimes. I had no idea what was going on nor how many episodes of the show I had missed but I was hooked. From that day on, I thought Veronica and I would be good friends. I would wait until they would rerun an episode and I would try to piece together what I had missed. For Christmas that year, I got the first two seasons of Veronica Mars on DVD. My mom and I binge watched them because we wanted to catch up before the new episodes premiered in January. And so began my addiction to binge watching shows; I did it before it was cool.
How can you spot a binge watcher? While binge-watchers are much like the coach potato, they are much more determined; binge-watchers have a goal. They will most likely be curled up with a laptop or sitting in front of the tv with a blanket and other provisions nearby. If they’re watching Netflix, they let the show they’re watching roll right into the next episode or if they found their shows by other means, they most likely have made sure the next few episodes have been buffered so as to not waste time between episodes. Trust me, I know. Victor Luckerson wrote an article titled “Netflix Says You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Binge-Watching” on Time.com, which stated, “According to the survey of 3,000 adults, 61 percent of those who stream TV binge-watch regularly. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed say they have positive feelings about the practice.” By showcasing binge watching as normal, it becomes a mainstream activity. But what are the implications?
As defined by Goldsmith, to binge is to rapidly consume a large amount of substance in a short amount of time. While this definition is mostly heard in relation to food and alcohol, binge-watching TV also has some of the same symptoms. A professor at Siena College, Raj Devasagayam wrote “Media Bingeing: A Qualitative Study of Psychological Influences”. He mentioned that an overexposure to these visual stimuli creates an emotional dependency on viewing a certain or multiple television shows. He states, “Viewers feel dependent on the stimuli to feel whole throughout their daily lives. As is evident with constant cravings to view a following episode, people become fully addicted to the happenings of a show” (Devasagayam 1). Because of feeling emotional connected, fan culture has gotten a little out of hand. By fans binge watching shows, it makes it easier to feel like the characters are a part of their lives. This makes fans overly attached and emotional to fictional characters. This psychological impact makes fans a little more disconnected from reality and other people. It also impacts the ways fans would treat Kickstarter projects since this is way that would make them feel more connected to the characters. I wanted to support the Kickstarter because I believed that Veronica deserved more to her story. Part of me missed her, too. Though I could rewatch the old seasons, it’s so great to have the new material of the movie and the book to talk about and analyze.
The original binge consuming, in terms of media, started with books. I know this from experience. When I get into a good book, I can’t put it down. I haven’t been able to read for fun all semester but as soon as thesis was over, I picked up my newest paperback, admittedly, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, and read over 100 pages in less than two hours. I was hooked. Readers are always comparing how long, or short rather, it took to read something. I remember in junior high, it was a type of contest among my friends to brag to each other how short of a time it took to read the last Harry Potter book. Now, instead of comparing books, it’s all about how fast you can get through a show that you just got hooked on. If you’re not caught up to real-time of the show, spoilers can be so easy to find everyone online, mostly by accident. This creates an urgency to catch up because now it becomes a necessity to find out what happens before someone unknowingly spoils it for you. Films and television provide an escape. While books do the same, sometimes it’s easier to turn off your brain every once in a while. By binge watching TV shows, people become immersed in a different world. Being able to binge-watch a television show creates a more cohesive experience. Waiting to watch an episode week by week isn’t too bad but the problem lies when the show doesn’t air every week because of a short hiatus’s or other events that are scheduled during that show’s normal time frame.
Many people have predicted that streaming video is going to take over the way we watch movies and television. Specifically, Hilderbrand states, “According to Bocco, streaming rather than actual DVD releases is probably the future for home video” ( 28). He’s not the only one to say so, however. When I started using Netflix, they only had the service of mailing out DVDs. While that was great, I remember sometimes feeling like I had to watch the movie that came in the mail even though I may not have been in the mood for that genre at the time. My mom didn’t want to waste the movie rental but wanted to watch it just so we could mail it back and get the next one. We subscribed to the service for three DVDs at a time, but even that was somewhat of a power struggle of which movies we’ve rent. As Hilderbrand reiterates, “Netflix has been the leader in redefining the role of streaming in home video… This shift has paid off, with Netflix’s revenues nearly doubling since it started streaming videos in 2007. In part, again, this is about lowered cost for delivering content. Netflix spends ninety cents for each disc it mails but only five cents for each video it streams” (Hilderbrand 28). The other reason that showcases the power of streaming is stated by Chuck Tryon. He explains in his article, “Redbox vs. Red Envelope” that, “Due to the cheap rentals offered by Redbox and the inexpensive access to streaming video promoted by Netflix, the expected cost of watching a movie has begun to shift, especially for movies that may be viewed only once or twice and for viewers who may not be drawn to consume DVD special features or collecting physical DVDs” (39). This shift in the way we watch movies, has created a shift in the way distribution will be handled.
Distribution for indie films has been increasingly difficult for the past few years because major distributors have shutdown or merged with other companies. According to Lucas Hilderbrand, it’s becoming easier to distribute indie films, especially, using Video On Demand and other video streaming services. In his article, The Art of Distribution, he states that VOD (Video on Demand) “has also altered the hierarchies and timelines for theatrical and home video release. For the major studios, VOD windows are now typically synched with DVD releases” (28).
