I remember when Hollywood didn’t like making stuff for us geeks except the occasional Superman and Batman movie. Even George Lucas got rejected when he pitched Star Wars. However, seeing the profit, Hollywood has started to invest. With a behemoth like Disney buying both Lucasfilm and Marvel and making Rogue One, Logan, and Dr. Strange (to name a recent few), we definitely have high-grossing talent and marketing behind our favorite stories.
At the same time, those of us who have a vision but lack the multimillion-dollar bank rolls often have to raise our monetary resources through websites for crowdfunding. This has given us original entertainment like Kung Fury and, in local productions, Super Academy, a series from Minnesota’s Hot Chocolate Media about a college for superheroes. Small geek productions have been a thing since long before superheroes went mainstream, but having to compete more directly with Hollywood blockbusters has definitely been a game changer. I asked Kyle Dekker, producer of Super Academy, about his thoughts on raising money for independent and original series on platforms such as Kickstarter.
The Super Academy team successfully crowdfunded its first season in 2014, but Kyle notes that the current Kickstarter campaign for season 2 isn’t in great shape, with three-quarters of its goal still to raise by August 3. If the campaign doesn’t reach its hoped-for $12,000 by August 3, Kyle says, “I’m afraid that’s the end of the crowdfunding train for us. . . . The site has been taken over by preorders of board games and film projects, with named celebrities being the only ones that are successful.” He went on to speculate that there might not be room for small but serious productions on the site anymore. “I don’t think it’s viable to fund ambitious projects on Kickstarter,” he says. “If you need $5,000 or less, I think it’s still an avenue. But anything more than that is a big stretch.”
That does pose a bigger question for independent and original artists: where to go next. While our favorite comic books and space operas might be on the big screen, we still have new stories that are trying to get out there, but they’re competing at an Olympic level of difficulty with far less in the way of resources.
A friend and I were recently talking about how most music is now produced by only a few labels. He said something to the effect of how he often wonders whether there’s someone out there somewhere making music in their basement that he’d really like. I feel the same way about a lot of independent projects, wondering whether someone is making my next favorite thing, but I don’t know about it because it’s not everywhere in the media. I really hope this isn’t the end of crowdfunding for projects like Super Academy and that new creators can find more avenues—or maybe more geeks will decide to support their indie ventures. I always think that if I can spend $8 on a movie in the theater, I could probably kick $8 toward seeing something I want to be made. Of course, not everyone has spare cash, and likely lots of us have to pick which thing we want to spend money on, especially with indie also competing with indie for crowdfunding.
Another factor is merchandising. Small projects don’t always have the investment capital, whereas big budgets often rake in extra cash with things like action figures, T-shirts, and whatever else they can license. I remember when the salon I work at sold OPI’s Fifty Shades of Grey nail polish. I’ve definitely bought Deadpool underwear, and I’m wearing a Sonic the Hedgehog T-shirt. But I can’t remember the last time I bought some indie kitsch. If I do it’s usually at a booth at a con.
There may not be a one-size-fits-all answer, but I do think it’s time for us geeks to put our nerdy brains together and figure something out.