In class a few weeks ago I mentioned the Indiegogo campaign for the movie Super Troopers 2, and to my surprise, not too many people knew about it. According to Wikipedia, the first Super Troopers is about “five Vermont state troopers who seem to have more of a knack of pranks than actual police work,” but basically, the film is a low-brow comedy about state troopers doing dumb things to each other and to themselves while also trying to solve a drug smuggling scandal. I highly recommend it if you’re into that sort of stuff.
The film was made for approximately $1.2 million in 2001, but it grossed over $23.1 million worldwide and morphed into a cult classic. Much of this success was due to its popularity in the DVD market, where millions of copies could be found “on dorm room shelves in between Family Guy and Chappelle Show jewel cases.” However, with the arrival of Netflix, this market has steadily diminished, forcing Fox Searchlight to grant permission for a sequel film so long as Broken Lizard (the comedy group that wrote and co-starred in it) financed the project. Broken Lizard agreed, and quickly went to the crowdfunding website IndieGogo to start raising money (click here for a link to their campaign).
The initial goal was to raise $2 million dollars to make a “barebones” version of the film, though in their promotional video (seen below), they urged that the more money raised, the more “great fun shit” they can do (like explosions, car chases, and real actors). Donation prizes include simple things like a photo of the actors butt cheeks for $1 (xeroxed and emailed within the day), a digital script for $10, a digital download for $30, limited edition T-Shirts and a movie ticket for $35, to more ridiculous/outrageous prizes like becoming a producer on set for $12,500, going to a baseball game with the Broken Lizard crew (you can bring 6 of your friends) for $35,000 (this has already been sold… twice), the patrol car used on set for $35,000 and producer credit (this has been sold).
In less than 24 hours, Super Troopers 2 raised about $1.5 million, and reached its goal of $2 million in just a few days. Currently, the campaign has raised approximately $3,796,970 and has over 42,000 backers. With only 3 days left, the goal is to raise upwards of $4 million, which would basically quadruple the amount given by Foxlight Studios for the first film. To put this in perspective, this is the highest grossing campaign ever created on Indiegogo, and second highest for a film on any crowdfunding website, bested only by the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign which has raised $5,702,153.
The success of Super Troopers 2 may be unique, but it is not completely unprecedented; it seems to have capitalized on a growing trend of artists, famous or not, entering crowdfunding websites to raise money for their projects in order to bypass the limitations of studio production. In the filmmaking world, we’ve seen these campaigns used by famous Hollywood stars like Spike Lee for his film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (raised $1,418,910 in 2013), and Zach Braff for his film for Wish I Was Here ($3,105,473 in 2014). We’ve also seen these campaigns be wildly successful for movies with cult followings like previously mentioned Veronica Mars, and Super Troopers 2.
This appeal seems to be twofold.
On one hand, crowdfunding allows the artist to be more creative in the sense that they can create projects that may or may not be profitable. The economic risk inherent in any artistic venture is essentially lost, and so too are the limitations that a studio may place on a project in order to best mitigate that risk without comprising its artistic integrity. In an article with the Economist, Spike Lee clarifies that this is not an “‘F— You’ to the studio system at all” because they are looking “for tent-pole movies, movies that make a billion dollars, open on the same day all around the world. This film [Da Sweet Blood of Jesus] isn’t what they are looking for.” Spike Lee can make what he wants, and what he thinks his fans want, and stay true to his vision (so long as he properly communicates that vision in his crowdfunding campaign).
On the other hand, crowdfunding allows the viewer/fan to see the movie that he or she wants, and perhaps the studio rejected, and in most instances, to be a part of the production of the movie itself. I think that this point is extremely important. The studio model certainly has its benefits, and I think only a minority of people would absolutely disagree with that, but one of its biggest limitations is that it completely isolates its fans from the whole production process. Sure we can see videos of how the movie was filmed on the DVD or on Youtube, and sure we can get photos of the set on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but how often are we actually essential to the product? In this sense the studio model reiterates the notion that Hollywood is some sort of a fantasy-land where only those who are committed to entering its depths can actually participate in the creation of a major film itself. The crowdfunding model offers a different narrative. Super Troopers 2 proves that we do not have to be isolated from the work of our favorite Hollywood stars or our cult heroes; instead, we can become a part of Hollywood with them. Like them, we can see ourselves on the big-screen too, even if its just for a few moments in the credits, or in a personalized thank-you video at the end of a digital download.
I think that this is incredibly attractive to most people, and fits in with trends we’ve seen in other industries. As social media has grown, we’ve seen that producer/consumer dichotomies have become blurrier. Businesses are being forced to engage with consumers, and vice-versa, in unprecedented ways and to unprecedented degrees. Why should Hollywood and the entertainment industry be any different? We should almost expect to be a part of a movie to some degree, especially if we are planning on spending $15 on a ticket to see a film in theatre ($25 with snacks).
For this reason I can see crowdfunding becoming incorporated into the production of major Hollywood films in the future. Of course, there are plenty of counterarguments that suggest that this may be bad for Indie filmmakers and artists everywhere. If celebrities can come in and get money simply for their fame, will this prevent people from donating to smaller projects (Zach Braff got grilled on the internet for this reason)? Studies have found that this may not be the case. For the Veronica Mars campaign, 63% of donors “had never pledged funds to a Kickstarter project before, and thousands of the film’s more than 100,000 backers went on to contribute a total of $400,000 to 2,200 other projects.” In other words, everyone may benefit from this model, so it should be interesting to see how crowdfunding will transform the entertainment industry in the future. Right meow, we’ll just have to wait and see.