What We Can Learn From Super Troopers 2

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.

7 comments

  1. I really like your example of crowdfunding, and how the Super Troopers 2 campaign more than quadrupled their goal. It goes to show how online collaboration can set an idea on fire. Who thinks to send a xeroxed picture of the actors butt cheeks ha? It clearly caught the attention of the general public with over 42,000 backers. I also think it’s interesting that the DVD market has basically disappeared. With download and streaming capabilities, we don’t have the hassle of renting or buying a physical DVD. Companies today can learn from Super Trooper’s successful fundraising techniques in order to set themselves apart. Great post, Robert!

  2. Great post! Seems like a really cool new way that movies can be potentially funded, and potentially the way more and more will be in the future. I think crowdfunding, as you mentioned, can especially work for movies, as the backers get the direct benefit of seeing a movie produced that they personally want to see, rather than just backing a product or idea that may fail and never make it to market. I will be curious to see if more and more movies become funded this way going forward.

  3. Rob, this is wonderful. Although I may not be someone who is particularly interested in seeing Super Troopers 2, I think it speaks to the rising importance of crowdfunding. Your analysis of the benefits and appeals of crowdfunding were really interesting, and I completely agree with you. I love that crowdfunding allows artists/ actors to make a movie more up to their own standards without the pressure or force of a large, governing studio. For a fan, there’s nothing better than knowing you made a difference– we see this in social media and famous people all the time. Fans of Taylor Swift post about her with the hopes of getting noticed, and crowdfunding does not seem very different. I look forward to the evolution of crowdfunding and seeing what else the public can do!

  4. This is really great for smaller film studios. I think it also serves the purpose of making sure that there is the market for the film before production begins. I can see this drastically cutting down on the number of “flops” that hit the market, especially those produced by smaller studios. I wonder if any other entertainment industries will take initiative from the success of the campaign.

  5. Nice post, although I disagree with your last point. I don’t think Hollywood will benefit from this, as they already have plenty of money. Who will benefit most is filmmakers who don’t want to work with Hollywood, and need an alternative funding mechanism. I actually think Hollywood will hate this model, because it introduces potential competitors and challenges the power of the big studios.

  6. Excellent post on a really cool topic that you probably wouldn’t at first think relates to social media. But as an avid fan of the original Super Troopers, I can say I followed this relatively closely an was extremely pleased to see the progress funding the sequel had made in such a short amount of time. I agree with @jneseralla that this could be great for smaller movie studios that have projects they know already have a strong following. The comedy/hiphop artist Lil Dicky did a kickstarter campaign that funded him so that he did not have to adhere to a particular label and could continue making the music that his audience loved. I think it’s great to see people getting the chance to do what they love and that others love as well.

  7. Nice post. Enjoyed learning about their kickstarter plan. This reminded me of Blue Mountain State that had a similar approach and met their goals. Its great that people can take a social interest into movies they like. I had brought up in class when this came up about crowdsourcing. I can’t wait to see the first movie where people take a financial stake in the movies and see a return. I can see many ways where you might feel it would lose the same luster of a crowdfunding approach, but if you are willing to donate the money anyways why not have the potential to get paid for your trust in it. That said, it could even develop into a half funding and half sourcing. Either way it is great to see the stake of films in hands of the fans.

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