Crowdsourcing: should fans get more for their money?
As more and more viewers fund TV shows and films, some feel it's time they got a share of the profits
Tuesday 25 March 2014
If subversive musical comedy is your cup of tea then now's the time to show you care. The writer and comedian David Baddiel has launched a campaign to raise funds for a new pet project – the stage musical adaptation of his 2009 film, The Infidel, a comedy about a British Muslim who discovers he is Jewish – and he's hoping fans will pay for it. If Baddiel can raise enough on popular crowdfunding platform Kickstarter – £55,000 by 16 April – the show, complete with ditties such as "Sexy Burqa", will go ahead at London's Theatre Royal Stratford East in October.
Baddiel is relying on a legacy of support either for the film itself (perhaps not the most reliable plan, given the muted reception on its original release) or else on devotees of his dark humour and the talents of his songwriter, Erran Baron Cohen, older brother to Sacha. If you want more of the same, the investment model submits, then put up your money. In exchange, Baddiel and co offer treats from rehearsal room email updates for £1, to premiere tickets for £1,000.
Will that be enough? Past precedent suggests that it could be. Baddiel is not the first to tap the kindness of strangers. Projects dependent on the love (and deep pockets) of loyal fan-bases are everywhere, both on stage and on screen – and they can make a pretty big splash. Consider the wildly successful Kickstarter project to fund Veronica Mars, the film based on the geek-tastic teen detective show, released earlier this month to very decent reviews. When the TV show's director, Rob Thomas, launched the campaign a year ago, it raised almost $6m, $2m of which was pledged within just 10 hours. Screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman (of Being John Malkovich fame) raised twice the budget he needed to make the animation Anomalisa via Kickstarter.
Money aside, the power of fans to revive cancelled hits by heavy lobbying has ballooned in the past decade, thanks largely to fervour stoked by the internet forums that keep cult favourites like Veronica Mars and Arrested Development, the dysfunctional family sitcom starring Michael Cera that was rebooted last year on Netflix after a seven-year hiatus, alive online long after production has stopped. More recently, Ripper Street, the axed BBC drama about Victorian detectives in London's gas-lit East End, announced that it would air its third season on Amazon Prime Instant Video (formerly LoveFilm Instant), after an online petition was signed by 10,000 people.
Fans who fund or campaign for niche reboots expect quite a big bang for their buck. Realistically, what can they expect to get in exchange for their money and time? Interestingly, fan power revivals don't need to be a mainstream hit to be successful. The Arrested Development reboot wasn't a hit with critics, but in general, it met with approval from long-time fans. New distribution methods mean that reviving a show just to please a narrow demographic is now financially viable. Online channels like Netflix don't have to chase ratings like traditional TV channels, so long as they attract new subscribers and word-of-mouth kudos.
So what about when money changes hands? Crowdfunders usually get things like free tickets, downloads, posters, celebrity meets and even film roles in exchange for their donation. Certainly Veronica Mars fans seemed pleased – the film revival recouped more than a third of its budget at the US box office opening weekend alone.
But as fan power grows will people expect more? Eyebrows were raised recently when a campaign for Scrubs star Zach Braff's film Wish I Was Here raised $2.6m, only to announce shortly after that the film had secured millions of dollars in extra support from a traditional film financier, Worldview Entertainment. The hybrid model prompts a question: what happens if the film is a big hit? If Worldview gets a monetary return on its investment, shouldn't everyone else?
There are concerns too that you are being asked to pay twice for the same product, once to get the show made, and then again to see it. Most VM contributors (from $35 up) were offered free downloads. But that's far trickier to offer in theatre. Infidel fans will have to spend £150 for a reward that includes a single ticket to the show itself.
What's next? You decide, of course – film and TV fan power has never been greater. Just make sure you know what you're asking for. Especially if you're paying.
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