Rob Thomas

Who's getting crowded out of crowdfunding?

March 14, 2013: 11:22 AM ET

A Kickstarter campaign to fund a movie based on Veronica Mars made its $2 million goal in 11 hours. What happens to entrepreneurs who don't already have a rabid fanbase?

By Kurt Wagner

130314111207-veronica-mars-614xaFORTUNE -- Veronica Mars is back to solve a mystery: Can she raise enough money to fund her own movie, and is this the future of crowdfunding?

Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, the Warner Bros.-produced TV show about a high school student moonlighting as a private investigator, launched a Kickstarter campaign yesterday to attempt to fund a "movie to be released in early 2014," according to the campaign page. The program was cancelled in 2007 after three seasons on UPN and the CW, but it maintained a strong cult following. Now Thomas and the show's star, Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, House of Lies) are both back to appease the masses -- or at least entice them enough to open their pocketbooks.

The Kickstarter campaign set a record on Wednesday, raising more than $1 million in just over four hours. Its fundraising goal -- $2 million in a month -- was essentially a lock. The drive had raised $2.6 million by Thursday morning and had hit its goal around 9 pm ET Wednesday, just under 11 hours after launch.

MORE: Interested in crowdfunding? 5 priceless pieces of advice

This overnight crowdfunding success is due in large part to Veronica Mars' existing fanbase -- jumping into the world of crowdfunding is much easier when you have a built-in audience to bring with you. But are crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or rival Indiegogo a place for major film or record studios to dump their old baggage? Could the bread and butter of the crowdfunding industry -- independent artists, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and playwrights -- be crowded out by the big guys?

130314111325-veronica-mars-kickstarter-project-340xaIndiegogo says no. In fact, campaigns like the Veronica Mars Movie Project that carry a little extra renown actually benefit other projects, says co-founder Danae Ringelmann. A campaign with reach can bring users to the site that may otherwise be unfamiliar with crowdfunding, she adds, although campaigns of this "big fish" nature would be encouraged regardless. "The power of crowdfunding is that it is empowering the world to fund what matters to them," she says. Whether that's a Veronica Mars movie or a cat café in London that raised more than $160,000 on Indiegogo in January, that's the beauty of crowdfunding.

Thomas is not the first campaign organizer to try and leverage crowdfunding to finance a previously established product. Last summer, musician Amanda Palmer raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to fund an upcoming tour and album with her band, The Grand Theft Orchestra. Previously one half of the band Dresden Dolls, Palmer had a solid following before starting her campaign. She later angered backers when she asked musicians to play with her on tour without paying them and hosted a TED talk titled "The Art of Asking" explaining her Kickstarter campaign views that left many wondering why $1.2 million wasn't enough.

MORE: Crowdfunding boosters are not happy with Steve Rattner

A campaign on Indiegogo by the band OneRepublic raised nearly $90,000 following December's Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and more than $1.3 million was raised by an Indiegogo campaign last fall to try and finance a Tesla museum.

In the case of Veronica Mars, Warner Bros., whose parent company also owns Fortune and which still owns the rights to the show, balked at the idea for a movie multiple times before Thomas took matters into his own hands. "Their reaction was, if you can show there's enough fan interest to warrant a movie, we're on board," wrote Thomas on the Kickstarter campaign page. "So this is it. This is our shot." It appears as if Thomas will not be alone; Shawn Ryan, creator of the FX crime drama The Shield, tweeted out that a movie based on another one of his shows, Terriers, a critical darling that lasted only one season in 2010, could be next in line for crowdfunding assistance:

In the meantime, the little guys may want to thank Warner Bros. for taking a pass on a Veronica Mars movie, consequently sending a new slew of potential investors to the site. "When a large campaign like this happens," says Ringelmann, "that brings the crowd."

Mystery solved.

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