It took Thomas nearly two years to convince Warners to try the Kickstarter campaign on "Mars." It nearly died when the Warner Horizon division folded, Thomas recalled, but it was resuscitated by Warner Bros. Digital Distribution after an unreleased campaign video featuring Bell spread virally within the studio.
One person who's paying close attention to Thomas' tale is his friend, "Pushing Daisies" creator Bryan Fuller. Back in Los Angeles after eight months shooting NBC's "Hannibal" in Toronto, he's just now talking with his agent at WME to ascertain who to buttonhole within the just-reorganized Warners to see if a bigscreen version of "Daisies," budgeted at $10 million-$15 million, would be a good fit for Kickstarter.
Which isn't to say everyone in Hollywood is swooning.
There are still plenty of skeptics, like Bold Films co-prexy Gary Michael Walters, exec producer and financier of Warners' upcoming Ryan Gosling-helmed "How to Catch a Monster." Walters said he mainly uses Kickstarter to discover new properties, and has little interest in donation-based crowdfunding.
"It'll remain viable in some cases, but it could easily be abused," he said. "You have to watch it. You can over-fish the resource."
The worst nightmare of any star trying out Kickstarter came true last month when the perhaps appropriately named Melissa Joan Hart-toplined romantic comedy "Darci's Walk of Shame" earned just $51,605 of its $2 million goal from 315 backers. Another TV star, Shemar Moore of CBS' "Criminal Minds," is struggling to get a rom-com of his own off the ground, collecting $127,000 with 22 days to go, far short of his $1.5 million goal.
Indeed, 54% of Kickstarter projects fall short of their funding goals, according to the site's analytics. Of these, 28% are film and video projects. Another 18% are music projects.
But even in success, Kickstarter pitfalls persist. Blur Studio's Jeff Fowler and Tim Miller turned to the crowdfunder for their feature directoral debut, an animated adaptation of Eric Powell's cult hit comic "The Goon," with David Fincher executive producing, Dark Horse Entertainment ("Hellboy") producing and Paul Giamatti voicing, only after other means had failed to raise the $400,000 needed for a 90-minute professional-quality story reel aimed at attracting $35 million in feature financing.
While their campaign hit the mark, they discovered that collecting all the donations isn't so easy. First, Kickstarter takes a 5% cut of all pledges on successful campaigns (if a project fails to get funding, Kickstarter doesn't take anything).
"Even though Kickstarter will kind of vet your donation before you submit it, people do default on their payments in the two weeks Kickstarter takes to collect all your money," Fowler said. "Fortunately we were overfunded, so we met our original goal."
Miller said the thrill of meeting their goal was followed quickly by the reality of having to fulfill all the promises made to secure funding, including sending out T-shirts and other prizes. They get about 10 emails a day with backers' new addresses and other changes. "They say, 'I wrote "small" but I really meant an extra large T-shirt,' or, 'Can I give you $10 more and get the poster as well as the T-shirt?' It's sort of a neverending stream," Miller said.
And, Miller said, during the campaign, there was some negative press, saying, "Why does David Fincher need fans' money?" "It was kind of annoying to see the negativity," he added.
For many, Kickstarter is a way to get noticed -- by fans and by larger organizations within the industry.
A year ago, videogame developers Pwnee Studios successfully funded "Cloudberry Kingdom," raising more than $23,000 for the platform vidgame. That was enough to not only fund a PC prototype of the game, it put the company on Ubisoft's radar. The game publishing giant struck a deal with Pwnee, and this summer a console version of "Cloudberry" will hit stores.
"Kickstarter gives an alternate source of funding to develop and prototype a full game and then bring it to publishers," said Chris Early, VP of digital publishing at Ubisoft. "It's beyond proof of concept at that point. That reduces our risk considerably."
Ethan Calk and actors Tim Russ and Walter Koenig are hoping for a similar fate. The Kickstarter for "Star Trek: Renegades" was successfully funded last November to create a pilot episode for a new "Star Trek" series, which the group plans to pitch to CBS, with an eye toward becoming a Web-based series. Russ, who played Tuvok on "Star Trek: Voyager," will direct, while Koenig, the original "Star Trek's" Chekov, is executive consultant and will appear in the show.
"Renegades" wasn't a breakaway hit, though. It cleared its $200,000 goal by 21%, but people failing to honor their pledges and the cost of shipping out rewards has had a noticeable impact. And Kickstarter's 5% fee, along with a 3%-5% charge from Amazon, which handles payments, further lowered the total. As a result, the group may not have enough money to accomplish what it set out to do.
"We've looked at maybe doing some further fund-raising, maybe on Kickstarter, maybe Indiegogo," Calk said. "We've also looked at cutting back, but don't want to."
Second rounds are risky, though, since original backers can feel betrayed. That's especially dangerous if you have a dedicated following that has already contributed once.