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Weighing crowd-funding legacy of ‘Mars’

Thomas

– Rob Thomas knew he might make movie history by using Kickstarter to crowd-fund his “Veronica Mars” film. But he wasn’t prepared for the posters.

Of all the prizes offered to donors of “Veronica Mars” – everything from a digital copy of the script for $10 to a walk-on cameo for $10,000 – the most taxing was autographing the cast-signed posters promised to more than 5,000 backers. It took several hand-cramping days and constant shuttling of boxes from one signee to the next.

“We’ve got our own poster handler who is in charge of getting them to us and getting them signed,” Thomas said in a recent interview. “It’s required, like, its own department.”

But, he adds, “This movie would not exist if we had not gone down this path.”

It’s been a year since Thomas sent shockwaves through the movie industry by turning to the crowd funding site Kickstarter to help finance a movie based on his cultishly adored but short-lived high school detective series. The movie hits theaters in some cities and video-on-demand today. As the first high-profile celebrity project to drum up money on Kickstarter, “Veronica Mars” is a trailblazer, albeit one with a cloudy legacy.

Thomas has already been followed by projects by Zach Braff (to fund his second directorial effort) and Spike Lee (to raise cash for his latest “joint”). The land rush into a new avenue of funding (a major struggle for most filmmakers) has raised questions about the ethics of fan-based financing. (Contributors pay for different levels of rewards, but don’t share in profits.)

“Veronica Mars” may have introduced a democratic spirit to a green-lighting process usually controlled by film executives, but it has also opened a Pandora’s box where, critics say, established insiders can take advantage of their loyal followings.

“It’s a brilliant idea that’s gotten out of hand,” “House of Cards” producer Dana Brunetti recently said at a South by Southwest panel discussion. “It’s wrong when people like Zach Braff or Spike Lee use that same service to fund their films when they already have access. I think it overshadows and takes away from the little guys who actually need the funding.”

Thomas says he would rather not be considered a poster boy for Kickstarter.

“Every project has its own separate concerns,” he says. Instead, he believes the choice is up to consumers.

“If it bothers you that Zach Braff probably has a lot of money from ‘Scrubs,’ ” Thomas says, “then don’t give to it.”

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