Veronica Mars alum, Chris Lowell, started his own campaign on Kickstarter, too. Interestingly enough, he had a different approach than Zach Braff, who created a Kickstarter for his film Wish I Was Here, and Melissa Joan Hart, who created one for her movie, Darci’s Walk of Shame, which ended up being cancelled. Instead of asking for money to fund the movie so he would have to answer to his backers, he asked for money to distribute an already made movie titled, Beside Still Waters. This finished movie had already been to festivals, too. It had awards to make backing the project more enticing and a trailer to get you hooked. Lowell doesn’t have to worry about making a movie that will please the people that gave him money and support. This is the way I see the future of Kickstarter movies going. Veronica Mars fans are by no means one of a kind. There are other cancelled TV shows that I’m sure would have enough diehard fans to get a movie backed. But this Veronica Mars movie was very much made for the fans. There were jokes and illusions back to the original series and many wonderful cameos were made.
Not only are more celebrities going to go to Kickstarter to make movies, but the entirety of on demand culture is slowing changing. Netflix is proving that true already, too. Fans can barely wait a week for their shows to come back with new episodes. Netflix has created a double-edged sword. By releasing Netflix Original Shows in one day, they created more of a binge culture with fans. Fans can now watch an entire brand-new season in one sitting. The catch is that they have to wait a year to get another fix. Netflix has three original shows that debuted in 2013: Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Hemlock Grove. The first two became instant hits, though, all three did renewed for a second season. Season 2 of House of Cards premiered on Feb 14, 2014, Orange is the New Black will be released on June 6th, and Hemlock Grove will be released on July 13th. Arrested Development made a new season available exclusively on Netflix last year. This gives hope to many cancelled TV shows. For April Fools Day, someone started a rumor that Firefly was coming back as a Netflix show. Not only was this false, but because of the culture that Netflix has created, it gave the Browncoats hope! These shows made available exclusively on Netflix have created a cult following. The ability to see the entire season whenever it’s convenient creates that need in other shows. While Netflix has made a huge amount of television shows and movies available to stream, most people get annoyed when something they want to see isn’t available. As pointed out by Hilderbrand, he has to remind most of his friends that Netflix does send out DVDs with more titles available. However, most people do not pay for their Netflix service to include DVDs or they’re so caught up in wanting to see it now, they don’t want to wait for them to arrive in the mail.
The Tribeca Film Festival releases certain movies for online viewing during the duration of the festival. Not only that, but some films that are shown during the festival are available to rent or stream on Amazon or iTunes such as Bachelor Weekend and Beneath the Harvest Sky. Joss Whedon went one step further. He wrote the script to In Your Eyes. On the same day it was released at the festival, he released it to rent on inyoureyesmovie.com and Vimeo On Demand for five dollars. In this way, he was helping his fans that wouldn’t able get to New York to see it when it premiered. More and more movies are being distributed this way besides Veronica Mars. Some films, such as They Came Together, are being distributed in theaters and on demand on the same day, as well. This film is being released on June 27, 2014 in both of those locations. “The shift from expensive theatrical releases to multiplatform digital delivery opens up new and increasingly accessible ways for audiences to see art, documentary, and independent cinema. Such viewing less and less often takes place on film in a cinema. By changing the release patterns and delivery technologies, more films might find audiences, but the revenues for specific hits may be consistently lower” (Hilderbrand28). By changing when and how we can watch films, we are creating easier access to entertainment. In this way, we are adding the binge-watching phenomenon on needing to watch things now.
Fan culture is becoming more and more involved. Fans are starting to take control of the way television is being produced. “Early evidence suggest that the most valuable consumers are what the industry calls ‘loyals,’ or what we call fans. Loyals are more apt to watch series faithfully, more apt to pay attention to advertising, and more apt to buy products” (Jenkins 63). Loyals are rewarded by participating in the culture around a television that lies predominately online because they get a chance to have a say in what happens on the show. Recently, the TV show Hawaii Five-O, asked fans to vote on different scenarios that would be used to build an episode of the show. From those elements, the show writers created an episode that the fans had decided on. This kind of fan engagement puts the control even further into the fans hands. The power dynamic is changing. Writers are now creating shows and movies that cater to what the fans want. But what does this mean for the quality of television if fans have the power? Is narrative television going to become more like reality TV where fans get to cast their vote for who gets to stay on the show? If writers are concerned about the fans more instead of the writing, does the quality fall short of expectations? Will fans be frustrated by where the show is going even though they asked for it? Jenkins says, “The promise of participation helps build fan investment, but it may also lead to misunderstandings and disappointments as viewers feel that their votes have not been counted” (Jenkins 64). In the case of Kickstarter, if fans have invested their money into a project, and they don’t like it or aren’t satisfied, why would they risk their money on it again? It is also a risk for the producers because if the fans are disappointed, there is no chance for a repeat of this kind of donation of funds for that particular project and maybe for other ones like it. The risk isn’t as intense with television shows like Hawaii Five-O that aren’t being fan funded, however, they could decline in their ratings. But how far is too far with catering to fans?
This is where Chris Lowell had the right idea in his Kickstarter campaign. He knew he had a specific story to tell and he created it before he asked for money. He is giving in to fan culture by the rewards he is providing but he isn’t held accountable to them to create a certain product. This is an important distinction in the age of on demand and binge watching. Lowell is setting the right example. We need to be aware of the culture Netflix and other streaming sites have created. Fans are getting what they want more easily now, especially with fan culture becoming more involved. We have to be careful of where this intersects with the writing and integrity of a show or a movie. No one is going to like everything, that’s just life. If producers and writers are going to cater more towards fans than where they feel a story should go, is that good storytelling? Sometimes we have to set boundaries. Not every TV episode is going to be written like a Goosebumps book. Fans have to accept that.