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'Veronica Mars' online campaign passes $2 million: What's Hollywood thinking?

'Veronica Mars' fans have contributed more than $2 million online in two days in hopes of turning the defunct TV show into a film. The campaign upends Hollywood's business-as-usual model.

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One example is not enough to make predictions about an entire industry, but it points to how the Internet can open a window on what goes into making a movie, says Paul Booth, a media professor at DePaul University in Chicago, who specializes in studying cult texts and audiences.

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“This is a really interesting example of subverting the traditional Hollywood system and providing information about what is traditionally a very shadowy world of funding for movie projects,” he says.

With this project, various levels of giving get donors different benefits, such as a digital copy of the shooting script or T-shirts. One lucky donor who shelled out $10,000 has already landed the perk of a speaking part in the final film.

This granular level of involvement also provides built-in marketing. Such an intense level of buy-in before a project has even begun filming is important given the lack of guarantees in the movie business – even for films with a cult following.

The followup to one of TV’s hottest cult hits, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,” was booed at Cannes and took in just over $4 million at the box office, though it cost $10 million. Even the "X-Files" series, arguably one of the most passionately followed TV series ever, was not a sure thing. The 2008 film, “X Files: I Want to Believe,” cost an estimated $30 million and brought in just under $21 million in receipts.

Economically, it makes perfect sense to try to look for alternative sources of funding, says David Fiorenza, an economist at Villanova University in Philadelphia, via e-mail. The downside, he adds, “is not meeting your goal and the project not completed.”

Beyond the funding issues, the quick response to the Veronica Mars appeal shows that cancelled shows can have staying power through the Internet – getting a second life on streaming services such as Netflix.

“A television studio executive should think a lot less about second-run syndicating show and a lot more about streaming a show,” says Michael Levin, assistant marketing professor at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, in an e-mail. “I seriously doubt Veronica Mars would have attracted so many new fans to the show through [traditional] second-run syndication.”

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