Never mind Veronica Mars – let’s kickstart Dawson's Creek onto the silver screen

A plea to fans to fund a project turning cancelled TV show Veronica Mars into a movie raised $2.5m in 48 hours. While this could very well be the future of how we consume television, Bim Adewunmi isn’t sure why fans, rather than studios, should bear all t

 

Even now, there are still the smouldering embers of excitement all across the social media platforms I use. Fandoms in the age of the internet tend to be a noisy, garrulous lot and one in particular is losing its collective shit. Because Veronica Mars – one of the most beloved cult shows of the 2000s – is to make a comeback on the big screen. The show’s creator and its star, Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell respectively, launched a Kickstarter campaign (more usually the preserve of smaller independent internet-only web series like the The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl or UK-based Brothers With No Game) to raise $2m over 30 days. It raised $2.5m in 12 hours. According to Thomas and Bell, if the film goes into production, then studio Warner Brothers will help with distribution. The film should land in early 2014. Modern filmmaking, eh? God bless the internet.

 I didn’t watch Veronica Mars first time around. I was at university for one thing, but more importantly I was still really into Gilmore Girls, and I had no extra time to devote to another perky young American, no matter how excellent her surname. (2004 also brought Desperate Housewives and The X-Factor, so, you know, a few turds came with the punchbowl.) Thanks to a period of under-employment a few years back, I’ve rectified the error to a degree, catching stray episodes on daytime television. Tiny slightly hokey details aside – the show is set in a town called Neptune, for example – it’s a good show, and as teen private investigator Veronica, Kristen Bell is a case of perfect casting ably assisted by very good writing. Fans of symmetry will be pleased to know the show’s first season was nominated for Best Network Television Series at the Saturn Awards. On the small screen, and in the hands of Rob Thomas (who went on to co-create and co-write the superlatively good Party Down), it was excellent. But how will it fare at the cinema?

 There are two distinct camps when it comes to making the leap from small screen to silver. A cursory glance at a small sample suggests there is usually no middle ground in this arena: they are either good or astonishingly terrible. Pop quiz: what do The Avengers, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Thunderbirds and On The Buses have in common? Their big screen adventures ended in ignominy and disappointment. On the flip side, consider South Park, The Muppet Show (several times), Firefly and um, Jackass. Pretty great, right? Right. It is a fine art, transferring stories and back-stories that often took years to craft and get right onto a big screen in one 90-minutes-to-two-hours chunk. Sure, you bring along an already dedicated audience (Veronica Mars fans more than most: one guy paid $10,000 into the Kickstarter for the chance to speak in the film), but you also carry with you exceptionally raised expectations. It’s easy to fall short.

Musician Amanda Palmer gave a rapturously-received TED talk in February called ‘the art of asking’. In 2012, Palmer raised $1.2m on Kickstarter after initially asking for $100,000 to support her new album and tour. Later, she would advertise for musicians to come and play for free on the tour; the criticism was almost unanimous. There were questions raised about the accountability of Kickstarter (which had raised almost $350m as at August last year). Quieter voices are also left asking if this is the wave of the future – will we, as consumers be doing this more and more? In a short piece at IndieWire, Bryce J Renninger says we can expect to see more studios using this system, and hinges his way of thinking on a few potent reasons: free publicity, upfront funds, data collection and reduced responsibility on putting out a quality product. Already, showrunners of two American TV series, Terriers  and Men Of A Certain Age have floated the idea of doing similar for their cancelled shows.

What does it all mean for the way we consume television? Clearly, a good swathe of the pop culture-consuming audience has no problem giving cash to projects they love – it’s in our nature to love irrationally, after all. But is the Kickstarter method the way to do it?  For sure, Veronica Mars' superfans didn't need much persuading to pony up some spare cash for the show they once loved. Will this method work for unknown, unbeloved new ideas struggling to stand out in the Hollywood landscape? Put it this way - would you lay down £25 if you read the synopsis for recent Hollywood megahit Argo on a Kickstarter page? I loved Argo, but I can't honestly say that I would have. And for that matter, precisely how many films can you comfortably make for $2.5m these days? That's budget filmmaking on a scale that we don't see too much of, even in our recession-hit times. And anyway, fan or no, isn't it just a tad cheeky that we are subsidising big-time studio Warner Bros? Perhaps it's churlish of me to feel this way.

Of course, if this turns out to be the beginning of a Brave New Vanguard of crowd-funded Hollywood entertainment, may I suggest one little-known and only modestly influential TV show ripe for big screen glory? Dawson's Creek, m'lud. All that angst, nicely matured via a bankruptcy (Dawson), an affair (Pacey, obvs), an unexpected windfall plus the re-appearance of an exciting ex (Joey, of course) and a new and noble quest for equal marriage (Jack, campaigning alongside his adopted daughter, whose mother Jen, died in the show finale). Listen, Kevin Williamson - call me. We can knock this script out in three months.

Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars.

Bim Adewunmi writes about race, feminism and popular culture. Her blog is  yorubagirldancing.com and you can find her on Twitter as @bimadew.

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“I see the world in rectangles”: Life as a Lego Master Builder

Nathan Sawaya stunned colleagues when he quit his job as a lawyer to play with Lego full-time. Now everyone from Lady Gaga to Barack Obama’s a fan.

Nathan Sawaya is describing his favourite Lego brick, shiny-eyed and grinning at the thought of it. But he’s not a child proudly displaying a beloved toy. He’s a 43-year-old former corporate lawyer, and well over six foot tall. The brick he is evangelising about is a small 1x2 socket plate with a stud in the centre of its top. He calls this a “Jumper”.

“You know your Lego lingo?” he asks, looking crestfallen when I shake my head. “It has only one stud instead of two, and it allows you to do even more detail because you can offset the brick a little bit. But in general, I focus on the rectangular pieces.”


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Sawaya is one of the world’s eight Lego Master Builders, having left his job at a New York law firm when he was 32 to dedicate his life to building Lego constructions full-time. His most striking works include a torso of a man ripping his chest open with bricks spilling out, called Yellow, a lifesize T-Rex skeleton, a two-metre long model of Brooklyn Bridge, and replicas of famous paintings, including the Mona Lisa, and Edvard Munch’s Scream.

I meet him in a dark exhibition space in a tent on London’s Southbank, where his works are lit up around us. His latest constructions consist of a series of DC Comics superheroes, so we are surrounded by expressionless Supermen flying around us, capes realistically rippling, and a full-size Batmobile with glistening batwings. His boyish eagerness aside, Sawaya himself looks like a comic book villain – a hulking figure dressed in black from top to toe, with a long black overcoat, piercing eyes and thick dark hair.


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Back in his early thirties when he was a lawyer, he would come home after a punishing day at work and do something creative – drawing, painting, sculpting with clay and wire. He soon began to experiment with Lego, constructing models out of sets he had lying around the house. His son, now 17, was never particularly interested in playing with it himself.

“Eventually I made the choice to leave the law firm behind and become a full-time artist who plays with toys,” he beams.

His family was supportive, his colleagues jealous, and his bosses confused – but it wasn’t long until Sawaya found success as a Lego artist. He has had exhibitions of his work on every continent but Antarctica, and gained some high-profile fans. When he was US President, Barack Obama posed with one of his installations – monochrome life-size men sitting on park benches in Washington – and Bill Clinton has a sculpture in his office, as does Lady Gaga in a music video.

“That is the magic of Lego,” he says of his popularity. “It has become a universal language in a way.”


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Sawaya’s Master Builder status means he can buy all his bricks directly from Lego in bulk – not possible for us Lego civilians. He used to buy sets in toy shops and on eBay when starting out; now he can email asking for 500,000 red 2x4 bricks, say, and Lego ships them to him on wooden pallets. He has six million bricks on hand at his studio in Los Angeles. “Millions of each colour and shape and size,” he says. “And they’re all organised by shape and colour.”

He works away for hours at a time in his studio, with his dogs obediently at his feet, in what he describes as a “trance”. He plans designs on special “brick paper” like graph paper, but sometimes he free-builds from his imagination. “I do often see the world in rectangles,” he says, and sometimes he even dreams in bricks.

Just like children do with Lego sets, he simply snaps the bricks together – though he does dab glue between each brick, which triples the time it takes. He describes it as “therapeutic”, but says making a mistake can be “heartbreaking” – he can lose days and weeks of work at a time. “There may be times where I start questioning my choices in life,” he smiles.


Photos: Copyright Jane Hobson

Sawaya faced snobbery from the art world when he first began approaching galleries as a Lego artist. “Oh, is that cars and trucks and little castles?” was the response. He feels it’s now a more acceptable medium. “It makes art accessible,” he says. “And in doing that, it democratises the art world a bit. It allows people to relate to the art. Everyone has snapped a brick together at one point, every child has played a little bit with Lego.

“As an artist, my role is to inspire. And what better way to do it than through a medium everyone is familiar with? If someone sees a marble statue, they can appreciate it, but very few people have marble at home they can chip away at.”

The first Lego creation Sawaya can remember making was a little house, when he was first given the toy at the age of five. He then made a city that grew to 36 square feet. When he was ten, he was desperate for a dog. His parents refused, so he tore all his creations down and built a lifesize one. “It was blocky and very multi-coloured, of course,” he says. “But it was that ‘Aha!’ moment – when I realised it doesn’t have to be on the front of the box. It can be whatever I want.”

The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes is on at Upper Ground, Southbank, London, until 3 September 2017.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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